Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Conrado de Quiros, in the context of the Aquino presidency, is a weird thing. He cannot conceal that he’s a total Noynoy supporter, but still he attempts to distance himself from the Aquinos, striking a “critical” pose in order to retain his fiery reputation and journalistic integrity.
In his August 11, 2010 column “Big Picture,” de Quiros takes on the Hacienda Luisita issue, writing about the new stock-or-land proposal from the Luisita management and the flak it received. His column’s basic outline goes:
- Leftists lack credibility.
- Hacienda Luisita is an embarrassment to the Aquinos.
- People Power was pure and beautiful, and the Left had nothing to do with it.
- Luisita’s stock disctribution option is questionable.
- Cory and Noynoy are symbols, and Luisita is a symbolic fight.
- The Aquinos’ redistribution of Luisita is long overdue.
- Land reform must be considered alongside “globalization”
- Farming as a profession is untenable, so farmers should just take the stock.
A careful reading of this column will show that beyond the turbulent rhetoric and seemingly persuasive language, Conrado de Quiros is a fencesitter who’s fallen into Aquino property.
That he refers to leftists as “the people who cry about Hacienda Luisita being the mother of all injustices” only confirms one thing: the Left has been and still is the foremost critic of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and Luisita, and is the major ideological force, no matter how de Quiros and other apologists dismiss it, in the struggle for genuine agrarian reform and societal change.
Given the strength and validity of the leftist analysis, it is no wonder that De Quiros acknowledges and appropriates the arguments of the Left. However, he chooses to simultaneously (and viciously) dismiss leftists. He argues that leftists have no credibility to rail against Luisita given that they ran alongside tycoon Manny Villar in the recent elections, but at the same time employs the Left’s general position that “Hacienda Luisita is a black mark on the face of the Aquinos,” that Cory should’ve had no qualms about redistributing it during her term.
De Quiros, however, maneuvers this position in favor of the Aquinos:
Land to the tiller was a rallying cry of freedom. And People Power gathered no small amount of following also because it offered land ownership that differed from the sham that was Marcos’ and the one that came without a deed from NPA appropriation. (italics mine)
De Quiros skillfully phrases his arguments in such a way that a very leftist call, “land to the tiller,” is separated from the Left. He instead links it to People Power (ergo, the Aquinos), and manages to disparage the NPA while he’s at it. (EDSA 1, as we are all aware, is being copyrighted by the current administration as a purely Aquino creation—notwithstanding the fact that the Manila-centered People Power was largely a product of the Left’s tireless and genuinely revolutionary struggle under the Marcos dictatorship, predated by the First Quarter Storm in Manila and a systematic, countryside-based organizing effort in the rest of the nation.)
De Quiros then berates Cory Aquino for not living up to her promise of comprehensive agrarian reform, and acknowledges the failure—but not the injustice—of the Cojuangcos’ stock distribution option. But de Quiros doesn’t dwell on that, since doing so would generally promote the leftist position. Instead, he moves the discussion into the “symbolic” realm, giving him the convenient freedom to discuss Cory, Noynoy and Luisita independent of reality.
He urges Noynoy to abide by his mother’s CARP and distribute the Luisita land, not because it is the right thing to do, but to avoid its becoming “a huge blot on the Aquino name, an albatross on P-Noy’s government dogging like a bad omen any effort at reform it undertakes.” In short, de Quiros argues from the Aquino point of view: land distribution not as justice, but political damage control. Saving face becomes the primary objective, and not justice and livelihood for farmers.
De Quiros then moves on to more fencesitting:
Merely distributing the land, as his detractors demand, does not necessarily guarantee good results, or even social justice. In the first place that is not what all, or probably most, of the tenants want, and it is just as tyrannical to dictate upon them that they do as it is to deny it to those that do.
He agrees with the leftists’ (aka “detractors”) analysis that genuine agrarian reform does not end with land distribution. He then calls leftists “tyrannical” for convincing farmers that justice involves giving “land to the tillers”—a phrase which de Quiros ironically used earlier in favor of People Power and the Aquinos. He continues:
Many prefer the security of a steady income, however paltry, to the risks of owning land. “Land is life” is a nice slogan for those who have not actually buckled down to the tedious, backbreaking and often counterproductive work of tilling it.
“The risks of owning land,” he calls it, as if big landowners like the Cojuangcos, Ayalas, Aranetas and Lopezes are actually in a precarious state. He also mentions “a steady income, however paltry”—a nice-sounding phrase, until you become very specific: a daily take-home pay of Php 9.50. The choice for farmers, then, is Php 9.50 per day or land. Of course, de Quiros manages to inject a potshot at the leftists who argue that “land is life.” What he is describing though—someone who has “not actually buckled down to the tedious, backbreaking and often counterproductive work of tilling land”—sounds like no one else but himself, the Manila-based columnist. The composition of the Left, on the other hand, includes not just activists organizing in the countryside, but also real farmers who, unlike de Quiros, actually till the land of wealthy landowners like Aquino. Indeed, peasants comprise the bulk of the extrajudicial killings under Arroyo, among them the martyrs of Luisita.
Towards the end, de Quiros makes his most illuminating arguments. Land reform, he says, must be considered alongside globalization. The failure of CARP before, “the record of CARP reversions, or of beneficiaries almost immediately selling off their lands to buyers,” is not government’s fault—notwithstanding the well-documented systematic watering-down of CARP. “There are limits to what government can do,” he says, “particularly given the storm of open markets.”
Open markets. The government is powerless against neoliberalism, or so de Quiros wants us to believe. Let’s see what the President, Noynoy Aquino himself, has to say. In his first State of the Nation Address, Noynoy proudly declares his antidote to poverty: “Ito ang magiging solusyon: mga Public-Private Partnerships.” Aquino lauds what is basically neoliberalism, resolving to pursue the free-market agenda because, in his honest opinion, “masasabi kong maganda ang magiging bunga ng maraming usapin ukol dito.”
There’s the rub.
“No one wants to farm anymore,” de Quiros says. He even cites the rice crisis a few years ago, a crisis which stemmed not from poor production, but from a shrewd cartel of businessmen trying to jack up the price of the most basic of needs.
In a backward agricultural country like ours, majority of the land is agricultural, its population dominated not by city-based writers but peasants who live off the land, working to feed not just their families but the rest of the nation as well. “Why would you want to remain a farmer?” de Quiros asks. “Or your children to be so?”
Farmers work hard, persisting even in the most dire circumstances. Unlike people like de Quiros who see professions in agriculture as “an option” which needs to be made attractive, most of us see agriculture as a need. The Philippines cannot do without agriculture. The object of land reform is not to make farming “a reasonable option,” but to make it a strong national industry, to ensure that the nation is well-fed, consumers and farmers alike. And ending “grapes-of-wrath type misery” is the government’s responsibility.
To be a farmer is to make a commitment to the land, and to the people who live off it. Farming is about nature, growth, nourishment and sustainability. To be a farmer, one must possess discipline, strength, and integrity.
Better a farmer than a Palace apologist. #
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Writings. Tags: agrarian reform, aquino, CARP, cojuangco, column writing, columnist, comprehensive agrarian reform program, conrado de quiros, cory aquino, hacienda luisita, inquirer, land reform, luisita, neoliberalism, newspaper column, noynoy aquino, opinion, opinion writing, philippine daily inquirer, philippine left, stock distribution option, there's the rub.