The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:22:00 03/08/2010
SOCIAL justice, a President once said, “Is far more beneficial when applied as a matter of sentiment and not of law.” Point XI in the Nacionalista Coalition platform in 1935 was, “When the resources of the country so permit, we shall begin the expropriation of great estates, so that they may be divided into lots and sold to private citizens, preferably their actual occupants. We shall encourage the formation of small land-ownership, which is the bulwark of democracy, the guarantee of public order, and a stabilizing force. It is our desire that every Filipino shall own his own land, the house in which he lives, and the farm which he tills.”
But the devil, as they say, is in the details. On the one hand, there was the active hostility of landlords to state expropriation; in the middle was the state itself, far more dependent in those days on the income generated by the sugar industry than it is now; and on the other, the conservatism of the peasantry itself even as radicalism made inroads among the peasantry. In his classic book, “The Huk Rebellion,” Benedict Kerkvliet says the problem arose when traditional expectations among farmers clashed with the businesslike attitudes of a new generation of landlords: “To the modern landlords, their relationship to their tenants was a business proposition – the peasants were laborers who would be employed as long as they helped turn land into profits.”
However, Kerkvliet continued, “The peasantry, meanwhile, wanted traditional patronage more than ever, lest they succumb not only to such usual hazards as poor harvests and sickness, but also [because] – Progress’ had not brought even modest economic gains to the peasantry, while at the same time severing numerous ties with their landlords that peasants wanted to retain and to which they felt entitled. The traditional landlord-tenant relationship included far more than a simple exchange of labor for money, so peasants wanted to keep it. They wanted the landed elites to acknowledge those ties and the obligations entailed. The stage was thus set for a conflict.”
In the first State of the Nation Address in 1936, a modification of the Coalition Platform was announced. In brief, land would be opened up for settlement in Mindanao and other relatively underpopulated areas, while the redistribution of land would be limited to “the expropriation of those portions of the large – haciendas’ which are urban in character and are occupied by the houses of the tenants. With the opportunity to own their own homes thus assured, the settlement of the present difficulties of the tenants relative to their farm lands might no longer be of urgent necessity.”
This did not turn out to be the case. The same President told an American communist, Sol Auerbach, in 1937, that he had warned landlords, “I tell them, if you know what’s good for you better improve the conditions of your tenants. You do not have enough sons for the army, so we must conscript our soldiers from the poor. We put guns in their hands and teach them how to use them. If you are not careful they will use those guns against you. If you want to save what you have, give them 10 percent of it or they will take it all.”
By the late 1960s, agrarian unrest, effectively crushed in the early 1950s, resumed on a large scale, as population growth closed off the social safety valve of resettlement (and sparked new problems in Mindanao between Christians and Muslims). Macapagal attempted land reform but was foiled by the landlords; Benigno Aquino Jr. proposed corporate collectivization as a middle path: preserve economies of scale for sugar while transferring ownership to farmers and landlords proportionally by means of shares of stock.
President Marcos aimed to score propaganda points at the onset of the New Society when he proclaimed the entire country under land reform. But he decreed the redistribution of rice and corn lands and left the sugar estates alone, focusing, instead, on creating a state sugar cartel which led to the collapse of the sugar industry in 1984.
After Edsa, radicals demanded the immediate expropriation of estates while landlords threatened civil war if this was done. President Aquino in her last days of full lawmaking powers issued two executive issuances, the first placing all lands under land reform (thus removing the Marcos-era exemption for sugar land); the second, giving 10 years for redistribution to take place: but the details were left to the incoming Congress. Civil war was prevented by giving landlords a seat at the bargaining table, but rebellion was perpetuated by giving radicals a justification for confrontation.
From 1987 to 1992 a total of 898,420 landless tenants and farm workers became legitimate recipients of either land titles or free patents and support services. Under President Aquino, 2.6 million hectares or 33.3 percent of the total CARP scope of 7.8 million hectares were redistributed. But Hacienda Luisita submitted, instead, to another kind of redistribution, which was the Stock Distribution Option or SDO.
Overlooked in the debate over this scheme is that it represented one alternative to outright redistribution among tenant-farmers of hacienda lands and, at the time it was proposed, a possible way forward to preserve economies of scale while attending to Social Justice concerns. Other landlords such as the Arroyos were more clever: they promised to redistribute but bogged down the process in legal red tape, ensuring neither stock option schemes nor redistribution. For the middle path, the situation finally came to a head when both radicals and the government clashed on Luisita, eliminating SDO as a viable option in terms of public opinion for what is now “sunset industry.”