Agrarian Reform

First part written on February 29, 2008:

Yesterday I sat through two talks on Agrarian Reform. I was depressed the whole day. Heard two other classmates– a French and American– getting all riled up over the issue: they were so upset, to the point of rage even.

  • Many peasant revolts in history were triggered not by ideology but by claims on land
  • 30M hectares total land area in the Philippines, 10.1M hectares classified as agricultural land (used for farming)
  • Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was drafted to distribute agri land to farmers
  • A heavily-edited CARP was passed under Cory’s term, with glaring (i.e. self-serving) conditions: applicable to rice and cornfields only
  • From the time of the prayle until today, who has made up government? Landowners
  • Landowners will protect their own
  • CARP, although flawed to begin with, has had gains–improved lives, etc.
  • But with no SUPPORT SERVICES for the beneficiaries (ex. credit line), it’s been very frustrating for all– the farmers, advocates of CARP, landowners
  • The Ramos administration has distributed the most land so far, but it was also FVR’s Philippines 2000 campaign that rezoned most of the covered agri lands to industrial/residential/tourism lands, making them exempted from CARP
  • Come June 2008, Congress will have to decide whether to extend CARP for another 10 years
    • landowners will vote no
    • leftists will vote no– in favor of a complete overhaul of the program (ex. immediate confiscation of land)
  • Should we be pushing for a YES?
    • Is land redistribution really the answer?
    • Agrarian reform programs in Japan, Taiwan, Korea worked. Common denominators?
      • they were swiftly implemented (under 3 years) vs. the Philippine program: it’s been 20 years and we’re still at it
      • done under an authoritarian regime vs. the Philippine way: democracy –there are too many people to please!
    • We had a real shot at it under Cory’s revolutionary government, but well, what great surprise, no real CARP happened, and her family’s Hacienda Luisita got a safe spot on the exemption list

Update (March 31, 2008):
I went to Bicol over Holy Week, where as a child I remember my parents would point to ricefields along the road and say, “Your lolo lost that land to land reform” or “Your tito‘s dad had a heart attack when government took that property.”

When I sat through those talks on land reform last Feb., I felt not just sad, but slightly defensive– landowners aren’t that bad. They couldn’t be. We’re also landowners (although our landholdings are relatively puny). And I have friends who are also landed, and their families aren’t evil.

From the talks, I also got the impression that real estate developers were the “bad guys” in the land reform issue. But being in a family engaged in real estate, I grew up with a bit more compassion for developers than my peers. As my dad always says in frustration, in the Philippines, it’s the private sector that often initiates development. Government won’t go out of its way to single out a piece of rawland, build roads and provisions for utilities, and then invite private groups to “develop” it for public consumption (ex. transform it into a business or residential district). It works the other way around. Add to that the red tape and bad business practices that are sure to turn off any lukewarm investor. Bottomline, you have to hand it to developers, or to some of them at least.

Is land reform an economic problem or is it also a morality issue? At the end of the talk, a friend and I talked about what we thought was the end goal of land reform and what motivated its advocates, and decided for ourselves that more than anything, it’s justice that they’re fighting for. Equitable distribution of wealth. Principle first (quite possibly because it’s their only recourse), practicality later.

Mixing morals with economics? Hmmm… I just attended a lecture by Prof. Randy David and Nicanor Perlas on “Transforming a Damaged Culture” last Friday, March 28, where it was brought up that the path to modernity is in NOT MIXING the different spheres in society… more on that later.

My take on it: I’m not making big claims on the land reform issue, especially after just two informal lectures on it, but I don’t think I can push for land reform if there are no real solutions to making it economically viable for farmer beneficiaries. What will they do with land they own but have no means of exploiting? Not to say that I’m all for idle lands in the hands of the elite. In an ideal setting, motto would be “Basta everybody happy.” This land problem involves matters outside of our individual capacities to address and is perhaps one issue (of many) that really does require the role of government as an authoritative institution to mediate or be the main actor (meaning it’s not just up to civil society or NGOs to make changes).

As individual Pinoys, can we also contribute something concrete? Is it enough to say “I’m minding my own business and I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes”? Small positive steps would perhaps be to be more scrupulous in our real estate investments. Do background checks, hold landowners accountable for how they exploit their lands… Also spread the word, open eyes and pay attention to what’s happening.

Looking at that list again makes me think that yes, these are good, “noble” things that one does when the sun shines. Meaning on a good day. One can think outside of the self and actually sincerely pro-actively reach out his hand.

What’s an everyday thing we can do, and do NOW? We are entitled (and actually obligated) to grow our assets, which include land/property among other great things like talent, relationships, etc. It’s in having wealth that we are able to share it and help others. Focus should be on wealth creation, which does cover wealth of mind, body and dignity. Just think better, all the time. Instead of “There’s so much poverty in the Philippines”, we can greet our mornings with ” What can I do today that will add to the richness already around me?” We can’t ignore that problems exist, but we don’t have to be sucked dry from feeling depressed over them. Again, make room for or spend energies only on creative ideas, everyday. (I’ve been reading “The Secret” again, you should too :P )

Related:
Real estate and land reform – short post about which Philippine developer I’m betting on

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