But what I saw and heard in the country suggested that much less had changed than reformers and friends of the Philippines would have liked to think. For instance, as I wrote back then:
In a sociological sense the elevation of Corazon Aquino through the EDSA revolution should probably be seen not as a revolution but as the restoration of the old order. Marcos's rise represented the triumph of the nouveau riche. He was, of course, an Ilocano, from the tough, frugal Ilocos region, in the northwest corner of Luzon. Many of those whom he enriched were also outsiders to the old-money, old-family elite that had long dominated the country's politics. These elite groups, often referred to in shorthand as Makati (the name of the wealthy district and business center of Manila), regarded Marcos the way high-toned Americans regarded Richard Nixon: clever and ambitious, but so uncouth.Corazon Aquino's family, the Cojuangcos, is part of this landowning elite... Since the Spanish days land has been concentrated in a few giant haciendas, including the 17,000-acre Hacienda Luisita of the Cojuangco family, and no government has done much to change the pattern. "You could argue that real land reform would lead to more productivity, but it's an entirely hypothetical argument,' an Australian economist told me. "This government simply is not going to cause a revolution in the social structure.' Just before the new Congress convened, as her near-dictatorial powers were about to elapse, Aquino signed a generalized land-reform-should-happen decree. Most observers took this as an indication that land reform would not happen, since the decree left all the decisions about the when, where, and how of land reform to the landowner-heavy Congress.
As the NYT says:
It is very hard not to think of this history when reading today's NYT story, by Norimitsu Onishi**, about the latest front-runner for the presidency -- the Aquinos' son -- and the ongoing importance of the family plantations.
The land problem has drawn fresh attention since Mrs. Aquino's son, Benigno Aquino III,declared his candidacy for the May 10 presidential election, running on his mother's legacy of "people power." Though Mrs. Aquino made land reform a top priority, she allowed landowning families to eviscerate her distribution program. Critics say there is no greater example of the failure of land reform than her own family's estate.For the past five years, the family has been fighting in the Supreme Court a government directive to distribute the 10,000-acre Hacienda Luisita -- the second-biggest family-owned piece of land in the Philippines, about 80 miles north of Manila -- to 10,000 farmers.... Criticized for his family's position, Mr. Aquino, 50, the front-runner in the presidential election, announced recently that the family would transfer the land to the farmers after ensuring that debts were paid off....But Mr. Aquino's cousin, Fernando Cojuangco, the chief operating officer of the holding company that owns the plantation, said that the extended Cojuangco family, owners of this plantation since 1958, had no intention of giving up the land or the sugar business."No, we're not going to," Mr. Cojuangco, 47, said in an interview here. "I think it would be irresponsible because I feel that continuing what we have here is the way to go. Sugar farming has to be; it's the kind of business that has to be done plantation-style."
There are more desperate and brutally-run countries than the Philippines, but I don't know of any whose self-limiting cycle of politics is sadder.
For some previous installments on this subject, see here and here. More when our "categories" function in our web site is restored and I can link to others in the Philippine category.
* The violence was minimal in part because, after decades of propping up Marcos, the U.S. government threw its weight against him and in favor of the reformers. Among the officials who played a crucial role in this policy was the young Paul Wolfowitz, as described here. His success there no doubt played a part in his thinking a similar quick transformation would be possible in Iraq.
** General policy on talking about newspaper stories: When there's something nice to say, be sure to include the reporter's name! When it's a complaint about the latest screw-up by the WaPo or whomever, I avoid the name unless that person's tendencies are central to the critique. Reporters have enough problems...
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