Rizal on agrarian issues

by on June 11, 2008 » Add the first comment.

By Sarreal D. Soquiño – The persistent call from farmers’ groups and the Church for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program for another five to ten years coupled with the need for increased farm production due to the looming food crisis have once again underscored the importance of government support to the agriculture sector. The government knows fully well that the advancement of agriculture in the country is fundamental in its development policy.

As a college instructor in history, particularly the Rizal course, I have always emphasized to my students that our greatest hero, Jose P. Rizal, firmly believed in the crucial role of the colonial administration to pursue the improvement of agriculture, including various forms of assistance for the tillers. This view was clearly expressed in his article, The Filipino Farmers, that appeared in La Solidaridad in 1889. In the article, Rizal suggested that the colonial administration pursue meaningful actions that would protect the landowners and farmers from abuses committed by both corrupt local officials and marauding bandits.

Rizal realized the vital role of agriculture in nation-building. The short-lived Liga Filipina that Rizal formed in 1892 reflected his interest in agrarian matters. Based on the aims of the Liga Filipina, Rizal firmly believed that the success of uniting the “whole archipelago into a compact homogenous body” must be accompanied with the development of education, commerce and agriculture.

During his exile years in Dapitan (1892 to 1895), Rizal cultivated the 70 hectares of fertile lands he bought in Mindanao, and planted it with fruit trees, sugarcane, coffee, corn and cacao. Wanting to improve the life of the fishing community, he introduced a modern technique of fishing that enabled them increase their catch. Rizal showed the residents of Dapitan that continued learning for an improved agriculture was a necessity, particularly in a community whose sustenance depends primarily on the generosity of nature.

Rizal learned many things related to the agrarian issues from his personal experience in the land conflict between the Dominican Order(hacienda owner in Calamba) and its tenants in Calamba, Laguna. Adhering to the order of Governor-General Emilio Terrero, Rizal investigated the circumstances of the agrarian conflict that started in 1887. The results of his investigation, promptly submitted to Malacañang, enabled Terrero to understand the Calamba problem. His involvement in the conflict further angered the Dominican friars who already considered him a filibustero following the publication of Noli me Tangere. Clearly, the hacienda conflict had inspired Rizal to write the story of Cabesang Tales and his family that was included in the second novel. This story depicts the hard work and dedication of a toiling farmer, usurpation of land by a powerful group, judicial corruption, revenge and death. A nationalist historian, Renato Constantino, once wrote that the simmering land question during the 19th century served as a primary factor that made a national uprising against the colonial regime in 1896 an irreversible imperative.

A hundred years after the publication of El Filibusterismo, it appears that we have not fully appreciated the warning of our great hero that unresolved agrarian disputes may spark rebellion and violence.

Mr. Soquiño is a History Instructor at the Filamer Christian College, Roxas City, Capiz

Photo by tekgik

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