By David Wurfel. In Pilipinas No.12, Spring 1989
Land reform is the consequence of mass demands — and threats — and elite perceptions of interest. The interaction of these factors produced a spurt of land reform in 1972-3 which dissipated in a few years.
In February 1986 the threat of peasant revolution was much greater than In 1972 and thus there was early talk of more sweeping reform. However, unlike Marcos, Mrs. Aquino came from a family of very large landowners. Furthermore, the impact of Cory’s charisma, followed by her offer of cease-fire negotiations with the NPA, quickly began to undermine the revolutionary appeal. The president declined to use decree powers to launch reform, and landlords, over-impressed by the fading of the peasant threat, were emboldened to register strong opposition to reform. Congressmen — especially those led by the presidents’ brother — were sensitive to the pleadings of landed interests and enacted an unworkable law. Perceptions of self-Interest by the landed elite in 1986-88 were so short sighted as to have produced policy that will feed the revival of the revolutionary threat.
“Land reform means the redistribution of property or rights in land for the benefit of small farmers and agricultural labourers” according to a pioneer in its analysis (Warriner, 1969: xlv). The United Nations, typically, has used a definition both broader and less precise: Land reform is “an integrated programme of measures designed to eliminate obstacles to economic and social development arising out of defects in agrarian structure” (Progress In Land Reform, 1962: vi, cited In Warriner, 1969). This broader meaning has most often been termed “agrarian reform” by others. The trouble with the broader concept is that some poIicymakers can claim to do “agrarian reform” even if they are avoiding “land reform”. On the other hand, effective land reform cannot take place without supporting programmes included in agrarian reform.
But since land reform is the centerpiece of agrarian reform, that will be our focus here. The purpose of land reform is conceived differently by economists, who are primarily concerned with its impact on production, and by political scientists who are most interested in its impact on the distribution of wealth, and thus of power. We confess to the latter preoccupation. A considerable degree of equality is, of course, a crucial basis of social satisfaction, and thus stability. It is also a prerequisite-and to some degree a product-of genuine democracy. In a dominantly agrarian society equity in land ownership is central. Democratic stability appears to be the goal of the Philippine government today, and thus the interest in land reform.
It has been suggested elsewhere that political elites initiate land reform to gain political legitimacy (Hung-chao Tal, 1974: 88). While this is undoubtedly true, there are other necessary conditions for its enactment and implementation. It is our task here to spell out those conditions and examine the extent to which they were present in 1972 and again in 1987 and what the consequences were-or will be-for policy accomplishment.
The Necessary Context for Reform
Successful land reform takes place in the context of mass threats and/or pressures, elite needs and opportunities, and an appropriate institutional framework to facilitate implementation. Let us examine the nature of these factors before noting their appearance in two different eras of Philippine politics.
Fear is a powerful motivation and may produce constructive as well as destructive outcomes. The threat posed to a landed elite by actual or impending peasant rebellion or revolution is a potent stimulus for reform, though the perception of threat varies among elite segments. Ever since the 1930s this has encouraged elite interest in land reform In particular periods In order to -preserve the system. – The threat has been embodied in the Sakdals, the Huks, and the NPA, or the more recent series of land seizures organized by the KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas).
However, threats alone may not activate elites to introduce land reform if not accompanied by other pressures. After all, a rise in Huk strength in the early 1950s did not impel Pres. Quirino to champion land reform. Wishful elites are often too quick to imagine that a threat is weak, or has ended, and that their wealth is secure. Peasant organizations capable of exercising effective pressure in the policy process-skillful lobbyists — are an important complement. This was most notable in 1971, when the NPA was still feeble — and could have become important again in 1988.
Elites may also be pushed toward land reform by motivations often Independent of mass demands, whether revolutionary or reformist. The search for legitimacy may turn toward land reform because of an expectation of peasant appreciation, but it may also be primarily concerned with pleasing foreign governments, as in Vietnam, or the Philippines In 1972. Legitimacy is sought because it reinforces power. Power may derive more directly from policies that undermine elite segments that pose actual or potential opposition to rulers. This was most obvious in the KMT reform in Taiwan that undercut the landed local elite, unhappy about KMT carpetbaggers.
Land reform may also arise out of institutionalized elite competition, in elections and legislatures, by aspiring elites attempting to build a mass following. The most important steps toward land reform before martial law were the amendments to the Land Reform Code enacted In 1971 under the leadership of middle-class legislators seeking to woo an organized peasantry, despite the subtle opposition of the president. This experience was clearly inconsistent with Samuel Huntington’s dictum that there is a basic incompatibility between parliament and land reform (Huntington, 1968: 388).
While the foregoing may be the contexts facilitating the enactment of land reform, to move from enactment to implementation also requires an appropriate institutional framework. A specialized national bureaucracy headed by a decision-maker with weight in the central policy process is only one essential. But in addition it is necessary to encourage input into implementation by peasants themselves. The strength of local farmers’ cooperatives was, for instance, crucial to the success of land reform in Japan. In fact, in a study of ten countries John Montgomery found that where central authority was in part devolved to the village, peasant farmers enjoyed clearer security rights as a result of land reform (Montgomery, 1974: 5). Without such formal devolution, the bureaucracy in a country with a powerful landed elite is too susceptible to landlord pressures-often itself springing from that class. But, of course, even with appropriate institutions, land reform will not be fully implemented without the continued commitment of the top leadership. This is why some of the most sweeping and successful land reforms have been undertaken in the aftermath of revolution. Sustained leadership commitment to reform does not require a revolution, but it is much less common without it.
Land Reform under Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos sometimes liked to call the New Society, “a revolution from above”, but those “below” had difficulty in discovering the “revolutionary” content. He also called land reform the “cornerstone” of the New Society, even adding “If land reform fails, there is no New Society” (PDE, 22 Sept. 1973). In the end it was too accurate a prediction.
Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 27 was the most sweeping land reform document that the Philippines had ever seen. It subjected to government purchase and resale to tenant occupants all tenanted rice and corn lands of more than 7 hectares. Compensation, for the first time, was not to be based on the market price, but was to be equivalent to 2 1/2 times the annual harvest, the Taiwanese and Vietnamese formula. This initiative was motivated by a special complex of factors.
Primary was the desire to undermine the strength of landed elites that had provided troublesome opposition before martial law. Aquino family land was among the first to be seized — and not just because it was in the “A’s”. Sergio Osmelia, Jr., of Cebu, who had opposed Marcos In the 1969 elections, owned extensive corn land. (Marcos’ opposition among sugar and coconut planters was dealt with somewhat later in another fashion, through marketing monopolies. There was clearly an advantage in confronting different elites at different times.) “Operation Land Transfer” of the Department of Agrarian Reform started to cover large estates first, and, in fact, never finished the category below 24 has. It appears that the presidential disinterest in the programme after the first few years was related to the fact that his primary goal had already been accomplished.
Land reform was also sold in Washington as a justification for the imposition of authoritarian rule. Marcos advisors were careful students of Huntington. This justification was based on the assumption that armed—as well as unarmed-agrarian unrest since 1970 revealed intense dissatisfaction with land tenure arrangements in some segments of the peasantry and that it could only be met effectively by executive decree. But unrest had been concentrated in Central Luzon, so that is where land reform efforts were concentrated as well. Reform, which included a crash programme to organize village cooperatives, was thus a way to win peasant support and place it within malleable organizations at the same time that revolutionary mass movements were being forcibly crushed. The two-pronged attack was apparently successful in the short run in destroying the “threat”.
Marcos succeeded as well in building a longer term political base in those Central Luzon provinces where the policy was most fully implemented. Nueva Ecija, which had perhaps the most mobilized peasantry, received the most attention. It had the largest U.S. aid project, was the site of the first Cooperative Bank, the first Area Marketing Cooperative, etc., etc. More than a decade after the reform had been implemented there, Ben Kerkvliet found that land reform beneficiaries voted for Marcos in gratitude-and because they had been persuaded that the election of Mrs. Aquino might invalidate P.D. 27. (Landless laborers, on the other hand, were more likely to support Aquino; they had received no benefit from Marcos reform). In other regions, where implementation had been flawed and incomplete, the reform itself contributed to agrarian unrest-raising and then dashing hopes-and so to the rise of the NPA, even in provinces which had never before seen a revolutionary movement.
The imposition of martial law ended open, legitimate interest group activity, except for coopted organizations. The Federation of Free Farmers, which had launched such a sophisticated and effective lobbying effort for land reform in 1971, was reduced to near impotence, even though it was often invited to participate in inconclusive government consultations on policy and its implementation. Other farmers’ organizations affiliated to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) or the Department of Agriculture were more cheering squads than pressure groups, in the corporatist style, even though their leaders were capable of very cogent critiques of policy problems.
The central institution necessary for reform, DAR, was already in existence prior to martial law, though under P.D. 27 it was substantially expanded. (Nevertheless pay and equipment was mostly inferior to other line departments, making for poor morale.) Secretary Conrado Estrella, formerly the governor of Pangasinan,had easy access to President Marcos, though after 1974 this seldom produced a major decision. Estrella did not lose favor — in the late ’70s he became regional coordinator for Central Luzon of the government political party, Kilusang Bangong Lipunan (KBL), and member of the party executive-but the president had lost Interest in agrarian policy. Estrella was himself a landlord, and had many friends in the same category. Rumors were rampant in the Department about the special deals these friends could strike, softening the impact of the law. Nor were landlords loath to approach DAR officials at the provincial and district level; in one town the DAR office was located on the veranda of the spacious residence of the largest landlord. While some DAR officials were harassed by landlords, and their lawyers, because of their honesty, others were rewarded for “cooperativeness”. In thousands of cases officials simply “overlooked” the existence of tenanted estates.
Perhaps the landlord’s greatest advantage was the Department’s reluctance to implement P.D. 27’s provision for Barrio Committees for Land Productivity, composed of four tenants, two owner-cultivators and two landlords as well as a few local officials. These Committees were supposed to examine the records and establish land productivity, which would determine the price. They might have been used more generally to supervise village level implementation. But landlords found initially that these committees produced a finding that resulted in a land price less than the market rate, and so they subsequently refused to come to meetings. DAR usually was reluctant to push for a decision without landlord representatives and instead allowed the extra-legal practice of price negotiation, in which local DAR officials often played a corrupt role. The land price nearly doubled as a result. The one institution which might have allowed substantial peasant input into the implementation process had been deactivated by landlord intransigence (see Wurfel, 1977: 13-14).
In this context, with incentives as well as deterrents to reform, what was accomplished by the “Land to the Tiller” programme under P.D. 27 in the little more than 13 years that Marcos had to supervise its implementation? The Operation Land Transfer (OLT) target varied in different reports in the early years, but by 1976 had settled on about a half-million tenants on about 750,000 has. of tenanted rice and corn land held by owners with more than 7 has. (This was only half of the tenants on tenanted rice and corn land according to DAR’s 1972 announcement.) (See Wurfel: 1977, 6-7.) As of the end of 1984 DAR (which had become a Ministry, or MAR) reported that 440,239 tenants had received Certificates of Land Transfer (ClTs) covering 755,172 has., or in excess of target. This Certificate merely identified the parcel of land which the tenant farmed, to which, under P.D. 27, he had a future right to secure ownership, pending completion of landlord compensation and cultivator repayment. MAR, and USAID, however, were passing off the ClT as land title in press conferences in Manila and congressional testimony in Washington. In any case, a large percentage (perhaps more than half) of ClTs described in official reports as “Issued” had never actually been received by the tenant farmer (Harkin, 1982: 11-12). The remainder sat in some MAR office either as a result of bureaucratic error, corrupt deal, or sloth, or because landlords had posed some objection, which usually took years to investigate. The actual number of “Emancipation Patents”, or land titles, produced by December 1984 were 164,881 for 120,702 tenants, or less than 25% of the originally accounted scope of the programme. There had been continued growth in this category In the 1980s and by January 1986 180,656 patents had been issued to 132,106 beneficiaries. But even the issuance of patents was not a sure indication of the longer term impact of the reform, since the cumulative rate of payment on amortizations was less than 20%.
To summarize the impact over 13 years we must note that 75% of expected beneficiaries, either because of bureaucratic ennui or landlord evasion (legal or illegal), had not become owner cultivators. Many of those had In the meantime lost the chance by selling (illegally) their CLTs. Furthermore, because landless laborers had never benefited from the reform and because population continued to grow, pressure on the land was intense; even the 25% of tenants who were supposed to have received “emancipation patents” did not necessarily remain owner-cultivators. Many-especially if they lived near towns-had taken on urban occupations and accepted share-tenants at traditional rates to farm their land. The pattern of Philippine land reform since the ear1y 1900s was at work: the removal of big landlords to be replaced by small ones. Nevertheless there had been some reduction in rural Inequity. And despite — or perhaps because of — the failures and inadequacies of the past, by 1986 the demand for the broadening and intensification of land reform was greater than ever before, both by peasants and their middle class spokespersons.
Land Reform Prospects under Aquino
Clear1y the threat of peasant-based revolution was far greater in ear1y 1986 than it was In 1972. There is now evidence that Marcos exaggerated the threat In order to justify the declaration of martial law. He claimed that the NPA had 10,000 armed men, but it was actually a fraction of that number. In 1985, on the other hand, there were over 20,000 guerrillas, an approximate figure at which the military confirmed Communist claims (see Porter, 1987). And the political base was numbered in the millions, scattered throughout most Philippine provinces. The military estimated near1y 20% of the nation’s villages under Communist Influence. Even American officials were talking about a Communist takeover in five years if trends were not reversed. The behavioral evidence of elite fears was the fact that by 1984-85 a number of leading figures in the reformist opposition had been willing to accept office in a broad coalition, the Nationalist Alliance, itself linked to the Communist-led National Democratic Front. The confidence of the revolutionary movement was shown, in turn, by the fact that It began to organize peasants more openly. In a two year period the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) rose from obscurity to become, with its affiliates, the largest peasant organization in the country, demonstrating on the streets of the capital and mobilizing peasants for mass action in the province.
Nevertheless elite perceptions of the threat altered dramatically in 1986-87. The mass outpouring of support for Cory Aquino and the “February Revolution”, with religious symbolism rampant, and the awkward election boycott by the CPP and its allies, discrediting party leadership even in the eyes of some members, caused more and more of the elite to act as if the danger had passed. This mood was reinforced in 1987 by the May election results and the rise of anti-Communist vigilantes in province after province. Despite the efforts of the leftist Partido ng Bayan, with several released political prisoners among the candidates, e.g. NPA founder Dante Buscayno, campaigning around the country, only three persons identified with the Left were elected to the House House than In 1946) and none to the Senate. In fact, the Left’s slate made a much poorer showing on election day than the supposedly discredited Marcos loyalists. The armed vigilantes, launched first by the military in Davao, but appearing within months in dozens of provinces (see Death Squads In the Philippines, 1987), were one deterrent to mass support of PnB candidates. They continued to grow after the election with military and often local government backing, but also with some community support.
It is not surprising, therefore, that within a landed elite eager to ignore the policy demands of a mass-based revolutionary movement, these indicators were read as its “collapse”, strengthening intransigence. While the instance of this phenomenon may not have been as frequent as he claimed-for he had been a strong supporter of Marcos, Jeremias Montemayor, president of the Federation of Free Farmers, claimed that many landowners were telling their tenants that under the Aquino dispensation, P.D. 27 and other agrarian reform decrees were no longer valid . By May the problem was serious enough, however, for the MAR itself to warn landowners not to nurse the “false hope that land reform would be reversed by the new government” _(MS, 4 May 1986). But this mood was even reflected by Pres. Aquino herself, who said in a speech at the Philippine Military Academy in early 1987, “The answer to the terrorism of the left and the right is not social and economic reform but police and military action.” (Quoted In Bello, 1987: 174).
Nor was the waning image of a revolutionary threat replaced by an effective mechanism for peasant pressure on the policy process. In fact, despite the efforts of some groups, pressure tactics for land reform were perhaps less productive than in 1971 — though the 1971 precedent was well-remembered in 1987-88. The basic problem in the late 1980s was that there was no nationwide peasant organization that was ideologically acceptable to decision-makers. Though Catholic Involvement in the land reform policy process increased significantly at the Manila level, there was nothing comparable to the FFF in the provinces. Jerry Montemayor by 1987 was trying to work his way into the good graces of the regime, but was neither well-respected in church circles nor strong in the countryside.
In an unexpected way the radical KMP did provide a temporary filip to land reform policy making. In January 1987 there had been little progress for some months in the drafting of a presidential decree on land reform. (Under the provisional constitution the president had full legislative powers, and even under the constitution which had just been drafted, she would retain powers until the convening of the newly elected Congress In July.) In June 1986 the KMP had issued a “Program for Genuine Land Reform” which emphasized free distribution of land to the peasants, though adding that “landlords who are not despotic and abusive shall be compensated”. (Schirmer and Shalom, 1987: 370-383.) Minister of Agrarian Reform Heherson Alvarez initially pronounced KMP demands “reasonable”. But in October the Philippine Peasant Institute, which advised the KMP, opined that “It is apparent that no genuine program of land reform can be had under the present administration” . Demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Agrarian Reform were thus perhaps as much for broader political effect as for influencing policy decisions. On January 22 the KMP decided to march on Malacañang Palace. The demonstrators, halted at Mendiola Bridge, about 300 meters from the Palace, broke through police lines and were fired on with live ammunition, especially by a unit of marines. Eighteen were killed and nearly 100 wounded. It was bloodier than any comparable incident in the Marcos era. Some quickly blamed KMP president Jaime Tadeo for provocation, but Gen. Ramon Montano, the Constabulary officer in overall command at the scene, admitted that provocation may have been by some military elements. _(NYT, 23 Jan. 1987). Marines were notorious for containing a high percentage of Marcos loyalists.
In addition to an almost immediate effort to dialogue with peasant and other leftist leaders after what came to be known as “The Mendiola Massacre”, Pres. Aquino visited the victims in hospital. To deflect criticism — even by the Catholic church — for her inaction on land reform, she soon appointed a Cabinet Action Committee to hasten the drafting of a decree. Its early drafts accepted the principle of extending reform to all crops and forms of cultivation, and several other KMP demands. A nationwide sample of public opinion in March, done by Ateneo’s Social Weather Station, found that 2/3 of those asked wanted the president to use her decree powers to enact land reforms “right away”, rather than waiting for Congress. It is obvious that the “martyrs of Mendiola”, whatever their aim, had temporarly speeded the process of reform.
But this tragic drama was soon forgotten in a welter of other political surprises, and the more sustained and wide-spread effort to influence policy which the KMP had undertaken, land occupation (see Malaya, 21 March 1986), seemed if anything to be counter-productive. To be sure peasant direct action to occupy and cultivate idle land — in most cases owned by Marcos cronies — was as much a response by KMP leadership to rice-roots impatience as it was a calculated national strategy. In many instances KMP organizers simply advised on new techniques to seize idle land that had already been subject to peasant initiatives years earlier. In any case, many expected this tactic to create the tension that would raise a national sense of urgency about land reform. The targeting of crony land in 1986, widely regarded as legitimate, inhibited elite retaliation. Even some officials of the Ministry of Agrarian Reform looked kindly on this activity as a way to put higher national priority on agrarian issues. By mid-1987 approximately 70,000 hectares had been seized by KMP-Ied peasants in 15 different provinces (FBIS, 23 July 1987, L-12).
But by 1988 there was some indication the tide had turned. Expected new seizures did not materialize, and military or vigilante harassment increased against those which had taken place. In several instances peasants were driven off by armed force; in others peasant leaders were victims of vigilante assassinations (Peasant Update International, Jan. 1988,8-9). The re-emergence of traditional politicians at the local level — landlords or their friends — encouraged these reactions. And in some instances the Philippine Commission for Good Government, which acquired title to some of these lands, became concerned about resale price and thus favored strong-arm methods to free the land of unwanted occupants. A devastating blow was Executive Order (E.O.) No. 229 of July 22nd which permanently disqualified from receiving benefits under agrarian reform persons, associations, or entities who prematurely enter the land to avail themselves of the rights and benefits hereunder. Landlord reaction, not peasant pressure, had had the most influence on the president’s thinking.
E.O. 229 and the associated E.O. 228, issued on the eve of the reconvening of Congress, reaffirmed P.D. 27 and established the provisions of the new agrarian reform policy, but fell far short of expectations in other ways as well. Most crucial issues, like compensation, retention limit and coverage were left to the legislators chosen in the May 1987 election. That election was famous for its revival of “political dynasties” and other patronage politicians; In Negros the conservative sugar planters rallied to Mrs. Aquino, received her blessings, and were restored to power. As the chairman of the Agrarian Reform Committee of the House of Representatives himself remarked, “If you have a Congress dominated by landlord Interests, then the laws they make will certainly … not make them commit political and economic suicide.” The articulate Representative Boni Gillego went further, saying “Most of [these Congressmen] remind me of Tara In ‘Gone with the Wind’. … They would like to cling to the days of glory… “ . The bill presented by Gillego, and supported by the pro-peasant forces of all ideological stripes, only had 43 co-sponsors. The landlords’ bill, effectively preventing the extension of coverage to plantation crops, had more than 100 sponsors, or a majority of the House. The urgent need, if there was to be _any progress, was for sustained and effective peasant pressure.
This need was recognized especially by some elements in the church and by various centrist activists. They launched the Congress for a People’s Agrarian Reform (CPAR) and planned their first assembly — following several smaller consultations — for the end of May 1987. (The organizing committee included both a Protestant and a Catholic bishop, two Jesuit scholars, economist Mahar Mangahas, and agriculturist D.L. Umali.) They hoped to entice Pres. Aquino into announcing her land reform decree on that occasion, but they failed. Thus an even stronger organization was needed. The affiliation of 13 major organizations of peasants and fisherfolk was arranged through a consultative council, which included KPM, and was directed by a left-of-center executive committee (without KPM) (see Agrarian Reform: Today’s Imperative, 1987). CPAR leaders met with Pres. Aquino and the Cabinet Action Committee in June. On July 14 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Issued a pastoral letter, “Thirsting for Justice”, which urged the adoption of comprehensive and effective land reform. But landlord pressures on the President were more potent, so that Executive Orders 228 and 229, issued July 22, were — as noted above — sharp disappointments. So CPAR switched the locale of its efforts to Congress. A “tent city” was soon erected on the grounds to house peasant groups coming from the provinces to lobby the legislators. However, despite the attempt by CPAR to bridge the gap, these pressure tactics suffered severe polarization. The largest mass organization was a reluctant and sometime participant, while the sophisticated talent which directed the lobbying, including Bishop Francisco Claver, worked closely with smaller groups, less impressive to hardened politicians.
At the same time some of the brightest Filipino intellectuals have become involved in lobbying Congress in a systematic fashion on a range of issues. In late 1986 a network of voluntary associations was formed to press for improved legislation; it was called ADVOCATE (Alternative Development Canter for Advocacy, Training and Education). Seven issue areas were identified in which lobbying would take place, including industrial democracy, media policy, debt repudiation, and agrarian reform. The overall coordinator is Karen Tanada, grand-daughter of the highly respected doyen of Filipino nationalism, Lorenzo Tanada. Supporting organizations range from centrist to non-party Left. On the question of land reform they coordinated their activities with CPAR (Intersect, Oct. 1987,9).
The elite configuration, however, was not as conducive to reform as it had been In the 1970s. The ruling elite felt no lack of legitimacy or popular support, and the lack of any scheduled national election until 1992 reduced the urgency for aspiring elites to seek mass support. Furthermore presidential leadership was lacking.
Cory Aquino was much less committed to land reform than was the late Ramon Magsaysay, with whom she was often compared. Both were naturally charismatic leaders, tremendously popular. Both were also strongly anti-Communist and had been elected with American support. But Magsaysay was not to the manor born8. On the other hand, the Cojuangco family was one of the largest landlords in the whole country, and the social circles in which it moved were certainly not conducive to a reformist orientation on the agrarian question by Cory Aquino. In his last election campaign Marcos and his minions had bitterly attacked Mrs. Aquino for her landed origins. Court action to force the break-up of the Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita was speeded Just before February, and hacienda workers were mobilized for Marcos (see BT, 1 Jan. 1986; Malaya, 3 Jan. 1986). Aquino’s campaign advisors pressed her to counterattack; in a speech in Davao City she promised, 81 shall sit down with my family to explore how the twin goals of maximum productivity and the dispersal of ownership can be exemplified for the rest of the nation in Hacienda Luisita . Two weeks later in Batangas she promised to make Luisita ‘the prime model of what a genuine land reform program should be _(Malaya, 3 Feb. 1986).
But on assuming office, despite the fact that four or five different research groups, in and out of government, were exploring how best to deal with Hacienda Luisita, Mrs. Aquino began to back away from what had appeared to be an earlier commitment. In December 1986 the Cojuangco family filed a motion with the Court of Appeals to pursue their fight to reverse an earlier court order for the sale of the hacienda to its tenants (Komisar, 1987: 181). When asked by journalists about the president’s failure to take action on Luisita, the minister of agrarian reform replied, this is a very democratic president. She will have to talk to her brothers and slsters.8 Family members were, in fact, more concerned with profit than moral example. In January 1988 Manila radio, TV and press trumpeted “President places Hacienda Luisita under land reform”. But a closer reading of Aquino’s words showed a more limited commitment: Hacienda Luisita, will, I repeat, comply with the requirements for registration of all agricultural lands pursuant to Executive Order 2298 (FBIS. 22 Jan. 1988, p. 35). To have done otherwise would have been in violation of law, and, in any case, whether registration would actually lead to redistribution depended on the action of Congress. Cojuangco wealth was not in great danger! But any pretense at moral leadership by the president had been forfeited.
By another criteria, land reform received the Aquino government’s lowest priority. She waited longer to appoint a new minister of agrarian reform than to any other position in the cabinet, i.e. nearly two months. While the Marcos appointee, Conrado Estrella, remained as a caretaker, little that was constructive happened in the Ministry. Twice politicians arrived to take over the minister’s office, only to discover that they had not been appointed after all. Opposition critics claimed Aquino inaction was encouraging landlord efforts to roll back P.D. 27 . At the end of April 1986 President Aquino appointed Heherson Alvarez who had been head of the Ninoy Aquino Movement in the U.S., and had just returned to the Philippines after more than a decade in exile. Though bright, and seemingly committed to genuine reform, he was politically inexperienced and unfamiliar with the agrarian reform program. He quickly made his mark by announcing that expansion of agrarian reform to sugar and coconut lands was being
seriously studied _(MS, 5 May, 1986). He was as quickly opposed by the much more influential minister of agriculture, Ramon Mitra, who was himself a large coconut planter. Mitra publicly asked the president to defer any action on expanding the scope of land reform, arguing that reform in rice and corn should be completed first (PDE, 9 May, 1986).
When the campaign opened in March for the 1987 Congressional election the position of (now) secretary of agrarian reform was again left vacant. Alvarez was nominated to Pres. Aquino’s senate slate. Not until after the July 22, 1987 executive order on land reform, or about four months later, was the post again filled, by the then undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Philip Juico. Juico, who had been in Aquino’s media bureau during the presidential campaign, was husband of the president’s appointments secretary. In the Marcos era he had been a protege of agriculture minister Arturo Tanco, but in 1976 had resigned from government to take positions in a series of agribusiness consulting firms (MC, 31 Jan. 1988). In an Interview he admitted the delay in making key decisions on agrarian reform had harmed agriculture, reducing investment and drying up credit. At the same time he indicated that the executive branch was not supporting any Congressional bill on land reform.
In sum, Cory Aquino was so confident in her own popularity and in the legitimacy of the first freely elected regime in nearly 15 years, that she did not see the need of seeking further support through policy. Furthermore, her own family’s interests were threatened by the land reform being demanded by peasants and their friends. While no one accused the president of greed, she was certainly susceptible to family pressure. In fact, her brother Jose became increasingly powerful in her regime.
Because of the early stage of her regime and her continued-though failing-popularity, it was difficult for a reformist opposition to stake out a position on policy to the left of President Aquino. Her opposition on the right, even within her own bloc, was led by landlords reinvigorated by the recent revival of competitive patronage politics. Thus the position of Congressmen opposing the landlord bloc, led by Jose Cojuangco, was precarious. Rep. Bonifacio Gillego, who introduced the most radical land reform bill in Congress, was soon thereafter accused by an intelligence agency of being a “communist”. Gillego, a Korean War veteran and former military intelligence officer, is an admitted student of Marxism. His articulate support by the Partido ng Bayan members of the House made it even easier for anti-Communist landlords to make wild charges. On the other hand, a legislative fight for land reform was not necessarily an effective tool for mobilizing peasant voters five years later.
An appropriate institutional framework, as we have noted, is also a requirement for effective implementation of land reform. There were potential pluses for this dimension in the Aquino era, but minuses as well. We have already mentioned the inactivity in the Department of Agrarian Reform which resulted from the president’s delay on appointments. In July 1987, alongside the executive order spelling out the principles of land reform was EO 129-A, which provided for a reorganization of DAR. Though a housecleaning was long overdue, especially given the earlier charges of corruption, this indirect method tended to put more emphasis on political loyalties. New patronage appointments were made, bringing in a number of inexperienced people to middle levels. Nor were the secretary’s connections in agribusiness a good omen. In the turmoil of reorganization the Department was a less effective tool for reform than it had been in 1972.
However, there was a potentially significant improvement in the executive orders. Not only was the Barrio Committee for Land Productivity reestablished in E.O. 228, but E.O. 229 provided for Barangay Agrarian Reform Councils “to participate and give support to the implementation of programs on agrarian reform; [and] to mediate, conciliate or arbitrate agrarian conflicts and issues that are brought to it for resolution” (Section 19). While all relevant interests in the village were to be represented on the Council, its exact composition was not specified. Thus whether it really turns out to be an “appropriate institution” remains to be seen. There is no indication that very many such councils have yet been formed.
E.O. 229 also provided for another new structure, a Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, chaired by the president, with all relevant cabinet secretaries as members. The president was authorized to appoint in addition “representatives of agrarian reform beneficiaries and affected landowners”, but in six months none had been appointed. A more effective means of high level coordination would seem to be useful, in principle, but the large number of cabinet secretaries included would severely dilute reformist priorities.
This disappointing review of the context of land reform in the Aquino administration should help prepare one for a review of accomplishments, which will be grouped in three categories: the ongoing Implementation of P.D. 27, other redistribution possible without Congressional enactment, and the progress of policy-making.
It is difficult to judge what has actually happened in implementation in view of the radical discontinuity in figures reported by DAR. We earlier noted the MAR claimed that as of January 1986, at the end of the Marcos era, 180,656 “emancipation patents” had been “generated” for 132,106 farmer-beneficiaries. It was figures at that level that were accepted even by critical journalists and scholars as representing the number of new owner cultivators created by P.D. 27. But “generation” only meant printed and implied nothing about where the patents were actually kept. Another figure which MAR officials regularly compiled which was less well known, was the number of patents “issued”, or “distributed”. Though this figure was not reported in 1984, as of March 31, 1983 only 39,011 patents to 36,712 tenants had actually been “issued”, or 8.6% of the then stated goal. (MAR: “Summary, Operation Land Transfer, Program Accomplishment,” as of March 31, 1983, p. 1) On March 10, 1986 MAR’s “Status Report on Emancipation Patent Issuance” cited only 21,998 as having been “distributed to farmer beneficiaries”. And as of October 1986, MAR told the Far Eastern Economic Review (5 March 1987, p. 35) that 19,903 patents had been distributed to 11,187 farmers, or only 3.1% of the target. Then in DAR’s accomplishment report of June 30, 1987 it was stated that as of December 1986 43,661 patents had been issued to 33,237 beneficiaries! At the same time the January to June 1987 accomplishment was reported at 52,443 patents issued to 40,046 farmers, or more than in the previous fifteen years!
As of October 1986 the rapid progress to the rear may have been simply greater honesty of reporting In the Aquino era. But in June 1987 the picture looked rather different. The new figures appeared to represent a super-human effort over the previous several months, particularly remarkable in view of the large number of empty desks evident day after day for visitors to DAR’s Quezon City offices in that period. A certain healthy skepticism has always been necessary in analyzing statistical reports from Philippine government agencies; DAR’s figures are particularly remarkable.
The other area of land reform policy in which the executive branch was free to act without legislative guidance was in the distribution of idle, abandoned or foreclosed lands. Lands foreclosed by government banks needed not be expropriated, but only redistributed. No national figures were released, but land foreclosed or eligible for foreclosure probably involved over one hundred thousand hectares nationally. President Aquino had directed in mid-1986 that such lands be placed under the administration of MAR, but in January 1987 no lands had yet been released by the banks. Especially in Negros, sugar planters vigorously resisted such a process.
In “Agrarian Reform: Transition Report” MAR officials in mid-1986 recommended that all private agricultural lands idle or abandoned since 1980 be placed under the jurisdiction of MAR for distribution to qualified landless tillers. Some of it had already been illegally occupied by peasants. But without drafting any guide lines for distribution, the president retaliated against peasant occupiers In E.O. 229. Then in August 1987 DAR Assistant Secretary Salvador Pejo announced that an 800 ha. estate in Cavite and Laguna provinces would soon be transferred to DAR for redistribution to tenants by the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG), trying to recover the ill gotten gains of Marcos and his cronies (MC, 19 Aug., 1987). It is not yet known how many other such estates are slated for redistribution. Government banks have resisted transfer of foreclosed lands to DAR, fearing lower returns on resale.
The aspect of land reform which has received most public attention since Mrs. Aquino took power is the formulation of new policy to expand the coverage. The very first task force appointed by Pres. Aquino in March 1986 to review agrarian policy — including former political prisoner Gerry Bulatao — recommended the extension of coverage beyond rice and corn to all crops. As noted above, when Heherson Alvarez was appointed minister he reiterated that the matter was under “serious consideration”. Spurred to action by the tragedy at Mendiola, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Agrarian Reform produced a report on April 27, 1987 which laid out plans for an “Accelerated Land Reform Program” covering all agricultural lands of owners with more than 7 has., imposed in stages beginning with 50 has. and above. Compensation was to be provided at the same level as the landowners tax declaration. It recommended also a land rent ceiling on leasehold land of 20% of gross production. The report made specific recommendations about the contents of an executive order which the president was expected to issue before the Congress convened. The drafting committee went through 14 versions before the executive order was actually signed by the president.
As late as May 25th the draft was still strong, with the coverage extending to all private agricultural land (see PRRM, 1987). Failure of landowners to register land for purposes of reform could be punished with fine and imprisonment. Beneficiaries could pay for the land received in 17 annual installments without interest. For these and other provisions the draft was still acceptable to peasant advocacy groups. But landlords, especially in Negros, were already threatening defiance of the law if such a reform were pushed through, and calling its terms .communist”.
The draft of June 3rd was softening (see PRRM, 1987). The Implementation of the 7 has. retention was set back five years, thus giving more time for landlord evasion. Perhaps most fundamental, the draft shifted from land tax declaration to “owners’ declaration of current fair market value” as the primary basis for determining compensation, greatly increasing benefits to landowners and cost to government. The burden on the farmer beneficiary was also raised by stating that land amortization payments would be adjusted for inflation. The Congress for People’s Agrarian Reform (CPAR), in a May 31st “Declaration of Principles” had called for zero retention, progressive compensation (with less than full compensation for larger holdings), and for village level councils made up only of cultivators, which would elect delegates to councils at higher levels, all of which would have a voice in the formulation and implementation of agrarian policy. The CPAR document obviously had little impact.
The gap between the June 3rd draft and the final product of July 22nd — the eve of the opening of the newly elected Congress — was most dramatic. The president and her advisors had been talking to some irate landowners — and to her brother, “Peping” Cojuangco. Provisions on retention limit were omitted entirely, as were any particulars about level of landlord compensation. Amortizations were stretched over a 3O-year period, but a 6 percent interest rate was imposed. Corporate landowners were excused from redistribution if they adopted an approved plan of stock distribution to their workers. The most contentious issues in land reform were left to determination by Congress. The language in Sec. 1 of E.O. 229 was thus of doubtful utility: “The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program shall cover, regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced, all public and private agricultural lands.”
House of Representatives bill No. 400 was quickly introduced by Rep. Gillego, Chairman of the Committee on Agrarian Reform. His bill, which had the strongest support from peasant groups, called for zero retention and no compensation for lands over 50 has. But to fend off amendment by substitution, Gillego soon had to retreat on the retention limit, first to 3 has. and then to 14. Even so his bill was estimated to have the support of only about 47 members, compared to 117 for the “landlords’ bill”, introduced by Representatives Guanzon and Starke of Negros, both large sugar planters. This bill had a 24 has. retention limit-which alone would exclude nearly 87 percent of private agricultural land-but also exempted retirees, seed farms, and private research centers. It provided that every land acquisition by the government had to be reviewed in court If the landlord claimed an exemption, and that full compensation could be claimed in cash. While this language would probably have been sufficient to prevent any significant reform in sugar, coconut or other crops, rice and corn landlords were also wooed by a provision which would have junked the compensation procedures In P.D. 27 and replaced them with a figure based on the “owner’s declaration of current fair market value”.
In the Senate the differences between the Senate Bill No. 133, presented by Sen. Heherson Alvarez, Agrarian Reform Committee Chairman, and by the more radical bill of Sen. Butz Aquino (SB No. 123) were much narrower than between the two bills in the House. In fact, they were soon compromised in SB No. 249. And there were strengthening amendments later. However, the compromise still based compensation on landlords’ declaration. While it allowed livestock enterprises, aquaculture enterprises and orchards” to avoid redistribution, the provisions for sharing gross revenues or for stock ownership offered a real opportunity to the workers. The make-up of the Barangay Agrarian Reform Committee under E.O. 229 was also altered to increase the likelihood of dominance by actual cultivators or their representatives, though the method for choosing members was still vague. A penalty, not found In E.O. 229, was imposed on landowners failing to register their lands.
The public controversy over land reform heated up in March as the House approached a final decision on two very different bills. In Davao City Rep. Hortencla Starke, a Negros sugar planter and one of the most vehement opponents of agrarian reform, rallied a friendly crowd “to raise your voices against this unjust, unconstitutional, unfair and divisive bill. That will cause a civil war in this country” (MC, 20 March 1988). But she added that owners should not give up their land until paid- “take up your guns”, she cried. Some landlords were embarrassed, but many around the country cheered her on.
In this atmosphere the president showed courage. For the first time she took a pro-reform message to hostile territory. “The nation’s circumstances dictate that we look beyond self-interest to national preservation”, she declared to a convention of the National Federation of Sugar Planters, which sat in stony silence (MC, 23 March 1988). The same day the first pro-land reform rally organized by the Catholic hierarchy brought five thousand marchers to Congress for a mass led by Bishop Teodoro Bacani. Placards favored HB 400, but some also said “Land: God’s gift to all”, and “Land reform counters Insurgency”.
As the Catholic Church became even more prominent in the campaign for a tougher land reform bill, landlords turned their attacks on the church, challenging the bishops to give up their material wealth before asking landlords to give up their land. It was also suggested that Congressman Gillego, HB 400 sponsor, should be deported to the Soviet Union! (MC, 22 March 1988). Anti-reform landowner’s organizations even went so far as to buy large newspaper adds accusing the Philippine hierarchy of being unfaithful to papal encyclicals-of 1891 and 1931, without mentioning the dates (MC, 25 May 1988). The 1987 bishops’s pastoral letter on land reform was reissued April 30th, though some bishops cautiously defended the landlords.
The direction the wind was blowing in the House of Representatives was confirmed by a late March vote on retention limits. Congressmen voted 118 to 49 to amend HB 400 to allow retention of 7 hectares for the landowner and 3 has. more for each legal heir, which was estimated by Rep. Gillego to exclude 97 percent of private agricultural lands from the agrarian reform program (MC, 23 March 1988). After that and other crippling amendments — such as 50 percent cash payment to landowners — Gillego and a dozen other sponsors of the original HB 400 withdrew their sponsorship. HB 400 had become “the landlords’ bill”, and was adopted on second reading by the full House; the Alvarez-Aqulno compromise, after some additional amendment, was passed by Senate, both prior to the Easter recess.
A massive national protest of unprecedented proportions was still not able to head off passage of HB 400 on third reading after the recess. On April 22nd 10,000 to 20,000 farmers and their supporters rallied in a Manila plaza, many of them enroute from northern or southern Luzon for three or four days (DG, 22 April 1988; MS, 22 April 1988). Hundreds had been prevented from entering Manila by military checkpoints. This rally, addressed by congressmen and senators (including the president’s brother-in-law) and peasant leaders, was the major effort of CPAR which had been lobbying for months. The wide coalition, Including church and social democratic groups, as well as affiliates of the NDF, was held together — despite tensions — by the common outrage at the actions of the House (MC, 20 April 1988). Even the somewhat conservative Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, once under Marcos influence, opposed HB 400 and warned that passage of a pro-landlord bill would only trigger peasant revolt (PDI, 6 April 1988).
After passage on third reading the two rather different bills went to a carefully chosen conference committee — from which both Rep. Starke and Rep. Gillego were excluded. Six weeks of hard bargaining finally produced a compromise and what came to be known as Republic Act 6657 was passed by both houses on June 7th. Both the content of the law and the reactions to it need to be examined.
Despite the bold statement in Sec. 4 that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 shall cover, regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced, all public and private agricultural lands, the scope of coverage is going to be very much smaller. Not only does Sec 6 assure the landlord retention of 5 has. for himself and 3 has. for each child over 15 years of age who is “actually tilling the land or directly managing the farm”, but it gives landlords an additional three months beyond the effectivity of the act to evade reform by transferring ownership to other parties.
While there are other important legal exemptions in the act, the largest loophole is the provision for registration of lands, without which government has no cognizance of the pattern of landholding. The census is done on the basis of sampling, land taxation administration is so weak that vast areas of fertile cultivated land are beyond the official ken, and repeated efforts at parcellary mapping by the Bureau of Lands have had minimum success. The registration of agricultural land ordered, as in E.O. 229, is backed up by no penalty for noncompliance; and registration under the provisions of E.O. 229, despite an expensive publicity campaign, are estimated so far to have been 5 percent of the total. Landlord resistance at the very first step of the administrative process can be fully effective; landlords are well aware of the fact that registration cannot be compelled (MC, 6 Feb. 1988).
If a later amendment should provide a penalty, however, landlords have defense in depth. The provisions for compensation are hopelessly complex. There is no clear definition of “just compensation”, though “the current value of like properties” is prominently mentioned. And landlords are invited to challenge in the courts every valuation set by the Department of Agrarian Reform. Even though Sec. 16 provides that DAR may take possession of any land it intends to acquire if the landowner challenges the compensation offered, this provision will itself surely be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. In any case, the appropriation of funds is quite inadequate to support compensation at market value if it were acceptable to the owner.
Market value compensation in RA 6657 is, of course, a regression from PD 27 which set compensation as a multiple of land productivity. There is a widespread impression that the simpler procedures of PD 27, more favorable to the cultivator-beneficiary, will continue to operate on rice and corn land, to which PD 27 applies. However, the little noticed language of Sec 75 provides that “PD 27 … and other laws not inconsistent with this Act shall have suppletory effect.” Since the compensation provision of PD 27 are entirely inconsistent with RA 6657, this language would appear to be saying that such provisions are null and void. Imaginative legal interpretation may avoid this conclusion, but the Act seems to be a dramatic step backyard for the prospect of land reform in food crops. In this and other passages, the law is very poorly drafted, thus helping to solve the unemployment problem in the legal profession.
When President Aquino signed the law on June 10 (FBIS, 13 June 1988,32), she pronounced wistfully: “This act, I hope: will end all the acrimony and misgiving of the contending parties to the program and unite the nation behind the effort to make agrarian reform a success In our country.” If the president had any real expectation of this actually happening, she herself will quickly be disillusioned. The disillusionment of peasant groups was Instantaneous. Said the KMP on June 13 (PDI, 13 June 1988),
“From where the farmers stand: the CARP Law is but a mockery of our aspiration for genuine agrarian reform. . . . CARP is the protection of the Interests and privileges of the landlord class and the multinationals. . . . The much flaunted ‘centerpiece’ of the US-Aquino regime boils down to nothing more than a hoax. . . . Now that the US-Aquino regime has killed the Filipino farmers’ hope for land and for a better life, we are left with no other choice but to rely on ourselves and strength of our unity in attaining this aspiration.” Though the ideological color of this statement is clear, more objective observers could readily agree on the term “hoax”. This legislation will accomplish very little land reform and will only heighten agrarian conflict. For purposes of political mobilization, the KMP should find its enactment very useful. To paraphrase Pres. Aquino, “the primacy of self-interest will prevent national preservation”. The bloody, debilitating and often fruitless struggle of the Filipino peasant for social justice, which has already lasted off and on for one hundred years, will continue, probably at an accelerated pace.
Given the contextual limitations, including the Cojuangco family, there were still other options for the Aquino administration that might have improved the lot of the small farmer, increased regime legitimacy, and reduced agrarian unrest. One such option had been proposed by top officials of MAR within the first few months of the Aquino government: vigorously redistribute lands seized by PCGG from Marcos and his cronies. This might have avoided confrontation with KMP over land occupations. If at the same time early attention had been given to improving the regulations for and speeding the implementation of PD 27, an area in which there was ample experience and several well-grounded critiques, the administration’s record and its image could have been improved.
There was a fundamental mistake in talking early and often about a sweeping reform in all crops and doing nothing about it while the power was still in the president’s hands. One effect of this was to re-enshrine in the 1987 Constitution the requirement for just compensation, a phrase which in Philippine jurisprudence had always meant full market value. Sugar and coconut landlords and their friends in the Constitutional Commission were precisely wary of a repeat of P.D. 27, where this principal of compensation was ignored, while some well-intentioned delegates supporting reform did not realize the full consequence of its inclusion.
Big talk and little action had the net effect of activating the landlords and lulling the proponents of reform, until after July 1987. That this happened can be blamed in part on a lack of leadership, for the constraints of a situation, both economic and political, never entirely eliminate some scope for the leader’s initiative. Cory Aquino has never adequately understood the plight of the peasants or the political consequences of being inattentive to them. Her leadership style on land reform legislation has been described by a church critic as “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”. (MC, 9 Jan. 1988). In fairness, however, she was thrust so rapidly into the role of presidential candidate, and somewhat unexpectedly into that of president, that she had little time to prepare. This was not a problem for Marcos In 1972. Nor was he faced with a fractious cabinet of varied interests which added to the confusion and indecision of the Aquino administration. But there is no evidence that in her first year in power Mrs. Aquino even attempted to set a strategy on land’ reform that would guide her government. In historical perspective it may be viewed as a tragic omission. For it is now unlikely that her government can regain sufficient momentum in land reform to head off a new Intensification of agrarian unrest.
Dire warnings come from all sides. Said Malaya, “the government should not permit the support of the peasantry to be lost by default to the rebels. It should implement genuine land reform now.” Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto warned, “Land reform. . . is one of the demands of the insurgents. . . so we must be sure that it will succeed. (MC, 7 June 1987). The Toronto Globe and Mall summed it up editorially, “One of Mrs. Aquino’s most enthusiastic supporters in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Stephen Solarz, has predicted that ‘the Philippines will see either agrarian reform or agrarian revolution.’ For the moment, the slide is perceptibly toward the second of those possibilities.” (25 Jan. 1988).
Perceptions of so many in the landed elite, and perhaps that of the president herself, that the revolutionary movement has collapsed are almost certainly wrong. It is hard to disagree with the author who said, “with a few notable exceptions, the Philippine establishment which replaced Marcos’ reign seemed … to be as uninformed about the CPP and leftist movements as its predecessor” (Chapman, 1987: 260). The comforting thought that the late ’80s is like the mid ’50s, with a similar outcome impending, seems to be sufficiently widespread to feed elite Intransigence. But it is a failure of historical analysis. One cannot assume that 80 percent electoral turnout in May 1987 for candidates mostly involved in the old patronage politics means that peasants have abandoned their interest in fundamental change. They are simply pragmatic enough to try all avenues. It seems likely that if the political, constitutional channel fails them again they will be willing to rejoin the march to revolution. Many are already battle weary. Few relish the thought of additional years of struggle. But an elite that assumes that the rural poor are willing to resume the social and economic patterns of the 1960s, with a few crumbs to keep some hope alive, may be sowing the seeds of its own destruction. To be sure there are still some political figures who understand this; they may some day emerge in more prominent leadership roles. But in 1988 the choices for action — or inaction — were still being made by Corazon Aquino.
UNIVERSITY OF WINDSOR
Books and articles
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Bulletin Today (BT)
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