Agriculture, the acid test

To this day, the Philippines is described as an agricultural country which is probably why the 17th president, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, (PBBM) appointed himself Secretary of Agriculture.  It happens to be an utterly sensitive sector of the national economy,  the most neglected and abused.  Let us hope he does not regret his decision.

Over the course of time, owners of agricultural lands have accumulated great wealth and political power, but ironically enough, those who actually sweat and till the soil are not mighty; they live below the poverty line.

History tells us that land, its ownership and use, has always been the cancer of Philippine society since the Spanish and American colonial periods to the current neo-colonial configuration.  Land disputes have sparked hundreds of rebellions, including the Philippine Revolution. When the First Republic was inaugurated in Malolos, the unnumbered  “Articulo Adicional” was affixed to the eponymous Constitution.  It stated: “All lands, buildings, and others belonging to the religious corporations in these islands shall be understood to have been restored to the Filipino State on the 24th of May last, the day in which the dictatorial government of Cavite was constituted.” Jose Rizal and his provincemates in Calamba, Laguna, victims of Dominican landlords,  would have rejoiced;  but, that did not come to pass. Shortly after,   the USA came and conquered.

All of PBBM’s predecessors since 1946 had policies and programs that aimed to solve the contradictions in our agricultural sector. When Pres. Manuel Roxas addressed Congress on 8 August 1946, he said the tenant-landowner relationship was feudal as it tied laborers to the land “like chattel.” The country needed a new tenancy law, as well as an expanded irrigation system, credit cooperatives and the modernization of rice production. However, he accepted the Parity Amendment which is probably why his wish list remains to be fulfilled.

As for  Elpidio Quirino, who took over when Roxas succumbed to a heart attack,  it was “land for the landless, home for the homeless” because of the HUK rebellion. By virtue of Executive Order 355 (1950), he merged three government agencies involved in rice, corn and machinery production into the Land Settlement Development Corporation (LASEDECO) which was also mandated to resettle in Cotabato, Bukidnon, Isabela and Palawan HUK surrenderees and landless farmers.

Pres. Ramon Magsaysay, the National Defense Secretary who beat re-electionist Elpidio Quiriino,  signed the Agrarian Reform Program into law  (Republic Act 1160, 1954) which abolished the LASEDECO and established NARRA (National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Program)  that had very similar objectives. After Pres. Magsaysay perished in a plane crash, his successor, Pres. Carlos Garcia,   focused on the protection of local products and the retail trade. His   “Filipino First” policy revived nationalism and continues to be invoked.

His successor, Pres Diosdado Macapagal, is known as the “Father of Agrarian Reform” because his Agricultural Land Reform Code (RA 3844,1963) was,  until then,  the most comprehensive. For the first time, there was land distribution, tenancy was abolished in favor of a  leasehold system where farmers paid rent instead of a percentage of harvest.

PBBM’s late father, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr, was the most audacious:  He declared the entire country a land reform area and created the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Agrarian Reform Special Account. He promoted compact and cooperative farming as well as the consolidation of agro-industrial estates.

In April 1972, when he spoke at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, PBBM’s father said that after achieving self-sufficiency in rice in 1968, we became complacent about production problems as we focused on marketing, transportation, storage and processing without giving equal attention to production. He emphasized that the “Rice Revolution” is a continuing struggle in production and marketing.

President Corazon Aquino had the CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) which was supposed to redistribute land to farmers after its owners retained 5 hectares and were justly compensated. However, there were different rules for her family’s Hacienda Luisita.  For his part, Pres.  Fidel Ramos believed we had already achieved high levels of agricultural productivity,  so he rooted for industrialization.  He projected the Philippines as the new  “Asian Tiger”.

Pres. Joseph Estrada badgered the Land Bank about soft loans for farmers.  There are reports that the agricultural sector grew by modest percentages under  Pres. Gloria Arroyo and  Benigno Aquino III, a boon for Pres. Duterte’s first hundred days.

There is a wealth of information, historical and current, about what ails our agricultural sector.  PBBM.s predecessors had mounds of experience from which he should learn. Fallacies about food security have to be exposed;  for example, the thought that it is better to import than to produce,  that cooperatives should transform farmers into importers, etc. The Department of Agriculture will be a formidable challenge to  PBBM, it will be his acid test.