By Donella Meadows
–July 23, 1987–
This year we’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of our constitution a full eleven years after the 200th anniversary of our revolution. It took the new USA that long to come up with a constitution and a bill of rights. You might argue, listening to the Iran/contra hearings, that we are still working at being a democracy.
But we seem to expect the Filipinos, 18 months after their revolution, to have all their problems solved.
News accounts about the Philippines these days are uniformly gloomy. Some say that Cory Aquino isn’t attacking with sufficient zeal the communist uprising that persists in the countryside. Others say she is knuckling under too much to the military and the privileged classes. We hear about the grinding poverty that has not yet disappeared, the land reform that hasn’t yet happened, the national debt that hasn’t been paid.
But friends in the Philippines are not reporting gloom to me. They are full of excitement. Things are happening that they could never have imagined.
Elsa Escano, an organizer who works with farmers and fishermen, writes, “You may read a lot of negative stories about us. The good news does not get printed, but it is all over the country. The farmers in Mindanao tell me that they can now plant and harvest, because the NPA (the rebel New Peoples’ Army) and the military are no longer using the farms as battlefields. Without additional investment, agricultural output in Mindanao has jumped 5%, just because people are inspired to plant. In Davao City (which used to be a wasteland of corruption and violence) the parks are abloom with flowers and people.”
Elsa has been asked by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to set up a training program for military and police personnel. “Instead of using a very legalistic model, as is usual, we shall experiment with psycho-synthesis, gestalt therapy, bio-energetics, and other tools in the human potential movement.”
Training police in the human potential movement! Now that’s a revolution! Sixto “Ting” Roxas, a former labor organizer, an Economic Minister (before Marcos) and now a leading investment banker, says that neither the rebels nor the corruption endemic to the Philippine economy have disappeared, but they have changed:
“There’s much talk about the 25,000 insurgents (out of 55 million people). Well, they represented a threat when they could polarize the people against the government. And as long as it was a hopeless government, that was easy to do. But now the people have hope in the government. Graft and corruption are not going to be stamped out overnight. But before it was a hopeless situation with graft starting at the top. It was a state religion and Marcos was the pope. Now the whole climate has changed.”
Roxas has started a venture called the Filipino Recovery Economic Enterprise (F.R.E.E.) Management Corporation. The Marcos regime left behind factories and companies of all types, many of them “gold plated”, of extremely high quality — in the old days they brought big rake-offs to Marcos cronies. These assets are often poorly managed, some are bankrupt, many are now state property. F.R.E.E. will work to get them producing again.
Roxas even has a plan to finance land reform — always a difficult postrevolution program, because a new government doesn’t usually dare to appropriate the land of the rich and can’t afford to buy it. Roxas gives an example to show how his plan could work. There is a fruit pureeing plant in a province with large landholdings and many tenant farmers. F.R.E.E. will find managers, joint venture partners, and markets to make the plant profitable. Then it will get the government to trade shares in the plant to landowners in the province, in exchange for land. The land will be sold to the tenants, with long-term low-interest mortgages. The fruit company will buy their produce and provide the income with which they can pay for the land.
Imaginative. Ambitious. Almost as far out as training the military in human rights. Who knows whether it will work? After a revolution comes a time of possibility, of creativity, and of experiments, some of which fail. It is also a time of turmoil, even danger. Elsa Escano writes about the land reform, “There is a strong lobby to prevent Cory from signing this executive order. I am for the land reform, but it has generated so much high tension emotion that I am fearful for Cory.”
But then she goes on to write about agricultural extension programs, about credit schemes for fishermen, about people so excited by elections that 20 candidates run for one office. Her letter ends, “We might spring another surprise on the world. We are committed to making things work here. Maybe it will be one step at a time but we shall make progress. Just keep faith.”
(For more information on the F.R.E.E. Management Company, write Viveza International, 311 California Street, Suite 340, San Francisco CA 94104.)
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1987