SMALL farmers of a certain age still remember some of the high-profile foreign trips Marcos Senior took to demonstrate to the world that he had coopted the rebellious peasantry. And to show that the peasant leaders had been enlisted to the cause of reforms. Mr. Marcos had live presentations before the foreign audiences. Exhibit A would be Ka Luis Taruc, who by that time had junked the Marxist doctrine for Mr. Marcos “ Filipino Ideology.” The lesser lights of the peasant movement, the late former Ateneo law dean Jerry Montemayor of the FFF, or Federation of Free Farmers, was part of that entourage.
For all the cynical ploys that Mr. Marcos employed to convince the world, Washington specifically, that he had coopted the rebellious peasantry, there was one part of his circus act that was essentially true. He treated the small farmers well and he pampered the peasant leaders who were in the mainstream movement. It was the last time in our history that peasant leaders were treated like rock stars at the Palace.
In fact, based on the consensus of aging peasant leaders I often meet in many farming areas of Central Luzon, Mr. Marcos was the last President who treated small farmers well and pampered the leaders of the mainstream peasant movement. I will state again that I will not vote for the young Marcos even with a gun leveled at my head. But I have to admit that I have no compelling arguments to counter the “Marcos was the best” consensus among my colleagues in the small farming movement.
Looking back, I know why the old peasant leaders still remember the former President with fondness. He created an elaborate support system — from loans to subsidies to production support – that was channeled through his supervised food production programs (Masagana 99, Maison program). He then created a political structure at the grassroots, the Samahang Nayons, to enable the small farmers to receive the loan and production support from the supervised programs.
Of course, he had the late Rafael Salas to craft the seminal program for these things. But it was Mr. Marcos (after Mr. Salas left for the UN), who ordered the expansion of the original Green Revolution program into full-blown supervised food production programs, one each for the basic agri sectors. That drafted into service the rural banks, the young agricultural extension workers on Enduro bikes, the entire machinery of the agriculture department and the Central Bank’s rediscounting window for cheap agricultural loans.
Mr. Marcos even overruled the vigorous objections from his finance and monetary people to allow the creation of cooperative rural banks (CRBs) despite the inherent risks of creating such rural-based and capital-deficient banks. (OK, your guess is as good as mine. Mr. Aquino’s government has been responsible for the mass closures of the CRBs, including, of late, the CRB in Tarlac. They don’t make money and Mr. Aquino does not like institutions that do not make money even if these perform vital social and economic functions.)
The Samahang Nayons and the food production programs later collapsed under tons of defaults, the usual corruption and mismanagement. The Marcos government, however, continued to support the small farmers on a scaled-down basis instead of totally eviscerating the support.
Now, we go to Mr. Aquino’s government.
Mr. Aquino’s policies toward the peasantry are simple enough. Loathing anything that suggests support for the peasantry.
Remember the Napoles pork barrel scam. I will give you a refresher on what Mr. Aquino did after the scam unraveled.
Mr. Aquino used the Napoles scam as an excuse to cut off all forms of support to small farmers. These were all token forms of support, small and insignificant — seed acquisition support, small subsidies for production, farm mechanization etc. Mr. Aquino also never factored in the fact that the small farmers were victims as fake farm coops were used as front for the scam. He took a hard line and ordered the immediate scrapping of the token support for the small farmers.
I have mentioned earlier the indiscriminate closure of coop rural banks under the presidency of Mr. Aquino. At the slightest breach, the monetary people of Mr. Aquino carried out this knee-jerk reaction of closing CRBs. Inspired, no less, by the hardline stand of Mr. Aquino against any and all small pro-farmer institution.
The Kidapawan carnage was rooted in a demand for aid and subsidy from starving North Cotabato farmers. They suffered from the drought. They protested to get basic subsidies, such as rice. Instead of getting rice and other forms of token aid, they got bullets.
Was there justice, or just basic humanity, in that?
The pampering of the peasantry by Mr. Marcos and the brutal treatment of the peasantry by the government of Mr. Aquino explain why the young Marcos has been getting enthusiastic grassroots support in the former hotbeds of agrarian unrest. The old farmers still remember and the stories on Mr. Marcos’ pampering of the peasantry have been passed on to their kids, who are now mostly of voting age and working and living in and around Metro Manila.
Look at the territory of the peasant unrest, which used to stretch from Sta. Rosa in Laguna to Sta. Rosa in Nueva Ecija — with Pampanga as the capital of the movement. Calculate the total number of votes in that former peasant bailiwick, which now comprises of highly-urbanized areas.
You really don’t have to wonder on why the young Marcos is rising.