Archive for August 11, 2012

First Certificate of Land Title issued in the Philippines





While property rights are exclusive, they are not absolute.  Property rights could be limited in consideration of societal goals and the welfare of the greater numbers in society.  The context within which property rights are recognized, enforced, and protected therefore matters.



Benguet natives with American colonial soldiers behind them



The property rights system of the country is a product both of its colonial history and developments over the past few decades.  The Spanish colonial state sought to impose property rights regimes that were alien to those previously instituted by the indigenous peoples of the archipelago, which included stewardship, usufruct, and communal ownership.  In the process, massive asset theft typical of all colonial ventures occurred in the country.  The main object of theft and ownership then was arable land.  The American colonial state introduced the distinction between public and inalienable land and privately-owned and alienable real estate.  In the process, several indigenous peoples in the highlands were disenfranchised of their so-called ancestral domains.  The 1946-1972 post-colonial state continued these Western-originated property regimes even as the asset structure diversified over time.  In general, access to political power guaranteed security of property rights and elites at various levels consolidated their political and economic positions.

Indigenous people in front of the world-famous Banaue rice terraces








Up to the eve of the declaration of martial law in September 1972, the property rights of rival elite factions were generally secure regardless of the political cycle’s outcome.  Ownership rights were not extinguished by an electoral loss.  The elites were organized into two political parties that alternated in power at the national level.  The ability of an elite faction to regain power in the next election deterred the faction in power from erasing the property rights of the ‘outs.’  Elite factions, therefore, were prevented by the possibility of electoral defeat from disrespecting the property rights of their rivals.  The default behavior was for the ‘ins’ to plunder the state treasury instead of confiscating the property of the ‘outs.’  Notwithstanding a constitutional provision for two presidential terms, no president has been able to win re-election until 1969 when Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented second term.




The seals of the parties–Liberal and Nacionalista–that represent the contending elite factions in the Philippines up to 1972

Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law in 1972




The balance of power between the rival elite factions shifted decisively in favor of his faction after Marcos’ unprecedented re-election in 1969.  He monopolized political power through the declaration of martial law in September 1972 and proceeded to violate the property rights of his political opponents (Kushida 2003).  The demise of the dictatorship in February 1986 saw the post-Marcos elites attempting a restoration of pre-martial arrangements with respect to property rights and access to political power.

EDSA 1986: The placard reads “Surrender! You have lost! Marcos, scram!




The properties of the anti-Marcos elites (such as the Lopez, Lopa, and Jacinto families) were returned to their former owners while a new constitution adopted in 1987 provided the ground rules for political contestation and all but forestalled the possibility of new dictatorships.  After an initial lockout period, even the Marcoses were allowed back into the country and managed to win electoral posts or stand for elections.  Despite the formation of a presidential commission mandated to recover the so-called ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies, these properties got entangled in a quagmire of unresolved lawsuits filed within and without the country.

Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.

















The violation of elite property rights by Marcos during the dictatorship’s heyday is like a genie let out of the bottle.  Despite all efforts to date, the mess created by the initial massive cancellation of property rights has not been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.  The ownership of substantial portions of the equities of major Philippine corporations (including the top-ranked San Miguel Corporation and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company) remains contested.  The fall of the dictatorship also led to the recognition of new asset claimants—the thousands of human rights victims who were tortured or murdered by Marcos’ security forces and the coconut farmers disenfranchised by the so-called coconut levy.  The claims of the human rights victims against the Marcos estate had been repeatedly recognized by US courts while the Philippine Supreme Court had repeatedly ruled that the coconut levy was a public fund and must be taken from the control of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, who used the money to wrest control of the country’s premier business firm—the San Miguel Corporation (SMC).  Recently, however, court decisions favored Conjuangco.





The fundamental point to be made with the above digression is the fragility of property rights in the Philippines.  If the properties of elites are not even sacrosanct, could we expect the assets of the non-elites and less-powerful to be more secure?


I am reblogging this entry originally posted last April 2010.  It is the first chapter of my forthcoming book on Philippine politics and the country’s policy making process (PMP).

bong mendoza's blog

While formally a democratic republic wherein all governmental authority emanates from the sovereign people, the Philippines is characterized as an elite or ‘shallow’ democracy that has been unable to adequately respond to the needs of under-classes.  In addition, the Philippine state is seen as relatively weak and is susceptible to capture and plunder by strong private social groups and interests including political factions and families, big business groups, among others.  The failures of the Philippine state and politics are highlighted by the inability to sustain and realize a promising economic growth potential (as of the 1950s) when the country was supposed to be second in Asia only to Japan in terms of economic development.  At the core of this failure is inconsistency and incompatibility of economic policy making with the requirements of sustainable growth since 1946.

The source of policy inconsistency is identified in the literature as reflective of incomplete…

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