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Posts Tagged ‘agrarian reform’

The election news lately has been that of surveys claiming to have a list of specific personalities who will win the senatorial elections come 2013 national and local elections. Both the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, as well as lesser-known or even fly-by-night survey outfits, predicted more or less the same names in the winning column.

Of course, all of these do not reflect what eventually will be the voter’s choices in the next year’s senatorial elections. The most obvious reason is that it is still a long way from now to election day–the vast majority of the electorate have not yet made up their mind on their voting preferences except for a few candidates.

The name of the game at this point is name recall. This is defined as naming choices from memory of past, present, and claiming senatorial bets, without the benefit of a serious thought about qualifications, character, public service record, and competence. And, of course, voters do not yet bother about platforms or programs of government at this stage.

This fallacy of interpreting survey results this early to make up the senatorial slate results in decisions of convenience, or in opportunistic calculations. By and large, it perpetuates the political culture of personalistic politics, and of populist imagery. The media, of course, share the blame by portraying these survey results as gospel truth, without qualifying and without delineating the boundaries of their truths.

A case in point is Congressman Erin Tañada.  He is among the leaders of the Liberal Party, comes from an illustrious and respected political family, a House deputy speaker, and considered as one of the few reform-oriented young politicians of the incoming generation. He is a strong advocate for nationalism, democracy, and human rights, and author of the constitutionally-mandated Freedom of Information bill–a key legislation advancing transparency and accountability in government. He is supportive of reviving the coco levy case in favor of the coconut farmers and other asset reforms that directly address the poverty of the masses. In a normal world, there would be no question of his inclusion in the reform-oriented Liberal party senatorial slate.

However, the looming big irony of the Aquino-led administration ticket is that Tañada ( and similarly-placed possible candidates) only has a slim chance of being taken into the Liberal senatorial slate. The surveys place him low enough in the scales that he may not be able to win by himself.

The questions hangs in the air. What about reforms? What about good governance? What about the liberal political philosophy? What about a political party platform and program that must be advanced? Decision based on surveys alone, by and large, throws these overboard and favor the popular, the well-known, even the namesake. And, by and large, it speaks of a judgment of an easily swayed, easily manipulated, and easily bought electorate.

We call it traditional politics.

You ask why we have buffoons, clowns, actors, big egoists, and mediocres in the Senate. The answer lies in the surveys. In the real world, surveys are meant as decision guides, to know the strengths and weaknesses of the subject of the surveys, the current thinking of the populace. From the survey , leaders define the strategy, decide on tactics to enable to undertake an electoral campaign and achieve the victory. These are not meant to be the only basis of slate selection.

The late Secretary Jesse Robredo is a recent example. He languished in the low levels of senatorial surveys. Yet when he died and people come to know his reform record and integrity, he had become the reform standard for candidates.

Tañada, in his own right, stands in the same tsinelas that Robredo wore. Will the Liberal Party leave him out?

 

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The Supreme Court–in an 8-6 decision–decided to have the Cojuangcos paid only PhP 196.6 million as compensation for the distribution of a major portion of Hacienda Luisita. The minority opted for referring the matter to a special agrarian court. Those who voted for the majority postion are Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jr., Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza. Those who voted for the minority position are Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, and Pres. Aquino’s 3 appointees: Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

On its face, the farmers won this round. They will get the land and will pay a smaller amount to the government for it. However, there still several hurdles they need to overcome:

One, the probable motion for reconsideration by the Cojuangcos;

Two, the inevitable problem of developing the land; and

Three, the wherewithals to pay the government.

The situation is complicated because of the highly-charged politics around the issue. One thing that should be done is for the Aquino government to firmly exercise political will to execute the SC decision and help the farmers face the problems.

How it will handle this case will impact on its whole agrarian reform policy and program even as it will be a prism for judgment on Aquino’s promise to ensure that, under his term, the people will enjoy the full benefits of democracy.

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[My column in the Catalyst]

The Supreme Court, by a unanimous vote of 14-0, recently canceled the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) in Hacienda Luisita and ordered the distribution of more than 4,000 hectares of land in the Hacienda to more than 6,000 farmers. Though the Cojuangco clan may still move for reconsideration, it is now almost sure that the distribution would take please. This is a landmark victory for the cause of genuine land reform in the Philippines.

The call for putting the Hacienda Luisita under the Comprehensive Land Reform Program is correct. This is not only because the constitutional and legal requirements are fulfilled but also because the Hacienda has become a politically-sensitive issue that will have a bearing on the entire government land reform policy and on the Aquino administration’s popularity itself.

To be sure, the Aquino government, through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), has put forward a position for redistributing the Hacienda Luisita. The President himself divested his meager share in the hacienda. However, it is now incumbent on these bodies to ensure the implementation of the SC order follow the spirit as well as the letter of the decision.

The call for redistribution of individual plots to farm workers and peasant-tillers may not necessarily be correct however. The hacienda falls under the category of an enterprise farm–its main crop is sugar–that is best planted and managed on a large scale. CARP itself–and for that matter even the agrarian revolution program of the Communist Part of the Philippines–recognized this characteristic of a large plantation and recognized the retention of the plantation. Chopping off small plots (less than a hectare) for individual farm worker or peasant family will be an impractical proposition.

The first issue then in the distribution stage is: how to apply the concept of a large farm enterprise within a regime of the land reform program. Obviously, redistribution is an option, although not a viable one. The other options are to maintain the enterprise farm as a corporation or to establish as a cooperative with the farmer/peasant together with the former owners (who have their own shares) acting as stockholders and jointly deciding on the management of the farm.

The second issue is what compensation to pay the Cojuangcos and what to do with the reportedly PhP 2 billion debt of the Hacienda Luisita. There is the landowners’ contention that they should be compensated based on fair market value rather than the assessed value and that the asset (land) and the liability (debt) shall both be passed on to the farmers. They want the government to compensate them in the range of more than PhP 5 billion.

The government, through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR, has indicated that the government will not do this. The farmers, for their part, definitely do not want to pay what they think is the Cojuangco debt.

The only viable option within the context of the present administration, I think, for both sides to the controversy, is for the state to buy out the hacienda, give the Cojuangco family their share of the land, compensate them on the land to be distributed, and run the latter as a single cooperative enterprise. The debt should be subtracted from the Cojuangco share.

The Aquino administration has the opportunity to make a grand gesture for land reform in the country. How it will handle the Hacienda Luisita issue will have repercussion on the other and more problematic cases of privately-owned haciendas all over the country. It will also have an implication on whether or not it can create a wide enough domestic market for a sustainable economic development for the country and our people.

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This early, the opposition tries to highlight and bring to the fore the issue of Hacienda Luisita and its redistribution to the farm workers and peasants in the hacienda. In so doing, there is the attendant pressure on one of the  hacienda‘s more prominent stockholder, President Noynoy Aquino, to order the redistribution.

The call for putting the Hacienda Luisita under the Comprehensive Land Reform Program is correct. This is not only because the constitutional and legal requirements are fulfilled but also because the Hacienda has become a politically-sensitive issue that will have a bearing on the entire government land reform policy and on the Aquino administration’s popularity itself.

The call for redistribution of individual plots to farm workers and peasant-tillers may not necessarily be correct however. The hacienda falls under the category of an enterprise farm–its main crop is sugar–that is best planted and managed on a large scale. CARP itself–and for that matter even the CPP agrarian reform program–recognized this characteristic of a large plantation and recognized the retention of the plantation. Chopping off small plots (less than a hectare) for individual farm worker or peasant family will be an impractical proposition.

The real issue then is: how to apply the concept of a large farm enterprise within a regime of the land reform program. Obviously, redistribution is an option, although not a viable one. The other options are to maintain the enterprise farm as a corporation or to establish as a cooperative  with the farmer/peasant together with the former owners (who have their own shares) acting as stockholders and jointly deciding on the management of the farm.

The current option by the Cojuangco family is to form a corporation and distribute minority SDO stocks to the land reform beneficiaries, while retaining the majority control and management of the corporation. they also contend that only a portion of the hacienda is subject to CARP. This option effectively goes against the spirit and even the letter of the land reform law. If upheld by the Supreme Court, this would pin down the generations of farm worker and peasant families to a life of penury.

The only viable option within the context of the present administration, I think, for both sides to the controversy is for the state to buy out the hacienda, give the Cojuangco family their share of the land, and run the rest as a single cooperative enterprise. The alternative is one of mutual destruction–neither side has the capacity to force the other side to accept its position.

The SDO option is touted as a solution because of the claim of its acceptance by at least 70% of the beneficiaries. However, on its face, it cannot support on a long-term basis the families of the beneficiaries. The issue will only recur again and again.

The other extreme–distribution of individual plots–is also not capable of sustaining even on a short-term basis the families of the beneficiaries. A distributed plot is simply too small to sustain a family. It will only open the situation for land speculators to come in and get the land.

The Aquino administration has the opportunity to make a grand gesture for land reform in the country. How it will handle the Hacienda Luisita  issue will have repercussion on the other and more problematic cases of privately-owned haciendas all over the country. It will also have an implication on whether or not it can create a wide enough domestic market for a sustainable economic development for the country and our people.

The benefits of democracy start with the solution to the Hacienda Luisita issue.

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It is more than 30 days since President Noynoy Aquino assumed the presidential office–more than third of the traditional 100-day honeymoon supposedly accorded a new president. It is a worrying trend that the pace has not been as fast as one would expect from a presient with a reform  agenda.

One, not all key appointments, especially at the secretary, undersecretary, assistant secretary, and key director levels, are finished. This basically creates vacuums in many departments, bureaus, and specialized agencies. In addition, some of the appointments seems questionable, from the point of view of the reform agenda itself and its main subject matter, corruption in high levels of government.

Two, we have been titillated with accounts and stories of corruption or mismanagement in government but precious few action-oriented directives. The Truth Commission has not yet been constituted although it is supposed to  be a key component of the anti-corruption priority.

Three, many aspects of the development framework or the program of governance are still missing or at least not known by the broad public. These were supposed to be articulated in the State of the Nation Address last July 26 but the President chose to concentrate on his most important priorities. The unspoken ones have yet to be heard such as his policy on the impending power crisis, climate change, environmental issues, land reform, human rights violations, and exploitation of mining and oil resources.

There is also the enormous problem of the various appointments, laws, executive orders, policies, and projects that the GMA administration left behind that not only eat up into the government resources but actually block his own agenda and program. These have to be address immediately and surely.

The slow pace may eat into the admittedly huge political capital that President Aquino accumulated in the last electoral contest. however, it may also encourage the political opposition to highlight the deficiencies of the administration–even if these were actually inherited from the Arroyo and earlier administrations.

The least one can expect is that President Noynoy Aquino  can complete his plan, resources, and manpower in the first 100 days and may therefore be in a position to meet head-on the political landmines and the challenges of normal governance his administration face.

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President Noynoy Aquino’s 2010 SONA concentrated on the themes of integrity of leadership, good governance, and clean and honest government. For most people who are tired of the politicians’ shenanigans, this is enough and probably form the basis for their hopes and expectations from the new government.

There are comments, including mine, that the SONA –particularly as a first SONA–lacked a great many things, including a new development framework, policies on burning issues in environment and ecology, rural poverty and land reform, human rights, political reforms, and social justice, and definitive solutions to the specific corruption problems he enumerated.

The SONA is correct in its exposé of the previous administration’s corruption and in its emphasis on clean and honest government, good governance, and leadership by example. It may turn out that these are all that’s needed to start off a sustainable partnership between his administration and the people. Still, this is only a governance policy framework, not a complete development framework.

As the first SONA, it missed the opportunity to lay down its full policy for the next six years. There are too many gaps–it will be necessary to closely monitor each and every presidential decision to discern the Aquino administration’s eventual policy directions.

Those who hope for more systemic reforms and a substantive change in terms of government policy in various areas of governance cannot find them in the SONA. As it is, the SONA has more rhetorics than substance. It remains to be  seen if the reality of an Aquino government defines a bright future for the people or will dash the last hopes of battered generations.

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Congress approved a six-month extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) for the second time. Albeit, with new twist. It prohibited the mandatory and compulsory distribution of land, allowing only the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) mode of land acquisition.

By this act alone, the landlord-dominated Congress ended the constitutional mandate of social justice–at least–until six months hence. However, given the current political climate, this six-month grace is more of a farcical drama of a near-death patient being merely fanned instead of being given oxygen and other restorative drugs.

The only thing that is keeping the agrarian reform program alive is the stiff resistance of the peasantry themselves and their broad supporters, including the Catholic church itself. The latter knows the social upheaval consequent to a failed asset transfer in the agrarian sector.

The main political lesson from the struggle in the current agrarian reform issue is that the political ruling class is feeling pretty well secured and is prepared to abandon even pretensions at democratization. The ruling state is slowly evolving–if not already there–from a post-Marcos elitist democracy to an oligarchic state. In this situation, the fragile electoral democracy may easily slide into a farcical electoral democracy, even to some form of an oligarchic autocracy.

The current struggle over charter change basically reflects this struggle between the strengthening and broadening of Philippine democracy versus the impulse to institute oligarchic rule.

With a dead CARP, the demise of the promise of the 1986 people power is not far. The stage is thus set for another people power struggle.

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