The Philippine Congress approved an agrarian reform program Wednesday aimed at the redistribution of more than 9 million acres of agricultural land to poor tenant farmers.

Wealthy landowners have threatened to revolt if the government carries out the plan, but President Corazon Aquino said Wednesday she was confident the measure, aimed at easing life for millions of landless peasants in the impoverished contryside, will succeed.Agrarian reform, regarded as a key to eradicating the nation's endemic poverty and its growing communist insurgency, was the cornerstone of Aquino's 1986 election platform.

The bill was the first major legislation to come out of Congress since the body's revival a year after the "People Power Revolution" that toppled former President Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986.

"They tell me it is something doable and that this is what I have asked for - something that has great chances of succeeding," Aquino said.

The House of Representatives voted 120-20 in balloting that began Tuesday night and lasted into early Wednesday because each member was allowed to explain the reason for his vote. Four abstained.

Voting in the Senate was 18-1.

The bill allows landowners to retain 12.5 acres, and heirs age 15 years and above who are actually working the land 7.5 acres. It provides cash compensation ranging from 25 to 35 percent of the fair market value of the estate, with the remainder in government bonds.

Public lands leased to multinational corporations will be distributed within three years.

Rice and corn lands and estates covering more than 125 acres will be farmed out within the next four years. Properties of 125 acres and less will be divided after six years.

Implementation of the $3 billion program depends on available funds. The Philippines is currently saddled with a $30 billion foreign debt. Recipients of the agricultural parcels are to pay the government a token amount.

Aquino is scheduled to sign the bill into law on Friday.



A Swiss mission

Philippine President Corazon Aquino will visit Switzerland and Italy next week in a bid to bolster government efforts to recover billions of dollars ousted ruler Ferdinand Marcos allegedly stashed in Swiss banks, officials said Wednesday. Ramon Diaz, chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, said his office hopes to file criminal charges against the former 20-year ruler early next year. Aquino will fly to Geneva Monday and is scheduled to address the International Labor Organization Tuesday. She also will visit Italy for three days before flying home on June 19.