Spanish colonial law prohibited Spaniards from taking land already occupied by the natives…(But as) native chiefs…were coopted into the colonial administration, they later started selling or donating great parcels of these lands to the friar orders in the name of their villages or towns. That was how the vast friar lands, and later the vast private landholdings came to be, in the 300 years of the Philippines under Spain.
In her 1998 paper, “Twenty Years of CARP,” Aurea Miclat-Teves traces the history of real property ownership in the country and landlord-tenant relationships that necessarily developed to till the huge tracts of land. The opening of the Philippines to world trade in the late 18th century increased demand for Philippine produce, and this “intensified the system of exploitation and abuses” on subjugated tenants and sub-tenants by the friar-landowners and landlords, including “the middle layer of non-cultivating leaseholders calledinquilinos, mostly Chinese mestizos and former native chieftains who had amassed wealth.” Social justice for the small farmers is an old issue for the Philippines.
The earliest efforts on agrarian land reform were when the Philippines was sold to the US for $20 million in 1898, after the Spanish-American War. The Americans encouraged settlements for the disadvantaged, while private property limited to 16 hectares was regulated under the Torrens Title framework. Still, the haciendas and plantations of the mestizerias (Spanish- and Chinese-descent landed rich) were allowed to survive, some historians say because the Americans expediently used ascendancy of this elite socio-economic group as the initial leadership clique for the so-called “government of the people, by the people”
World War II interrupted serious efforts at egalitarian land reform.
Independence was granted to the Philippines on July 4, 1946, and Filipinos had to grapple with setting up the republican government, where land reform was a later task to do. Meantime, social unrest festered in the hungry rural areas, where the economic rehabilitation after the War was slow. It was the indulgent ambience for the leftist protests and power-show of the 1950s and ‘60s. Came then the 1962 Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) with make-over changes for the Catholic Church — explicitly directing clergy, religious and the laity to work for the poor and support land reform, among other growing social and human rights concerns.
Then President Ferdinand Marcos’ 1972 Code of Agrarian Reform of the Philippines was the official starting point for land reform. Some point to the crony system in the dictatorship that favored big land owners and weakened the efforts for reform. After Corazon Aquino was installed as President by the 1986 EDSA I People Power Revolution, Republic Act No. 6657, otherwise known as the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), was signed into law and became the legal basis for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The 10-year life and budget of the Aquino CARP expired in 2008, and there were still 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land to be redistributed to landless farmers. The Philippine Congress was generally perceived to have reluctantly passed the five-year CARP Extension with Reforms Law (CARPER), inherited by Cory’s son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, from the extraordinarily expanded nine-year regime of his political archrival Gloria Arroyo.
According to a 2009 activist blog “Bulatlat”: among other provisions, the CARPER bill mandates that private agricultural lands — the type that the Arroyos and the Cojuangcos own — can only be distributed if the original CARP managed to distribute 90% of its target. But CARP, despite the two decades it had, only distributed less than half of it. It’s an impossible provision that only underscores what progressive farmers have been saying all along — that CARPER is bogus.
Socially-conscious groups Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan were cited as against the conversion of land to other uses (e.g., residential subdivisions, cyberparks, etc.) beyond the close to a million hectares that already slipped from CARP as of 2002. Also objectionable is the option to landowners for “alternatives to the physical distribution of lands, such as production or profit-sharing, labor administration, and distribution of shares of stocks which will allow beneficiaries to receive a just share of the fruits of the lands they work.”
Some more than 5,000 hectares owned by Eduardo Cojuangco in Pontevedra, La Carlota City, La Castellana and Himamaylan evaded physical distribution to farmers under CARP by creative stock option and joint-venture schemes, which fully involve the farmers in the liabilities without full and direct ownership of the land. Such, likewise, is the exception of nearly 6,500 hectares of Hacienda Luisita (owned by the Cojuangco family of Tarlac), where the farmers were given shares of the company under the stock-distribution option instead of physical land distribution.
Of course the only sympathy in agrarian land conflicts should be for the poor framers, forever the cult symbols of the oppressed and defenseless in society; the rich landowners can always take care of themselves every which way. That is the instinctive politically correct thinking. In 2001, the then newly-installed President Gloria Arroyo promised to distribute the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Negros Occidental’s Guintubhan village in Isabela town, with the other pieces of agricultural land owned by the Arroyo family (in the name of her husband, Mike Arroyo) to farmers under the CARP program. But nothing happened to the promise, and in 2008 the protesting farmers who walked all the way from Negros (bridged by the RORO barges) were jailed for subversion, according to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
In view of their similar reluctance to yield their landholdings to the small farmers under CARP, it can only be judged the utmost crudeness for the Arroyo sympathizers to rile up the farmers claiming Hacienda Luisita against PNoy Aquino — as was shamelessly done during the impeachment trial of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, midnight appointee of Arroyo, and opportunistically self-proclaimed “Defender of the Hacienda Luisita framers.”
And now the Hacienda Luisita farmers are up in arms against Aquino, and are stronger in their self-righteousness by the invaluable support of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines). The farmers are certainly justified in their issues, but the politicians hoping for political mileage in the coming 2013 elections are low-down devious for the havoc they are selfishly wreaking. Alas, that the land reform issues in our flailing, struggling country have become so pathetically political – the purity of the fight for noble justice and equality has been so tarnished.
You have no choice, President Aquino. Settle the Hacienda Luisita problem in favor of the farmers soonest, and put away the deadly weapon of your evil detractors. firstname.lastname@example.org