Para la Patria

The lot of the peasantry should be the prime measure of the health of the economy.

Streetwise/Business World
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 36, October 14-20, 2007

The Arroyo regime has less than three years to go before its term ends in 2010. Malacanang’s strategy for surviving till then (which is not to assume that she will be stepping down in 2010) is to wallow in a state of denial, continuously stonewall investigations, engineer covers-up, outmaneuver and repress the legal Opposition while utilizing the State’s iron hand against both armed and unarmed dissidents.

The regime’s culture of impunity covers everything from extrajudicial killings to multibillion peso scams that bilk the taxpayers dry to repeated election cheating orchestrated at the highest levels.

In another clumsy attempt to ward off criticism and belittle the consistently negative approval ratings of Mrs. Arroyo in popularity surveys for the past three years, Press Secretary Bunye declared, “We don’t mind poor survey ratings as long as economic indicators are improving.”

This is not the first time government apologists have resorted to calling attention to the “good news” in the economic front in order to draw attention away from scandals, anomalies, gross human rights violations, etc. It’s bad enough that the inevitable reaction of city dwellers to government reports of economic growth is that they don’t feel it, what is worse is that the great majority of Filipinos – the peasants in the countryside — suffer from more and more intolerable living conditions despite the so-called improving economy.

Indeed the lot of the peasantry should be the prime measure of the health of the economy.

At the recent launching of the 2007 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report and the Philippines Midterm Progress Report, Mrs. Arroyo declared that the “ratio of Filipinos living in extreme poverty has been drastically cut from 20.4 percent in 1990 to 10.2 percent in 2005.” She added, “Our vision is a Philippines on the verge of First World status in 20 years when we will have dramatically reduced poverty, created a robust middle class and have all the hallmarks of a modern society in strong and stable institutions.”

A closer and more critical look at the Arroyo government’s claims will show that there is nothing in the MDG or, in fact, in government’s economic program that will ensure that these purported goals and alleged gains would benefit the greater majority of the population: the peasants in the countryside and other sectors whose lives and livelihood are tied down to the backward agricultural economy. Without genuine land reform that would unshackle the farmers from feudal and semi-feudal exploitation and bondage, the destitute farmers, farm workers and marginal fisher folk would not have the means to enjoy whatever real gains there are in the economy.

The “gains”, in the first place, are illusory. The claimed “drastic cut” in the poverty incidence from 1990 to 2006, for example, is the result not of any economic growth and a more equitable distribution of wealth, but of a statistical sleight of hand in the form of redefining and lowering the poverty line.

In another launching, this time of PATRIA or Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (People’s Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform), organizations of peasants, agricultural workers, fishers and their advocates among legislators, church people, social activists, professionals and the academe affirmed their commitment to work and struggle for real land reform in the country.

They underscored the fact that while the Philippines is rich in natural resources, including forty four per cent of thirty million hectares of land area consisting of productive agricultural land, the majority of our people are suffering from severe and unrelieved hunger and want.

PATRIA stated, “The peasantry constitutes the biggest productive force (75 percent of the population) of the Philippine economy. They, together with the fisher folk, produce the staple food of rice and fish for the vast majority of the population. It stands to reason that the farm lands tilled by the peasants and the fishing grounds of the fishers must be taken care of for the benefit of all the people who rely on them. “

Moreover, according to the alliance, “For more than 19 years of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), the monopoly in the ownership and control of land resources by big landlords, foreign and domestic agri-corporations and bureaucrat capitalists has not been shattered. Instead, feudal and semi-feudal exploitation and oppression have merely intensified.”

The farmers group, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) pointed to the continuing emasculation of CARL by the fact that the original target of 10.3 million hectares for land reform was reduced by 1995 to 8.3 million; that is, 4.5 million hectares were to be distributed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and another 3.5 million, by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This means that of the 12.6 million hectares estimated by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics as planted to traditional and export crops, roughly 8 million hectares are not even covered by CARL.

The truth of the matter is that DAR’s “total accomplishment report” does not take into account the lands wherein Certificates of Land Transfer, Emancipation Patents and Certificates of Land Ownership Award – documents showing the peasants’ legal right to eventually own the land they till – have been taken back using a variety of reasons. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been exempted from reform because of land use conversion such as for “tourism zones”. Big haciendas have evaded land distribution to the tillers by means of so-called non-land transfer schemes such as the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) done at the Hacienda Luisita (owned by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino) and the “corporative scheme” executed at the Danding Cojuangco hacienda in Negros.

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