By Severino C. Samonte

How 1972 martial law hastened PH's land reform program

September 29, 2022, 2:26 pm

Filipino men and women born a decade before the advent of the September 1972 martial law may be interested to know that such imposition of partial military rule became very beneficial to the country's landless farmers commonly called tenants.

Here's why: The implementation of Republic Act 3844 or the Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963 was sped up with the issuance by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. of Proclamation No. 1081 that placed the entire country under a state of martial law on Sept. 21, 1972.

RA 3844 was passed by the old Senate under the stewardship of then Senate President Marcos (April 5, 1963-Dec. 30, 1965) and signed into law by former President Diosdado P. Macapagal on Aug. 8 of that year.

Marcos also authored and sponsored the Senate bill. However, its implementation was hampered by strong objections from big landowners across the country.

Even when Marcos himself was already sitting in Malacañang as Macapagal's successor since Dec. 30, 1965, land reform remained a very ticklish political issue.

He noted that the institution of social reforms to benefit the broad masses of the people formed a complementary concern to the restoration of order and the securing of the Republic.

"The priority program had to be land reform. For decades, the necessity of agrarian reform had been stressed to our politicians, but not until the 'September 21 Movement' could this reform be carried out realistically."

The term "September 21 Movement" referred to the proclamation of martial law and the creation of a New Society that would replace the existing old society in the areas of peace and order; land reform; labor reform; educational reform; economic reform; social services; political reform; and government reorganization.

In his book "The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines" published in1977 by the Marcos Foundation Inc., in Chapter 10 sub-titled "Theory and Practice in the New Society," Marcos narrated:

"On September 26, 1972, five days after the proclamation of martial law, I signed Presidential Decree No. 2, proclaiming the whole country as land reform area, in the belief that the objectives of the agrarian reform program set forth in R.A. 3844 would be realized sooner through this decree.

"The following month, on October 21, I signed P.D. No. 27 emancipating the tenants from the bondage of the soil, transferring to them the ownership of the land they till and providing the instruments and mechanism for such emancipation."

Marcos did not mention it in the book, but I remember that the first news reports on that decree by the Malacañang Press Office in 1973 said it was the first time in the country's history that a very important law was issued in the President's own handwriting.

According to Marcos, with the issuance of the two decrees, the government set into motion the massive overhaul of the system of land ownership in the Philippines, and at last land reform ceased to be an unrealized dream in the country.

He noted that despite initial difficulties inherent in any program so vast and unprecedented, the land transfer program launched to implement land reform has moved briskly.

Among the most significant provisions of P.D. 27 were:

* The emancipation decree shall apply to tenant farmers of private agricultural lands primarily devoted to rice and corn under a system of share-crop or lease-tenancy, whether classified as landed estate or not.

* The tenant farmer, whether in land classified as landed estate or not, shall be deemed owner of a portion constituting a family-size farm of five hectares if not irrigated, and three hectares if irrigated.

* In all cases, the landowner may retain an area of not more than seven hectares if such landowner is cultivating such an area or will start cultivating it.

As of the end of April 1974, Marcos said the government had issued over 250,000 land transfer certificates covering an area of 360,000 hectares tilled by 200,000 tenant farmers. These accomplishments covered only rice and corn lands 50 hectares and above in size.

The land transfer operation was brought down later to the 24-hectare category.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.


About the Columnist

Image of Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.

He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.