Why Filipinos go hungry

Quick steal A cat snatches the food of a man who is busy glancing at newspapers in a news stand at Taft Avenue. Rafael Taboy

A look into a failed land reform program

(Second of three parts)

“Landowner who had 100 or 200 hectares was not compensated enough to allow them to transit to the industry sector.”

Former Congressman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco claimed the flawed implementation of land reform not only resulted in agricultural inefficiency and worsen the quality of life of small farmers but also killed the ability to raise capital.

“In [former Agrarian Reform] Secretary [Ernesto] Garilao’s survey, they saw the ill-effects of land reform on small farmers, but it did not touch on the other purpose of land reform which was to transfer Filipino capital from agriculture to industries through the provision of incentives,” Cojuangco said.

He added the landowner who had 100 or 200 hectares was not compensated enough to allow him to transit to the industry sector.

In the case of the Cojuangcos, he said the family was paid with government bonds whose worth turned out to be only half its nominal value.

“In our case in Luisita, we were paid in government bonds. In the end, when we needed the money, when we were paying with the bonds, we discovered to our dismay that they were worth only 50 percent. So they really killed Filipino capital and that’s why we badly need foreign investments now,” he said.

Even the distribution of the Luisita property as ordered by the Supreme Court and as implemented by the DAR under President Noynoy Aquino, Cojuangco insisted they were paid “way below market value and does not conform to just compensation as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and well established by jurisprudence” – a matter that is pending before the DAR Adjudication Board.


Cojuangco said in 2014 it was not too late for the farmer-beneficiaries of land reform to group together like the kibbutz model of Israel and plant crops under the guidance of the government. He envisions a food security group, an umbrella organization composed of agri-related bodies like the DA and the DAR, working cohesively to make the country self-sufficient in meeting its people’s food requirements.

“One thing that no one has taken into account is that the DA had been devolved. It is at most a (group of) regional offices because the provincial and municipal agricultural offices are under the local government units (LGU),” he said. “So how can the DA be of any help to the farmers? How can a department supposedly working for the whole nation if they don’t have information about the whole country? Many of the agriculturists retained by the LGU are political appointees and hired (without any background) in agriculture.

“At the same time, even if the LGU hire good agriculturists, if the DA doesn’t recognize and listen to them, there’s a great disconnect that stops the national government from seeing what’s really happening at the grassroots level.”

Retired tenants buy land

Cojuangco recalled that before land reform, most tenant farmers in the big estates end up not only owning the agricultural land they themselves bought from their retirement pay (but) also branched out to putting up small enterprises whether agriculture-related or not.
“Many years ago, before land reform, the Filipino’s way of saving was not through banks but (the purchase of) land with what money they saved or from retirement money. The tenants at the time would only ask to till the land wherever they may be found),” Cojuangco said.

“With the retired tenants buying land, they also invest by putting up small enterprises like machine shops. That’s all gone now, another result of the wrong implementation of land reform.”

Cojuangco said with the present beneficiaries of land reform in Hacienda Luisita being given just 6,000 square meters each, the impact was a severe drop in farm productivity and fertile land turning fallow.

“How can a farmer with 6,000 square meters survive? What, then, was the objective of breaking Hacienda Luisita? When you break it up, you break up a farm that was producing way above the average in that area.”

Cojuangco said the hacienda averaged 85 tons of sugarcane per hectare on three ratoons. (Ratooning is a method by which the upper part of the sugarcane which is sweet is cut for sugar production while the bottom part, which has buds or nodes, allows the new shoots, or ratoons, to grow).

“We only plant sugarcane once every four years and then we let them grow from the ratoons in the next three years. Ratooning costs only 60 percent compared to the 100 percent if you plant new sugarcane each time. In other words, if you keep on planting every year, it becomes more expensive,” Cojuangco explained.

“If you ratoon, there’s a drop in your harvest from 85 to 75 percent, but then a 10 or so percent loss in harvest is nothing compared to the 40 percent you save by ratooning.”

Same fate

Cojuangco said information about ratooning has been denied to farmer-beneficiaries of land reform. The agricultural news service he espoused was meant to take the place of land owners in providing the technology and marketing skills for the farmers, he said.
“What’s happening to rice will also happen to sugar. This is what I’ve done with the Philippine agricultural news service,” he said.

To Cojuangco, removing the landlord from the plant-to-harvest cycle was a bad idea because the farmer often has no knowledge of the crop that would yield the most for the plot of land they own.

“Now you remove the land owner, you remove management, you now leave the farmer with two hectares with no knowledge at all. So, if somebody plants tomato everybody plants tomato. At harvest time there is no market for it. That’s really what’s happening.”
Cojuangco said next year, with the implementation of a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement opening up agricultural markets, the future appears bleak for Filipino farmers.

Killing production

“What we have done is to kill production, kill the land owners, and kill the small farmers as well. I’ve heard that many times before from our legislators when I pestered them to do this or do that to save our agriculture. They’d say, ‘Cong, let’s just import because it’s cheaper,” he sighed.

“They don’t seem to realize why it’s cheaper abroad, like (in) Thailand. It’s because the price of fertilizer in Thailand is P300 per bag while in the Philippines that same bag of fertilizer costs P3,000. How can our farmers, including land reform beneficiaries, survive when in Thailand it is free while in the Philippines irrigation is not only lacking, but our farmers have to pay for it.

“Then we have a President now who says let’s go with land distribution without a single mention of improving the program. Land reform is not land distribution; it is a combination of land distribution and all the things that we have not done.

“They in government say the economy is doing great. If so, why are the Filipinos going hungry?

(To be continued)

Hunger incidence among Filipinos dropped by 2 points to 9.9 percent in the March 23-27, 2018 survey of Social Weather Station (SWS). It was the first time it breached the double-digit mark since 2004. President Rodrigo Duterte also signed a landmark law this year providing free irrigation to farmers all over the country. — Editor

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