Philippine Agrarian Institutions in Transition

by David Wurfel, Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, York Univ./Univ. of Toronto prepared for International Conference for Philippine Studies, Quezon City, July 2000

I. Introduction

Agrarian institutions, very important elements of Philippine society, have been caught up in a broader transition from a dominantly patrimonial system to a somewhat more urbanized, industrial, diversified social order. Our task here is to describe and explain this transition, especially the role of agrarian institutions within it. If agrarian institutions have changed over the last century (the scope we have chosen), the causes are to be found not only in factors that explain transformation in other institutions as well, but, perhaps, also in policies and practices of government deliberately designed to produce such change. Thus we must look at the content and probable impact of those policies over time.

To be sure, there are those who argue that essentially there has been no change, that the evils of feudalistic agrarian institutions of a century ago are still with us. Certainly there still is corruption of the courts by landlord money; the Supreme Court is still ideologically in the landlord camp; there is still the use of force by landlords to expel tenants from the land or prevent ARBs (‘agrarian reform beneficiaries’) from entering; there are still landlords who use credit to create dependency among tenants and ARBs; and there are still small farmer-owners losing their land because of debt, as occurred one hundred years ago. These potent vestiges of a patron-client system dominated by landed wealth are realities that we cannot deny. Yet there are also real changes. A much larger percentage of farmers utilize institutional credit, with lower interest rates, than a century earlier. Landlord abuses were, for a time, countered by armed rebels, the NPA, and are now often limited, in some situations, by the non-violent action of NGOs and POs at the local level. Though agrarian reform implementation is still often distorted by the political and pseudo-legal intervention of powerful landlords, NGOs and POs also have some influence on administrative behavior on behalf of tenants and small farmers. Change is at best partial, and its pattern is uneven. But this is the character of transitional institutions, transitional social systems.

Changes in agrarian institutions are brought about in large part by unintended, irreversible changes in demography and the market. Rapid population growth, without any expansion of land area, of necessity reduces the average size of farms-since employment creation in the non-agricultural sector is less than the growth in the labor force. Pressure on the land increases land prices; capital, not rural labor, becomes scarce. Interest rates rise. At the same time the market continues to expand. More and more Filipino farmers produce for export, or at least domestic urban markets. Self-sufficient villages have practically disappeared. And as urban areas expand, more and more farmers are brought into a semi-urban economy. Conversion of land use from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes, without consulting or adequately compensating the cultivator, is the most obvious, and devastating, aspect of this process.

Urbanization, associated with industrialization, should serve to diversify elites, creating commercial and industrial interests different from, and potentially competing with, those of the originally dominant agrarian elites. To some extent this has happened, but there has not been enough change to have a significant impact on Philippine politics, since commercial and industrial activities so often emerged from within the old elites. (Wurfel, 1979)

These changes, population growth, marketization, and urbanization (associated with expanded education), have created hardship for the small cultivator (rent increases, evictions, reduced cultivable area) at the same time that they helped undermine some of the near feudal agrarian institutions typical of the early 1900s-and even earlier. Under the ‘proper’ political and economic (e.g. prices) conditions, that hardship has triggered political protest, often violent. Armed rebellion in the 1950s, ’70s and ’80s led political elites to recognize the advantages of some modifications of policies toward small farmers. These policies, in a complex, and not always consistent, package came to be known as agrarian reform. Both because of inherent weaknesses in the political system and out of the deliberate design of landed elites, these policies were, until the l970s, largely unimplemented. Yet their enactment, widespread information about them and partial implementation only increased the unrest already emerging as a result of deteriorating agrarian conditions. However, by the 1980s there was a wider recognition that revolutionary action might not be the best way to improve peasant welfare over the long run. This helped to trigger a proliferation of organizations of small farmers and on behalf of small farmers which vowed to work within the political system to shape and help implement agrarian reform.

The earlier violent expressions of agrarian unrest were essential stimuli to elite policy responses. But only a later more sophisticated, non-violent participation inside the policy process by peasant groups could expand the policy impact. This participation helped to formulate and implement policies better able to bring change in traditional agrarian institutions, but perhaps more important was the attempt to create rural institutions autonomous of landed elites. Government attempts to create such institutions in ‘crash programs’, such as FACOMAS in the 1950s or samahang nayon in the 1970s, were largely failures. The mass organizing by a counter-elite committed to fundamental change, but within legal processes, had a feeble beginning in the 1950s, but was not yet a major factor until the late ’80s. It was important both for further change in agrarian institutions, and as a manifestation of that change.

Agrarian reform, which is both a reflection of and a further stimulus to change in agrarian institutions encompasses more than ‘land reform’: the acquisition by the government of land holdings above a certain threshold and their redistribution to cultivating tenants and/or farm workers. It also includes legislated improvements in the terms of tenancy, distribution of public lands to cultivators, and the credit, technical assistance and infrastructure development necessary to allow the ARB to make an economic success of his/her new found status. If implemented effectively it undermines feudalistic tenancy relationships, breaks up large landed estates, and displaces the usurer, that is, it helps destroy the oppressive old agrarian institutions. It also helps build new institutions, cooperatives of all kinds, autonomous peasant organizations, and even contributes to the democratization of local government. But we cannot expect too much of this very imperfect tool. If one is in a pessimistic mood, one is reminded that a largely ‘successful’ Japanese land reform, which transformed almost all tenants into cultivator owners, did not eliminate patrimonialism in the Japanese countryside, even though peasant unions and competing political parties did emerge in some areas.

We have introduced the concept of ‘institution’. It is high time we defined it. Samuel Huntington has offered a definition which is widely used. Said he, institutionalization is “a process by which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability”. (quoted in Tai, 387) In fact, a more careful look at institutions suggests that they also acquire the characteristics of autonomy and adaptability. Indeed adaptability to a changing environment when devising tactics and strategies may be a means to achieve autonomy and stability. For instance, among the multiple services which the YMCA now provides, some were unheard of, or unthinkable, at the time of its founding. Yet that adaptability to changing community needs was essential for institutional survival.

The value that organizations have for their members is expressed in growth and longevity. An older organization is much more likely to be institutionalized than a younger one. So also is an organization that is free of dependency on an outside sponsor. GONGOs, or government-sponsored NGOs, for example, are unlikely to be well-institutionalized, in part because they were created to meet needs other than those of members. As an organization acquires value for its members it is said to become more legitimate, though legitimacy may be bestowed by the community as well as by members.

Our inclination here is to view agrarian reform in institutional terms, essentially an effort to undermine certain old agrarian institutions and to try to build new, more appropriate ones. It could be said that the first goal of agrarian reform is to breakdown patronage institutions that depress income and restrain the freedom of peasants. Since patrimonialism is a set of institutions rooted in economic inequality, to reduce inequality is to weaken it. Yet transforming tenants into owners is not enough. Patrimonialism persists since it provides services not provided by the state: funding of health services, credit, and protection, to mention only a few. The Philippines is, by most measures, a weak state. A stronger state is not only needed to implement land reform in the first place, but to provide the services which can replace those of the patron. Agrarian reform cannot be undertaken successfully outside the context of other basic reforms in state and society, all closely intertwined. But one does have to start somewhere.

II. Institutions Contrasted

A. Beginning of the 20th Century

The institution of private property in land was largely unfettered by social constraints.There were no such things as zoning or land use ordinances or environmental controls. Nor were there limitations on the sale of land according to the economic status of either buyer or seller. And the one piece of legislation designed to facilitate acquisition of title by cultivators/occupants of land, Ley de composicion of 1894 was utilized by the rich and powerful, even if non-cultivators and non-occupants, to acquire larger holdings, just as continued to happen under the Public Land Act decades later.

The institution of tenancy was largely defined by custom, not legislation. While custom heavily favored the rich landlord, allowing him to treat share tenants almost like chattel, it also defined some landowner responsibility-essentially his obligation to care for the health and welfare (and a very minimal level to be sure) of his tenants, usually accomplished through the provision of timely credit. Yet tenants could also be required to provide household help for the hacienda’s manor, and as popular elections began to be introduced, to vote as the landlord instructed. There were a variety of customs governing the sharing of production costs, but in any case the tenant did not get more than 50% of the harvest. Though there was no legal protection for tenants against eviction, in most cases the welfare responsibilities of landlords insured security. But as urbanization began to impinge on the environs of Manila, bringing more commercial transactions in land, that security was threatened. Cash tenants or lessees, usually on friar estates, were not normally cultivators and thus had somewhat greater bargaining power; custom was more flexible. In dealing with their own share tenants lessees seemed to take customary obligations more lightly than established owners. In the first half of the century, at least, most tenants seemed to feel that the obligations on landlords under customary practice were more precious than the constraints on tenants were oppressive. Peasant rebellions often called for landlords to resume duties that they had begun to shirk.

But, of course, this was understandable, since the law itself provided the tenant with almost no protection. In fact, in those few cases when tenants sought to assert their rights under the Rice Share Tenancy Act in the 1930s, they were ejected, quite ‘legally’, at the end of the agricultural year. A responsible patron was the tenants’ only insurance policy under the circumstances; government institutions were not viable alternatives. For instance, as late as 1946 some governors indulged in a practice illegal since 1937: issuing certificates exempting landholdings from the application of the Rice Share Tenancy Act. Nor was there much hope for a tenant to acquire ownership. If tenants petitioned the Rural Progress Administration for acquisition of their landlord’s estate, on approval of their petition they were required to deposit with the RPA an amount equivalent to the assessed value of the land in question. And all but one of the seven expropriation proceedings launched, in response to petitions, by the RPA as of 1948 to acquire landed estates all but one failed in the courts. (Wurfel, 1962: 62) Nor would tenant cultivators have been much better off if the RPA had been successful. Administrative Orders governing redistribution made no mention of “cultivators” or “tillers” and conveyed lots to “bonafide tenants [lessees]” just as under the old Friar Lands purchase early in the century. (Ibid., 121) Even at the end of the first half of the 20^th^ century government institutions were so enmeshed in landlord dominated patrimonialism, that from the standpoint of agrarian reform they were more part of the problem than of the solution.

B. Institutions at the End of the 20th Century

The introduction of legislation, ostensibly to assist the tenant and small farmer, was frequent from the 1950s on. On paper there were substantial improvements in the security of tenancy and a lessening of its burdens. The opportunity for tenants, and, by 1988 farm workers, to own their land was instituted, with considerable funds devoted to the purpose. Yet over all tenants and small farmers seldom found effective protection in the law. Procedures were complex and always favored those with the best trained, and paid, lawyers. Furthermore, judges, court clerks, and even tenant defenders were often subject to the lures of cold cash. Even court fees were an obstacle for a poor farmer. And some judges were so ideologically committed to the landlord’s position that they brazenly ignored the law if it favored the tenant.

To be sure by the 1950s both peasant organizations and government agencies began to provide legal assistance to the peasant cause, but for a few decades it was mostly limited to Central Luzon. Nationally most peasants still felt the need to find security in the protection of a powerful patron. It might not always be the landlord-in the 1980s it was often the NPA. But after 1987 with the return of electoral politics and the decline of revolutionary activity, even the landlord patron made something of a comeback. Government protection of peasant welfare was no more adequate than its protection of legal rights.

There was a substantial increase in the percentage of small farmers using institutional credit, e.g. Rural Banks, and credit cooperatives, from 10% in the 1950s to more than 27% in the early 1970s. (Castillo, 360) However, cooperatives, the organizational form most beneficial to the peasant, were difficult to institutionalize. Very few lasted a decade. In the ’70s the largest group of peasants, over 37%, still had to rely on credit extended by moneylenders charging outrageous interest, and the percentage had hardly declined in twenty years. But landlords were less frequently the main source of credit than in the early part of the century. This was just one sphere in which, while the patron-client system survived, the peasant was developing a greater number of patrons, and thus a somewhat greater degree of autonomy. This autonomy was also facilitated by the fact that the expansion of urbanization offered more and more small farmers the opportunity-and the financial necessity-to take off farm part-time employment. Yet this was still not sufficient to provide real financial security; small farmers who suffered poor crops or illness in the family, or had a penchant for gambling, still lost their land after seeking too much credit.

For those who remained tenants the shift from share tenancy to leasehold offered the greatest opportunity to raise income and expand autonomy. Yet even after a well-publicized campaign was launched by the government to encourage a switch to leasehold, many tenants-over half in some studies (Castillo, 286)-refused to change, most citing satisfaction with the existing share tenancy (only a small percentage were brave enough to say that they feared their landlord’s reaction if they should request a change.) Thus in 1969, five years after the campaign for leasehold had begun, only 3.4% of share tenants had registered written lease contracts. (Koone and Gleeck, 52) And in those days the application of land reform had to be proclaimed, municipality by municipality. Only 154 municipalities were included in these figures; but most were in Central Luzon, where peasant unrest, and peasant organization, was most widespread. In any case, it was difficult to tell whether these registered leases were genuine, or only disguised share tenancies.

Many landlords continued to instruct their tenants how to vote, though that practice was in some decline. At the same time a significant element in the peasant population was affected by the presence of NGOs and the organization of POs. In those communities political advice was available from a source providing very different kinds of information than landlords. Nevertheless, the welfare function of vote buying continued its important role. (In fact, the use of money was itself an indication that tenants’ sense of obligation to landlords was weakening.) Despite the exhortations of Cardinal Sin and of numerous NGOs, poorly educated voters continued to feel some obligation to the politician who was the source of the handout, thus helping to sustain patronage politics, contrary to their own group interest. Only a small minority of peasants participated in the agrarian policy process or voted in a manner consistent with that participation. Peasant organizations themselves were usually not well institutionalized. Yet the contrast with the early part of the century was quite dramatic. Until the 1930s peasant unrest had more often been channeled through millenarian sects than through a peasant movement based either on secular ideology or a rational analysis of policy.

Still the changes in patrimonial institutions which had been so noticeable under the stress or the Marcos dictatorship and rebellion against, did not survive the return to electoral politics in the late 1980s in the degree many expected. Though in the early 1980s an NPA patron was much better than none, with the ‘return to normalcy’ which Cory Aquino’s election heralded, many peasants were more comfortable with returning to traditional patrons. Unwittingly the peasants themselves made the implementation of CARP that much more difficult.

III. The Accomplishments and Failings of Agrarian Reform

A. Maximum Accomplishment—Minimal Impact

The reality we face is a program of considerable accomplishment, especially in the last decade, but with a discouraging lack of impact on agrarian conditions in general. From some respects it is perhaps better to begin with the discouragement.

Certainly a central purpose of agrarian reform is to reduce the percentage of farmers who are tenants. But it has not happened. In the last half of the century the percentage has increased: from 40% in 1960, to 47% in 1980 and, according to a large national survey, 41% in 1997. (Castillo, 262; Quibria, 483; Riedinger, 14). The improvement from 1960 to 1980 can not easily be explained, and certainly not in terms of land reform, unless, inaccurately, holders of Certificates of Land Transfer were counted as owners. (In any case, the Marcos years of martial law generated only little more than 2% of the land reform accomplishment now being touted by DAR.)

In any case, tenancy is probably not declining. This is because of powerful market forces that counteract land reform. As already noted, scarcity of land increases prices and rents, and reduces farm size. Production increases have not been large enough to compensate. Since there is practically no frontier to which the unfortunate farmer can retreat, when he loses his land he either becomes a tenant or a wage laborer. And since employment in manufacturing grew over the last half of the century only marginally faster than that in agriculture-and rapid growth in service employment was usually quite low waged-the non-agricultural alternatives were relatively few and not overly attractive. (Quibria, 416) As we will note below displacement of farmers by urban sprawl over prime agricultural land is today the most controversial dimension of the broader process. Nor over the past forty years has there been any significant reduction in income inequality in rural areas, (Quibria, 432) a problem which must be addressed if patrimonialism is to be weakened. In fact, from 1960 to 1990 the Gini coefficient, which represents inequality, increased from .53 to .57.

Yet the latest land redistribution accomplishment reports are quite impressive. As of December 31, 1999, since 1972-and precious little was done before then-DAR has ‘distributed’ 3.04 million hectares. The DENR, which still has jurisdiction over public lands, is said to have distributed to farmers nearly 1.8 million hectares. (Borras: 2000, 6) No less impressive is the fact that this accomplishment constitutes 47% of total Philippine farm land and 41% of farm households, exactly equivalent to the percentage of tenants most recently reported. Such dramatic numbers may require some examination. In fact, they raise the broader issue of the reliability of government statistics. Frequent typographical errors are compounded by arithmetical manipulation. More serious is the change in definition of categories from year to year, which is neither explained nor compensated for. And, of course, whenever accomplishment statistics affect bureaucrats’ security, numerical inflation is a problem. Gaps in reporting for various reasons may distort, but do not balance out, the inflation. DAR reports still include some Marcos era distortions. Over the century, of course, there have been vast improvements in the quality of data, only partly to be credited to technology, but the problem is still serious enough to make it impossible to draw conclusions from any but the broadest trends and clearest contrasts.

First let us look at the accomplishments of the DENR, the most important agency of which is the Bureau of Lands. To what extent can the Bureau’s distribution to “farmers” be equated with the creation of owner-cultivators, the goal of land reform? Because of the far greater attention given to DAR, in the last 30 years there has been very little research on the Bureau of Lands and its distribution of patents on public land. (And I have myself been laggard.) Thus it may be necessary to delve back into history to get a feel for the character of the Bureau’s statistics. (It should be noted that in 1974 the Bureau of Lands reported that there were only 346,129 hectares of disposable public land over which there were no applications. [Wurfel, 1977:26.] The claimed distribution in 1999 is five times this figure. To be sure an important part of public land distribution in recent years has been on pasture leases and forestry permits which had been-illegally-cultivated. Forestry permits are outside the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands, and pasture leases were not, in 1974, ‘disposable’.)

The last major book on Philippine land reform was James Putzel’s, Captive Land, published in 1992. The Bureau of Lands receives only a single mention, but a very instructive one. The Bureau helped implement the 1972 Letter of Instruction from Marcos which allowed Danding Cojuangco to exchange 1600 hectares of developed rice and corn lands-which would have been covered by OLT-for 16,000 hectares of undeveloped land in Mindanao-which was, of course, exempt from PD 27. Cojuangco received 11,000 hectares on Bugsuk Island and the remaining 5,000 hectares in Agusan del Norte. On Bugsuk Island there were already hundreds of settlers with title to their land; some “refused to move”. According to the then Director of the Bureau of Lands, Cojuangco ‘purchased their land rights’ and had them ‘relocated’ to Palawan. (Putzel, 149) But, of course, a lowly bureau director was in no position to halt this totally illegal process.

The Secretary of Agriculture in those days was Arturo Tanco, who had jurisdiction over the Bureau of Lands. He apparently took no position on the Cojuangco land-swap, but he became so disturbed by the widespread reports of land disputes in the public domain and illegal acquisition of titles that he drafted a decree to provide for summary cancellation of illegal acquisitions, without adhering to the lengthy court procedures then required. But Marcos never signed the decree. (Wurfel, 1977: 27)

In any case, the Bureau at that time prepared no data on patents issued by land size, or information on the number of patentees who had tenants-a practice frequently upheld by the courts. It was impossible to tell how many cultivator owners were created by the patenting of public lands. But in a 1972 study in Davao, in an area settled by homesteaders, tenancy rates of 80% were revealed. (Castillo, 270) Thus it would be fair to estimate that the figures for “redistribution” reported by the DENR, would have to be discounted by 70 to 80% to get the number of owner-cultivators created. (The misconception of so many in Manila about what is really happening in Mindanao today underlies the difficulty of coming up with genuine solutions.)

Land settlements on public lands, now administered by DAR, are faced with similar problems. In earlier research the prevalence of tenancy reported was rather high. So even the 633,000 hectares reportedly distributed inside land settlements may now largely be devoted to tenancy. (There does not seem to be any recent research on this issue either.) This is particularly sad since one of the main reasons for the establishment of settlements was to avoid the growth of tenancy that was developing on 24-hectare homesteads.

Data problems are probably less dramatic in other land categories, though DAR was caught in the 1970s trying to equate Certificates of Land Transfer (a promise of future land rights which did not always materialize) with land titles, thus exaggerating their accomplishments several times over. One would hope that there is no recent equivalent of this scam. But, unfortunately even agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs)-and one would assume that DAR’s accomplishment reports refers to farmers with that status-are not quite ‘home free’. They may not have received title, only a CLOA; in fact, the Land Bank may not even have reached agreement with the owner on compensation. (Owners have sometimes used such lack of agreement, successfully, to reclaim the land.) Or there may have been an error made in the issuance; thousands of CLOAs have been withdrawn for that reason. And even if the ARB’s are already Amortizing Owners, having received a title, payment records in the Land Bank are poor, and the Land Bank’s patience is by no means infinite.

But greater than the above problem is the illegal transfer of rights, which has been going on since land reform began. When a poor farmer faces a crisis, he sells or mortgages whatever he can, hoping that he can recover it some day. Though anecdotal evidence suggests that this practice is still very widespread, there is no official data worth noting. When a DAR official, or someone assumed to be connected to DAR, if only a researcher, asks “Have you committed an illegal act [i.e. transferred rights to the land to someone not your legal heir]?”, the answer is quite likely to be “No”. There has to be considerable trust between the questioner and the questioned before one can extract accurate answers on this issue. If the transfer of rights were to another landless peasant, then from the standpoint of land reform policy, nothing would really be wrong. But it seldom is. A farmer in crisis needs cash; those with cash are either merchants or those with substantial landholdings, neither allowed to acquire land under CARP. So sadly, it is likely that 20-40% of those whose land was allocated more than ten years ago are no longer in control of the land, and are not exactly credits to land reform. (We recognize, however, that accomplishments in this category may have represented genuine land reform at the time of original reporting, unlike some of the Bureau of Lands data.)

Though allusion has already been made to some of the reasons for the inability of agrarian reform agencies to actually achieve the goals, or even the accomplishments, they have announced, let us now examine those reasons systematically.

B. Market Factors

It is the price of (interest on) credit and the price of land that have been most disruptive to agrarian reform, but the price of produce and of agricultural inputs have also been factors. All have gone up. High interest rates exacerbate the financial difficulties of poor farmers, leading them to borrow in such a way as they lose their land. Rapid increases in land prices are also mesmerizing, causing them to forget that urban jobs are difficult to find. But the impact of rising land prices on the landlord is most insidious.

Prices for the acquisition of land under Operation Land Transfer were set in 1972-3. Since then prices have escalated several times over. Some landowners, at different times, were able to renegotiate with the Land Bank; many others were not. Many of those stuck with the 1973 price simply ‘stonewalled’. They would report to the Land Bank inability to find necessary documents, fail to respond to correspondence, or generally make themselves scarce. For years these tactics slowed down the land reform process, and sometimes caused hopeful landlords to attempt evictions. Finally DAR decided to move ahead with distribution of patents despite landlord delaying tactics. But in some cases this produced further legal complications down the line. The pricing system under CARP from 1988 was even more favorable to the landlord, and gave him numerous opportunities for delay, often financially beneficial.

Delay became especially profitable when land was located on the fringe of an urbanizing area, where land prices were sky-rocketing. In fact, the opportunity for profit was so great at those locations, landlords moved heaven and earth to ‘turn the clock back’. Even when a CLOA had been issued, they tried to manipulate its cancellation. They would NOT allow an ARB to reap the hundreds of percent profit that land flips could earn. Landlords pressing for conversion and intent on ejecting ARBs were so powerful in 1990 that they prevented the confirmation of DAR Secretary Florencio Abad, who had been brave enough to stand against them, by the Commission on Appointments. That lesson was not lost on subsequent secretaries, who have proven to be more ‘flexible’.

From 1991 DAR approvals of land use conversion moved like suburban land prices.

Only 4,754 hectares had been approved for conversion in 1991; by March 1998 it was 57,934 hectares. (Casino, 2,5) This constitutes approval of more than 95% of applications. Field surveys have indicated that illegal conversions, not in DAR records, are much more numerous, usually with connivance of local governments. Casino estimates that illegal conversions may be three times the legal ones. If so, that would mean that land conversions have lost to land reform more than the total distribution of private agricultural lands so far in the Estrada Administration. While some have made way for job-producing commercial and industrial projects, they have most often provided space for golf courses, plush subdivisions, or even mere land speculation. In all cases the ARB is forced out, usually with a payment far below the price that the land would fetch. Some of these cases have been explosive, and more will be. A recent Supreme Court decision confirming land conversion for a golf course and tourist development in Hacienda Looc will probably not end the dispute.

C. Lack of Institutionalization in Agrarian Reform Agencies

It has been rightly said that “access to land and other resources is institutionally determined.” (Polestico, 142) Thus if the state is to be able to influence who has access then the institutions set up to implement this policy must be strong. In the past, however, the landed elite has so penetrated agrarian reform institutions as to seriously impair their capacities, even to make them impotent. This was apparent in the chronic lack of funds, and in the frequent reorganization of agencies (until the 1990s).

Until the creation of the Department of Agrarian Reform by RA 6389 in 1971, the task of implementing agrarian reform had been assigned to several, often competing agencies. The purchase and redistribution of landed estates was handled by one agency, and land settlements on the frontier by another. Public land distribution was assigned to a third, tenancy law enforcement to a fourth and fifth, and agricultural credit to one or two more. Furthermore, there were two or more reorganizations in each agency from 1946 until 1971. Coordination among them was minimal, at best.

In the field of land acquisition and redistribution, the heart of land reform, the Rural Progress Administration was carried over from the Commonwealth. In 1950 it was abolished and its duties transferred to the Landed Estates Division of the Bureau of Lands. Then under Magsaysay the Land Tenure Administration was formed in 1955 to take over these functions. It lasted only until the passage of the Land Reform Code of 1963 created the Land Authority, which was superseded by DAR in 1971. Within DAR were gathered all the agrarian reform functions, excepting financing acquisitions, which is administered by the Land Bank, supervising cooperatives, placed in the Cooperative Development Authority, and distributing public lands outside organized settlements, remaining with the Bureau of Lands. Tenancy law enforcement and mediation were retained by DAR, but much of the adjudication returned to the regular courts, abandoning the rather successful Court of Agrarian Relations.

DAR has now survived for nearly thirty years, longer than any relevant institution except the Bureau of Lands. Within DAR the longest serving secretary was Conrado Estrella, for fifteen years under Marcos; Secretary Garilao served throughout the Ramos Administration, 1992-98. This contributed to institutional stability. But Pres. Aquino’s disinterest in agrarian reform was revealed by the revolving door at DAR. She appointed one excellent person, Congressman Abad, then let him twist in the winds of the Congressional confirmation process. She also appointed the erratic and egotistical Miriam Defensor, who caused many more problems than she solved, and also failed to get Congressional confirmation. Other politicians and technicians-plus five months in which the position was vacant—added up to five secretaries during her term. None got her support for implementing land reform. Pres. Estrada seems to have appointed two secretaries at once: Boy Morales and Danding Cojuangco, of different persuasions. Every reorganization, even every leadership change, caused some personnel reshuffles and slowed down implementation.

Ever since independence one of the most serious obstacles to bureaucratic effectiveness for agrarian reform had been the inadequacy of funding. Most analysts have blamed Congress. In a number of cases this was appropriate. For instance, the Agricultural Tenancy Act of 1954, the first major legislation under Magsaysay, made substantial improvements in the terms and conditions of tenancy. But it failed either to create an agency to enforce it, or to provide funds therefore-surely more than a mere oversight. Pres. Magsaysay thus created the Agricultural Tenancy Commission by administrative order and allocated P150,000 from his contingency fund for the ATC’s first year. (Wurfel, 1962: 265) As recently as 1999 the Senate successfully excised from the appropriation bill almost all funds for new acquisitions of private agricultural land. Only in the following year did DAR recover half of the cut.

Yet it is probably fair to say that the president has sometimes been even more responsible for the precarious financial position of the program. For instance, from 1965 through 1971-throughout Marcos’ presidency prior to martial law, only 27% of appropriated funds for the five agrarian reform agencies were actually released. (Rocamora, 110) But releases jumped to 75% of appropriations in 1972.

Penetration of DAR structures by landlords may have been an even more serious problem, subverting DAR’s institutional autonomy.

D. Late and Inadequate Institutionalization of NGOs, POs and Cooperatives

Cooperatives were the earliest attempt of government to create institutions that might be peasant based. However, they were either established by rules that permitted landlord dominance (FACOMAS) or pushed so hard and so fast by government as to lose any local identity, as in the l970s. And even today, years after any ‘crash program’ perhaps only half of registered cooperatives are actually functioning. But now they are relatively neglected, without adequate funds for education and training: either feast-risking death by overeating—or a famine.

Though the first PO, the FFF (Federation of Free Farmers), had a very constructive role in agrarian reform implementation for awhile, it was not until the l980s that a broad national peasant coalition was formed. And not until the 1990s that NGOs and POs working for peasants were welcomed by DAR and agreed to join in implementation. Today NGO and PO coalitions have infiltrated the highest ranks of DAR, just at the time rapacious landlords have captured Malacanang. And throughout DAR there are still many officials who gained their positions because they could be relied upon by landlord interests. DAR’s autonomy may have increased, but it remains under siege. The outcome is not clear.

IV. Conclusion

We have determined that over the last century there have been significant changes in the institutions of land ownership and in the patron-client system. Yet the landed elite still dominate rural society as its most powerful patrons, albeit in somewhat different forms from those used in the early 20^th^ century. The changes that have taken place are the consequence of demography and the expansion of the market-and to a lesser degree by agrarian unrest and policy initiatives.

There has also been major expansion and increased specialization in the institutions of government dealing with agrarian policy, yet they are still not free of penetration by landed interests, so they often lack legitimacy in the eyes of peasants. In recent years that legitimacy has sometimes been restored by influential participation in decision making by peasant organizations and their representatives. But that participation is sporadic and is sometimes countered by landlord intervention. The autonomy of the bureaucratic institutions for agrarian reform is very limited.

As a result of market and demographic change, and because of the political constraints on the institutions of agrarian reform, the net impact of policy on agrarian society has been minimal, at best, despite growing ‘accomplishments’, i.e. bureaucratic output. Even if accomplishments claimed are discounted by 50%, they should have benefited one quarter of all small farmers. But tenancy percentages do not diminish, and inequality of land ownership actually increases. The share of the rural poor in total income does not improve. For some the conclusion is that land reform is ‘hopeless’, or ‘worthless’. And for some supporters of reform the tendency is to ignore the lack of impact. Neither is a satisfactory reaction to the facts. The approach should be-if it doesn’t work, fix it.

The ‘fix’ will not happen overnight, or even in the next decade. But the pre-condition to a more effective configuration of policy instruments is clear: greater peasant participation in the policy process, at all levels. This is hardly a new idea. The FFF began to try to implement it in the 1950s. And in the last two decades there has been impressive progress in this direction. But the full cooperation of government leaders is required, as was not the case even as recently as the Aquino Administration. Nor is a role for ‘godfathers’ advisable, whether of land reform, of the mafia, or otherwise.

Wider and accelerated organizing in the peasant movement is not easy; at the moment it seems to be suffering a lull. But if land reform is to be achieved with lasting impact, it is essential. Cooperatives providing credit and marketing services, as well as those organizing production, are needed as much as groups focusing on policy critique and advocacy.

Yet the expansion of activities should not be attempted at a rate that is not sustainable. Bursts of energy too often end in collapse. Institutional strengthening requires a slow but steady pace, only possible if there are multiple sources of leadership and organizational strength. If one recalls the ambitious goals of CPAR only thirteen years ago, present circumstances may breed pessimism. That is the advantage of taking a long view: progress becomes more apparent. In any case, a healthy dose of realism in DAR may lead to an abandonment of the redistribution of holdings under 24 hectares in the medium term; the political and administrative obstacles are tremendous. Hopefully an offer from DAR to limit the goal could elicit equivalent concessions from landlords and their political allies.

The further question of how more autonomous agrarian reform institutions would alter the policy mix so as to have a greater long-term impact is the proper topic of a whole galaxy of future researchers. But there is one principle which needs emphasis, and which has not been followed. The issuance of a land patent or title to a former tenant or farm worker should never be considered the end of the land reform process, as it so often has in the past. It is only the achievement of an interim goal. Both the agrarian reform bureaucracy and the peasant movement, hopefully in cooperation, must carefully monitor and assist the new owner, at least for the first decade in the new status. Legal barriers to transfer of rights are simply not effective when such transfer becomes a matter of financial urgency for the cultivator.

Finally it must be remembered that devising more effective policies and implementing them so as to maximize the long term impact of reform cannot be limited to agrarian reform institutions, whether government bureaucracies or NGOs. As we have noted, the power of patronage is rooted in a failure of the rule of law, and in a failure of government to protect citizens’ welfare. Progress in agrarian reform cannot be achieved in isolation from other government reform policies or other kinds of socio-political change. Nor is progress in these other fields likely to be possible without successful agrarian reform. Peter Dorner has called land reform both a “disruptive” and a “creative force in the life of a people”. He adds, “A nation that is to develop may not be able to escape it.” (Dorner, 77)


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Categories Philippines, Agrarian policy