The Agricultural Land Reform Code The Agricultural Land Reform Code claims to seek the abolition of tenancy and the establishment of owner-cultivatorship as the basis of Philippine agriculture. It is supposed to help the small farmers, especially those with economic family-size farms, to be free from pernicious institutional restraints and practices to build a viable social productivity and higher farm income. Aside from expropriation and land redistribution, land resettlement and public land distribution are also proposed by the code. A whole chapter of the code is devoted to provisions guaranteeing the application of all labor laws equally to both industrial and agricultural wage-earners.
For the purpose of giving lands to the landless and to those who have less than enough for their respective families, a leasehold system is to be set up as the first step towards self-reliance. The national Land Reform Council, composed of the representatives of all land reform agencies and of the political party in the minority, is supposed to proclaim an area as a land reform area before its inhabitants can enjoy the leasehold system wherein the tenant becomes a leaseholder paying only 25 percent of the average of three previous annual harvests as rent to the landowner.
That only some Filipino tenants can enjoy the rent of 25 percent upon the proclamation made by the National Land Reform Council is quite puzzling to those who are convinced that such rent may as well be paid in common by all tenants to landowners all over the country by general proclamation. This general proclamation should not even carry the pretentious claim that it abolishes tenancy and replaces it with the leasehold system. For after all, both terms “tenancy” and “leasehold system,” although the former sounds more pejorative, means essentially the burden of paying rent.
The Code says that the National Land Reform Council can proclaim a land reform area only after it has considered the nature and possibilities of the proposed land reform area in accordance with priorities set by the code. It is in the consideration of these priorities and other factors that land reform in favor of the peasant masses can be delayed indefinitely, derailed and sabotaged. It is in the consideration of these priorities that the bureaucrats in the land reform agencies will find more affinity with the landlord and imperialist interests which have plans opposed to those of the poor peasants on the same tract of land.
The very idea that the NLRC may proclaim a land reform area only where the leaseholders have a good chance of developing into owner-cultivators is obviously self-defeating and deceptive. Among the several factors that must be considered in the choice of a land reform area are its “suitability for economic family-size farms,” which is unfortunately defined by the code as a “situation where a parcel of land whose characteristics such as climate, soil, topography, availability of water and location, will support a farm family if operated in economic family-size farm units and does not include those where large-scale operations will result in greater production and more efficient use of the land.” This matter of “suitability” is taken into consideration even as the leaseholders can always petition the Land Authority to acquire the leaseholdings for redistribution to them.
On the question of suitability, before any proclamation is made by the NLRC in favor of prospective leaseholders and owner-cultivators, the landlord can easily preempt altogether the leasehold system and expropriation proceedings by asserting that large-scale operations by himself on his land will result in greater production and more efficient use. The question can be reduced to a question of legal definition pure and simple by the landlord, or he can actually start what may be termed as “large-scale operations” on his land in order to prevent either the question of rent reduction or expropriation from being raised. What is absurd is that the prospect of large-scale operations by cooperatives of owner-cultivators on the same tract of land is preempted among other things by the landlord.
To evade the leasehold system and possible expropriation proceedings, the landlord has simply to mechanize, to engage in “large-scale” operations such as sugar planting, or to plant permanent trees like citrus, coconuts, cacao, coffee, durian, rubber and others. In Central Luzon and other parts of the country, the landlords are converting their rice lands into sugar lands. In the years to come, this will continue to deal a telling blow on our rice production. In Southern Luzon, those working in coconut, citrus, abaca and coffee lands as tenants are complaining and asking why they are not benefited by land reform. Those who work on fishponds and saltbeds have the same complaint of not being within the purview of land reform.
To pursue the discussion as to how the landlord can evade expropriation, let us assume that he NLRC does unilaterally and successfully proclaim land reform over a certain area. The Land Authority—the implementing arm of the council—will still have to subject its acquisitions to the following order of priorities: idle or abandoned lands; those whose area exceeds 1,024 hectares, those whose area ranges between 500 and 1,024 hectares; those whose area ranges between 144 and 500 hectares; those whose area ranges between 75 and 144 hectares. The Philippine government is obviously making a big joke by saying that it wishes to exhaust its financial resources on idle or abandoned lands which are in most cases too expensive to develop. The poor peasant cannot afford to develop such kind of land and it is simply futile for the government to purchase this.
The statutory limit of 75 hectares that a landowner can retain is big enough to perpetuate landlordism in the Philippines. Besides, a landlord can easily retain many times more than this size so long as he has enough members of his family to distribute it to. Another course of action for the landlord is to own land in many different places and keeping to the statutory limit of 75 hectares in each place. In the Agricultural Land Reform Code, there are no plugs to these loopholes.
The landlord has so many defenses to preempt the expropriation of his property. But, little is it realized that a landlord might actually offer to sell his land to the Land Authority. Because, according to the order of priorities, in the acquisition of lands by the Land Authority, idle or abandoned lands are to be purchased first. So long as the landlord can demand “just compensation” or even an overprice, he can always strike at a private bargain with the government appraiser. After getting the payment for his expropriated property, he can always acquire private lands elsewhere or public lands to perpetuate his class status. It can be said conclusively at this juncture that the Agricultural Land Reform Code allows the perpetuation of landlordism in the country. The landlords are not hindered but even encouraged to seize public lands already tilled by the national minorities and small settlers in frontier areas.
The ability of the Land Authority to relieve deep agrarian unrest and provide the landlords with “just compensation” would depend on the adequacy of funds in the Land Bank. It is already clear that the government is reluctant to make an actual release of funds to the Land Bank. The financial crisis of U.S. imperialism and all its running dogs is something to be seriously reckoned with. Even if funds of whatever enormity are to be released, these could be gobbled up by only a few landlords and bureaucrats. Past experience clearly shows that the bureaucrats and landlords collude in fixing a high price for lands that the latter are willing to part with. The result is that the landlords have more funds to acquire more lands and the poor peasants can never afford the redistribution price exacted by the government.
Except in the change in name, the Agricultural Credit Administration, is no different from its corrupt and inadequate predecessor, the ACCFA. The Commission on Agricultural Productivity is also nothing but a new name for the old Bureau of Agricultural Extension; it is nothing but an ill-manned and indolent bureaucratic agency of the ESFAC. The landlords have always used these agencies more to their advantage than the poor peasants.
There will be more severe contradictions between the peasant masses and the landlord class. The contradictions will arise from the given conditions of these classes as well as from the interpretation of the Agricultural Land Reform Code.
These contradictions are supposed to be resolved by the Court of Agrarian Relations if ever they become formal legal disputes. The Office of Agrarian Counsel is supposed to provide free legal assistance to individual peasants and peasant organizations. But judges and government lawyers are themselves landlords, landgrabbers and land speculators. Behind the facade of populist expressions, they support the landlord system.
It is relevant to cite the fact that when the Agricultural Land Reform Bill was being drafted in Malacanang and discussed in Congress, there was no representative of the peasantry there—particularly the poor peasantry—who was conscious of the class interests of the peasantry and who would have fought for those class interests. What happened, therefore, in the absence of direct political representatives of the peasant masses, was that the political representatives of the landlords and the imperialists had all the chance to finalize the bill according to their class interest and provided themselves all the escape clauses.
The Agricultural Land Reform Code will not solve the land problem. As a matter of fact, it will only aggravate the dispossession of the peasantry and intensify unjust relations between the landlord class and the peasantry. The beautiful phrases in the code in favor of the landless are immediately nullified by provisions which in the realm of reality will be taken advantage of by the landlord class.