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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Wenceslao: Social, economic reforms in Oslo talks

THE second round of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) opened the other day in Oslo, Norway with the panels discussing land reform and national industrialization, two topics that are at the very heart of the communist-led rebellion in the country. Without these two topics, there can be no Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser).

This is a crucial phase of the peace talks and I hope the GPH panel came in well prepared and armed with its own well-studied position because its counterpart in the NDFP not only has a set program on land reform and national industrialization but, at least in the case of land reform, the rebels are already implementing it in areas under their control. The NDFP panel knows what kind of land reform and nationalist industrialization it wants and why.

The founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the main group under the NDFP umbrella, laid out the logic of the twin programs in a recent message to the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

Land reform, he said, is needed to produce a definite and wealthy source of food, agricultural products for markets here and abroad and raw materials for industry. “National industrialization is needed to produce machines and other equipment for agriculture, create numerous and new jobs for the increasing population and destination of surplus agricultural produce,” he added.

As I have written in a previous column, the Left’s land reform agenda is controversial because it targets the owners of major landholdings in the country, or the landowning class that has ruled the countryside and controlled the country’s politics for decades now. Unlike in the current agrarian reform program, the NDFP aims to distribute farm lands to their tillers for free, especially those farm lands that the owners accumulated through land grabbing.

The logic there is in the “land to the tillers” mantra. The argument is that lands only become productive because of the labor spent by those who actually till it. Without the tiller, those lands would end up being unproductive. It is therefore the farmers’ work that gives value to the land and not the owners who merely pay for the labor of the farmers by getting a cut from the harvest. The feudal setup, wherein the landlords who do not work profit from the work of those who do--the farmers--is, as they say the reason for the widespread poverty in the countryside.

The view is that once the farmers are freed from their feudal shackles, a burst in agricultural productivity would follow and the economic standing of the toiling farmers, which compose a majority of the people in the countryside, would rise. Of course, land distribution wouldn’t be enough because government still needs to provide assistance to the farmers during the transition period. But it is the key.

That is the logic of the “land to the tillers” mantra and the reason why the NDFP program is to distribute the land to the actual farmers largely for free. It’s a radical proposal, which partly justifies the resort by the NDFP to armed struggle. The thinking is that the landlords, which has an influence on the government, will put up a resistance so stiff it can only be broken by the force of arms.

As for national industrialization, that cannot be summed up in one paragraph. Suffice it to say that its main purpose is supposedly to ensure that the country’s economy would be freed from the control of foreign monopoly capitalists and their local partners who are profiting from our dependence on the commodities they produce, raw materials they sell to the local industries and surplus capital they invest in the country.

Again, I hope the GPH panel came into the talks with clear position and logical counter-proposals.

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)
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