All this talk about Charter Change, especially to amend economic provisions of the Constitution, fills me with dread. Strangely enough, though I had actively joined all sorts of protests to change the political provisions of the Constitution, it is the change of economic provisions that I am more afraid of. Or, to be more accurate, of one provision in particular.
Land. Mother. Motherland. Please, let us never sell the Motherland, let us never sell our land. There is no Motherland without the land. There is no Philippines without the land. There is no Filipino if there is no land on earth that is meant for Filipinos.
Land defines us. Maybe, it is because we are human beings, not fish living in the seas, not birds flying in the sky. We are human beings, people of the land.
This is why the majority of Filipinos are poor, because land was taken away from them, grabbed from them, stolen from them, and continues to be kept away from them. Because land defines us, and landlessness defines poverty.
History is history. That part which happened a long time ago, seems to have much less importance in the present. Especially for a people who would rather forget their own history, especially for governments who would rather let history remain in the shadows.
Having been conquered leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, or a wound in our collective soul. Serving, by force, one master after another, more easily conjures shame when it should conjure anger, then resolve, for a master-less future forever. Because we have refused as a people to confront a sad past and learn from it, we have a present that remains enslaved in the same past.
What was imposed by a monarch’s edict and armed force dispossessed a people from control of their own land. That may have been four centuries ago but it is a past that refuses to let go of the evil it has spawned. This evil is not from Spain anymore, or the United States. The land they stole remains here in the Philippines but the control they took away has not been returned to the natives they took it away from.
The more grotesque reality is that the largest land theft of our history that caused massive poverty then and continuing poverty today has been blurred to the point that it is not visible to the lazy eye. Both historical amnesia and the gradual piecemeal sale of a massive land grab have made us forget, or blind to, the fact that a historical anomaly has not been corrected because it has been erased from the memory of our societal leaders.
These leaders of society has managed to afford to play by the rules of the conquerors, had the resources and connections to buy back what was originally stolen (that makes government a fence, doesn’t it?), and became the 1% of the population to become landed – again. But because there had been commercial transactions on top of land grants given to the Catholic Church and favored Filipino natives, these effectively obfuscated and perverted reality with a sense of normalcy. The horrible historical land theft was legitimized by a titling system, and all is forgotten.
Except that the lives of the landless and the poorest, weakest among them, who have over time been unable to rediscover their productive capacity and aspirations without a reconnection to their land, numbering at least 5 million families still, continue to fester in misery today.
There are two things that can be done. One is the easiest, and the most just. It is simply to acknowledge that a historical anomaly was committed, that foreign masters had stolen our lands by control or by title, and that the dispossessed must be given back what was stolen.
The second is more challenging. It will mean that the true story of that part of our history must be re-told, our people, especially the poor, must know of what they had been forced to forget, and that the shame of conquest must not extend its terrible consequences by sheer amnesia.
If our societal leaders can remember their own history, how they attained to be the powers in our country, how they control politics, the Church, the economy, the academe and high society, if they trace their own evolution to elite-hood, then they will realize that it happened by conquest, by monarchical decree, or by religious authority. They will also discover that as they ascended to the higher echelons of society, the rest of the native population descended to poverty. The most obvious difference—land versus landlessness.
Land represents security. To a still great number of Filipinos, land means survival itself. It has been by tilling the land and by fishing our seas (from land communities) that most of our ancestors had survived their poverty. Beyond that, however, is that our land is part of our identity as sons and daughters of the motherland. The landless, the squatters, they become less than Filipinos because they have less to be identified with.
It is time to correct the wrongs. We talk about corruption, we talk about how thieves in power steal people’s money. But we do not talk about the worst thievery in our history, as though such a crime was never committed. As the consequences to that crime deepen the poverty of most and keep millions hungry despite what so-called economic growth, we inherit the curse that plagues the unjust.
Change the Charter? By all means. Let the Constitution rectify the wrong that foreign masters inflicted on our people, not continue to legitimize it. Return the dignity of all Filipinos, especially poor Filipinos. Let the Constitution be a true symbol of truth and justice by returning to our people what was stolen by history. Make the Constitution the Magna Carta of the Filipino identity.