Back to business
Of course the timing sucks. Why it chose to rule to distribute Hacienda Luisita to its farmworkers at the very time P-Noy (Benigno Aquino III) was trying his damnedest to put Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo behind bars only the Supreme Court can say.
But we can speculate.
One is that the Supreme Court, a dozen of whose members were handpicked by Arroyo for such a pass as this—let it not be said she lacked foresight—wants a diversion. For the past couple of weeks, Arroyo has been in the eye of the storm, and all her efforts to get some public sympathy on her side have come to naught. In lieu of awa, the public has greeted her with text jokes. For the last couple of weeks as well, the Court’s efforts to look magisterial and get the public to stand aside, if not stand in awe of it, have gone for naught. In lieu of a common touch, it has only showed a Midas touch—in reverse. It can do with an issue that shifts the gaze of public attention, or the locus of public scorn, on its tormentor.
Two is that the Supreme Court, whose supremo Arroyo put there at the 11th hour to give her supreme protection, wants to pull P-Noy down from his high moral perch. Hacienda Luisita is P-Noy’s albatross, notwithstanding that he has personally divested from it. Nothing can undercut his credibility more than it, nothing can demonstrate that the daang matuwid bends sharply in some parts more than it. So, Arroyo’s justices must have figured, a good time to bring it up. At the very least it could give them some respite. At the very most, it could give them back some lost ground.
Of course the timing sucks, but the ruling doesn’t.
The farmers are rejoicing at the decision, calling it a historic victory, one that has come after half a century of struggle. They have every reason to do so. The Supreme Court ruling reverses a previous decision that allowed the Cojuangcos, the hacienda’s owners, to offer stock options in lieu of outright land ownership to the farmers. The new ruling hews more starkly, more matuwid-ly, to the letter and spirit of land reform.
Arguably, land ownership has been vastly romanticized. Arguably, some, if not most, of the farmers might be better off owning stocks than owning land that they will probably sell at the first opportunity. Which has been the fate of land reform, which has come too little too late to this country. Most other Asian countries distributed the lands way back after the War. The problem with land reform is not just that it is watered down, courtesy of the landlords who circled their wagons to fight it during Cory’s time. It’s that it has no infrastructure, physical or financial. It’s that it has no support, agricultural or moral.
The farmer is the most endangered species in this country. No one wants to be a farmer anymore. Why should you want to when it is the easiest thing in the world for a country to import rice? Why should you want to when it’s the easiest thing in the world to sell the carabao to send a son or daughter to Saudi? Why should you want to when it’s the hardest thing in the world to break your back, magtanim ay ’di biro, and not even get past the seven years of plenty, let alone those of want?
But Hacienda Luisita is more than a piece of land, it is a symbol. It is more than an argument, it is a rallying cry. It was a dark spot in Cory’s luminous rule, one of the times when she faltered and faltered big. The distribution of Luisita was more than a promise given to the electorate, it was hope of a new dawn given to the people. The revocation of the promise was the blotting out of a hope, especially as it came with the darkening of the earth with the blood of peasants in Mendiola. The property is tainted with blood, the property is weighed down by tears.
P-Noy’s family should never have waited for the Supreme Court to have decreed its unconditional redistribution in the name of the law. P-Noy’s family should never have waited for the Supreme Court to find a weapon to hurl at them in the name of conscience. They should have redistributed the land unconditionally long ago.
Certainly, P-Noy cannot afford to be vulnerable now. Certainly P-Noy cannot afford to have a chink in his armor now. Of course Manny Villar raised Hacienda Luisita against him during the elections and got little traction from it. But winning a presidential election is one thing, prosecuting a former leader for a plethora of crimes is another. To win an election, you only have to be better than the other candidates. And P-Noy was arguably so, Luisita notwithstanding. To put a former leader behind bars, you have to be better than the world. Or at least worlds better than the wretch you mean to punish. You need to profit not just from the comparison but from the contrast.
You don’t need to go far to see it. Monumental credibility was precisely the one thing Arroyo lacked when she ordered Erap (Joseph Estrada) arrested for monumental perfidy. The daang matuwid was precisely the one thing Arroyo lacked when she had Erap jailed for hewing to a path that was crooked-er than his smile. The result was that public sympathy went to Erap and not to Arroyo. The result was that the great unshod flocked to Edsa to protest Erap’s apparent crucifixion. Not unlike the Americans, who had only shock and awe in lieu of credibility and moral superiority behind them when they garroted Saddam Hussein. The result was that it swung Arab sympathy to Saddam’s side and worldwide antipathy to the American eagle.
The lesson is clear: You don’t have to be completely sinless to cast the first stone, but it helps to have not too many of them. Hacienda Luisita is a little too many of them. P-Noy says his family should bow down to the Court’s ruling. It’s just as well. Now, he can say:
Let’s get back to business.
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