Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Magandang araw! Good day!
It’s the 1st of July, the first day of official reporting by the newly elected political leaders of the country led by President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III. Riding astride the air of optimism induced by the new leadership, let me say more notes then about my homeland.
Let me shift to landlordism as this phenomenon seems to have remained unscathed by the ‘scorched earth’ flames of modernization and post-industrial growth. Our newly elected president here, ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, is a scion of the oligarchic family of Cojuancos and is an heir to the 11,000-hectare Luisita Estate in Tarlac province.
I still recall that in the late 1990s, as a graduate student of development studies in De La Salle University-Manila, I underwent the course on constitutionalism and development. I tasked myself to review the constitutions of thirty-five (35) countries, with the aim of unearthing and extracting the theme of agrarian reform from them.
To my amazement, most of the countries I researched on, including Taiwan, Korea, and many developing states, clearly emblazoned in their national charter the theme of agrarian reform. The impeccable intention was to declare land reform as a determinative development policy. The landlords should be enticed to divest from their rural estates and channel their new investments to birthing strategic industries.
I did write a paper on the topic, which my professor, Dr. Wilfrido Villacorta (former undersecretary of ASEAN, delegate to the 1986 Constitutional Convention), appreciated very well. The research also enlightened me more about the urgency of decisively implementing agrarian reform in the Philippines that barely made it to the passing mark of successful land reform programs.
Almost a quarter of a century after the new charter was signed and ratified by our citizens, and after the consequent legislation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, many large feudal estates still abound. They seem to remain untouched by the law, as if they are autonomous mini-states in a nation that is rapidly urbanizing along mixed industrial and service economy growth trajectory.
Let’s take the case of the Luisita estate. In 2006 yet, the Agrarian Reform department decided that a total of 6,453 of Luisita should be apportioned to the farmworkers. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court blocked the implementation of the decision as it issued a Temporary Restraining Order or TRO that stopped the implementation. A TRO should be in effect only for a maximum of 30 days, yet years have elapsed and it is still in place.
Other large estates are similarly situated as Luisita. For instance, there are the Yulo estate in Laguna and the Pedro Roxas estate in Batangas. I still recall that way back in 1998, I was among consultants who helped agrarian reform beneficiaries of a 500-hectare piece of Roxas estate (out of total 30,000 hectares) in their capacity-building and productivity boosting. The same beneficiaries asked me if I knew anybody from the Agoncillo clan that owned a total of 30,000 hectares of estates…
There are more such huge estates to count. And truly, I am overwhelmed by their gargantuan sizes that are enough to build huge mega-cities such as Singapore or Manila. I could almost puke at the mere mention of their names, and puke much more when I learn about their vast sizes and the slave-driving management styles of their owners that have led to appalling living conditions for the farmworkers.
RP’s population was 66% urban and 34% rural as of end of 2009. Urban population is moving up by 2% every year, while rural population is moving down by the same figure. By 2016, the next presidential election year, urban population will already be at least 80% urban and rural population down to 20%. What are haciendas for in an urban Philippines, one may ask.
Furthermore, RP’s labor force is now past 50% service sector and 15% industrial sector, with barely 34% left to fend for our farms and fisheries. Agriculture now contributes to merely 15% of the GDP, while services comprises a whopping 60% or so (the rest is industries). Tourism, which forms past 10% of GDP today, will most likely surpass agriculture as a contributor to national income by 2016.
Now that brings us back to the question: what are feudal estates doing in an urban-to-suburban Philippines with a rapidly post-industrializing economy? Strange anachronism! All we need to do is follow the footsteps of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China to realize that such estates must be released from feudal yokes so as to carve out a win-win growth path between the small planters and their former overlords-turned-entrepreneurs.
When I registered my vote for the ratification of the charter in 1986, I already made up my mind to see that all such estates be transformed to high productivity enclaves beginning with their subjection to the reform program. All the landlords should quickly divest from such landholdings and move their investments in industries and services.
I stand pat on that decision, and will be on standby to help out those agrarian beneficiaries who seek professional help for improving their farm production and quality of life. And I welcome a Philippines that will someday move towards the space age, thanks for a willful departure from an anachronistic feudalism of past dark ages.
[Philippines, 01 July 2010]
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