By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — On July 24, 1985, peasants from various provinces in the country went to Claret School in Quezon City to attend the first National Consultative Assembly on People’s Organization. While most brought with them their respective local issues, one thing remains the same: the demand for a genuine agrarian reform program.
“The peasants’ call for a genuine agrarian reform program was intensifying at that time,” Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said. “With (Ferdinand) Marcos extremely politically isolated, one of the mandates of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) was to expose Presidential Decree No. 27 — the ‘agrarian reform’ under his administration — as bogus.”
The administration of Diosdado Macapagal, Mariano said, failed to address and break the monopoly of land by big landed families. They hired farm workers to plant agricultural products like coconuts to be exported abroad. He added that the most that Macapagal was able to do was to implement a “lease work system,” which Mariano described as an abusive and unjust relationship between landlords and farm workers.
“The main goal (of KMP) is to (advocate) for free distribution of land while peasants struggle against anti-feudal policies,” Mariano said.
One Scheme After Another to Circumvent Land Distribution
In a year’s time, KMP continued to intensify the struggle for land. By the time the Marcos dictatorship fell, Mariano said, agrarian reform had become a national issue.
“It (agrarian reform) served as a challenge to the late president Cory (Aquino). It was one of her electoral campaign promises to implement agrarian reform,” he said, “but the interest of the class to which she belongs still prevailed.”
When Aquino was installed president after People Power I in 1986, she was forced to respond to the demands of peasants. She issued Presidential Declaration 131, which instituted the comprehensive agrarian reform under her administration. “But there were no clear policies on which lands to prioritize, which later turned as a loophole of the law.”
Aquino also came out with Executive Order 229. Section 10 of the said executive order served as legal basis for the Stock Distribution Option. The said scheme refers to the distribution of stocks instead of parcels of land to purportedly allow beneficiaries to “receive a just share of the fruits of the lands they work.”
“(Aquino) did not use her powers to push for the legislation of a genuine agrarian reform law. Everyone was expecting that Hacienda Luisita and other big haciendas would be distributed,” Mariano said.
Mariano said there was nothing that could be expected from the 8th Congress because its members were representatives of rich and landed families. He added that they were able to preserve their class interest: land monopoly. House Bill 400, which became the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, was bogus, Mariano said.
He said many landed families were able to circumvent agrarian reform. He said a landed family may easily turn a hacienda into a livestock farm by buying cows. There were exemptions, exclusions and cancellations of Certificate of Land Transfer, Certificate of Land Ownership Award, among others.
Local government units were also given the right to reclassify land use, resulting in massive land use conversion.
The struggle for land turned bloody with one massacre after the other, such as the Mendiola massacre and Lupao massacre, to name two. “This proves the fascist, and the pro-landlord and rich businessmen character of the US-Aquino administration,” Mariano said.
Nothing much has changed under the next administration Fidel Ramos. “The conversion and re-classification of land for high value crops intensified,” Mariano said. Ramos implemented the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade and joined the World Trade Organization. The Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 was also passed, which exempted fish ponds from agrarian reform.
Mariano said more peasants were deprived of land to till in the name of fully industrializing the country. “But the tiger economy Ramos envisioned later on became a kitten economy,” he told Bulatlat.
Under the Joseph Estrada, another business scheme was implemented to pacify the struggle for land and justice. This refers to “partnerships” of big corporations working and small peasant cooperatives, dubbed as “corporative.” “But we can never reconcile the extremely irreconcilable class interest of the hacienderos and the peasants,” Mariano said.
Estrada, according to Mariano, only reinforced the bogus CARP until his ouster in 2001 during the People Power II.
“The worsts so far is under Gloria Macapgal-Arroyo,” Mariano said, “She surpassed Marcos.”
Nine years of Arroyo administration was marked with anti-peasant policies, deregulation and privatization of government-owned and controlled corporations, continuation of the bogus CARP with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms.
The Arroyo presidency was also marred by corruption cases such as the Fertilizer Scam, NBN-ZTE scandal, Hello Garci Scandal, among others. The Hacienda Luisita Massacre took place under her administration.
Instead of addressing the struggle for land of Filipino peasants, the Arroyo government tagged them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army.
Of the 1,190 extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration, 561 were peasants and 119 were members of KMP.
The first victim of extrajudicial killing under the President Benigno Aquino III was also a peasant. Pascual Guevarra was a 78-year-old peasant leader pushing for agrarian reform in Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation. The lands in Fort Magsaysay were covered by land distribution to benefit landless peasants displaced by the Mount Pinatubo eruption on Nov. 15, 1991.
“Justice would only be served if the land they are tilling would be granted to the peasants and various forms of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation are stopped,” Mariano said.
“These killings may have shook the peasant movement but it did not put a stop to it. Instead, it only intensified the struggle for land and justice. The success of the peasant movement may be attributed to their collective efforts,” Mariano said, “They were not sent away by the landed families.”
“We failed the corporative scheme of Estrada, peasants whose land titles and emancipation patents have been revoked are still tilling their lands, we were able to keep the farm gate prices of agricultural products high.”
Mariano said peasants were able to stay and till their lands such as in Hacienda Luisita, in Fort Magsaysay, in Mindanao State University, in Hacienda Roxas and in San Jose, Del Monte, Bulacan.
The KMP vowed to continue the struggle for the rights and welfare of Filipino peasants. “We would continue fighting for a genuine agrarian reform program with the main goal of free land distribution,” Mariano said. (Bulatlat.com)