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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Something personal on agrarian reform

There are so many reasons why farming and fishery development in the country has been stunted

Tomorrow, our good friend Conrad Estrella III will present the implementing rules and regulations of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act (RA 11953) to PFRM Jr.

Basically, what the law provides is the condonation of the debt burden of agrarian reform beneficiaries amounting to some P57.57 billion that would benefit some 610,000 ARBs who farm a cumulative 1.2 million hectares of land.

Most of these are planted to rice and corn, the former our staple food commodity, the latter a main ingredient in livestock feeds.

Both are grasses, just like sugar, another major agricultural commodity which, at one time, the Philippines was the world’s top producer.

Palay is the biggest water-guzzler among these grasses, which is why irrigation is imperative if we are to produce more rice.

The condonation of ARB debts to the Landbank which financed the land transfer from the original owners with the land reform beneficiaries as former tenants is most laudable, especially because these are just booked receivables where collection is well nigh impossible given the continued poverty of most of the debtors.

When I was with the Isko Moreno presidential campaign, this condonation of ARB debts was one of the planks of our agricultural platform. Sen. Ralph Recto, now deputy speaker of the House, proposed this in the previous Congress but it was unacted upon till the start of the campaign season.

Conrad, whose grandfather, Tata Condring, was the first minister of agrarian reform after it was elevated from an agency by President Marcos Sr., has hastened the distribution of individual land titles through its Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling (SPLIT) which were covered by collective CLOAs.

If DAR’s performance is to be rated based on its mandate of parceling lands covered by the agrarian reform law and awarding these to poor farmers, Estrella would likely make the department functus officio before PFRM Jr. ends his term.

But that is also where our social justice objective in agrarian reform has made our agricultural production less and less productive.

Second and third generation offspring of the original beneficiaries have had less and less land to till when divided among them, making the economies of scale less and less conducive to modern agricultural techniques.

In other countries where agrarian reform was implemented and which in fact made the templates we adopted, particularly Taiwan, scale was done through cooperatives and farm associations.

Then government stepped in with advanced research and initial support in the form of properly financed mechanization. The same happened in other countries like Japan, Israel, and even socialist Vietnam.

In the Philippines unfortunately, government, in the simplest of terms, divided up the lands, gave CLOAs to the ARBs, and now individual titles, but through this lengthy process, the ARBs were left to their own devices, unable to access cheap credit, unable to access better technology, unable to shake off their dependence on private traders cum loan sharks.

In short, “binigyan na kayo ng lupa, bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo.”

Those whose lives were made better by agrarian reform were mostly from areas close to urban centers where land conversion became rife.

They sold their holdings after the imposed timeline to subdivision developers in a country where housing is another big problem.

These and more have become bane to our agricultural production, and thus, food security.


In the mid- 60s, our family bought 142 hectares of land in Barangay Talandang, Tugbok District in Davao City, some 25 kilometers from City Hall.

It wasn’t all flat land and mostly hills with gentle slopes, ideal for fruit plantations, and we started developing pomelos in 32 hectares close to the creek which supplied water. In another three hectares, we planted coffee and calamansi.

We did not have tenants. Farm workers were paid weekly wages, on top of which they were allowed to cultivate their rice and corn, and the harvest was all theirs.

For years until the pomelo trees bore fruit, and which we marketed in Metro Manila with the brand name “Golden,” with “rejects” labelled “Royal” (actually juicy and sweet inside but the rind was pockmarked by fruit flies).

The latter brand was my personal mockery of monarchic (and at the time in the country, dictatorial rule), the family poured so much investments without any returns.

But after our patriarch died in 1994, my mother and four of us siblings decided to voluntarily sell the land to the agrarian reform program. By then we had all graduated from college and into our professions with no one into agriculture.

We retained 35 hectares and the rest was bought by Landbank for a pittance.

I then sold the retention which was the fruit tree plantation to a Davao and Cotabato- based agricultural corporation for a sum several multiples bigger than Landbank valued the 107 hectares given to our farm workers plus others from the landless poor in the vicinity.

The corporation was into huge fruit tree farming, and then leased (“ariendo” is the Bisaya term which is actually Castillian) the plots of the ARBs.

They and/or their adult children were then hired again as salaried workers while they collected lease payments.

Some of the children of our loyal workers were hired by us in Butuan, and others we helped through college.

During Cory and Erap’s time, I helped the graduates to get employed in government, and am proud they have prospered since, as a school superintendent, an agricultural technician, an insurance agent, a small business entrepreneur, etc.

Sadly, it was not by farming that their children prospered, even if their lives improved marginally as plantation workers cum lessors of the government-granted land, rather than being subsistence farmers of rice and corn.


Fast forward to the 21st century, and my observations from Bukidnon, where for a time I had some business interest.

I noticed that from Manolo Fortich in the northern border with Cagayan de Oro, all the way to the southern border with Davao City, many ARBs and even medium-sized landowners had been leasing their land to huge corporations involved in sugar or pineapple plantations.

The going rate, depending on access to roads and other factors were between P25,000 to P30,000 per hectare per year. Not much, but many advanced their rentals to spend for the requirements of children who would work in foreign lands.


When I was head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, we signed agreements with two universities in Taiwan, with the help of an NGO called Agri-gaia, on agriculture and aquaculture courses to entice our OFWs to learn enough so that when they finish their 12-year maximum work term, they could invest in farms and aquaculture projects back in our country, instead of the ubiquitous investments on tricycles, jeepneys, or sari-sari stores.

MECO even provided a scholarship fund for them, a pet project of the late MECO director and former Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani. Very few showed interest in the courses.

There are so many reasons why farming and fishery development in the country has been stunted.

These are but some of the stories on why.

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