Hacienda’s twilight-5

THE ascendance of Corazon Aquino to the presidency after the demise of the martial law regime gave hope to the sugar planters that the wrongs of the past 10 years since the formation of the sugar monopoly, would be rectified. The Sugar Regulatory Administration was established with clipped powers, including the diminution of the research function but with emphasis on the regulation of the sugar market. The industry swung from monopoly to free market with SRA in the role of balancing the needs of the different markets and the consumers.

But the leftists in the country that claimed a major role in the struggle against the Marcos regime got the upper hand within the inner circle of President Aquino whose lack of experience in governance was exploited to the hilt by the leftists. The release of political prisoners of the left created wide open avenues for advocacy. To appease these militants and secure public support from plotters, Aquino appointed many from their ranks. She also formed a constitutional commission that drafted a new basic law for the Philippines.

Riling against the political monopoly of traditional politicians, the leftist in the commission were able to insert the provision for a multiple party system that allowed the election of party list representatives although the Philippines did not adopt the parliamentary form of government. A party list congressman can win a national constituency similar to that of congressional district.

The 1987 election paved the way for many leftists and left-leaning politicians and political mercenaries into Congress that enacted the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, so-called because it covered all agricultural crops. Earlier land reforms were limited to rice and corn. Despite the effort of the sugar industry leaders, the coterie around Aquino prevailed. She simply refused to listen to the proposal of other schemes of sharing the land other than forced purchase, partition and distribution. Landowners, regardless of how their properties were acquired were allowed only to retain 5 hectares for themselves and each of their children. The haciendas became the politically popular and juicy targets for partition and distribution to farm workers.

The generally accepted ratio of worker in the hacienda is one worker per hectare. The Department of Agrarian Reform was created and it began dismantling the haciendas. The first victims were those offered voluntarily by the owner (Voluntary Offer to Sell) but the bulk of payments were debt certificates with a time frame from the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The forced sale of land to the government was bitter to many, but Aquino was adamant. To avoid losing their haciendas, many planters converted into crops or uses exempted by law, like orchards, ranches and fishponds and for residential, commercial and industrial use.

CARP in effect demolished the hacienda system, first those over 100 hectares and 50, but later even small ones of 20 and 10 hectares.

Several haciendas survived the DAR onslaught but most were divided into small parcels unable to avail of the economy of scale so necessary for profitable and sustainable sugar farming. By CARP’s 10th year, over 93% of sugar land owners had only one to two hectares. Some planters’ associations membership rose ten times. Individual-wise, these associations were mostly small planters but since the voting system is based on farm production, the leadership remained with the big corporate planters, few in number but with consolidated voting strength. As in the past the associations remain political bases but larger.

The agrarian reform beneficiaries felt being somebody as a “planter” but not for long because land sizes, financing and management skill determine profitable production. Despite the lofty aims and pledges of the government, it was unable to help the beneficiaries gain the economic prosperity that CARP promised.

Although prohibited by law, the beneficiaries had to charter their lands to a new class of sugar planters – lessees. With funds in their hands, these new breed leased as many lands they could find even if scattered in several towns.

These consolidated leases are no longer called “hacienda” which is a contiguous, singly owned large piece of land of about 50 hectares. The hacienda had its own community around the mill or farm house of the owner.The leased land are now just called, “katubuhan” and the planter, “arrendador”. The twilight has dimmed, the hacienda slipping into the sunset.

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