For decades, Philippine leaders have vowed to attack a glaring economic inequality framing life in this former American colony — the dominance of a handful of landowning families, and the landlessness of tens of millions of farmers who till the soil in near-feudal conditions. The current president, Rodrigo Duterte, took office more than three years ago promising to liberate rural Filipinos from poverty by distributing land to farmers.
“The Philippines is still really a semi-feudal democracy,” says Leonardo Montemayor, a former secretary of agriculture.
We can’t pretend that history is over. Taking a longer view of this conflict, we see that the concordat in the Philippines has not yet been settled — there is still a great deal of space for changes to the fundamental social relations in the country. Control over land is a key issue in many historical situations. And, frankly, there are better and worse ways of handling this question.