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March 23, 1963
The answer to communism
By Teodoro M. Locsin
Land for the landless, capital for industry, social stability
President Macapagal asks Congress to rise to challenge of greatness and dare end poverty with no loss of liberty.
COMMUNISM promises land to the landless, hence its attraction to the millions who till land not their own and are condemned to poverty thereby. It is idle to argue that communism does not fulfill its promise, that collective farms or communes are state-owned, that communism merely replaces the landlords with the biggest one of all. So great is the despair of the landless that any promise of land is taken as better than none at all.
The democratic answer to communism is land for the landless—without loss of liberty.
This week, President Diosdado Macapagal called on Congress to give this answer to communism, to meet its challenge the democratic way.
The need for land reform was pressing and obvious when independence came and the Republic was proclaimed. The tenancy system perpetuated poverty and bred dissidence. The official answer to communism, however, was not land reform but force. The result was discouraging. The mere use of force did not stop the Huks.
In 1952, an exhaustive study of land tenure problems was prepared by Robert S. Hardie, land reform specialist of the Mutual Security Agency and formerly attached to the office of General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. Land reform made true democracy possible in Japan and contained the forces of communism; it should have the same effect here, it was thought. The Hardie Report, however, was met with denunciation by the Liberal regime then. Then President Quirino called the report exaggerated and then Speaker Perez described it as “communist-inspired.”
Ramon Magsaysay crushed the Huk movement but did not think that communism could be permanently checked without land reform; while the tenancy system kept the people poor, dissidence was inevitable. When he became president, he struck at the root of the evil with a land reform program—which Congress promptly emasculated. Landlords and their tools in Congress tried everything to block passage of the measure. Eventually, with it seemed that nothing could stop Magsaysay from making available land to the landless, death intervened.
Now, it is Diosdado Macapagal’s turn to effect land reform, to get the government to face the reality of the basic Philippine problem. There is poverty. There is mass unemployment. There are constant shortages of food and other necessities. Prices are high and keep going higher. There is insufficient capital for investment in industry. The population is exploding. More and more money must be appropriated for the armed forces to maintain an obsolete system which condemns millions to poverty and the nation as a whole to low productivity. Now, it is Diosdado Macapagal’s turn to strike at the evil of tenancy.
A sentimental approach will not do; hearts bleeding for the poor are not enough. Too many congressmen are landlords or tools of landlords—from whom they get campaign funds, retainers, etc.—for emotion to prevail in the Senate and the House. And the Mexican experience has shown that it is not enough to give land to the landless if they do not know what to do with it, if they are not provided with the necessary credit facilities for increasing production. A poor landowner is still a poor man.
Just the same, “the exploiter is no longer sole master, the sole established force,” writes an observer of the Mexican scene. “Against him, however poor, however inexpert it may still be, even though burdened with deceits and dreams, a peasantry has won its social liberty. Badly organized, bristling with obstacles, even ‘sabotaged,’ a bad agrarian reform is better than no reform at all.”
It may be the start of a true, an effective one.
And the time to start one is now.
“The National Economic Council recently disclosed that the Philippine production of palay decreased from 3,739,500 tons in 1960 to 3,704,800 tons in 1962,” according to the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
At the same time, the population keeps increasing at a record rate and the “revolution of rising expectations” goes on; more and more is expected of democracy by those whose allegiance it would keep.
If the opposition to land reform has been formidable, it may be diminished by a general realization of the cost of that which should be reformed, if the nation could be made to see plainly the evils of tenancy.
Let us list them:
- Low Productivity. Tenant farming means primitive farming. The tenant makes so little he is perpetually in debt; he is usually the victim of usury. This makes impossible the use of fertilizer. He can’t afford an irrigation system. He hardly feels the need of one, poverty keeping him ignorant of modern technology. Low productivity means food shortages and the need to import food, to pay for whose importation foreign exchange must be used that should otherwise go into the establishment of new industries.
- Low Purchasing Power. Having so little money, the millions condemned by tenancy to poverty cannot afford to buy the products of industry. Why establish new ones when the market is so limited? At the same time, we look to the establishment of new industries to provide jobs for the increasing army of the unemployed. From tenancy result both unemployment and poverty.
- Lack of Capital for Industry. The Philippines cannot look to foreign sources for the bulk of the capital needed for industrialization; most of the capital must come from domestic sources. But most domestic capital is frozen in land. Without land reform, that capital would remain frozen there. While tenancy remains profitable for the landlord though not for the tenants, where would the country get the capital for the new industries? Industrialization must wait or proceed at a pitifully slow pace while the population explodes and the number of the jobless increases.
- High Prices. With production so low and so much of what the people need having to be imported, prices must remain high and, as population increases, go higher. Those who complain of high prices should blame tenancy.
- Social Instability. With millions so poor, how can the social order have any stability? It’s like living on top of a volcano. Those who like to live dangerously may enjoy it; for the rest, there is only the haunting sense of total insecurity.
- Too Big Army. Some P2,000,000,000 have been spent on the armed forces since Liberation—from the Japanese but not from tenancy. If the Republic has had to maintain so big a military establishment, it is in order to contain dissidence, which is bred by tenancy. It is ironical that owners of tenant-operated farms are among the worst tax-evaders in the country; at any rate, they are among the lowest taxpayers, yet the Republic has had to spend so much on an army principally to maintain tenancy.
What use is there for so big an army? To protect us from communist attack? We have American bases here; these would be targets in case of nuclear war; meanwhile, they serve as shields. What good would they be if they did not stop the Chinese communists from attacking the Philippines? We risk the presence of U.S. bases here to enjoy what if not security from such attack? And there is the China Sea.
No, we have such a big army—because of tenancy. It is significant that even as the President calls on Congress to pass his land reform measure, a Liberal leader envisions a smaller professional army—supported by a citizen one. Such a citizen force cannot be depended upon to fight for tenancy.
- Political Immaturity. You cannot distil political independence out of economic misery. Why do people sell their votes? Because they need money. Poverty is the great enemy of democracy; it makes democracy meaningless to the people and keeps democracy weak against its enemies.
These are the evils of tenancy. While tenancy persists, there will be poverty. The rise of Communist China poses a constant challenge to our democracy. How are we to meet the challenge? By perpetuating poverty? This is the counsel of the suicide, not of one who would keep his rights and defend his liberty.
Land reform is clearly a necessity. Its problems are, however, many. Our government is a constitutional one. The right of the landlords to just compensation for their lands must be assured. The tenants, when they become landowners, or before they could get title to the land, must pay for it. Payment will be possible only if their income is raised, through increased productivity. And this will be possible only through extension of the necessary credit for fertilizer, irrigation and other means of increasing the yield of the land.
Expropriation should be the last resort. It may mean having to pay for the land in cash, and the government simply does not have enough money. Persuasion should be mainly relied upon to get landlords to turn in their lands for government bonds and stocks in private industry. A realistic reassessment of land values should make tenancy less profitable to the landlord while exemption from the payment of capital gains tax plus tax-free interest-bearing bonds plus stocks in private industry should make expropriation unnecessary.
With land titles purchased from landlords added to its original capitalization, a land bank may generate additional capital for investment in new industries. Thus, not only may he abolition of tenancy be speeded up but also the industrialization of the country—and the end of its present poverty.
Those who opposed land reform have the burden of proposing an alternative to it as a solution to our problem of poverty, mass unemployment and social instability in the face of the communist challenge.
This is not to say that the land reform measure, if made into law, would be properly implemented. That is another problem. But before there could be proper implementation of so necessary a law, there must first be a law.
In his message to Congress, President Macapagal stressed this necessity:
“A nation that flies from realities succeeds merely in postponing its own progress. The realities remain. The future belongs to those courageous enough to confront the necessary but disagreeable tasks of today.
“For decades, our leaders have temporized with the problem of land reform. They have found all kinds of reasons for not daring to go forward. Somehow they always fell shy of the truth that the great stumbling block to our national progress, though certainly not the only one, was the antiquated land tenure system. We know, in our hearts, that any further steps forward would be possible, for this nation, only if this block were removed.
“In our confrontation of this problem, the moment of truth has arrived for all. Suddenly a challenge of greatness is thrust upon the leaders of this nation, but especially upon the representatives of our people in this Congress.
“I must impress upon you the importance of a decision vital to the development of the agricultural potentials of this nation. I find it my duty to rouse you into a new awareness of the problem, to appeal to you for support of a program designed to promote the general welfare, to ask you to take the bold but realistic steps which our economic situation demands. We cannot hope to build a strong and self-sufficient nation without strengthening its foundations.
“Land is our most valuable resource; agriculture, the most important means of converting its potentials into the necessities of life. For all its national importance, agriculture in the Philippines has progressed so slowly that we must constantly race against population growth. Our production is slow; it takes three families in the agricultural section to produce the necessary food and fiber for themselves and one family in other sectors of our economy. Compare this rate with that of the American farmer who produces food for 23 Americans and three foreigners. Our production is hindered by the very structure that should support it—the social struc- ??? Although many of our people are engaged in agriculture, they fail to produce sufficient raw materials to develop our industries. This is not their failure, really, but ours, for we have not provided them greater opportunities.
“Agricultural production in the Philippines is largely dependent on the efforts of small farmers. Forty percent of our farmers do not own the land on which they were born and the land on which they will spend ??? ducing our staple crops of rice and corn and one of our most important export crops—sugar—is predominantly operated by tenants.
“The poverty of our rural areas tends to increase in direct proportion to the incidence of sharecrop tenancy and its concomitant, absentee landlordism. In failing to change the status of tenant farmers, we set narrow limits to our own agricultural productivity; we abet poverty; we abet grave social injustices.
“[Some] have taken some halting and half-hearted steps to mitigate the tenancy problem. But such reluctant, stop-gap solutions no longer suffice. We have reached a stage in our national growth which makes genuine land reforms imperative. To go forward in social and economic development, we have first to recast the structure of agriculture to enable it to grow in productivity and give momentum to industrial progress.
“Unfortunately, the common opinion of land reform is that it is for the benefit of the poor and at the expense of the rich. On the contrary, land reform, by increasing production and income and by giving dignity to a large portion of our people, can be instrumental in the promotion of general social and economic progress.
“In our small farmers lies a great potential of energy for growth. Let us unleash these tremendous productive energies. Tied up in our land is the greatest of our capital resources. Let us release these resources so that our business and industry may go forward. In the end, we can all look back to this day and recall with satisfaction that we had the courage to face the demands of reality and to take this challenging step for the delivery of our people from economic and social bondage.”
This is a call to greatness. Dare we not answer it? This is a call to the confrontation of reality. Dare we ignore it? There is no fool’s paradise; there are only fools, and they soon pay the penalty. There is no substitute for or avoidance of reality.