THE country’s accession to the WTO in 1995 was the worst fate ever to befall small Filipino farmers in a generation. The rosy picture which the sponsors said would take place after the accession never happened. What took place was the reverse: lost farm jobs, reduced productivity, the loss of agriculture’s niche role as the main contributor to national employment and the GDP.
As the shiploads of cheap agricultural products flooded the Philippine market, and tariffs were at levels that gave no protection to local farmers at all, , the countryside was transformed into a pitiful canvass of shattered lives. The carnage was such that many small farmers contemplated suicide. Left with nothing but a losing farm, what was there to do? I was just as desperate but forced myself to move on.
I moved on because the harsh truth was this: Even as a part of the bludgeoned small farmers who bore the brunt of the accession backlash and whiplash, I cannot really complain. The impact of opting out of the WTO and out of the global trading mainstream, would have triggered a national catastrophe.
Free trade, despite the many warts and the sufferings of countries unprepared for it, is still the best deal for countries outside of those working for the agenda of global jihad. As an importing nation, one can get the best deal for needs that range from food products to sophisticated machineries and tools. As an exporter, you can always scout for the best market under which you can earn the best buck for every item exported.
Developed economies that need our help on defense and security often reciprocate in terms of preferential trade agreements .
Were we proudly out of the WTO, what? Two scenarios, really. Our largest trading partners would not be the US, Japan and China. These would be North Korea, which is perennially plagued by famines. And whatever foreign trade the Taliban-control areas of Afghanistan do.
But would you believe that many Filipinos still hold that having North Korea as the largest trading partner is a better choice than scaling down the country’s tariff levels and opening up our borders to global trade? And that isolation from the global trading mainstream would be a boon not a bane? And that the national economy would still function normally even if all our borders were impenetrable and out of the WTO?
And the belief that being a pariah in the global trade is a blessing and free trade is a curse, is not the only antiquity that many Filipinos revel in .
The longest held orthodoxy is the belief that ownership of farm lands, whether it is one plot or two, is the key to snapping the chains of poverty and suffering . Here, the redistribution of Hacienda Luisita land, wherein each farmer-beneficiary will get close to 7,000 square meters each, is Exhibit A.
An ideal development plan for Luisita lands would be two-fold. The portions suited for commercial and residential use should be used for commercial and residential use. A thousand hectares of flat land spread out in a booming par of Central Luzon and linked to the major roads and both
Subic and Clark now exist only in the dream of developers. But if the Luisita land beneficiaries were to drop their obsession with land ownership and start seeing the long-term gains from entering into joint venture agreements with the major developers, this dream would be a reality .
There is no land spread in a booming part of Luzon as strategically situated as Luisita and as vast as Luisita. And the major developers, given the chance, would just be too happy developing that.
What would remain, after the property developers had taken their cut of the Luisita land, can be developed into well-developed agri-business zones. Poultry raising using tunnel ventilation can be done. Hog raising, again using the modern ventilation system, can be based at Luisita. The support infrastructure, from yellow corn plantations to sophisticated feed mills, can all be accommodated by the sheer vastness of the Luisita, and its strategic location.
After that, there would be ample areas for food canning and processing.
But all of these would not happen. The farmers want their land, not enough to feed a family of two by the way , so they can live in perpetual misery. The land use options that would guaranteed them better lives via better incomes are automatically out .
Northeast of Luisita, a freeport zone being development in Casiguran, Aurora is being blocked by various NGOs, do-gooders, Makati villagers, supposed international activists, priests and bishops. The reason: farmers and indigenous people are being dislocated to please a so-called political dynasty.
The truth is the Apeco is purely a government project and it is one of the noblest- and most ambitious—government intervention in that part of the country in over a century. The Apeco will usher Casiguran, a remote and poverty-stricken town with a dead mono economy, logging, out of under development, backwardness and misery.
The freeport will be a game-changer. It will bring Internet broadband, satellite campuses of the major universities, tertiary hospitals, major hotels and recreational sites. Out of darkness and into the light.
But the priests and the Villagers have other designs. Push the farmers into holding on to their lands so that the status quo of 19th century backwardness would reign eternal.
Small land ownership, and all the ideals of emancipation/liberation attached to it, is easily the most catastrophic orthodoxy of the 21st century.