Monday, March 15, 2010

For Philippine Family in Politics, Land Issue Hits Home

HACIENDA LUISITA, the Philippines — Like his father before him, Buenaventura Calaquian worked the sugar cane fields at Hacienda Luisita, a plantation owned by the family of former President Corazon C. Aquino. In the long-running, sometimes bloody battle over control of the land here, Mr. Calaquian, 58, has come out better than most.

For the last few years, he has illegally occupied 3.7 acres on which he cultivates rice and vegetables. He spends most days watching his fields from a makeshift shack whose thatched roof is patched with flattened cardboard boxes. Small profits from tomato sales have allowed him to buy 50 ducks that now swim in a nearby creek.

“I never want to go back to sugar cane,” Mr. Calaquian said as his wife, Maria, 46, used a single bucket to carry water from the creek over to several uneven rows of tomato vines. “This is better.”

Despite the government’s assertion that a two-decade-old land distribution program has been a success, most farmers in the Philippines have yet to benefit significantly. The uneven ownership of land, this country’s primordial problem, continues to concentrate economic and political power in the hands of large landowning families and to fuel armed insurgencies, including Asia’s longest-running Communist rebellion.

The land problem has drawn fresh attention since Mrs. Aquino’s son, Benigno Aquino III, declared his candidacy for the May 10 presidential election, running on his mother’s legacy of “people power.” Though Mrs. Aquino made land reform a top priority, she allowed landowning families to eviscerate her distribution program. Critics say there is no greater example of the failure of land reform than her own family’s estate.

To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/15/world/asia/15phils.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=a4

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