Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

There are no heroes, only farmers, in the epic struggle for land reform in the Cojuangco-owned estate in Tarlac. For half a century, they waged a just war against a popular and powerful political clan. During that long interval, their haciendero masters became overlords of the archipelago – two became president and one was martyred during the dictatorship – but they never abandoned the dream of owning the land which rightfully belongs to them.

They fought while they planted, tenants who decided to be slaves no more; they sacrificed their lives so that their children can enjoy a new future. They suffered a lifetime of defeats but they were stubborn peasants who refused to give up the fight. They negotiated without compromising their non-negotiable position: land or nothing; life or death. They chose life.

Their collective resistance against criminal landlordism is already a victory because it sparked hope in other feudal estates. Because of this, Luisita is no longer a symbol of an exploitative elite rule in the provinces. It has become the de facto byword of the peasant revolution. Luisita is both a Cojuangco rural empire and a promising peasant commune offering hope to the dispossessed and landless.

The recent judicial intervention is laudable but to overstate its importance is to ignore the courageous, decades-long struggle of farmers for genuine land emancipation. What made their struggle uniquely Luisitan? Instead of begging, Luisita farmers firmly asserted their rights. Instead of appealing to the saintly and charitable hearts of their landlords, they preferred a rational discussion of their just and lawful demands. In short, they wanted to be treated as equals. From the point of view of the landlords, this was the unpardonable sin of the farmers.

Beware, this particular landlord clan is vindictive. The fascist state machinery, both legal and armed, is under its control. It can even undermine the victory of farmers by imposing the bureaucratized land reform program of the government; a sham agrarian reform scheme crafted by landlord legislators. It can deploy its civil society underlings to banish the radical desires of the farmers, poison their progressive minds, and push them instead to embrace the token gifts offered by the government.

Through the buy-back option and other dubious legal schemes, the landlord family can quietly and indirectly reclaim ownership of the hacienda. If this won’t work, they are expected to unleash the full powers of the state to prevent the rise of a flourishing rural community. The alternative world of small plot owners united in a single cooperative must be dismissed as utopian fantasy. A new Luisita will be an insult to the Cojuangcos who became billionaires in the past fifty years at the expense of their dirt-poor farm workers. They became richer (and filthier) by pauperizing their tenants. The horses actually received more pampering in the hacienda.

But the small farmers are determined to rewrite and create history.

Let the farmers celebrate in the fields today; this is one festival which should be remembered by all. The angry birds are humming, the trees are hugging each other, the sugar cane fields smell sweeter today. But after the feasting, bigger challenges await. The victory is too precious to be left in the hands of bitter yellow landlords and their hired civil society apologists who wanted to treat Luisita as a mere business transaction between landlords and farmers. We should not allow them to dilute the radical meaning of rural empowerment, agrarian reform, and countryside development. Defend Luisita from capitalist roaders and landlord goons. Build a new world in Luisita. An innovative, progressive, and pro-poor land reform.

Spread the idea of Luisita to other haciendas. But, we should not forget, that the Luisita doctrine is not really about the junking of the stock distribution option. It’s more than that; it should be more than that. Land distribution is not the only end goal. ‘Luisita’ as an idea is subversive because the more essential aim is to transform individual farmers who simply wanted to become landowners into farmers belonging in a collective, struggling not just for land but also for social justice. Land, rights, justice, democracy. The Luisita avengers have bigger demons to slay inside and outside the hacienda. Avengers assemble!

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