Once dubbed as “Asia’s New Tiger”, the Philippines is currently showing progress with fierceness that’s more tabby cat than tiger. All the promise of development and growth it has shown years ago remains unfulfilled until now. And although a lot of aspects may factor in, I would like to explore just how big a role the seemingly unstable government is playing on the staggered – if not altogether stagnant – growth of this 300,000 sq. km. country. This I will do by discussing the issue’s revolving around this Asian country’s agrarian reform, revolutionary change, political economy, and rapid urbanization.

II. Agrarian Reform: CARP through four differing administration

The Philippines’ Republic Act No. 6657 states, “The agrarian reform program is founded on the right of farmers and regular farm workers, who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farm workers, to receive a share of the fruits thereof. To this end, the State shall encourage the just distribution of all agricultural lands, subject to the priorities and retention limits set forth in this Act, having taken into account ecological, developmental, and equity considerations, and subject to the payment of just compensation. The State shall respect the right of small landowners and shall provide incentives for voluntary land-sharing.” (Chan Robles)

Although brimming with promise of better land distribution between farmers and landowners, CARP is in fact swimming in a sea of loopholes. And this is because it is, as de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan put it, “a compromised result of haggling between lawmaker, landowners and the advocates of reform.”

Years after the implementation of CARP, it is still being bombarded with issues. In 2004, a good 15 years after the law on CARP was enacted, agrarian reform advocates and potential beneficiaries were calling it a failure – even as it delivered 5.8 M hectares of land to 2.7 M beneficiaries, or 72% of what the government has mapped out. This comment may be brought about by the fact that this 72% was supposed to have been completed by 1999 (de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan).

In the last 21 years, CARP has been handled by four presidents and a slew of agrarian reform secretaries, which affected the speed and efficiency by which the reform was handled.

Corazon Aquino, who became president in 1986 after the historical “people power” movement wiped out the brief spell of military rule in the Philippines (World Factbook), was said to have led a government that that tended to weaken CARP. This was mainly because her family’s 600-hectare Hacienda Luisita was then exempted from distribution. “Shady deals and dubious accomplishment reports” (de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan strengthened the agrarian reform advocates’ conviction that the Aquino administration was deadest on weakening, if not vitiating, CARP.

CARP, though, continued to exist and showed some improvement when Fidel Ramos took over the presidency. Of the targeted 6.1 M hectares, 75% were distributed with the help of then Department of Agrarian Reform (or DAR) Secretary Ernesto Galindo. Although most of the land distribution were non-contentious, Galindo was still praised because his stint as agrarian reform secretary created a standard when it comes to rallying support from government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help expedite implementation of CARP. Moreover, it was during this period that everybody saw the reform to be operable (de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan).

But the next administration nearly destroyed the CARP image the Ramos administration has worked so hard to build. Joseph Estrada’s three-year presidency (his term was cut short by EDSA 2, which demanded for his resignation) saw the DAR closing its central doors to the people it is supposed to welcome with open arms – the farmers. With everybody pinning high hopes on then Secretary Horacio Morales, who has a background on rural development, it was greatly disappointing to see that under his rule, DAR missed a lot of targets and even made a lot of land conversions and cancellations of land acquisition certificates (de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan).

Right now, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president, CARP is now on its last phase of implementation and agrarian reform advocates are saying that the government “is facing its toughest challenge yet” (de Guzman, Garrido, and Manahan). Arroyo, however, seems to be stepping up the ante and boasts that her land distribution achievement is the biggest in CARP history.

CARP is on a seesaw, with its success going up and down depending on the president or the person he has appointed as secretary of DAR. CARP can never truly be a success unless the Philippines start to draft a common policy on how to go about setting land distribution on a path of flourishing, or at least uniform, success.

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III. Revolutionary change: People Power Movement

One thing the Philippines is famous for is its People Power Movement, a.k.a. EDSA Revolution (EDSA referring to the street where the revolution was made), where the Filipinos proved to the world that people united towards one goal can bring about revolutionary change without having to use force (The EDSA Revolution Website).

Triggered by the outright murder of Senator Benigno Aqino (who was one of the more outspoken oppositionist to then President Ferdinand Marcos), coupled with restlessness with Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year rule (nine years of which was under military rule), the Filipino people marched to the streets and demanded for change – starting with Marcos stepping down from position. It was a captivating image – young and old, men and women, linked arm-in-arm, holding rosaries, and braving tanks which they are not sure are going to stop for them. In the end, this peaceful undividedness won over and Marcos fled the country on February 25, 1986, three days after the revolution was started.

The world over was impressed by this show of unity. CBS anchorman Bob Simon even said, “We Americans like to think we taught the Filipinos democracy; well, tonight they are teaching the world” (The EDSA Revolution Website). It was perhaps the success of peacefully overturning a corrupt president that made the Filipinos repeat – or at least attempt to repeat – the same feat achieved by the first EDSA Revolution.

On January 17, 2001, after frustration over the Senate’s refusal to open an envelope that supposedly contains vital evidence on Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial, the Filipino people again marched to the streets of EDSA and once again asked for the resignation of yet another president. EDSA 2, as this gesture was called, was again successful in ousting a president but not everybody was as happy with this result. As Federick L. Perito, a self-proclaimed activist said, “EDSA people power 2 completely trampled [the Philippines’] constitution”. Comparing it with EDSA 1, he says EDSA 2 was not success brought about by a peaceful revolution but more of a “mob rule”. As Estrada was duly elected as president by millions of people, Perito points out that “EDSA 2 trampled on the rights of every Filipino to be governed by a duly elected president.”

Perito may have a point. There was a lot of hullabaloo that surrounded EDSA 2. Right after Estrada “resigned” (this was contested later on by Estrada himself, claiming that he only temporarily handed the presidency to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo so that the impeachment trial can proceed peacefully) and imprisoned, a new batch of people marched to the streets and claimed that Estrada is still their president (Perito).

EDSA 1 was such an admirable event because the Filipinos (with the exception of a really few Marcos loyalists) were then strongly united on one thing: and that’s freedom from a ruler who shouldn’t have been in the position anymore. And with all the unexplained killings of Marcos critics, it was, at that time, the only option open to the Filipinos. EDSA 2 may have also been a unified effort but there was a legal option open to them – impeachment. Even with the questionable refusal to open the supposed important envelope, they could have waited for the trial to bring about a result. Instead, a mob went to EDSA and bullied a president to resign. Not everybody was quite happy when the president indeed stepped down and another mob went to EDSA to declare that they still believe in Estrada. Indeed, it was not a pretty picture.

The Filipinos surely are to be respected for the way they fight for what they believe in. But will they always resort to ‘people power’ in solving issues that has a more acceptable solution? Taking things to streets create for the Filipinos instability that makes it hard for them to establish a well-oiled government that has only economy and people welfare in its mind. With people power looming in every corner, the government would always have fear of another revolt on their minds.

IV. Political Economy: Four Presidents, Four Progress Rates

Just like CARP, the Philippines’ economy has been moving up and down according to who is seated as president. Currently, the country’s GDP is said to be at its highest point in 21 years, with an average of 3.96%. The figure is slightly higher than those achieved by the Aquino (3.8%) and Ramos (3.7%) administrations. Inflation rate is also at a better position with 3.1%, the lowest in 19 years. (Gov.Ph News)

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The Aquino administration was marked with instability as a result of the transition from the people power. Hence, inflation rate then was at a high 9.7% average. It stayed high until 1991. It wasn’t until Fidel Ramos became president in 1992 that the inflation rate slowed to an average of 7.8%. It was also during Ramos’ reign that the Philippines showed a lot of potential to step out of its third-world status. As David G. Timberman said in his paper ‘The Philippines’ New Normalcy’, Ramos’s administration signaled “exciting times” because Ramos was focused on “economic recovery and reform”.

Again, the “tiger” image that the Ramos presidency has worked so hard to establish had come tumbling down when Joseph Estrada moved in as president. With the business sector often overcritical of and a corruption scandal hounding the new president, the Philippines saw a really weak economy with its peso plunging to a record low of Php51.95 to a dollar (AFP). Even with the low inflation rate of 6.9% average (Gov.Ph News), Estrada’s administration was still pointed as one of the weak points in the history of Philippine economy.

Today, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sitting as president, the Philippines is starting to recover from the economic slump it experienced during Estrada’s government. Aside from the improving GDP and inflation rate, Arroyo also achieved putting the Philippine peso at Php46 to a dollar.

It’s good that the Philippine economy is once again picking up. But will the next administration (the next election will be on May 2010) be able to maintain it?

V. Rapid urbanization: Manila as Center of Poverty in the Philippines

If there’s anything constant in the Philippines, it’s rapid urbanization. More and more people seem to be moving from the provinces to the capital Manila. According to a chart made by Dr. Primitivo C. Cal, Manila can expect 13,157 M people living on it by 2015.

Area
Population (‘000)
1980
1995
2015
Manila
5,296
9,454
13,157
Adjoining Areas
2,434
4,914
12,563
TOTAL
8,360
14,386
25,720
Figure 2. Population trend in the Philippines’ capital, Manila.

Source: Dr. Primitivo C. Cal, “A Sustainable Transportation Strategy for Metro Manila” <http://csur.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ws2004/papers/B2-Cal.pdf>

 

Currently, half of Manila’s population was born in the province. People move into the city in search of the perfect job that will put their family in a good position economically. They are, however, disappointed and are stuck in low-paying jobs (Yamson). With the low salary, most of them also resort to squatting and living under bridges and beside railways.

This Filipinos’ preference to cram themselves in the city instead of establishing a life in the provinces may have been brought about by the government. Different administrations have different pet projects, and none of them seem to be countryside growth. Most, if not all, of the government policies are targeted towards urban development, making those born in the province naturally aim for the city to gain a better life (Yamson). This, however, can (if not already has) backfire because having people centered on the city can cause problems in providing adequate food, water, and services.

For a country so small, centering development in the city may not be too much of a good idea especially since some of the country’s export commodities (like fruits and coconut oil) can be acquired in the countryside (World Factbook). The government should start putting more effort into equally developing the provinces – not just for economic welfare, but also for the health reasons.

VI. Conclusion

The Philippines has already shown that with good hands to lead the government, it can rise above its fellow third world countries and become economically strong. It has been a pity that with the passing of hands, different administrations are unable to sustain a good economic status. But there are so much more that the Philippine government should be working on: non-urban development, education, health, etc. The government should start having a unified goal, so that with each turnover of presidency, the government will be moving towards a direction that the previous government was working on. And maybe then, the Philippines will be able to sustain that fierceness it has shown back in the late 1990’s and jump from a developing country to a developed one.