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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 15:03:50 -0700
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Subject: FWD: PH:Mangahas on Land Reform
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Land reform, inch by inch

By Majar Mangahas, Manila Standard, Monday 13 September 1999 13:12:54 +0800

Power in the countryside, unlike in the urban areas, depends primarily on the ownership of land.

Three bases of power

Overconcentration of agricultural land ownership brought about economic power.

Control over the economic fortunes of thousands of tillers, whether tenants or wage laborers, led to overconcentration of political power.

To be able to enforce their will in the rural areas, even when this would conflict with the people's sense of justice, many landlords acquired armed power as well.

When the rural economy, the local government, the armed power of the state, and even private armies, are all controlled by a few, then there is absolute power, which, as always, corrupts absolutely.

Friar lands purchase

Even the clergy have not been immune from the temptations of absolute power based on control over agricultural land.

The Spanish friars, as eloquently illustrated by Rizal, sought not only the kingdom of God in heaven but also their own kingdoms on earth. They had to be driven from their estates, mostly located in the present CALABARZON area, by the Filipino revolutionary forces.

The American occupation government, although it had agreed to respect Spanish property rights in the Philippines, could not afford to restore the friar lands, already occupied by rebolusyonaryos, to their former owners. In a deal coordinated with the Vatican, it paid off the friars for their lands, which it then sold/transferred cheaply to a list dictated by political and/or business convenience—including Emilio Aguinaldo by the way, who acquired over a thousand hectares in this way.

Thus there was no loss in friar wealth, which merely changed in form from rural land into investments in urban companies, such as the San Miguel Brewery. But the concentration of rural power in friar hands was effectively broken.

The ones who paid most of the bill for the Philippine friar lands purchase were the American taxpayers. But it was a reasonable deal for them too, since otherwise it would have cost the US far more, in terms of both money and blood, to fight a re-intensified war against the Filipinos.

State-assisted land concentration

The friar lands purchase was not a general agrarian reform, however. For the US occupation government, it was a practical move to make in the areas most in need of =91pacification'.

The American regime, like the Spanish regime, created its own batch of rural landlords by allowing US companies to acquire vast lands for their plantations. It was blind to the social problems accompanying concentration of rural land, in Central Luzon and the Visayas, to feed into the US sugar quota system.

To the US military at the end of the 19th century, the occupation of the Philippines was, perhaps, just another expansionary episode, following the US-Mexico war six decades earlier, which garnered them Texas, California, New Mexico, etc.—making lots of land available for Americans, as long as one could take care of the =91wild Indians'.

Land reform by installment

Various administrations have recognized the social injustice caused by landlordism in the rural areas, and tried to do their own bit to address the problem.

They have tried to put ceilings on agricultural land rent, and made share tenancy illegal for certain crops. But that only puts restrictions on the terms and on the form of an economic conract, and does not make a fundamental correction on the imbalance of bargaining power between the contracting parties.

Ferdinand Marcos decreed an Operation Land Transfer for rice and corn tenanted areas (notice the limitations), but at the same time he let his cronies create banana plantations out of state land.

The present Constitution says that agricultural tillers have the right to own the land they till. The ownership may be either individual or collective, i.e., plantations may be turned over to a cooperative of the farm workers without having to be divided into individual parcels. Tillers should include not only tenants who operate the farms themselves but also farm workers on estates managed by the owners (recently diluted by the Supreme Court which denies that seasonal farm workers are entitled to be beneficiaries too).

Landowners may retain a portion of their land, and are entitled to a market price for the portion they are obliged to sell. Beneficiaries will make long-term amortizations for the land. It costs a lot of money; but still it's only money.

The CARP, started by Cory Aquino in 1987, is ‘comprehensive’ since it is supposed to apply to agricultural land regardless of crop, and regardless of whether the crop is commercial or for subsistence.

Hacienda Luisita used a stock-transfer window to comply by giving farm workers minor voice in running the farm. Although the window was supposed to be open only temporarily, there might be a re-opening to cover the farms of Danding Cojuangco. Commercial farms got a ten-year CARP reprieve, which ended in 1998, but which they're trying mightily to extend.

To be sure, CARP under the Aquino and Ramos administrations went a long way to solve the agrarian problem, with opinion polls showing much public appreciation for it. But the job's far from over, especially now that the Supreme Court fails to understand the justice-principle of land reform.