Private property ownership is a state of mind



When God created the earth, did he issue a title to a piece of land on which the school had been erected?

I raised the question at a meeting of the Parents-Teachers Association officers of the school in which my kids were enrolled in the mid-nineties. I was president of the association and the school principal, a middle-aged sister of the St. Paul order, had summoned us to a meeting in order to discuss the ejectment of settlers on a land adjoining the school compound which the church (Catholic) avers as its own – or anyway that was how the principal put it.

At the question, the middle-aged nun was tongue-tied, for a moment gaping as in awe. But my question must have gained for me her eternal animosity, for when one of my kids committed some misdemeanor in class, the principal lost no time in expelling him from the school. Since it was my policy to have my kids, all four of them, study in one school, when one of them got kicked out, I myself decided to expel from the school my three others.

The nun just could not find an answer to my question. And it must have enraged her (inwardly, that is, for she didn’t show it) immensely to be asked that question in the face, and in the presence of the entire PTA leadership, fully realizing that the laws she was invoking for the church’s claim of ownership to the land in question were not laws of God but of man. So when I decided to pull my kids out of the school, that to the nun must be cause of great relief. You know, good riddance, as people say.

In the Philippines, society had for centuries since time immemorial existed without anybody claiming ownership of land. Before the Spanish conquest, the Philippine islands consisted of barangay (villages), which were roughly in the mold of the slave states of Greece, with the inhabitants classed into masters and slaves. But as to the territory, enjoyment of all its fruits was communal, no matter the caste system already in existence.

With the royal decrees in the dwindling period of the Spanish 300 years of colonial era, the hitherto communal possession of land began evolving into private ownership. The encomiendas, initially a system of administrative division of the archipelago by the colonial rulers (what today are known as the Philippine provinces), became exclusive possessions entitled to the awardees of royal decrees by the Spanish king. Up to this day, people claiming to be heirs of persons allegedly having been granted such decrees continue to battle in court for the recovery of the land concerned from its present possessors. One such decree is the reputed Acopiado Title, claiming ownership of practically the entire Luzon; the lawyer at the head of the land-recovery effort brandishes an alleged ruling by the Supreme Court recognizing legitimacy of a bank loan transaction made by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos with the World Bank using that title as collateral.

The great inconsistency here is that the Catholic Church has exercised actual possession – not just claiming ownership – of extremely large tracts of properties that have come to be known as friar lands. If the Acopiado title is valid, then the Catholic Church ownership of its lands must be illegal?

This is pure legalese, of course, and at any rate demonstrates that land titles are not a matter of truth and justice. Entitlements to land have always been fiction crafted by men for the advancement of their selfish economic interests to the detriment of the great masses of the dispossessed. The real problem is that over time, those great masses have been indoctrinated into accepting the fiction thereby universalizing land ownership as fact when it is only just in the mind. The current accepted norm of land ownership is through the Torrens Title introduced into the country’s social system by the subsequent rulers of the Philippines, the American colonizers. It is this norm that continues to this day.

But then again, it must be worth pointing out that when for $20 million Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States through the Treaty of Paris of 1898, what was instrumental in the ceding was not a Torrens Title but rather sheer armed force. Spain was defeated by the United States in war. Only when the United States had taken over the entire archipelago did it enforce the Torrens Title system.

What, then, finally is a land title in the Philippines? It is nothing but a state of acceptance by a subjugated people of ownership of their land by the subjugator. Simply stated, it’s just like a man standing on a rug. Pull the rug and the man drops.

It has been more than a century since the Torrens Title was enforced in the country by the American aggressors. Hardly is there anybody today pointing out that such enforcement has been carried out with our patriotic forebears paying in courage, blood and tears. After a generation of patriots have seemingly all gone, Filipinos now embrace the Torrens Title system as universal, that though it was not there at the beginning of time, it is here to stay for all eternity.

This is one apology I must owe my kids. Sorry that I have this mindset. I cannot bequeath to you what my realization of history tells me I can never own because it has never been mine. Let me just tell you that keeping faith with the emerging change in the country’s polity at least offers hope that sooner or later, you may no longer have to aspire for private ownership of the land on which you all have been born, grown and raised families of your own.

You see, I had this talk just recently with somebody high up in the Office of the President. I threw a challenge to the lady from the Office of the Executive Secretary. “Tell the President, make good his socialist pretentions. Declare martial law and abolish private property. I’ll go all out for him.”


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