Dealing with urgent economic issues is the concern not only of CASER but of the entire national democratic movement

Hard talk interview with NDFP Peace Panel interim chair Julieta De Lima on CASER and the Peace Negotiations

LI: CASER says that the goal is “free land distribution as a means of achieving social justice.” Further, CASER acknowledges that the “policy of expropriation with compensation shall be adopted to encourage landlords to invest in industrial and other productive enterprises.” These points are consistent with the GRP Constitution, but what about its (GRP) law on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program?

JL: CARP stipulates that the Land Bank of the Philippines shall compensate the landowner for landholdings designated for distribution to peasant beneficiaries. However, the beneficiaries shall also pay the Land Bank for the land awarded to them.

Under our Draft CASER, expropriated land shall be redistributed for free to all tillers, farmers, farmworkers, agricultural workers, fisherfolks, and all others willing and capable to till the land, with preference given to those who have been occupying the lands as beneficiaries, tenants and leaseholders as the goal of agrarian reform is free land distribution as a means of achieving social justice. The policy of expropriation with compensation shall be adopted to encourage landlords to invest in industrial and other productive enterprises.

LI: Current statutes can address the CASER position of subjecting to confiscation “sullied landholdings or lands proven to have been acquired through illegal and fraudulent means…and through the use of violence”. What about those landowners who decided to convert their landholdings for non-agricultural use?

CASER stipulates that sullied landholdings or lands proven to have been acquired through illegal and fraudulent means including but not limited to land-grabbing, misrepresentation, circumvention of agrarian reform laws, distortion of the history of tenancy, and through the use of violence shall be subject to confiscation.

Conversion of agricultural lands devoted to food production is prohibited and that converted agricultural land but still suitable should be returned for agricultural use.

LI: What is behind the CASER position allowing the “sale, mortgage, or any other encumbrance or mode of transfer of lands,” after a period of 10 years from distribution so long as the land is not converted to non-agricultural purposes or mortgaged to former owners, money lenders and local officials?

JL: This provision is to prevent the reconcentration of land previously distributed. It usually happens that because of the absence of support to land reform, beneficiaries under the current system are forced to mortgage or sell the land awarded to them.

LI: What will happen to land areas that produce crops such as sugarcane, tobacco, coconut and those that produce crops for export and controlled by foreign big businesses?

JL: Land ownership and control by foreign big businesses shall be eliminated. Expropriated landholdings of foreign big businesses shall be transferred to and run by peasant cooperatives and not broken up for distribution to individual peasants. In this regard, the agrarian reform beneficiaries as well as peasants and farm workers shall be encouraged, trained and supported to form cooperatives for the purpose of consolidating the gains of agrarian reform, raise production and promote rural development.

LI: Can you cite examples on how the People’s Democratic Government (PDGs) actually implement the revolutionary agrarian reform program?

JL: The People’s Democratic Government implements agrarian reform according to the strength achieved by the people’s army and the peasant movement or the peasant organizations in particular areas. The minimum is land rent reduction negotiated with the landlords in areas where the peasant organizations have achieved some strength. In areas liberated by the people’s army, the PDG can undertake maximum agrarian reform by confiscating the landholdings of despotic landlords and distributing them to the landless tillers but at the same time protecting the interests of enlightened landlords.

LI: What is the rationale behind CASER’s position “to amend, suspend or terminate, as applicable and necessary, all bilateral investment treaties, and agreements bilateral and regional free trade arrangements (FTAs), and agreements under the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO) that are disadvantageous to achieving agricultural and rural development? Does this preclude joining other multilateral economic formations?

JL: No, for as long as such multilateral economic formations do not have provisions disadvantageous to Philippine economic development, including agricultural and rural development.

LI: CASER demands that the value-added tax (VAT) and excise taxes on basic goods and services consumed by the working people be abolished.” Should this happen, wouldn’t a deficiency in taxes have a direct effect in financing rural development and national industrialization?

JL: Abolishing the VAT and excise taxes on basic goods and services consumed by the working people is very feasible and would even benefit the economy. Any deficiency in the collection of taxes as a result can be more than compensated by the increase in taxes on luxury goods and services as well as on alcoholic drinks, tobacco products, gambling and other socially or economically undesirable items. Freeing the ordinary consumers, especially the peasants, has the potential of enabling them to have more funds for production.

LI: Does the Philippines still have a significant number of national bourgeoisie, given the stranglehold of the big compradors and landlords on the economy?

JL: The national bourgeoisie in the Philippines is an endangered class and there are no policies to save them from extinction in the near future, unless they join the national democratic movement to fight for their survival. Unless a CASER agreement is forged, a national bourgeoisie would not be generated from among the compensated landlords who will invest the compensation for their lands into national industrialization.

LI: Why do you think that the efforts of the GRP to supposedly recover and confiscate the ill-gotten assets of bureaucrat capitalists, ie. the Marcoses and their cronies, have been unsuccessful?

JL: The government has not exerted any effort nor implemented any policy in this regard. Wherever you may have read as any effort or policy to recover and confiscate ill-gotten assets of bureaucrat capitalists are mere lip service. The Marcoses and their cronies have been very successful in increasing their ill-gotten wealth by getting back the reins of government.

LI: How would CASER address important economic issues plaguing the country, for instance, the incessant increase in the prices of basic food commodities eg. rice, onions, tomatoes, vegetables, etc.?

JL: Dealing with important and urgent economic issues plaguing the country is not only the concern of CASER. These are concerns of the entire national democratic mass movement. The people have to be aroused, organized and mobilized in a mass movement by using the NDFP Draft CASER as guide to deal with important economic issues. Thus, it is important for all national democratic activists to study the NDFP Draft CASER.

LI: In the first place, how are the proposals contained in the NDFP CASER to be implemented if there are no wide-ranging social and political changes in the Philippines?

JL: The implementation of CASER depends on the agreement between the GRP and the NDFP. Otherwise, implementation would necessitate the victory of the national democratic forces in the national democratic revolution. Only in these two instances or circumstances can CASER be implemented.

LI: The final CASER (as in the CAHRIHL – Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) is supposed to be an agreement to be forged mutually by the GRP and NDFP. Has the NDFP Peace Panel received, read and prepared its comments on the GRP CASER draft?

JL: The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCSER) has submitted to the NDFP Peace Panel its comments on the GRP CASER draft. Further, the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee has submitted for further negotiation at panel level parts of CASER, specifically agrarian reform and rural development, where consensus had been reached by both reciprocal working committees as well as parts where the reciprocal working committees had not reached consensus. However, no negotiations has occurred at the panel level.#