Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Farce of Philippine Land Reform: As Exemplified at the Hacienda Luisita

“To be poor and independent is very nearly an impossibility.” - William Corbett, 1830

"Those who profess to favor freedom
and yet deprecate agitation

are men who want crops without 
plowing up the ground;
they want rain without thunder and
They want the ocean without the
awful roar of its waters.
This struggle may be a moral one
or it may be a physical one

or it may be both moral and physical
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a
It never did, and never will." – Frederick Douglass
 AmericanAbolitionistLecturerAuthor and Slave1817-1895)

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Hi All,

We native Filipinos far too often indulge in wishful thinking. We have often prematurely rejoiced when our so-called leaders (more aptly ruling elite) in government translate into legislation an ideal that no one could or would put into practice. The results have always been disastrous. An example in particular, the legislation on agrarian reform during President Cora Aquino's regime. Attempts to enforce it have bred contempt for and corruption/sabotage of the law.

The desire for such reform has been aroused because it embodies not only ethical or religious ideals but a system of necessary social reforms. This desire has remained unrealized because mere words have been mistaken for reality.

Since the so-called Philippine independence from our last colonial master America, we Filipinos have congratulated ourselves for the ideals/principles of political equality, universal suffrage and exercise of legislative powers by "elected" representatives. But as they turn out and we must remember, in reality they are only expressed as ideals, paid lip service to.

The absence of national consciousness, more specifically of Filipino nationalism, among the many, if not majority, of our fellow native Filipinos [whether illiterate or so-called educated] and the strong influence of local and foreign masters made/still make the existence of our democratic institutions possible only in theory. As long as the principle was honored, nobody was surprised that it covered up the most authoritarian paternalism (or maternalism too?) or most despotic dictatorship.

Our democratic constitution so liberally proclaimed does not overlook social rights. However, as exemplified by the case of agrarian/land reform, its sketchy enforcement at best or non- enforcement at worst, and the persistence in the rural world of a quasi-serfdom of laborers and peasants keep it an unrealized ideal.

- Bert


Hacienda Luisita and the farce of Philippine land reform

By Joseph Santolan 
7 July 2011

A landmark decision issued by the Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the Stock Distribution Plan enacted at Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated, but upheld the validity of the Stock Distribution Option as a method of agrarian or land reform.
The court mandated that potential beneficiaries of agrarian reform once again vote if they wished to receive land or stock options. What hides behind the opaque language and convoluted logic of the decision is the final scrapping of even the most limited land reform in the Philippines.
The 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita sugar plantation is owned by the Cojuangco family, of which President Benigno Aquino is the leading scion. When his mother, Corazon Aquino, assumed the presidency in the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship, she was immediately confronted with demands from working people for concessions, including for land for the country’s impoverished peasantry.
On January 22, 1987, a group of peasant protesters marched across Mendiola Bridge to the presidential palace with the basic demand written on their banners, “Land to the tillers.” The police opened fire on the unarmed and peaceful demonstrators. Thirteen peasants were killed, and more than fifty injured. The event became known as the Mendiola Massacre.
Corazon Aquino engaged in a series of half-hearted gestures at land reform, which culminated in the misnamed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform of the Philippines/CARP-1988. This toothless legislation has over the past two decades served as a concrete demonstration of the objective impossibility of genuine land reform under capitalism.
Under CARP, large landholders avoided the redistribution of their land to tenants by either reclassifying their land as commercial or industrial land, or by using the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), which changed the ownership of the land to joint stock ownership and distributing a small portion of the shares to the tenant farmers.
The Cojuangcos did both with their land. They reclassified a portion of it and placed the rest under joint stock ownership. Thus President Cory Aquino preserved the family hacienda.
The Cojuangco family hacienda spun off much of its holdings into industrial and commercial holdings that would not be subject to land reform. The estate today boasts a mall, complete with Starbucks, McDonalds and multiple cinemas. Phelps Dodge, Sanyo and International Wiring Systems operate factories there. There are hotels and a golf course. And through their gross manipulation of government, the Cojuangcos routed the new SCTEX expressway through their land and have been illegally charging tolls to motorists. These actions are representative of the behavior of the large landed elite as a whole in the Philippines.
The remaining land that was ostensibly to be subject to redistribution under CARP was dramatically undervalued. No improvements—roads, irrigation, etc—were included in the calculation of its value. The 6,400 tenants of Hacienda Luisita were made to vote to determine if they wanted a parcel of land or a stock option in Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated. The election was run and tabulated by the hacienda management. The results supported the stock distribution option and the tenants were promised a share in the incorporated estate. This was in 1989.
The tenants, now called Farmer Worker Beneficiaries (FWB), received shares that were so undervalued as to be practically worthless. As the nature of the estate changed, many of them shifted from tenant agriculture to working on the estate as factory hands. The demand for genuine agrarian reform surfaced again and again.
In November 2004, 6,000 workers and family members staged a blockade of the hacienda’s sugar mill. President Gloria Arroyo ordered the police to break up the protesters  The police opened fire and 12 protesters and 2 children were killed. Hundreds were injured. Benigno Aquino, a congressman at the time, blamed the massacre on his family’s estate on ‘leftist provocateurs.’ Among those firing upon and murdering the workers were Aquino’s own bodyguards.
Tensions between political families with ties to rival sections of the bourgeoisie emerged rapidly. In July 2005, as an election fraud scandal rocked the Arroyo administration, Cory and Benigno Aquino first supported Arroyo and then, a week later, in response to public outrage, they called upon her to resign.
Within two weeks, President Arroyo reacted by seeking the breakup of the Cojuangco land. Agrarian reform cases, filed before the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, have long been a tool used by those in power to prosecute their interests against rival sections of the elite. Arroyo’s administration argued that the Stock Distribution Plan enacted at Luisita was illegal.
The case has been languishing in the Supreme Court for years. When Aquino was elected president in 2010, he confronted a court composed entirely of Arroyo appointees. The tensions between the branches of government were sharp. Aquino’s proposed initiatives were declared unconstitutional, and his attempts to remove Arroyo’s appointees were blocked. It was widely speculated that a ruling on Hacienda Luisita would go poorly for the president and his family.
However, Aquino struck back at the court. A plagiarism scandal emerged which revealed that several justices had lifted entire sections for some of their decisions from journals and other sources, without citation. Several justices were repeatedly threatened with impeachment. By February, the court had backed down and the conflict between the two branches of government quieted.
Tuesday’s 6-4 ruling employed twisted logic and rhetorical legerdemain to arrive at a decision that both upholds the court’s allegiance to Arroyo and serves the interest of Aquino. It ruled that the specific stock distribution plan enacted at Hacienda Luisita in 1989 was invalid. But crucially it also ruled that the Stock Distribution Option, the longstanding loophole that has revealed all the Philippine agrarian reform laws to be farcical, was constitutional.
The Supreme Court mandated that the 6,500 potential beneficiaries of the land redistribution of Hacienda Luisita vote if they wished to receive stocks or land. This is precisely the same position that the tenants were in at the enactment of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform in 1989. Some 22 years later, scores of peasants have been shot dead protesting, former tenants are aged and dying, and not a scrap of land has been redistributed.
Where, in 1989, the hacienda management monitored the voting, now the Presidential Agrarian Reform Commission, with Aquino at its head, will supervise. The court ruled that the election would be conducted by secret ballot, “each ballot marked with a thumbprint or a signature.” 

The stench of abused power in these lines is overpowering. The voters will be submitting ballots which clearly identify them to the man whose family owns the land they have tilled and whose bodyguards shot their brothers and sisters only seven years ago.
Not surprisingly, the lawyer for Hacienda Luisita hailed the decision as “a graceful validation of the stock option.”
Chief Justice Renato Corona issued a noteworthy dissenting opinion. He condemned the majority decision stating, “History will be the unforgiving judge of this court. We cannot correct a historical anomaly and prevent the eruption of a social volcano by fancy legal arguments and impressively crafted devices for corporate control.” He argued, accurately, that “Hacienda Luisita has always been viewed as a litmus test of genuine agrarian reform.”
Hacienda Luisita’s two-decade history of violence, broken promises and legal machinations demonstrate cogently that the failure of agrarian reform is not an ‘historical anomaly.’ A genuine solution to the fundamental democratic problem of land rights is not possible under capitalism. The bourgeoisie is intimately tied to the landed elite and as such is intrinsically incapable of distributing land to the impoverished peasantry.

Related postings and articles (click below links): 

  1. http://thefilipinomind.blogspot.com/2011/03/history-of-deception-in-hacienda.html
  2. http://www.arkibongbayan.org/2010/2010-10Oct30-Luisitaalliance/luisitaalliance.htm
  3. http://luisitamagsasaka.wordpress.com/tag/stephanie-dychiu/
  4. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/183662/after-luisita-massacre-more-killings-linked-to-protest
  5. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/230782/nation/bishop-aquinos-recent-actions-favor-those-in-power
  6. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/232971/nation/doj-asked-to-probe-39militarization39-in-hacienda-luisita

*******************************END OF POST**************************

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- Bert


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Anonymous said...

Even you give land to the farmers, eventually out of hardship they will just sell the land to the wealthy investors then back again the capitalist owning big tracks of land then the cycle of land reform starts over again. This land reform issue will never end.

- Nonoy Ramos

Bert M. Drona said...


Your comment is valid as improper/incomplete land reform can potentially have negative effects on development - decline in productivity and/or further deterioration of the standard of living.

Thus, true land reform is not to be limited to giving out land titles to the long-term tillers. Education on appropriate land use coupled with help in financing to reach self-sustaining planting on land, guidance and strict follow-up by the government are to be required conditions.

Mutual agreement on these things can be facilitated by a national consciousness; in essence, the need for mass nationalism for understanding why, what and how on such changes.

Bert M. Drona said...

Hi All,

In addition to above issues, let us not forget other lands controlled by foreigners, up to the present (mining, agricultural, etc) allowed by our past and present Aquino III government(s):

Please note the below statement regarding a major and disastrous impact of Parity Rights on our national patrimony:

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS: (Extracted from " Alien Interests in the Land (1900- Present)" - Prof. Perfecto V. Fernandez, U.P. Claro M. Recto Professorial Chair on Constitutional Law, 1984-1986.)


Under the Constitution of the Philippines (1935 as well as 1973), one of the broad objectives postulated for the Government is "to conserve and develop the patrimony of the Nation" which is set forth in the Preamble.

From the foregoing exposition, however, the National Patrimony (in the sense of public domain) has been steadily dwindling, and may reach the vanishing point before the century ends.

Stress must be given the fact that, to begin with, the National Patrimony had been greatly reduced by the beginning of this century. Much of the best lands had been taken over by the Church and its religious orders, and vast tracts had been deeded by the Spanish monarchs under royal grants.

All these became vested rights under the Treaty of Paris, and the episode of the Friar Lands only underscore the problem of getting back choice lands once they get into alien hands.

During the long period of Spanish rule, the lands taken by the colonizers were arable and residential lands.

During the much shorter period of American colonial rule, the choice of the colonizers shifted to mineral and timber lands.

Some of the richest deposits of valuable ore were taken over by Americans and their companies, and most of what was taken have remained in their hands.

Such alien acquisitions continued during the Commonwealth period, and also during most of the life of the Republic up to this time, by force of the Parity Amendment.

Under the present Constitution, the alienation of the remaining National Patrimony has taken other forms. Large tracts have been given away under management or service contracts with the Government, and even larger areas could be placed under alien hands through international

The situation is aggravated by alien take-over of private landholdings under management contracts, and to a lesser degree, under increasing resort to growers' agreements.

There is bitter irony in the situation that has emerged, that the sovereign power of the Filipino people expressed through their fundamental law, is used to maintain alien control and enjoyment of the lands taken from the Nation.

(Source: U.P Philippine Law Journal, Volume 59-1984)