The agrarian question in the Philippines has always been a thorny issue, the problem even dating back to the days of the Spanish colonizers.
With land consolidated in the hands of few owners and powerful families during the Spanish period, the farmers were reduced as tenants—veritably a contradiction in terms.
Ours was a case of a farming class that did not own most of the lands they were operating but only the small paddies divided farther into smaller plots that they worked on to sow their hopes for the future, however bitter those hopes were.
Many of the unrests staged by Filipinos against the Spanish rulers were agrarian in nature—and had all bore upon the requisites of basic justice: land for the land-tilling class—or for those who wish to become tillers.
But with greed as the operating principle for conquest under the guise of civilization, culture, and Christianity, the Spanish colonizers ended up owning vast tracks of land, with many of these haciendas eventually ending up in the hands of the friars who were supposed to be mendicants and living in simplicity and poverty.
One such hacienda ended up in the hands of the Cojuangco family—on the condition that once the Hacienda Tabacalera was acquired from its Spanish owner, it would soon pave the way for its parceling out to real—and genuine—farmers, those class of people who knew how to coax the earth and produce food for the nation and its people.
The terms of the first loan included a provision that says clearly that these lands were to be distributed to small farmers.
Another loan with the GSIS reiterates the same provision: the sale to bona fide farmers portions of the hacienda. How these provisions were forgotten in the flurry of economic development and in big-time agribusiness operations is one for the books.
Is it possible that some government factotums were not looking when the consolidation of these vast Cojuangco landholdings was taking place?
Or is it the case that the Cojuangco patriarch and his descendants were well-placed and that such social connections gave him the opportunity to shield himself from the demands of the two loans he entered into, the first one in 1957?
In the fight for the right to eke out a life from the hacienda that was exempted from the agrarian reform program because the farmers opted the SDO route to bettering their lot in life, the farmers have offered life and limb to continue the struggle.
In the November 2004 strike, seven lives were lost, a number of them children.
The military personnel who were supposed to be protectors of the people pumped bullets into the line of the strikers who had grown agitated, claimed the official government account, and “provoked” the gun-wielding “protectors of the people” into using their guns against the very people they were supposed to protect.
Such was the irony here—with people dying because they have been killed by their very own protectors.
While the intent of the agrarian reform program—now called “comprehensive” according to the law serving as its basis for implementation—is to provide the farmers with all the opportunities to operate their land, own it eventually, and enter into a safety net of having their produce protected against the vagaries of exploitative commerce, capital, and climate, it remains to be seen whether such good intention has had net effect on people in the countryside especially those that have been awarded the Certificate of Land Transfer.
The finding of the Task Force Luisita comes in with a concrete picture: that the lives of farmers at the Hacienda Luisita did not turn out better as promised and as premised in the stock distribution option agreement between the hacienda owners and the farmers.
The farmers have claimed that their condition has become worse and that the only way out now was to cancel the SDO and subject the hacienda to a genuine land distribution program.
In this set-up, about 5000 farmers will become beneficiaries of these vast landholdings that, the hacienda owners claim, have been economically unproductive because of the slump in the sugar industry.
The management of the hacienda has started to sound off an option for them so they can get out of the bind: the voluntary-offer-to-sell of the hacienda lands to the government at the cost of P1 million per hectare.
With the VOS, the inflated price will yield the Cojuangcos P5 billion, with so much of the money divided among the six owners, as claimed by former President Corazon Aquino. Aquino is one of the six.
The DAR has other valuations in mind, though.
Previous VOS of lands devoted to sugarcane production had fetched between P100,000 to P300,000—far lower than the asking price of the hacienda owners.
Either way, the hacienda owners are poised to end up in a win-win situation.
The SDO is cancelled, they benefit from the inflated price offer.
The SDO is retained, they keep the vast lands that seem to extend to the ends of the Tarlac horizons.
In the meantime, the farmers will keep tab of the vast promise of possibilities from the SDO cancellation.
Granting that the landholdings will be parceled off to them, with no government infrastructure program to help them operate the land, secure the sale of their produce at a profitable price, and assist them in other pre-production and post-production technologies and methods, they will remain the poor land-tilling owners who will be forced to sell their rights to the moneyed and the capitalist—the economic elites, who, in most cases, are also the members of the political class.
Here, the cycle begins.
This time around, the cycle become more sinister—and perhaps irredeemable unless something more logical comes as an alternative to this social malady of dispossession.
Published, INQ, V1N16, Oct 2005