New Internationalist

Forbidden Land

Issue 267

Forbidden territory
Structural adjustment has taken centre stage in the Philippines and left the change that’s really needed –
the redistribution of land – in the wings. Dinyar Godrej reviews the performance.

The Philippines is a farming nation. Three-fifths of its population live and work on farmland. The vast majority of them – 70 per cent – earn too little to afford a proper diet.

The reason has nothing to do with the amount of food they grow. It’s because only 5 per cent of farming families own around 80 per cent of the land – the vast majority of the rest are landless or sharecroppers.

For over a quarter of a century this injustice has spurred armed rebellion. Every President of the Philippines has come into office by promising land reform: none has delivered. This is because the Congress is dominated by large landowners and the Presidents themselves owned hefty chunks.

The unrest that built up under President Marcos was defused by the Corazon Aquino – the next President – whom people believed would give back their land. Instead the land-reform promise took a back seat to coup threats, import liberalization and debt rescheduling. Farmers were sacrificed to the concept of ‘national recovery’.

Progress under the current President Ramos has been slight. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP) has redistributed 30 per cent of the 10.3 million hectares identified for reform. These have been mainly Government-owned and public lands, leaving the large private landowners untouched. Critics say the Programme was ‘designed’ to fail because those who enacted it into law were the same landowners whose lands would be targeted by CARP.

There have been other setbacks – like 160,247 hectares of farmland converted to industrial, residential or commercial uses. Ramos has also cancelled some of the land titles awarded under President Marcos’s land-reform programme. Now the landlord-dominated Congress wants to exempt about 1.7 million hectares of commercial farmlands and prawn farms from CARP.

As if all this weren’t enough, the Government seems determined to destroy local food production by importing cheaper Thai grain and promoting cash cropping. The Philippines is one of the oldest guinea pigs of the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), leading the Government to follow a debt-driven, export-oriented industrialization track and to abandon genuine agricultural and rural development.

The real ‘adjustment’ – land reform backed with help for small farmers – waits in the wings. Its presence on the stage may be further delayed because it would involve restructuring society. And the prime actors – the privileged few – could get very upset by this.

The Philippines has numerous activist groups working for land and agrarian reform. These are useful points of entry:

Philippine Peasant Institute (PPI)
Rm 319 PSSC Building, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City 1100, Philippines
Tel: (+) 632 929 6211 ext. 314/339  Fax: (+) 632 924 3767. Email: feedback@ppi.org.ph
Web: http://www.ppi.org.ph/

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas –
Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP)

50 K- 8 Street, Kamias Road, Quezon City
Tel: (+) 632 9216710 Email:kmp@tri-isys.com Web: www.geocities.com/kmp

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995


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