LETTERS FROM DAVAO

By Jun Ledesma

WITH a farmer’s blood in my veins, I still cannot leave the subject of agricultural productivity and what hounds it to date. There is one issue that has not come to the fore simply because it would impact on the political characters that emerged after the government of the late Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos came to an end. This includes not a few white collar employees who were beneficiaries in the regime change.

The political leaders before Marcos were adamant to institute an agrarian reform program. Marcos did. He wrote in his own handwriting Presidential Decree 27 that was to emancipate the tenant-farmers from the bondage of the landlords. The dictum under PD 27 was clear: land for the actual tillers, meaning tenants.

When Corazon Aquino took over the reins of government she scrapped PD 27 and replaced this, through a Presidential Proclamation, with Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP. This was later passed into law by Congress.

There is a stark difference between PD 27 and CARP. While the Marcos decree limits the beneficiaries to tenant farmers, Aquino’s CARP recognizes not only tenants, but any Tom-Dick and Harry who are landless to be beneficiaries of lands.

There is a whale of difference between Marcos and Cory’s doctrines of land reform. Thousands of hectares of agricultural lands were awarded to individuals who hate the smell of the earth but know the values of the land. Thus, what used to be rice lands became either idle or were converted into subdivisions.

In the so-called Martial Law museum, an article written about the agrarian reform program of the government interestingly excluded the fact that PD 27 ended with the Presidential Proclamation 131 of Cory Aquino under her revolutionary government.

The article also cites that corporate farms were excluded under PD 27. On the contrary, operation land transfer then was dynamic. It initially focused on rice and corn lands for these are the areas where tenancy is most prevalent. Later, it considered coconut plantations which were run by laborers. There were a number of antagonisms in this sector but it went on just the same. Corporate farms using leased lands from the government were then ordered to allocate portions of the land for rice production.

CARP, moreover, mongrelized the essence emancipation of tenant farmers. In a creative move, it allowed a stock option which was in the case of Hacienda Luisita — vast track of lands owned by Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and her kin. It took several years of struggles and protests by the tenant farmers, not a few of whom were mercilessly killed.

Chief Justice Renato Corona who decided in favor of the farmers was later impeached by members of Congress and convicted by the centurions in the Senate.

Among the first “victims” of PD 27 was Danding Cojuangco, perceived to be a crony of Marcos, and Conrado Estrella, the 1st Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform. Their lands were among the first to be placed under operation land transfer (OLT). Cojuangco who has a nose for agriculture swapped his landholdings in Tarlac with a chunk of land in Bugsuk Island off the coast of Palawan. There he put up a nursery for what was a prolific coconut breed that can produce 5 tons of copra meat compared to the over-aged endemic Philippine variety that could only yield barely one ton. Marcos wanted to help coconut farmers to be productive and he came to know of the new breed that was a cross of African tall from the Ivory Coast of Africa and Malaysian dwarf called Mawa. The Catigan “bilaka” of Davao City is just like Mawa.

The seedlings were given free to farmers. In Davao del Sur, Cojuangco himself bought 1,000 hectares of what was then known as the Christensen Estate. He planted this with coconuts intercropped with cacao. The prolific dwarf coconuts started bearing fruits in less than five years but not in Visayas as it cannot withstand typhoons. The fruits of cacao were something I have never seen before as they were so big like four times in size compared to the native variety. The plantation employed more than 200 farm laborers. Sadly, the plantation was ordered sequestered by the Cory government. In less than a year, what used to be a successful agricultural venture deteriorated by utter neglect. PCGG successfully annihilated the 1,000 hectares of coconut and cacao plantations and left more than 200 breadwinners without jobs.

Indeed what happened in the land reform program of the government had impacted on the food security of the country and even in our history.

Ella Cruz, an actress, stumbled on a sensitive issue when she referred to history as “tsismis” or gossip. Truly, historical facts are either stonewalled or buried in oblivion people merely indulge in gossips because much of the truths cannot be confirmed for so much had been twisted, revised and passed on as facts.

About the Columnist

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Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.