Mrs. Aquino vs. landowners

LAND reform is the sine qua non of Philippine reform movements and resistance movements. No wonder that President Corazon Aquino, like a number of her predecessors since the 1950s, is seeking to satisfy broadly based public pressures for land redistribution by introducing her own national program. The Aquino compromise plan - announced last week in the form of a presidential decree - deserves a fair hearing by the Philippine Congress. Lawmakers are to take up the issue this week.

The challenge facing Mrs. Aquino and the Congress - which must enact the actual redistribution legislation - is that most Filipinos are impoverished and live in rural areas. Cultivated land is either in the hands of groups of politically connected landlord families or of large corporations. Since the beginning of this century there have been more than a dozen land reform plans, including a fairly extensive 1972 program under Ferdinand Marcos. All eventually failed after determined opposition from landlords.

Not surprisingly, Aquino's program has come under sharp attack. Landlords call it confiscatory. Leftists say it doesn't go far enough. Yet Aquino's plan would include more than 3 million acres of cultivated sugar and coconut plantation lands left out of the 1972 Marcos program. All landowners would be ultimately compensated under the Aquino plan.

The Philippine Congress will want to examine the effect of redistribution on agricultural productivity. Still, the social gains from some form of redistribution are obvious. Communist insurgents have made the issue their rallying cry. Ordinary Filipinos need to perceive that they have a stake in their society. Land reform is an initiative in the right direction.

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