LETTERS FROM DAVAO
By Jun Ledesma
THERE had been so many arguments and extraneous explanations about who should get the credit for the enforcement of the 13th-month pay. Let’s face it, the strict implementation of the 13th-month pay was during the time of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. The “dictator”, as the opposition would label him, decreed it.
Well, it’s almost December and the 2022 elections is a little over six months away. Expect the election battleground to be littered with muck, claims to greatness, distortions of facts, and murders. For lack of credentials to back their plans and promises, candidates this early have resorted to desperate schemes, disqualifying an adversary among them.
Nobody ever bothered to research about the 13th-month pay since its enforcement nearly five decades ago. It surfaced only recently after BongBong Marcos started to grab the lead in the presidential race when Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte announced that she is not running for the top post as early as September. [
Just like all others, those backing BBM started to come up with their respective stories to boost the chances and defend their candidates. The pink squads of Leni Robredo occupy vast spaces in social media platforms. An Archbishop painstakingly defended her for saying that vote-buying is not a mortal sin. Of course, the favorite staple is the long-departed Marcos but this is not stopping the Marcos supporters from coming out with what they believed were virtues and performance of the Marcos regime. Among these, they claim, is the 13th-month pay.
But success has many fathers. Vera Files, a Facebook fact-checker, came out with a long story to dispute that the 13th-month pay was Marcos’. The concept, according to VF, came from a lawyer from Negros, a certain Zoilo dela Cruz, who was close to Marcos. Dela Cruz, VF explained, took advantage of the legislative power of the dictator, to pass the decree based on his concept. In the end, after kilometric and winding dissertations, Cory Aquino got the credit.
This reminds me of the Agrarian Reform Law of the Philippines. For decades, agrarian reform was the centerpiece of several administrations. So many bright ideas were put into it but the tenants were never emancipated. A law was finally crafted and passed the Philippine Land Reform Law during the term of the late Diosdado Macapagal but the problem of enforcement came in the way to successful implementation.
In 1971, then-President Ferdinand Marcos signed the Code of Agrarian Reform of the Philippines. Exactly one year after declaring martial law he issued Presidential Decree No. 27 placing the entire country under a land reform program. The dictum was “Land for the actual tillers”. It was the start of the real emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil. Hundreds of thousands of tenants received certificates of land transfer. Landlords assailed Marcos for they were allowed only to retain seven hectares of land they own, even going to zero retention if the arable lands remain to be uncultivated, but they cannot do anything since the country was under the aegis of martial law. This was however overtaken by events following the Edsa People Power Revolution.
In 1987, then-President Corazon Aquino crafted her own land reform edict calling it “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program” or CARP. The program is a radical departure from Marcos ‘land for the actual tillers’ in that CARP mandates “land for the landless”. Her administration assailed the Marcos decree dubbing it “confiscatory”.
Wikipedia dedicated several paragraphs on the programs of agrarian reform in the Philippines from the pre-colonial days, American to Commonwealth period, Roxas and to Macapagal all the way to the Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. but spared only TWO sentences on Marcos land reform program.
But what of CARP? It was designed to save the 6,000 plus hectares of Hacienda Luisita owned by the Cojuangco family from operation land transfer by issuing the tenants stocks certificates instead of land titles. These led to long legal disputes and the massacre of protesting farmers and the impeachment of a Supreme Court Chief Justice who favored the distribution of the hacienda lands to the tenants.
CARP deprived actual land tillers of owning lands they had been tilling for years. Why? Any Tom, Dick, and Harry who are without land were qualified to own land under Cory’s CARP. Many white-collar workers who know their way in the bureaucratic maze out-maneuvered the poor tenants who were listed in the census undertaken by the Department of Agrarian Reform before the operation land transfer commenced. Thus, many agricultural lands were converted into subdivisions because many CARP beneficiaries were not actually farmers. In fact, they abhor the smell of the earth.
With Mayor Inday Sara opting out of the presidential race, the issues of concern have shifted from “continuity of Duterte’s programs and reforms” to establishing the ultimate judgment on who, between Aquino and Marcos, served the nation well. Leni Robredo personifies the Aquino regime, BongBong his father. The rest of the candidates are irrelevant. Let’s watch and listen. This is the race of the dead.
About the Columnist
Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.