This column endorses the land swap deal between City Hall and the Cebu Provincial Capitol. This is a plan that has been too long in coming. It will give government greater leverage to solve the problem of homelessness here. While it is perfectly okay for the deal to be reviewed carefully by the City Council, it should pass in the end. And then we will see how it is possible for our city fathers to go beyond their partisan loyalties and effectively do something that would improve both governance and our general welfare, even more so our homeless poor.
The issue of land ownership is often glossed over by politicians who give informal settlers overweening tolerance — to court their votes — when they are not demolishing their houses; the latter done especially when elections are far away and even more so where informal settlers do not vote in their favor. There is an obvious lack of consistency of treatment. This betrays a lack of a sense of justice applied to the issue. And indeed, this is clearly a question of justice: But not just simple justice but of social justice as well. And we ought as a society to find the balance between the two.
Justice always cuts both ways. The landowners do have rights. But so do the landless. And landowners because they are better-off, and have been better-off for centuries now, do have an obligation to now work so that the incidence of landlessness is reduced. The reason why we should do this has roots in history.
Before our colonization by the Spaniards in the 1600s, we had little inkling of landownership, much less of landownership defined by laws. These were issues settled by local culture. Pre-colonial cultures had each their own definitions for what field a person might till or build a house in. The entry of land ownership laws and the practice of titling land is the very foundation of today’s poverty. Those who understood these laws would begin to own the greater portion of the country’s useful lands. Those who did not understand descended into penury and ignorance. And they were the greater part of what was then the current population. What followed was mere historical inertia, the abject history of the current poverty we now see all around us.
This tells us immediately that the poor are not what they are because they are lazy. The myth of indolence was belied by no less than Jose Rizal more than a century ago. The poor are not what they are because they are stupid, though malnutrition does have an impact on brain development. The poor are not what they are because they choose to be. They are poor because our ancestors never gave them much of a choice. The poor are poor because for the past 400 years our landed ancestors chose to make the most of their own people’s ignorance and aggrandize themselves with large landholdings. In the course of time, we — the landed — became royalty. We took over the reigns of power from our past colonizers and became colonizers of our own people. This historical inertia must stop. And it must stop within our generation. Otherwise, the momentum of abject and large-scale poverty will just go on and on.
I suppose we are excused if from time to time we think that the only way to stop it is through an armed revolt by the poor against every rich man in this country. But perhaps there could be other ways short of that. We can also change in little increments, little steps, at a time. After all, the current population of people who are landed are also better educated and much more socially sensitive now than their old haciendero predecessors. They would understand why those “who have less in life ought have more in law.”
Otherwise, if we do not solve mass poverty now it will become impossible to solve in the future. Giving the country’s land back to our country’s people will certainly go a long way in doing this. And it is possible to say that those who oppose this move commit a betrayal against our own people.
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