Advice to Hacienda Luisita

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MANILA: Hacienda Luisita is a sugar plantation in Tarlac in Central Luzon; it is so large that it can accommodate both the cities of Makati and Pasig. It is owned by Martin Lorenzo and the Cojuangco-Aquino family, which includes Corazon Aquino and Noynoy Aquino (Wikipedia).

Naturally, it has been the object of land reform. On 30 September 2013, the tenants of Hacienda Luisita began receiving their individual Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) to portions of Hacienda Luisita; the first certificate was given by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to Benigna Mañalac, 82 years old (Jo Martinez-Clemente, 01 October 2013, newsinfo.inquirer.net). That day, she was the first of around 600 who received their CLOAs from Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes. The total CLOAs comprised only 390 ha of the estate; there are about 4,100 ha covered by land reform out of the 6,453 ha of Hacienda Luisita. There are 6,298 landless workers involved.

The news today, Tuesday, 03 November 2015, is unequivocal: "Aquino family reclaims Hacienda Luisita" (Christine F Herrera, manilastandardtoday.com). I google and find that this is a journalist's exclusive, a scoop. John Milton Lozande, Acting Chair of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultra (Union of Farm Workers) said the Aquino family sold the Central Azucarera de Tarlac to a businessman, Martin Lorenzo, but the company remains under the control of the family, through the President's first cousin, Fernando Cojuangco. Lozande claims that the sale was made "to avoid paying back farmer-beneficiaries some P1.33 billion in proceeds from the sale of lands in Hacienda Luisita and to abort the distribution of land to farmers and farmworkers."

As a journalist and philosopher myself after the image of American Henry George, who believed in the primacy of land reform while I don't, I look at the latest Hacienda Luisita development as poverty in thinking, as both the corporate Aquinos and the community of farmers have so far failed to see how they can all get away from the mess, learn their agriculture well and their economics better, and at the same time, become wealthier together – squabbling is bad for the economics of both sides.

Now then, from my 2-year consultancy with an agri-extension project of the Department of Agrarian Reform, from being a farmer's son, from being a graduate with a BS Agriculture degree from the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture, and from being Vice Chair of the Nagkaisa Multi-Purpose Cooperative in my hometown of Asingan in Pangasinan, I have come to realize that the only difference between a tenant and a farmer is that piece of paper, the title to the land, where the tenant has none. In habits, the tenant and farmer are the same – they cultivate the land the same way; they plant & transplant the same crop the same way; they fertilize the same crop with the same fertilizers on the same days; they spray the same pesticides; they both borrow cash from usurers and borrow farm inputs (seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides) from storeowners who charge more than do usurers; and they both sell to the same merchants who dictate the price they receive for their produce. A fact of life that agriculturists and economists in high and low places have chosen to ignore. Unbelievable but true!

As a journalist, I'm interested in farmer reform; not land reform; assuming that there is intelligent land reform. I'm not interested in determining whether or not the Aquino family legally owns Hacienda Luisita or not. Rather, I'm interested in knowing not only whether the Aquinos know their agriculture but more so if they know inclusive development that includes the farmers and not simply inclusive growth that excludes them. As articulated by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in India, inclusive development protects the farmers from all predators; as pronounced by the National Economic & Development Authority (NEDA), inclusive growth includes the merchants as actors in growth and therefore protects them. Except NEDA it seems, we all know that the merchants prey on the hapless producers.

If the Aquinos want to eradicate poverty from among the Luisita farmers, and they should, they have to change their perspective from NEDA's concept of inclusive growth, which provides a limited political economy, to ICRISAT's concept of inclusive development, which provides an unlimited one.

To appreciate the difference, let us attempt to discover the economic causes of poverty. Actually, I have already pointed them out to you: usury, input control, and market manipulation. The usurers have the ready cash that the farmers don't; the input controllers have the seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment that the farmers need; and the farmers don't have enough business acumen not to sell to merchants who are happy to manipulate the prices in the buyers' favor – in fact, the merchants may be the input controllers and traders themselves with whom farmers have loans.

I have been thinking about all that in the last 3 years ever since Nagkaisa was born on 03 October 2012. Almost one year later, I came up with what I call the "Super Coop" that is pro-poor (28 September 2013, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.com). With its affordable financial assistance from deep pockets, the Super Coop will be funding farmers to produce more, save more, help more, earn more, and sustain more. The farmers can then grow expensive but high-yielding hybrids and other high-value crops, and even become seed producers and make millionaires of themselves. The Super Coop will hire experts to teach the farmers how to save such as on seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. The Super Coop will help more farmer families with its affordable credit lines. The Super Coop will earn millions more, as it will serve as the marketing arm of the farmers, connecting to direct consumers, thereby enjoying the whole value chain from production to marketing. If the coop prospers, how can the members be left behind?

I'm reading Wikipedia and it says that in the late 1950s, as Hacienda Luisita owner, Jose "Pepe" Cojuangco appointed his son-in-law Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, Noynoy Aquino's father, as administrator. Together, Pepe and Ninoy introduced social welfare to the Hacienda. They gave free check-ups & medical services, college scholarships, free education, free child care and nutrition, free food and equitable shares in the harvest, free burials, free gasoline, including a village with housing earmarked for the farmers.

A "social state" like that is welcome by those with the mendicant mind, but the cultivation of mendicancy has always been productive but never profitable and sustainable. To set themselves free from poverty, the farmers must learn to be businessmen. They must learn not only to produce more but to save more and earn more out of the same work they have been pursuing for ages. They must learn to take risks. Until then, they will always be losers whether they have a title to their land or not.

Now then, tor all their community troubles tenants & farmers now have a savior; for all their corporate woes, the Aquinos now have a rescuer, and these redeemers are one and the same: The Super Coop. The Aquinos and the farmers will be the members; the Aquinos will provide the small and big funds for all the coop's needs, including warehousing and transport. The coop will shelter the farmers from usurers and merchants and ensure their productivity, profitability, and sustainability; the coop will reward the investors according to the risks they have taken.

With a cooperative like that, how can the farmers lose? And how can the Aquinos not be winners?

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