Thursday, April 22, 2010

Agrarian Reform VS. Property and Civilization

An issue that attracts much concern and controversy among the public in the Philippines is Land Reform. Like most post-colonial nations, the Philippines suffers gross inequality of land ownership which originates from the feudalistic system set up by Western colonizers. Descendants of the colonizers, powerful families that are usually politically connected, now own large swaths of agricultural land tilled by the descendants of the peasants who were violently expropriated of the same land.

In an attempt to alleviate this injustice, leftists of all stripes call upon the ever reliant state. They create legislation that forcefully redistributes land from the haves to the have-nots, a move not uncommon to socialists. Groups under the Communist Party of the Philippines broker a bill that treats all landowners like criminals and takes their land title with little or any restitution. Social democrats, on the other hand, want something less radical. Opinion may differ when it comes to details; the size of landholdings required to be eligible for the program, or the compensation given to the landowner being expropriated. No matter which political group you ask, the consensus among them is clearly in support of legislation the bare minimum of which is to redistribute land from landowners to peasants without the consent of the former. A one-size-fits-all plan of government aggression applied to all who own more than a certain amount of land.

To the average Filipino news viewer, it would seem noble to support such cause. The average news viewer will support such program knowing that the peasants working for the landowners are the descendants of the real owners prior to colonial rule. Another probable motivation for supporting land reform is the appeal of 'equality', 'justice' and 'democracy' as cunningly promoted by the leftists since anything that is called 'democratic' these days suddenly become the height of morality. No doubt exists as to the problem of land theft and illegitimate ownership. The solutions, however, leave much to debate but are glossed over by blind political sentimentality and egalitarian motivations.

The original owners of the lands now concentrated in a few hands are most likely untraceable, but this does not give an excuse for politicians to target every large landholding just to alleviate an injustice done decades ago. Doing so will create more injustice by antagonizing formerly good relationships between land owners and workers. And workers definitely do not own land just because they are working on the land. It must be proven that property violation was done unto them or their ancestors. In other words, due process of law must be respected. Of course in this country the law is manipulated in favor of the elites. With that being the case, agrarian reform runs the risk of doing injustice to real owners while making illegitimate, politically-connected landlords escape.

It is important not to conflate land tenancy of a worker with the relationship of a lord and his serf. Tenancy comes about because of a voluntary trade between the lessee and the lessor. The landowner trades money in exchange for the services of the peasant farmer. The peasant farmer eventually builds a house near or at the land and becomes a lessee of the land. He does for the convenience of being near to his workplace. Tenancy may go on for several years but this does not in any way transfer ownership of the land from the lessor to the lessee. The tenancy was a manifestation of a voluntary trade. Hence, the landowner cannot be involuntarily obligated to give his land to the peasant farmer. In fact, the landowner should be complimented for not exercising his right to end the contractual relationship and leaving the peasant farmer without a job.

The leftists argue that land reform is necessary because the mass of the peasant farmers are poor and the landowners are usually very rich. With this argument put forth, the motivations behind land reform become clear. Land reform becomes not about fixing the problem of land theft, for this could easily and properly be done on a case to case basis through the court system, but addresses the problem of inequality. A legal problem is now turned into a political problem. But the argument from equality is very problematic as well. For one, agriculture is only one sector of the economy. There are Filipinos who are equally poor or even poorer in other areas. What are we to do with them? Two, if peasant farmers deserve the land of the landowners because they are the tillers, in other words, the ones who are productive, if that is the criterion accepted for legitimate ownership, then hired drivers should also own the car of their employer. Henri Sy's assets should be owned by SM mall employees. A domestic helper should have ownership over the house and the family who previously owned it should be kicked out. However absurd this is, it is the logical conclusion to the principles of equality. Equality is the ideological basis for the total state.

There exists both legitimate and illegitimate ownership of land in the Philippines. Illegitimate land should be solved on a case to case basis legally through the court system. Due process of law should be respected and applied. Both victims and illegitimate owners should be properly identified before appropriation of legal titles. Land reform does not respect the due process of law but is merely something to sell to the ignorant masses. The legislation is not concerned about legitimacy of property but of equality of property ownership. Hence, legitimate landowners are compromised and their rights violated. Violation of property rights are expected of legislation created by political groups whose ideology advocates the abolition of all property. Property which is privately owned and is the foundation of civilization. That said, land reform must be strongly opposed on moral grounds.

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