Continuity or Change?: Unpacking Duterte’s Agenda for the Countryside

by Mary Ann Manahan

Candidate Rodrigo Roa Duterte promised a break from the past, by prioritizing the rural sector, focusing on smallholder agriculture, providing free irrigation to farmers, and addressing long-standing issues of agrarian and land reform. He criticized the 29-year old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) by describing it as a ‘farce and total failure’ and planned to discontinue it.[1] He expressed support for the release of the P100 billion worth of accumulated coco levy assets to coconut farmers, stating that the “levy is an emotional issue… and should be given to the farmers”.[2] On March 2016, President Duterte and his then-running mate, Alan Peter Cayetano, signed a manifesto in front of farmer beneficiaries promising the immediate release of the coconut levy funds and pledged to develop 600,000 hectares of new coconut farms.

These campaign promises were made in the context of decades of government neglect and liberalization policies that have contributed to the perennial issues faced by the countryside. The Philippine agriculture sector has been in a dismal state for decades. In the first quarter of 2017, its contribution to the country’s national output was a measly 0.05 percent, compared to that of industry at 2.1 percent, and services at 3.8 percent.[3] Farming and fishing households can barely keep up, hampered by perennial problems of low productivity and incomes. The share of agriculture in total employment also declined from 31 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2015.[4] Farmers and fisherfolks had the highest poverty incidences among the basic sectors in 2015 at 34.3 percent and 34 percent, respectively. These sectors had consistently registered higher poverty incidence than the rest of the country.[5]

When he won the presidency, Duterte committed to tackle food security, ensure the affordability and availability of food to Filipinos, and distribute the coco levy funds to farmers in his first 100 days in office. He pledged to focus on Mindanao’s great potential as the country’s food basket, and to spread the wealth to regions that lagged behind. He also declared to get rid of traders and loan sharks in the agricultural value chain. 

What Has He Done so Far?

His appointments of peasant movement leader Rafael Mariano and Emmanuel Piñol, former sportswriter, farmer, and governor of North Cotabato, to the Departments of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Agriculture (DA), respectively, signaled a pro-small farmer and pro-poor agenda of upholding farmers’ rights and reprioritizing agrarian reform and smallholder agriculture. Before he assumed office, Sec. Mariano announced that “no farmer will be displaced under his watch,” and that DAR will undertake a review and reversal of anti-famer decisions and a moratorium on land use conversion, and stop the cancellation of farmers’ certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs) and land titles distributed under CARP.[6] Mariano also said that his first 100 days in office will usher in the beginning of a “genuine land reform program” and that he will investigate the anomalies in Hacienda Luisita as well as other  onerous contracts in corporative schemes used by landlords and corporations as mechanisms to avoid land distribution.  

For his part, Sec. Piñol, who had been an ardent supporter of President Duterte during his campaign, said he vowed to end corruption in the DA, provide affordable food for the people, and increase agricultural productivity. His major thrusts would include “100 percent rice self-sufficiency by 2018,” institutional defragmentation by bringing back the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), National Food Authority (NFA), and Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority under the DA umbrella; he would also stop the smuggling of rice and other agricultural products7 and provide free irrigation services to small farmers. 

President Duterte’s zero+10-point socio-economic agenda (see article on Dutertenomics: Recipe for Inclusive Development or Deeper Inequality? on page 3) also focuses on agricultural and rural development, aiming to facilitate rural investments through land tenure security and improve the quality of life of Filipino farmers and fisherfolk. The administration aims to reverse of the negative contribution of agriculture, fisheries, and forestry to the economy while increasing the sectors’ growth and productivity. Under the populist rhetoric of “change is coming,” his agenda for the countryside intends to shake up the system that has entrenched inequality, poverty, and marginalization of farmers. 

ut a year hence, the Duterte administration’s agriculture, agrarian, and rural development agenda (agri-agra) can be best described as schizophrenic because of the contradictions: populist promises in favor of the marginalized and poor in the countryside, on one hand, and on the other, a strong bias for agribusiness and big players in the sector manifested in a number of policies or programs.

This schizophrenia can be gleaned in the contradictions between policy direction and concrete actions undertaken by the Cabinet. 

Competing Frameworks

The Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) has an inequality-reducing transformation pillar in its principle called pagbabago, but which unfortunately reiterates the unchallenged assumptions that small farmers, fisherfolk, and forest users have limited economic/market participation, and by nature, are uncompetitive; and that only by linking them to markets and fostering agricultural value chains through partnerships with agribusiness firms can they improve their competitiveness, income, and welfare. The government’s zero plus 10 agenda also outlines the need to organize farms into clusters to create economies of scale as a strategy to increase productivity and growth. 

The PDP highlights the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) as an underpinning framework, which recognizes “the role and comparative advantages of cities as engines of economic growth and poverty reduction, and infrastructure development to provide efficient connective networks of sustainable urban and rural communities. (see Stories Behind the Numbers: Dissecting Duterte’s Build, Build, Build Program on page 9).  The idea of linking small farmers to markets and value chains complements the NSS in terms of one, central and growth pole thinking, which argues for the need to establish and maintain growth centers that can disperse growth more evenly across regions (a legacy of the Marcos dictatorship years), and two, that urban-to-rural linkages and connectivity via infrastructure can increase local and foreign investments for growth centers and improved market access. 

The best illustration of this thinking is President Duterte’s focus on special economic zones (SEZs). President Duterte appointed Charito B. Plaza as the new Director General of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) in September 2016.[8] Plaza has stated her wish to establish new economic zones in every province and city in accordance to President Duterte’s campaign pronouncements. Plaza said that special economic zones will encourage investment and job creation in the country particularly in underdeveloped region, further stating that “we have to make every land productive and utilized so every province and every city have different potentials.”[9] 

These strategies run counter to populist policies of DAR Secretary Mariano, who has temporarily stopped the partnerships with agribusiness firms, also known as agricultural/alternative venture agreements (AVAS). His department has been conducting a review of all AVAs in the country and has ordered to rescind two onerous contracts involving banana plantations in Mindanao. 

Farmers’ groups including Sec. Mariano’s Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have consistently slammed AVAs because they provide inadequate support services, they don’t transfer control of land and production to the tillers, and they promote unjust contracts.[10] Focus on the Global South’s own research has shown that these schemes have facilitated “ownership without control” of the land on the part of the tillers because former landowners or big conglomerates such as DOLE or Del Monte lock new ARBs into long-term contracts lasting for 25 years.[11] DAR’s actions around AVAs, considered long-overdue, were welcomed by farmers and agrarian reform advocates. 

Policies on Rice Self-sufficiency, Free Irrigation, and Land Use Conversion 

The policies on rice self-sufficiency, free irrigation, and land use conversion also show competing interests. 

Last year, Sec. Piñol approved the free irrigation program and the implementation of the Corporate Farming System. Free irrigation was a campaign promise of Duterte meant to subsidize small farmers, to which NIA protested. NIA argued that this policy will cost them an annual revenue loss of 4 billion from irrigation fees from farmers around the country. But President Duterte assured that the loss in revenue will instead be sourced from the national budget. 

Sec. Piñol’s Corporate Farming System is another subsidized program aimed at enhancing the country’s rice sufficiency and cutting dependence on imported rice by improving production via contract farming agreements between local government units (LGUs) and farmers. According to Piñol, LGUs will finance the seeds and fertilizer requirements of farmers through the Land Bank, and after the cropping season, the DA will buy the farmers’ rice produce. The LGUs will set up rice retail outlets called “bigasan ng masa,” where beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) “could withdraw their monthly rice allowances” and which other poor families could use to purchase their rice needs.[12] The Department of Social Welfare and Development which handles the national CCT rice supply program will then pay the LGUs. The scheme, as recommended by President Duterte, intends to engage farmers’ associations and cooperatives in a bid to empower them. Three pilot areas have already been identified: Quezon City as a model representing the urban non-agricultural area, and Kidapawan City and Quirino province as areas with rice fields. The program is expected to generate at least 50 million in a 5,000 hectares of farm land per cropping season, benefit the farmers with increased productivity, and support the CCT program. 

On the other hand, Duterte’s economic managers have pushed for the lifting of quantitative restriction (QRs) in rice, which will affect not only Sec. Piñol’s program but also the country’s rice farmers. QRs are mechanisms to limit the country’s rice importation and NEDA wants it removed, and its position has found its way in the current PDP. NEDA has also suggested that the DA shift its focus on providing farmers with more and diversified livelihood and income opportunities. The DA, on the other hand, has endorsed the extension of Executive Order (EO) 190, which imposes tariff rates for imported agricultural products including rice. Sec. Piñol has sided with rice farmers, citing that they are not ready to compete with imported rice and the fault is not theirs.[13]

Meanwhile, on September 2016, during the 35th Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) meeting held in Malacañang, President Duterte expressed his support for a two-year moratorium on conversion of agricultural lands and ordered the Land Bank to provide more aid for CARP implementation. From July 2010 to May 2016, DAR had a total of 142 applications for conversion of CARP lands to non-agricultural uses, of which 101 applications covering 2,496 hectares were approved and 41 applications representing 1,397 hectares denied.[14] 

NEDA has rejected the proposal for moratorium, citing that the policy is anti-poor as this would “prevent the government and the private sector from addressing the 5.5 million backlog in housing units,”[15] earmarked for the poor. NEDA Secretary Pernia argued that many lands were better suited for housing than agriculture. Former housing secretary and Vice President Leni Robredo sided with NEDA. As a result, the proposed executive order is still being discussed in the cabinet, on its sixth draft, and it is uncertain when the order for moratorium will finally come out. 

Genuine Agrarian Reform or Unrestricted Land Markets?

Sec. Mariano’s symbolic move to open the department’s two main gates and dismantle the fences aimed at controlling ‘farmers protesting’, which were erected by former Sec. Virgilio delos Reyes has signified an ‘open door policy’. His office’s first order of business was to reverse the anti-farmer policies of his predecessor, such as the administrative the administrative orders which will remove the attestation by the landowners that the farmer is his/her tenant and institute new rules to expedite agrarian reform implementation. He also ordered the conduct of an inventory of the status of CARP lands (those that were distributed as well as pending land distribution cases) to know whether farmers are still in control of their lands. This inventory will include the 621,085 hectares that remain undistributed as of January 2016 and six million hectares of lands which may have been exempted from the CARP due to circumventions by landlords.16 Figure 1 shows that majority of the remaining lands up for distribution are contentious landholdings, which should be redistributed through compulsory acquisition covering 410,332 hectares. On February 2017, Sec. Mariano announced the 120 billion was to be allotted to the entire agricultural sectors of which 9.8 billion will be earmarked for land distribution of around 48,000 hectares of agricultural lands this year, which is one of the lowest targets in CARP history. 

His policy issuances are part not only of the new thrusts for agrarian reform and free land distribution under Duterte but also of the peace talks between the government and National Democratic Front. For the former, President Duterte has convened the PARC three times since he took office, which is significant since PARC has not met for the last 10 years notably under Aquino’s term. But within the cabinet, Duterte’s economic managers have criticized Sec. Mariano’s proposal of free land distribution arguing that it will restrict the development of a rural land market, which according to them has kept farmers poor. Instead, they have proposed a property rights regime with no agricultural land ceiling as the way forward. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III called for the harmonization of land use laws as a way to resolve the burgeoning land governance crisis he talked about at a conference of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) this year; the rationale was to attract foreign investment. Further, charter change, specifically the removal of restrictive economic provisions including foreign ownership in lands in the 1987 Constitution, is a legislative priority (and mentioned in the PDP) under Duterte. This certainly is contradictory to agrarian reform as a social justice measure. 

Farmers’ Concerns

Beyond the national debates and inconsistencies in public policies on agriculture and agrarian reform, farmers continue to lament the unfulfilled promises, unchanged situation, and slow implementation of reforms on the ground.  

For one, President Duterte, despite his strongman leadership style, has failed to recover the coconut levy funds, return it to 3.5 million coconut farmers, and enact a law for the utilization of the fund and development of the coconut industry. According to Sec. Piñol, the President has ordered the release of the coconut levy fund but there is no directive to Congress to act on a pending bill on the coconut levy. Eduardo Mora, sectoral representative of the National Anti-Poverty Commission’s council of farmers, landless and rural workers, and lead convenor of Kilusang Magniniyog, expressed his disappointment over the lack of action on the passage of the bill in Congress, controlled by the President’s majority coalition.  

Secondly, the implementation of agrarian reform remains slow and incomplete. Farmers from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP) have called Sec. Mariano’s attention and non-action in distributing their CLOAs. Maribel Luzara, leader of KMBP, expressed that “Ka Paeng needs to distribute our titles since there is no more legal impediment to land redistribution. What is holding back Ka Paeng from doing this? Only he can answer”. Meanwhile, 1,200 farmworkers belonging to the ECJ CLOA Holders Association are also waiting for Sec. Mariano’s decision on their demand to rescind the 19-year old  joint venture agreement between them and Danding Cojuangco, which covers 4,661 hectares of sugar lands in Negros Occidental.[17] Further, while Sec. Mariano has asserted the ownership of farmers in Hacienda Luisita and committed to resolve the existing arriendo (informal land lease/selling) system, he has yet to make any pronouncement about ensuring the smooth agrarian transition and provision of support services that can increase ARB’s rural incomes and usher in lasting peace and life with dignity in the hacienda. 

Third, the government has failed to address food security. Achieving rice self-sufficiency has been pushed back to 2020, with Sec. Piñol pointing to budgetary cuts as the primary reason. With the uncertainty about the moratorium on land use conversion that directly impacts food security, coupled with SEZs as a focus, farmers under the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance fear that rampant land use conversions and displacements will be the order of the day. 

Finally, farmers continue to experience different kinds of harassments and human rights violations. Three famer leaders were gunned down on different occasions in Compostela Valley, Sariaya, Quezon, and Calatagan, Batangas in June 2017. The leaders were frontliners and known to stand up against big businesses. Thirty-seven farmers, including 10 women, also faced imprisonment, as landowners of a large coconut estate in Bondoc Peninsula had filed 19 criminal cases of theft against them in 2016. Farmers like Ka Isidro Perez from Rizal fear that the ‘war on drugs’ may spill over into their communities. (see War on Drugs: “Punishing the Poor” on page 44).

What the first year has demonstrated is that the competing frameworks and interests pushed by the different agencies on agriculture and agrarian reform are glaring signs that long-standing issues affecting farmers and rural communities may not be resolved soon or during Duterte’s term, and that the trajectory of this government is about continuing past policies and programs proven detrimental to farmers. 

1 This comment is attributed to his close ties and alliance with the National Democratic movement, which seeks free land distribution as one of its demands in the peace talks with the government. See http://www.inquirer.net/duterte/promises# for more information.    

2 Ranada, P. (2016) “Duterte, Cayetano vow ‘return’ of coco levy fund in 1st 100 days”, Rappler, http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections/2016/127671-duterte-cay... (Accessed: June 10, 2017)

3 Philippine Statistics Authority (2017) “National Accounts Q1 2017”, http://psa.gov.ph/content/philippine-economy-posts-64-percent-gdp-growth... (Accessed: July 15, 2017)

4 Philippine Statistical Authority (2015) “CountrySTAT Philippines: Philippine Agriculture in Figures, 2015” Accessed at http://countrystat.psa.gov.ph/?cont=3 (July 16, 2017)

5 The national poverty incidences for 2006, 2012, and 2015 recorded a consistent 34 percent poverty rate for farmers and fishers.

6 Philippine Daily Inquirer (2016) “Incoming DAR Head Vows: No Farmers displaced from their lands” http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/788661/incoming-dar-head-vows-no-farmers-di... (Accessed: May 20, 2017).7 Simeon, M. (2016) The President’s Men and Women: Manny Piñol - For the love of agriculture, Philippine Star, http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/2016/07/11/1601686/presidents-men-a... (Accessed: May 20, 2017).

8 Philippine News Agency (2017) “President Duterte proclaims 13 new economic zones” Update.ph, https://www.update.ph/2017/05/president-duterte-proclaimed-13-new-econom...  (Accessed: June 20, 2017).

9 Romero, A. (2017). “PEZA eyes more economic zones to attract investors”, Philippine Star, http://www.philstar.com/business/2016/10/19/1635236/peza-eyes-more-econo... (Accessed: June 20, 2017).

10 Ibid. 

11 Obanil-Flores, C. and Manahan, M. (2007) “Leaseback Arrangements: Reversing Agrarian Reform Gains in the Philippines”, Focus on the Global South and Land Research Action Network, http://landaction.org/17-leaseback-arrangements-reversing-17 (Accessed: May 21, 201)

12 Perez, A. (2016) “Free irrigation, corporate scheme achieved”, Sunstar, http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/business/2016/10/11/free-irrigation-corp... (Accessed: June 10, 2017).

13 Pillas, C. (2017) “EO 190 extension, 2 other tariff measures, Ok’d”, Business Mirror http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/eo-190-extension-2-other-tariff-measure... (Accessed: June 15, 2017)

14 Philippine Information Agency (2016) Du30 approves DAR proposal to issue moratorium on land use conversion, PIA,  http://news.pia.gov.ph/article/view/1141473838996/du30-approves-dar-prop... (Accessed: May 10, 2017). 

15 Valencia, C. (2016) “NEDA against ban on land conversion”, Philippine Star, www.philstar.com/business/2016/10/03/1629653/neda-against-ban-land-conve... (accessed May 10, 2017).

16 Pazzibugan, D. (2017) “DAR chief eyes 6M hectares for famers”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, http://newsinfo. inquirer.net/889551/dar-chief- eyes-6m-hectares-for-farmers ( Accessed: May 10, 2017).  

17  Farmworkers are decrying that it has been disadvantageous to them and has written Sec. Mariano in 2016 but the he has yet to issue a decision. 

Country Programmes: 
Special Feature: 
Focus on the Global South
Date of publication: 
Wed, 2017-09-06

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