Are Filipinos pinning their hopes on obsolete solutions?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-08-17

People living on a meal to meal basis are inclined to be overly focused on surviving for the next day and they thus fail to attain a long term solution to their urgent nagging problems. That is one aspect of the failure to address serious problems. 

The other aspect of the failure to address urgent serious problems is the inability to apply the correct solutions and in some cases the grievous mistake of seeking salvation from obsolete solutions. In the case of Filipinos still pinning their hopes on Agrarian Reform, we may be relying on a solution that has already been rendered obsolete by developments.

Agrarian Reform evolved from the promise of “Land for the landless” by the advocates for Land Reform. Land Reform was intended to extend social justice to Filipinos and end the feudal structures here. Land Reform evolved into Agrarian Reform when it was observed that giving the former tenants a piece of land without the proper support — capital, agriculture extension service and so forth — would render the program useless.

Agrarian Reform was a centerpiece program of President Cory C. Aquino. It was not implemented though as many hoped it would be. This gave rise to the perception that the program was adjusted just to suit the retention of Hacienda Luisita lands by President Cory’s family. Seen by many as the sole motivating factor, few realized that there were compelling reasons why Agrarian Reform was altered to its controversial current state.

The first compelling reason was economic in nature. It would have been reckless to dismantle the big agricultural operations without any certainty that the new small landowners will be able to fill the required productivity. Agriculture was the biggest sector of the economy and it was too big a risk to immediately dismantle the big agricultural operations like Hacienda Luisita. Judging from the productivity of those lands which had been awarded to Agrarian Reform beneficiaries, this decision would seem to be wise.

The second compelling reason was the national security factor. The feared collapse of the agriculture sector, should the small farmers not be able to compensate for the termination of the big agricultural operations, can easily trigger a serious national security situation.

It was also the time when coup attempts were being undertaken, one after another, against the Cory administration. The big landowners who will be affected by Agrarian Reform in its original concept could support the coup plotters and tilt the balance in their favor. These big landowners also happen to be the very oligarchs who control the levers of power in our country.

Today, the second compelling reason – the national security factor — is no longer at play but the questions about the viability of Agrarian Reform — to maintain if not improve agriculture productivity — are still valid issues that justify a rethinking of the program. If it is true that we should not fix what is not broken — it is worse when we waste precious resources in trying to fix what is now obviously inutile.

The state of the treasury is in no position to effectively support Agrarian Reform which is the only way to ensure that the beneficiaries enjoy long term relief and that agriculture productivity is ensured. That in itself is a compelling reason to rethink Agrarian Reform. It has been proved by our experience that awarding land is not the best means for attaining social justice and economic upliftment.

Also, there was a major international development in the last decade that made the operational viability of the small farmers even more difficult to attain. That is the now denounced monster called Globalization which has virtually driven the last nail to the coffin of small farm operations.

Globalization opened our market to cheaper farm produce from abroad. How can the poor Filipino farmer hope to compete with his overseas counterpart who enjoys the benefit of state support and a more efficient method of production? The poor Filipino farmer is like a lightweight boxer who takes on the world’s heavyweight boxing champ with one arm of the lightweight tied behind his back. In such a match, the poor Filipino farmer has only two chances — none and nil.

Look at what happened to the small farmers in the United States and how they’ve been forced to either stop farming or ally themselves to the big agricultural corporations as contract producers. Compared to our Agrarian Reform beneficiaries, the American small farmers have bigger acreage, access to capital and technology and a far better market system to support them. Despite these advantages, they are finding it extremely difficult to survive in the new Globalized world.

Given all these, should we not rethink our methods? For too long, our people have been the victims of shysters who sold them illusions of El Dorado, the non-existent cities of gold. All the poor want is a piece of the national wealth and gross domestic product so that they can provide their families the dignity of a better life.

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