SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES: Abstract

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Criselda Yabes

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Creating Sulu: In Search of Policy Coalitions in the Conflict-Ridden Island

Criselda Yabes*

*Freelance Writer
e-mail: yabescriselda[at]gmail.com

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_295

The island province of Sulu has seen a military presence for decades, the result of a failed rebel uprising in 1974, when the capital town of Jolo was burned to the ground. It has not been able to fully recover since then. This paper seeks to recommend possible policy coalitions for local transformation in Sulu. It reflects on how the military and civilians came together in a tacit and binding agreement to set the pace in changing the status quo. For the military, it meant doing more than what was expected of soldiers in a conflict area; it meant dealing with people face-to-face and learning local history. Over the years, it has been shown—though scarcely studied or investigated—that officers with a keen sense of leadership and a wide understanding of history, politics, and society are more likely to shake the ground for better results. For civil society, it was an opportunity to seek congruence from an armed unit that was going to be their friend, not an enemy as it had been in the past; civil society was going to find a substitute for the local government’s lackluster performance (if not outright incompetence) to restore a semblance of normalcy. Lastly, a proposal for a military governorship is examined, and a set of crucial conditions to implement the proposal are presented, based on the findings on the ground.

Keywords: Sulu, military governance, whole-of-nation approach, civil-military operations, bayanihan model

Introduction

The island province of Sulu has seen a military presence for decades, the result of a failed rebel uprising in 1974, when the capital town of Jolo was burned to the ground. It has not been able to fully recover since then. Over the years the military has delivered a tough search-and-destroy approach and transformed it into a civil-military campaign attempting to develop basic services. But problems persist, with the complex dilemma of dealing with radical rebels involved in kidnapping, local leaders having their private armed groups, and a population trapped in a cycle of poverty. Because of persistent violence without the legitimate domination of physical force, some argue that politics in Sulu is characterized as “bandit politics,” which fits well with the framework of the weak state in the introductory chapter of this issue (Gutierrez 2003).

As we will see below, however, a one-dimensional label like “bandit politics” does not capture the dynamics on the ground.1) Over the years, it has been shown that officers with a keen sense of leadership and a wide understanding of history, politics, and society are more likely to shake the ground for better results (Yabes 2011). In line with this framework, Lt. Col. Antonio Mangoroban (2012) proposed a military governorship with a limited term. This paper sheds light on the people in Sulu who are making a difference on the conflict-ridden island, and examines Mangoroban’s proposal. Based on a thorough study of military officers and people on the ground in Sulu, this paper asserts that the proposal’s success depends mainly on vetting officers who can do the job. The chapter ends with lessons from Sulu that can be applied to other devastated cities, such as Marawi.

I A Path to De Facto Military Governance

Sulu (land area about 168,000 hectares) was once a shining example of progress and cultural cohesiveness between Muslims and Christians. It was the center of gravity in the southern fringes of the Sulu Archipelago, the home of the Tausug elites under a once-powerful sultanate. It is also a prime example of a tragic fate: it was destroyed after the 1974 uprising, leaving the victims in the hands of warlords, bandits, and extremist fighters who raised the stakes with kidnappings and other terrorist incidents. There was a brief spell of military rule after 1974, but it eventually gave way to the rule of political families who sought dominance by keeping themselves entrenched (Gutierrez 1995).

In the opinion of military commanders who were interviewed for this paper, something was wrong with the Philippines’ rehashing of previous doctrines borrowed largely from the American colonial campaign. Consequently, the Armed Forces of the Philippines went through a shift in its own strategy, a strategy that has been constantly modified over the years in search of a solution to the insurgency problem nationwide. The Philippine military implemented the Lambat Bitag (Fish net) strategy in the late 1980s, aimed at fighting Communist guerrilla fronts by deploying special operations teams to the countryside. Later the strategy included modules that had to fit in with the cultural traditions of Muslim Mindanao vis-à-vis the insurgency in the south.

After the democratization of the Philippines in 1986, there were various reform attempts in Muslim Mindanao, including Sulu. In the 1990s, trade with Indonesian and Malaysian neighbors was revitalized through an economic scheme for the Brunei Darussalam–Indonesia–Malaysia–Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). The United States Agency for International Development helped finance the economy of the country’s poorest provinces (Dañguilan-Vitug and Yabes 1998).2)

Commercial prosperity would wax and wane depending on the level of violence. Sulu has its cycle of violence that usually comes before the elections or when the rebels need money from kidnapping ransoms. In between the spates of violence is when commerce can thrive. The long-heralded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has been negligent, if not a failure, in serving the broad interests of Muslim Filipinos (about 15 percent of Mindanao’s total population of more than 20 million), who are victims of their own elected leaders. It has been described as nothing more than a “bureaucratic layer providing little” except power and privileges for Muslim politicians (Lara 2014).

Sulu’s eminent revolutionary who led the uprising in 1974, Nur Misuari, was the first ARMM governor when he accepted a peace deal offered by the Ramos administration in the mid-1990s. His leadership crumbled under the weight of nepotism, corruption, and ethnic divisions. The people of Lupah Sug, as Sulu is locally called, gravitated from traditional clan institutions to a shadow state fueled by an informal economy of the illicit drug trade, gunrunning, and the kidnapping business (Lara and Schoofs 2016). One way or another, Misuari’s ARMM leadership took the Muslim narrative on a downhill curve, an example of failing promises to ordinary people. Power and privileges of the old datu structure trumped the modern education, rights, and unity binding the region. Dissatisfaction among the Muslims funneled into the hands of religious leaders, who were often caught in a bind by radical forces or threats of violence. The idea, therefore, of a democratic style of governance was lost in the ensuing generations searching for a common good.

Sulu and other Muslim provinces are essentially run by warlords who are members of the political families elected by their own people. The leadership deteriorates when they fight (literally and figuratively) other political families or rivals. Civil-military operations (CMO) were a mere disguise for undercover work designed to unearth the ideology infecting a local population. By 2000, Sulu had become home to a group of radical rebels called Abu Sayyaf, which was linked to the al-Qaeda masterminds of 9/11. Then came the batches of American special forces teams under the Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement, with the government taking part in a US-led global “War on Terror.”3) Their presence harked back to the American colonial era of the early 1900s, during which the Sulu Sultanate abdicated. Sulu became a laboratory for counterterrorism strategy. There was a joint task force aimed at striking down high-value targets (HVTs), namely, the key leaders of Abu Sayyaf, whose strength peaked at an estimated 1,200 fighters around 2000. Almost three-fourths of Sulu was considered “threatened” in 2005 (Quemado 2017). The US-backed Oplan Ultimatum between 2006 and 2008 resulted in a setback for Abu Sayyaf, so much so that in the momentum a few years later, only one out of the five “original HVTs remained to be operationally active.”

While the government went back to the negotiating table for a peace deal with the dominant Muslim rebel faction, the largely Maguindanaoan Moro Islamic Liberation Front on mainland Mindanao, CMO became a standard necessity (even in demand in some villages) in Sulu simply because the rationale of governance had disappeared. A joke making the rounds was that Zamboanga, at the bottom tip of a peninsula in Mindanao, the nearest city to Sulu, in the cradle of civilization, was host to the village and town mayors of Sulu. The mayors had made their private homes in the Christian-dominated city, neglecting their jobs in Sulu and merely collecting their handouts in the form of Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). At the grassroots level, in Sulu there were no infrastructure services; the military ended up providing such services by default.

In many places the only shadow left of governance was the military presence. It was the only government symbol there was. Criselda Yabes (2011) discusses the diversified and creative strategies employed by military officers to restore peace in Sulu and the islands as well as mainland Mindanao. About one of three brigades falling under an infantry division or the Marine Corps was led by commanders willing to initiate prospects of “nation building” with the civilian population. Each had their own creative ideas of what had to be done.4)

Following is an account on the search for possible policy coalitions for local transformation in Sulu. The narrative below reflects how the military and civilians came together in a tacit and binding agreement to set the pace in changing the status quo. For the military, this meant doing more than what was expected of soldiers in a conflict area; it meant dealing with people face-to-face and learning local history. For the civilian sector, it was an opportunity to seek congruence with an armed unit that was going to be their friend, not an enemy as it had been in the past; it was going to find a substitute for the lackluster performance (if not outright incompetence) of the local government unit in a force that would lead them to a process of normalcy. Lastly, a proposal for a military governorship with a limited period is examined, and a set of crucial conditions to implement the proposal is presented based on findings on the ground.

II From Mount Bayog to Bud Datu, the Marines vs. the Army

The Philippine marines’ campaign called for an “80-20” strategy: in the overall scheme of operations, the military would carry out 80 percent CMO and 20 percent combat. Sulu was going to be a template for the two other southern island provinces to follow, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. Known by their acronym BASULTA, they fall under the ARMM.5)

The strategy could have worked, but it did not, for a number of reasons—mainly that commanders had to adjust to each province, which had its own dynamics at play. CMO had some successes, however, and it is those that this paper will try to identify.

The template was to be a precursor to the bayanihan strategy crafted by the armed forces in 2010, and approved by President Benigno Aquino III when he took office. This alone was a turnaround from previous models, bringing in the framework of a “whole-of-nation” approach in search of peace and stability. For this strategy to work, the military needed the cooperation of key government departments and agencies to make the switch from lack of governance to development.

From 2008 to 2014, the Philippine Marine Corps was fully deployed over the BASULTA zone as part of the navy’s master plan for a Fleet Marine Concept. Amphibious in nature, the marines were to have the islands as their ships, so to speak, in the absence of modern boats from which they were supposed to operate. Having the islands in their area of responsibility was a victory given the politics in headquarters: they were given the opportunity to do things their way (Yabes 2011).

From the early days of the rebellion, Sulu received the brunt of military operations, in a way that gave the appearance of martial rule. From the time the insurgency began in the 1970s, military commanders alternately deployed the army or the marines depending on the political circumstances or the personal judgments of top generals. That the marines were now given control of the islands was seen as a change to the pattern of ruthless fighting, one that had the bearing of a scorched earth policy. The marines’ experiment of changing from combat to CMO was theirs for the taking. Not all commanders could see the sense in this, questioning their core competence.

In fact, not all the marines could understand the meaning of the 80-20 campaign. An internal survey of one marine battalion showed that almost 60 percent of the men did not even understand the Tausug culture. How could they then go about making peace with people targeted as the enemy? But a great majority of the men said they were willing to learn and that it was important to gain the trust of the local people (Quemado 2017).

From being men in uniform who were feared and hated, the marines began repairing bridges and building schools, using their trucks to ferry children to classrooms, augmenting the jobs of teachers, transporting agricultural produce that otherwise would have been impossible to do in a war zone. The atmosphere in some of the villages turned festive, though the local population was still wary of the new situation (Yabes 2012b).

CMO had been used in the Communist insurgency in the northern Philippines (Luzon) in the past, since the 1970s, and it was being used now to tackle the Muslim insurgency in Sulu and in other parts of Muslim Mindanao (depending on the military commanders). But recent leadership training in civilian and educational institutions gave potential up-and-coming commanders the wherewithal to create a brand of their own in a “bridging leadership” workshop.

It was, for example, a stunning move when a battalion commander in Sulu built a replica of the Astana in his camp.6) The symbol of the Astana, the palace of the Sultanate of Sulu at the twilight of the sultanate’s power, was arguably significant. Nothing much was left of the original structure, rotting in the jungle of Maimbung, opposite the coast of Jolo. The replica was set up on Mount Bayog, in the town of Talipao, where the camp was located. The camp, which had been the target of rebel attacks, was rundown, messy, and disorganized. The replica was constructed in 2013, restoring pride among the people of Sulu.

It was an innovative and clever idea on the part of the marine battalion commander, Col. Romulo Quemado, to allow local folks to visit the replica for weekend picnics, to feel at home in it, for soon enough even rebels in disguise and influential community leaders befriended him. It was the replica of the Astana that helped to forge relationships, enabling the commander to obtain information from local folks—rather than forcing it out of them—and to deal directly with them.

Quemado also set up a radio station to promote the Tausug culture. He was aware of the volatile situation in early 2013, with his camp being not too far from the base of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander. Quemado was able to communicate with the MNLF commander through conduits who visited the Astana. He somehow prevented a plan by the rebels to march into the town of Jolo in a show of strength; instead, the rebels laid siege to a coastal community in Zamboanga that lasted 18 days in September 2013.

The effectiveness of Quemado’s outreach was put to the test when, in April 2014, the head of the town’s local militia—under the banner of the Barangay Peace Action Team—led a fight against Abu Sayyaf in the community. This was unprecedented. The military created militias as “force multipliers,” but in Sulu militias are normally on the payroll of an elected official or a political family. They could have gone either way, joining the rebels or working as guards for their employers (Yabes 2014).

The militia leader, who went by the nom de guerre Marlboro, recounted how the rebels had crossed a line by kidnapping children. A firefight ensued. Marlboro’s men brought down the rebels in a surprising victory; and for the marines this was a tactical victory as well. It was also a matter of luck, for in the past something of this nature inevitably led to accusations of human rights violations. The attack against Abu Sayyaf had no civilian casualties, and it became the talk of the town (Yabes 2014).

By forging an alliance with the community, the marines had local people on their side, temporarily at least. This widened the military’s scope of influence. One telling sign was that there were Philippine flags flying over huts—this had never been seen before. It was the symbol of the Astana that had opened the way forward.

The lack of doctrine or standard policy supporting civil-military affairs left commanders toying with their own ideas and limitations. A leadership framework was needed to guide CMO in the field. Quemado and a few of his fellow officers helped put some shape into Community Relations Training (CRT), producing a manual for others to follow. Workshop modules had a combination of community, i.e., academe, local government units, religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and others; and the security sector, namely, the military, police, and militias.7)

The workshops focused on Sulu’s culture and religion. The traditional CMO was going to be transformed into a bayanihan, a collective community endeavor. The leadership was not aiming for a military end state but for a state in which power was going to be shared.8) There was a thin line for the military to watch out for when playing the role of servant leader: were they soldiers or civil servants? It was hard work (Yabes 2011, 216–235).

It was time to reinvent the wheel, said Quemado, by co-creating the process for the goal of peace. He said the military could not help build bridges if the bridges were later going to be bombed; they could not build a school or a road without the opportunity of forging genuine relations with the people. After building the replica of the Astana, the military pursued other touristic and educational activities in historical places such as Bud Datu and Bud Daho, sites of the Moro wars during the American colonial years.9)

In a status report presented to a class of the Command General Staff College—those preparing for senior ranks—Quemado showed that the CRT years from mid-2010 to 2014 had reduced Abu Sayyaf’s strength to an average of 250 from an estimated 1,200. One crucial aspect in the CRT module was courting the youth, especially the orphans of the conflict. Having them on the military’s side could mean one less generation of fighters.

There was so much to do that patience for results could wear out; and it did, eventually. There were cynics and unsavory partners. Every approach had to be culture-fit. The military was there to listen to people, not tell them what to do. It was not about the security the military could offer, but the security people were wishing for. “By the end of the day, we shall leave, they stay,” Quemado recalled.

A commander’s tour of duty could be as long as two years, although it was often shorter. That was too brief a time to expect rapid changes on the ground; moreover, a military unit taking over from the previous one could change the flow of the campaign or even stop it. The problem lay in vetting officers for positions. Much of the decision making turned personal when claiming turf and loyalty among the officer corps, which inevitably upset the playing field.10)

The marines were held accountable for not delivering enough in terms of body count. It was alleged that under their watch the rebels had managed to quietly expand their base and had carried out a series of kidnappings of foreigners that had brought millions of pesos into their ransom booty (Lara and Schoofs 2016, ch. 4). The army units were let back in; they disrupted the status quo and fired more rounds of artillery than usual. Behind the scenes there was a quarrel among military academy classmates as to who should take command.

A new brigade commander had to be flown in, ostensibly to salvage the situation. Gen. Jose Faustino knew the terrain: Sulu had been an important part of his career when he was battalion commander during the years of the Oplan Ultimatum. Roughly one year into his tour from 2016, he was the first in his academy class of 1988 to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general. His camp was on the splendid Bud Datu, overlooking Jolo, the mosque, and the sea beyond.

Faustino’s tack on CMO was to be “purposive” and not simply allow it to be a “stand-alone” campaign. What, he asked, would be the purpose of building too many schools if there were no teachers? He looked back on his past efforts and said he had to recalibrate, recalling a situation when his unit had provided 20,000 pesos for a water pipe in a village. He should not have done that, he said. He should have shown the village chief how he could use the IRA disbursed by the national government for his people’s basic needs.

“Every activity has to be centered to a goal” was his mantra. And that goal was to defeat Abu Sayyaf. He would give CMO a ratio of 60 percent (instead of 80 percent) over combat operations of 40 per cent. Returning to Jolo, he saw much of what had not changed, not more of what had changed. In a meeting with mayors to gather a census, he saw the same what-can-we-do-to-help lip service, the lack of real action by local leaders in instilling the value of governance.11)

It was key to let people know that barangay halls were there to serve the community centers. As for the CMO, the army’s bayanihan team immersed in a village was armed with a checklist of what to do, to avoid mistakes in social relations and be sensitive to the traditions of Muslims. And once the community arrived at a sort of comfort level with soldiers, the team was scaled down to a platoon. The process was usually daunting even at the first stages, when rebels disrupted communities that cooperated with the military, once beheading a soldier who turned out to be a Tausug (a former MNLF rebel integrated into the army after a peace deal in 1996).

Above are profiles of two officers (Quemado and Faustino) in the theater of Sulu, one from the marines, the other from the army, as they saw the island from their own prism. They also reflected, one way or another, a long-standing rivalry between the two units, a rivalry well known within armed forces circles. But they had the same intentions for the good of Sulu, racking their brains to disentangle the complex mesh it had become. Their common denominator was that they were both trained in intelligence, in which they had the advantage of getting down to the roots of a cyclic history. In Sulu, they chose to wear the hat of a peace builder.

Sulu needs more than one solution to find peace, or at the very least an equilibrium to restore the essence of governance. It requires an Avatar logic (yes, the James Cameron movie). One has to dive in with empathy, to read history and calculate where one must stand, to play things by ear and observe meanings through the eyes of the people.

This is too demanding a task for an officer cut out for black-and-white orders. For those who are made like Avatars, they have a winning chance. They cannot force people to take their side, but when a voice of reason among the people is convinced of the change, it becomes germinal. In the following section, we will see the reasons to have hope for local transformation in Sulu. These are stories of civilians who took it upon themselves to find a way to set things right with little help from local agencies or leaders. Like the previous section, this section reveals the merging of common ideas and the steps taken, both serendipitous and calculated, by civilians to transform their own communities, even if they had to start with breeding cows or selling rice or making coffee. Above all, these are real turnarounds in the connection between military and civilians—a genuine partnership.

III The Voices of Lupah Sug

III-1 Recalibration of Civil-Military Relations on the Ground

In the five months of fighting in Marawi in 2017, government forces were the heroes for defeating the Islamist militants. This was not the case in Sulu during the 1974 uprising; more than anything, a man in uniform was never to be trusted. And even until today, people of that generation cannot forget the destruction wrought to their lives.

Mercia Salarda Alli would never have thought to find herself in the company of soldiers after what the military had done to her family, their home destroyed in the fire. Ms. Alli lives by the traditional value of the Tausug’s maratabat, a strong sense of honor. As far as she was concerned, she and her surviving family members could live on their own despite the downward spiral of Lupah Sug. But by a twist of irony, it was the American task force that sought her out, and she relented.12)

She was with the local office of the Department of Agriculture, which was barely getting by with a minimal budget trickling down from the ARMM office based in Cotabato City on the mainland. The Americans were offering veterinary services for their medical mission. This was a solution to saving cattle on the brink of perishing. Cows, carabaos, and goats were the only tangible source of income for poor peasants in the most far-flung of villages; they could easily be sold when required.

Relations between the Americans and local people was two-pronged: the American soldiers were making an entry into the heart of Sulu, close to the lairs of the rebels and the communities that supported them, while the local government office needed help that the state could not provide. The condition Ms. Alli had set for this arrangement was that there would be no military operations of any kind: no attacks, no raids. She was certain there were rebels among the people watching, but she did not fear them as long as she was there to help people.

In due time a community partnership was fostered through saving the cows and later other projects, with the Americans handing over the initiatives to Filipino marine officers to take forward. Ms. Alli was struck by the respect she felt for herself and her staff. The military did not make them ride in military vehicles; they made sure to provide them with civilian transport when going to the villages. All plans were made through consultation. The CRT workshops were held in camps, and the people involved in the workshops were all at ease with the arrangement after the CMO activities they had done together.

In addition to her job in the agriculture office, Ms. Alli formed a group of volunteers to help improve the livelihood of local folks. She called it Matawkasi, which means “going beyond”; the group branded themselves as advocates for peace. Ms. Alli’s influence grew among communities in the conflict areas. She traveled to nearly all corners of the island, doing what other local government units should have been doing in the first place, to get a firsthand view of the needs in remote hamlets.

The military had put the Matawkasi group in touch with civic groups from Manila extending help with the mainstream purpose of nation building. The military, on the other end of this partnership, also courted civilians and private companies for its outreach programs and civil-military campaigns. Small steps led farmers to Manila, where they met agribusiness experts who gave technical support. Fresh harvests of exotic fruit such as mangosteen and durian brought bigger profits when transported by plane to markets outside Jolo.

Sulu coffee was back in the limelight and being sold in high-end grocery stores in Manila. This was a breakthrough courtesy of a Muslim princess who returned to her hometown and saw her old neighbors living in an abject state. She decided to turn things around in her village, which had once been a rebel camp. She found the basic equipment to help villagers mill coffee beans instead of leaving them to dry on the road, where they would be crushed when military trucks drove by (Yabes 2012a).

The local government code of 1991 decentralized power to the local government units by giving them the IRA, but this led to families fighting for government positions. Such positions became a family affair, so to speak, preventing potentially progressive leaders from running for office. This began a race among families who saw the IRA as their personal coffer if they were to run for office, and it triggered bloody fights just to win an election for a local seat.

The late Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) of the Benigno Aquino administration (2010–16) knew the problem as he had been a mayor of Naga City in Southern Luzon for about 20 years and led a reform program for the seal of good governance and good housekeeping. His tragic death in a plane crash in 2012 put an end to the program, but it sowed the seeds for reform. In the two years that he was cabinet secretary, he was committed to training leaders in Muslim Mindanao to follow the same path and traveled to many places in Sulu to get his vision across. He felt that this was the right—albeit daunting—process for the political and social transformation of Filipino Muslims (Yabes 2018).

In Ms. Alli’s opinion, the DILG should have been strict in carrying forward Robredo’s legacy. The role of civil society could have tilted in favor of choosing the right leaders. Civil society organizations were not looking for someone perfect, Ms. Alli added; it was leadership that needed to be developed, with room for checks and balances, giving opportunities for Muslim youths to rise.

III-2 Transformative Leadership in the Local Government

In October 2016, the municipality of Jolo (population 125,000) was awarded the coveted Seal of Good Local Governance from the DILG, which oversees the local government code throughout the country. At first glance it seemed to be a fluke, or a joke, that a city as dangerous as Jolo could ever be given the thumbs-up for its administrative performance.13)

The colonial era-style municipal hall underwent a dashing makeover, turning it from a structure that was chaotic and on the verge of ruin to a renovated piece of bureaucratic order. The seal was prominently displayed in the lobby, showing the municipality’s achievement after working so hard to obtain the award. A glass-encased bulletin wall had lists of budgets, procurement, programs, and a host of other procedures of a normally functioning municipality.

The mayor, Kherkhar Tan, was a little-known councillor who had served three terms before he found himself sitting in Jolo’s higher office. He was a distant relative of the dynastic Tan family of Sulu and therefore secured the blessings of the island’s strongman. His demeanor was down to earth, focusing on the basic undertaking of cleaning up the town, which had a horrendous garbage problem. He deployed at least 10 garbage collection trucks and dozens of new plastic bins with the slogan “I love Jolo.”14)

He blamed Patikul and other outlying towns for bringing violence to the capital. It is imperative for a mayor to get on well with the police chief—and he usually does—but a police chief who hails from Jolo is usually impeded from carrying out his duties if it means a threat to his family (there are no judges willing to serve in Jolo because of threats and the security situation at large; almost every household is armed).

Clan rivalries are rife, an endemic feature of life in Muslim Mindanao. The concept of rule of law was lost on the mayor, who had to deal with too many gray areas. Although the police was supposed to be the main vanguard in counterinsurgency, the task of Internal Security Operations was left in the hands of the military. Thus, Sulu saw more deployment of army and marine battalions than any other island in the archipelago.

III-3 Private Initiatives to Govern a Village in Patikul

The idea of setting up a cooperative was perhaps to wean away the youth from hawa ng sakit—the illness of falling prey to the temptation of getting quick cash and fancy cell phones from the rebels in the cottage industry of kidnapping for ransom. Nearly every segment of Sulu’s population has had a hand in kidnapping for ransom, allegedly from politicians at fairly high levels, soldiers, police, and rebel leaders all the way down to unemployed, uneducated teenagers in remote villages. Classified military intelligence reports estimate that ransom amounts have reached millions of pesos, money that has circulated in the shadow economy of Muslim Mindanao and thereby determined political alliances and influence.

Against this backdrop are small success stories of people seeking to transform the island, especially people who left and then returned to relive their dreams from bygone years. The idea of working together was a sliver of hope to show people they could trust each other despite the poverty and violence. It was a difficult and personal crusade for Muddazer Hailanie when he thought of bringing back the community spirit of people helping one another. When he returned in 2005 after years of working in Saudi Arabia, he saw how much had gone to waste.

The people in his village of Danag, in Patikul, where Abu Sayyaf rebels are said to have their base, were fed up of hearing false promises from the government as well as nongovernmental organizations that came and went. The water system was at risk of drying up, and Hailanie did not want that to happen. It was the villagers’ only water source, and it was rare for villages to have a water system installed, as was the case with electricity. The villagers were leading a hand-to-mouth existence.

Hailanie had a plan. He asked each household to contribute 10 pesos per month to keep the water pump running. His efforts were not very successful, but a few people believed in him and worked with him to fix the pump. With this small group of people Hailanie decided to start a cooperative. With capital of less than 10,000 pesos, the villagers began what seemed like a small business. They purchased about a dozen sacks of rice to be sold among the villagers—this was cheaper and more accessible than going to the market in Jolo.

The undertaking grew into a full-fledged consumers’ cooperative by late 2011, selling not only rice but also local produce and goods that would have made Sulu wealthy if it were not for the war. Patikul was the nearest and biggest town next to Jolo, the capital, and the military suspected that commerce was being financed by Abu Sayyaf’s ransom money. Hailanie said the cooperative, named Kankitap, would dissuade others from joining the rebels and would show that business could be done through sheer effort and cooperation, a sign of bayanihan at work.

IV Military Rule?

In a master’s thesis at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Virginia, a Filipino marine officer who served 10 years in Mindanao offered a solution for both Sulu and Basilan: an outright military governorship for a limited period. Lt. Col. Antonio Mangoroban was one of the officers based in Patikul, where marines were frequent targets of Abu Sayyaf rebels. During that time he “observed how the lack of governance has alienated people further from the government” (Mangoroban 2012).

A military governor could unify both civilian and military efforts under a single authority, as Mangoroban’s thesis outlined. As such, it could “force effective governance” to bring elusive peace to the islands. The current government overtures aided by the presidential office of the peace process, even if strengthened by civil-military operations on the ground, would take time to bear fruit. This, he underscored, was not politically attractive. Impatience could succumb to restlessness, spreading once more the chances of violence.

This framework recalled the American colonial period, when the Sulu Archipelago and the mainland of Mindanao were separate departments under military rule. Mangoroban saw the compelling rationale of employing hard tactics (fighting) as well as soft tactics, which by helping the local people might get their support. A military governorship would have a unified order rather than a disparate or conflicting approach:

The position is for military commanders to assume as chief executives of local government units operating under the civil laws. The proposal is not the use of extraordinary powers but the integration of both the civil and military powers. The intent is to bring governance and break the cycle of transactional politics entrenched by the political elites. (Mangoroban 2012, 18)

Whether this approach or a variation would be the answer to a coherent peace strategy, the chances of success lay mainly in vetting the right officers who could do the job. Over the years, it has been shown—though never studied or investigated—that officers with a keen sense of leadership and a wide understanding of history, politics, and empathy are more likely to shake the ground for better results.

The armed forces headquarters, which formulates strategies, had this critical aspect to bear in mind. It may have had brilliant minds writing about doctrines and strategies, but what it needed was equally brilliant officers carrying out plans on the ground. This meant a careful selection from the officer corps, shuffling promotions, exercising vigor and discernment in choosing mid-level and/or field-grade officers ready and willing to take command in the complex swarm of Sulu and other provinces. Faustino of the army and Quemado of the marines were striking candidates.

The AFP’s bayanihan strategy, now modified into Kapayapaan (Peace), had an overall plan of intersecting governance, development, and security. This challenged the military with the demands of nuances in leadership and dealing with elected local officials. Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, the architect of the strategy since its inception as bayanihan, said it could do well only if commanders took the time to read and analyze the classified operational directives given to the unified commands, which in turn should transmit the orders to the men in the field.15)

More often there appeared to be a lack of maturity in the job when the staff and command college provided higher education for battalion commanders only. There had to be more training in leadership. Battalion commanders were on the front lines: their experiences in the field, such as what Faustino and Quemado underwent, could enhance strategy and help in the development of better doctrines.

In theory, however, they would have to wait until they reached higher positions, such as brigade or division commands, before they could widen their practice. That would invariably mean a much longer period for results, whereas top-level vetting would be quicker in pace for a campaign to see things through.

Mangoroban’s idea of a military governor was one who should be in a position to fully implement bayanihan’s whole-of-government approach, should have served a minimum of nine years in the BASULTA area (therefore, someone who was in active service, not a retired officer who might exploit his political ambitions), and should have a term limited to only three years. The DILG secretary should lead an oversight committee on the performance of the military governor. This, his paper makes clear, was not tantamount to martial law. It was to emphasize the objective of governance, not punitive action.

The paper, submitted for a master’s degree in military studies in 2012, could not have predicted the declaration of martial law for the entire Mindanao in the wake of the Marawi siege five years later. President Duterte extended martial law until the end of 2019. Since the siege, there has been minimal progress in the rehabilitation of Marawi. The president has not fulfilled his promise of rebuilding the Islamic city from the ruins of the battle.

The idea of starting from scratch under a new form of leadership rather than putting the blanket of martial law over the entire region—a political move that could trigger trauma from the past—could well set a precedent in Muslim Mindanao. It would take much more than a larger vision from the staff of the armed forces: it would need a commander in chief with a moral and decisive sense of duty to lift Mindanao out of its deep hole.

How would the entrenched political Tausug family in Sulu take it if a military governor were to be installed in the island province? Would it provoke violence from warlords that had worn two masks: one ascribing to a semblance of democratic rules and the other holding on to a feudal culture through weapons and money?

In an ideal setup, a combination of a municipality delivering the seeds of good governance and a military avatar of civil-military operations could make stability, if not peace, attainable. As it stands, it is the military pushing local leaders to perform, in their stead carrying out field operations as well as serving the needs of a civilian population, thereby producing a de facto, quasi governance. Sulu has a long way to go to attain peace. Violence cannot bring back the past, when Sulu was an island paradise. Even elected leaders are unable to provide the people with necessary services. If the military is to be the hero in this field, it will have to carry out a mission worthy of a soldier.

Conclusion

The sociopolitical circumstances that led to Marawi’s devastation in 2017—more than 40 years after the Sulu uprising of 1974—were widely dissimilar in context from Sulu’s, as were the geographical distance and ethnic differences between the two. But in seeking to rise from the ruins, Marawi may well draw lessons from the aftermath of Sulu, the long dark shadow it has cast over the decades, an event already buried in history.

The history after the 1974 uprising in Sulu contains several lessons for considering possible policy coalitions for reform in conflict-ridden areas. First, we should recognize that local governments run by politicians who are isolated from local society failed to provide basic public services to the people. Second, despite this challenge, there were private initiatives to make a difference in promoting the local agro-process industry or providing public services such as water. These initiatives can be an asset to enable reform at a broader scale or in the long run.

Accepted: December 15, 2020

Acknowledgments

Apart the people I interviewed in and about Sulu for this paper, I wish to thank Takagi Yusuke and Patricio Abinales for their scholarly guidance.

References

Dañguilan-Vitug, Marites; and Yabes, Criselda. 1998. Jalan-Jalan: A Journey through EAGA. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing.

Gutierrez, Eric. 2003. From Ilaga to Abu Sayyaf: New Entrepreneurs in Violence and Their Impact on Local Politics in Mindanao. Philippine Political Science Journal 24(47): 145–178.

―. 1995. Sulu: In the Battlefields of the Warlords. In Boss: 5 Case Studies of Local Politics in the Philippines, edited by Jose F. Lacaba, pp. 127–167. Pasig City: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Lara Jr., Francisco J. 2014. Insurgents, Clans, and States: Political Legitimacy and Resurgent Conflict in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Lara Jr., Francisco J.; and Schoofs, Steven, eds. 2016. Out of the Shadows: Violent Conflict and the Real Economy of Mindanao. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Mangoroban, Lt. Col. Antonio. 2012. Military Governorship as a Solution to the Insurgency Problem in Southern Philippines. Master’s thesis, United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico.

Quemado, Col. Romulo. 2017. The Bridging Leadership Approach in Civil-Military Relations. Presentation to the Command and General Staff College, Camp Aguinaldo AFP Headquarters, Quezon City.

Yabes, Criselda. 2018. Jesse Robredo: His Story. Quezon City: Jesse Robredo Foundation.

―. 2014. A Strike against Abu Sayyaf. Asia Sentinel News, February 20. https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/strike-against-abu-sayyaf/, accessed January 29, 2021.

―. 2012a. Coffee and Hope in Violence-Wracked Sulu. Asia Sentinel News, April 26. https://www.asiasentinel.com/p/coffee-and-hope-in-violence-wracked-sulu, accessed May 27, 2021.

―. 2012b. Where the World Begins. Esquire, October.

―. 2011. Peace Warriors: On the Trail with Filipino Soldiers. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing.


1) Eric Gutierrez in his other article recognizes a “new concept of national security . . . in the military circle,” which encouraged a marine colonel, Ponciano Millena, to help the handicrafts industry in Sulu (Gutierrez 1995, 142).

2) Then President Fidel Ramos, reducing political tensions with Malaysia and Indonesia, initiated a revival of the old trade and commercial routes.

3) This came during the early term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who had initiated peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as a result of the “All-Out War” on the border of Maguindanao and Lanao, carried out by her predecessor, Joseph Estrada (whom she had replaced in a popular coup).

4) The author spent about two years traveling to military camps in Sulu, Lanao, and Maguindanao. The brigades had in their command the battalion commanders, who were the front liners. The brigades, in turn, fell under the divisions. The military had a total of 10 divisions, 4 of which were in Mindanao.

5) The two other provinces in the ARMM are Lanao del Sur, whose capital is Marawi; and Maguindanao, where 53 media workers were killed in 2009 (the Ampatuan Massacre) and 44 police commandos were killed in 2015 (The Fallen 44). The ARMM provinces are composed of different Muslim ethnic groups. Muslim scholars have so far refused to admit that the ethnic differences have caused strife among the groups, which makes it difficult to attain peace.

6) The Asian Institute of Management spearheaded the Bridging Leadership program, where over the years key senior officers have attained their academic degrees. Likewise, the private sector helped craft the Army Transformation Roadmap, which began in 2010; it called for three phases over 18 years, to match the three six-year periods of a presidential term, with a long view of developing a respectable army “loved by the people.”

7) The CRT modules came with guidance, financial and otherwise, from the Asia Foundation.

8) Bayanihan is a sociological concept of a Filipino community whose members help each other; its symbol is of people carrying a typical native hut for a neighbor’s home. Despite the military’s shift to a bayanihan outlook, however, the headquarters remain focused on body counts and guerrilla fronts destroyed as a barometer for their successes in the field.

9) The author spent time in the replica of the Astana in December 2013 and April 2014.

10) Brigade commanders may or may not have the prerogative to choose their battalion commanders. Out in the field, especially in provinces dominated by warlords with direct connections to the national government, local leaders exercise their preferences; the same goes for members of the board of senior officers who vet promotions.

11) The author’s interview with Faustino took place in May 2017, around the time when the Marawi siege broke out. Faustino was one of the key battalion commanders featured in Peace Warriors when he was in Sulu and Lanao.

12) The author has known Ms. Alli since 2012. Interviews with her as well as Muddazer Hailanie of the Kankitap Cooperative in Patikul were carried out in May 2017, in Jolo.

13) This award came less than six months after Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City was elected president. DILG instituted the “seal” during the term of the late Robredo, to replicate his style of governance when he was mayor of Naga City, breaking with traditional politics to give way to a citizens’ charter.

14) The Sulu political dynasty led by Sakur Tan has been around since the early 1990s with the alleged tacit support of the military trying to control the balance of power but which inevitably gives rise to a warlord. Such a modus vivendi—ostensibly intended to ensure an alliance against the insurgency—does not work out in the long run.

15) The military’s area command in Mindanao is divided into Eastern Mindanao (the areas of Davao, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Agusan, Surigao) and Western Command (the areas of Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao). Author’s interview with Valencia, March 2017.

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Carl Milos R. Bulilan

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

From Governing to Selling Tourism: Changing Role of Local Government in the Tourism Development of Bohol, Philippines

Carl Milos R. Bulilan*

*Holy Name University, Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Philippines
e-mail: cmbulilan[at]hnu.edu.ph

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_273

Tourism is a major global industry. Governments in developing countries have developed tourism as a means for economic progress. The role of the government is crucial in making tourism beneficial for local people. The traditional functions of government involve crafting legislation and regulating tourist activities in local destinations. The business and marketing aspects of tourism are often entrusted to the private sector. Today, local governments are directly involved in the tourism business. The traditional functions of governments have expanded into managing and marketing touristic enterprises and forming partnerships with private and government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and host communities. This study aims to examine how local government units (LGUs) perform both political and entrepreneurial functions in tourism development. In particular, it explores the case of the province of Bohol—a model for tourism development in the Philippines. The Bohol LGU demonstrates how the local government can integrate governance, coordination, and doing business through tourism. This case study attempts to offer useful insights on formulating policies in local tourism development.

Keywords: governance, local tourism, tourism development, tourism business, public-private partnership, policy making, local politics

Introduction

Tourism has become one of the biggest global industries (Hitchcock et al. 1993; McIntosh and Goeldner 1986; United Nations Steering Committee on Tourism for Development 2011; Vanhove 1997; UNWTO 2015). As a top worldwide export category, it has surpassed automotive products and food (UNWTO 2017, 6). Tourism activities affect the economic, social, political, and environmental components of host countries and communities more than traditional industries do (Crick 1989; Eadington and Smith 1992; Long 1992; Murphy 1985). Management plays a crucial role in the way tourism contributes to local economic, social, and environmental sustainability (Edgell et al. 2008; Jamal and Getz 1995). Private businesses carry out the task of managing tourism and controlling the development of destinations. Multinational corporations operate hotels, resorts, tours, and transport services with minimal government intervention.

Entrepreneurial local government units (LGUs) have become a trend in the Philippines. Aser Javier (2002) argues that public entrepreneurship among LGUs has become a strategy to decentralize the political process. This new movement is contextualized within the Philippine Local Government Code of 1991, which empowers LGUs to engage actively in corporate activities to increase their local revenue contributions (RA 7160). This new trend raises important questions on the role of the government in tourism development (Philippine Statistics Authority 2017). It raises the question of how LGUs can simultaneously carry out governance and do business. With their political advantage, are LGUs more effective than their private counterparts in managing tourism and delivering its benefits to communities?

Using the case of the tourism industry in Bohol, this study examines how LGUs perform both political and entrepreneurial functions in tourism development. First, this study examines how LGUs exercise their traditional political roles and leadership in developing tourism in the province. Second, it presents the municipality of Danao, Bohol, as a model of how traditional governance and doing business can work together in tourism. This study highlights how partnerships, collaborative actions, and leadership enable the growth of an inclusive tourism development.

This study employs qualitative case study methods. In gathering data, I used in-depth interviews with key informants and focus group discussions. Informants were selected through purposive sampling based on their knowledge of the topic and their authority regarding the issues at hand. Informants included provincial development and provincial tourism office heads, the municipal mayor, municipal development and tourism staff, local people, and tour operators. Gathering of data and fieldwork were conducted within a year. To triangulate data gathered from the interviews, I also used primary and secondary documents and literature. I gathered official documents from the provincial and municipal offices, including statistics, legislative papers, development plans, accounting and financial reports, and local narratives written by local people. Official data from government agencies were also analyzed.

I Overview of Tourism in Bohol

The province of Bohol lies in the Visayan archipelago in the Philippines. It is the 10th-largest island in the country, with a land area of 4,821 square kilometers. By January 2018, it had a population of 1,255,128 people scattered among its 47 municipalities and the city of Tagbilaran (Philippine Statistics Authority 2018). From being one of the poorest provinces, Bohol has become a first-class province (income class) and one of the most dynamic in the country. From being a hotbed of political insurgency, it has become a leading tourist destination. Tourism has become one of the socioeconomic drivers in the province, with growing tourist arrivals and tourism-related businesses.

Bohol is one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. With the economic benefits that accompany the arrival of visitors, tourism has become one of the biggest industries in the province. It is considered a means for alleviating poverty, generating employment, and developing social infrastructures.

The province’s tourist resources are based on its natural features, cultural practices, and heritage structures. Its natural features include white beaches, marine life, forests, animals, waterfalls and rivers, hills and mountains, caves, and “adventure parks.” Musical performances and native dances, religious and historical festivals, and local handicrafts comprise its cultural attractions. Closely connected with Boholano culture and history are the province’s heritage structures.

This section provides a general background of Bohol tourism. First, it presents a statistical overview of the touristic movement. Second, it examines both nature- and culture-based tourist resources in the province. Finally, it surveys Bohol’s public and private facilities that make travel convenient and safe. This overview demonstrates how the local habitat, history, heritage, and hospitality have become the main resources for tourism and how government support facilitates the growth of the industry.

I-1 Tourist Arrivals

The number of tourists continues to grow in Bohol. According to a report shared by the Bohol Tourism Office (BTO) from the Department of Tourism Region VII (2016), in November 2016 there were 820,640 tourist arrivals in the province. This number was 36.26 percent higher than the year before, with an average annual growth of 28.5 percent over the past three years. After the great Bohol earthquake in 2013, tourists continued to visit despite fears of another earthquake and the damage to infrastructure and tourism facilities.

Tourists in Bohol are both local and foreign. In 2016 the BTO identified 585,316 (71.32 percent of the total number of tourists that year) as local tourists, 233,736 (28.48 percent) as foreign nationals, and 1,588 (0.19 percent) as overseas Filipinos. Among the foreign tourists, the largest number came from China (59,289), followed by Korea (39,229), the United States (20,317), and France (11,690). A significant number of tourists came also from Japan, Germany, and Taiwan. The BTO and the Department of Tourism (DOT) projected 1,226,574 tourists in the province in 2012 and the operation of the new airport in Panglao Island by 2018. Airlines began operating at the airport in 2019, with flights being limited to domestic destinations for the moment. Tagbilaran Airport was closed when Bohol-Panglao International Airport began to operate.

Among the tourist destinations in Bohol, Panglao Island had the largest number of visitors. From January to November 2016, a total of 366,174 tourists visited the island municipality. The provincial capital, Tagbilaran City, had 105,885 visitors, followed by Dauis, which had 25,914. Since most of the tourist facilities (such as the airport and pier) and tourist accommodations (such as hotels and resorts) are in these areas, it is not surprising that the largest numbers of tourists are found in these municipalities. Tourists visit destinations in other municipalities for sightseeing and other activities, without staying there overnight.

I-2 Touristic Products and Activities

Nature-Based Tourism

The natural environment is one of the main features of the tourism industry (Fennell 2008; Holden 2008; Hunter and Green 1995; Krippendorf 1982). It is “crucial to the attractiveness of almost all travel destinations and recreation areas . . . provide an important ‘backdrop’ to commercial service areas and recreation sites, or at least contribute to all tourist locations” (Farrell and Runyan 1991, 26). “Nature-based tourism” refers to

tourism in natural settings (e.g., adventure tourism), tourism that focuses on specific elements of the natural environment (e.g., safari and wildlife tourism, nature tourism, marine tourism), and tourism that is developed in order to conserve or protect natural areas (e.g., ecotourism, national parks). (Hall and Boyd 2005, 3)

The Bohol provincial government has enumerated the natural assets that have been developed as tourist attractions (see Table 1).

 

Table 1 Nature-Based Tourism Resources in Bohol

seas1002_bulilan_table1

Source: Based on data from Province of Bohol and German Development Service (2010, 7).

 

One advantage of traveling around Bohol is the close proximity of tourist sites. For example, in one day tourists can visit the Chocolate Hills, Man-made Forest, Loboc River, Panglao beaches, Hinagdanan Cave, and Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape (as a side trip). These spots are accessible through a well-cemented/asphalt 120-kilometer national highway. Located in the mid-southwestern part of the province, the Tarsier Sanctuary and Mag-Aso Falls in the towns of Corella and Antequera can be covered in a single trip. The Abatan River and mangrove plantations in the towns of Cortes and Maribojoc are two neighboring areas.

White beaches in the town of Anda and the mangrove plantation in the town of Candijay lie in the eastern part of Bohol. The islands of Pamilacan and Balicasag are located 15 kilometers from each other on the Bohol Sea and are accessible by boat from Panglao and Baclayon ports. However, lying in the Cebu Strait, north of Bohol, Banacon Island’s mangrove forest is a little farther from the rest of Bohol’s tourist attractions.

Culture-Based Tourism

Culture is “a deeply embedded aspect of tourism” (George et al. 2009, 5). Traditional practices and customs of host communities have become tourist attractions. In Bohol, cultural traditions are evident in their physical and intangible forms. Physical and artistic expressions include old religious buildings, Spanish structures, ancestral houses, music, traditional dances, religious and historical festivals, handicrafts, and delicacies. Aside from these manifestations, Boholanos are known for their tradition of hospitality and friendliness toward visitors. The provincial government of Bohol enumerates specific cultural and historical assets that are of touristic value (see Table 2).

 

Table 2 Culture-Based Tourism Resources in Bohol

seas1002_bulilan_table2

Source: Based on data from Province of Bohol and German Development Service (2010, 7).

 

Old Spanish-period structures are included in tourist routes. These include stone churches dating back to the early Spanish colonization of Bohol. Almost each of the province’s 47 municipalities has its own old church strategically built within the town center plaza, where the municipal government building is also located. These church buildings with bell towers mostly have baroque designs made of coral brick and hardwood.

Some of Bohol’s heritage structures were destroyed by fire or natural disasters. The great Bohol earthquake of 2013 destroyed many historic buildings, including the churches of Loon and Loboc towns. Some have been totally restored or are undergoing restoration. Modern reconstruction also caused the degradation of some of these churches. Other heritage structures include ancient watchtowers and century-old houses that tourists can visit.

Aside from ancient buildings, Bohol is known also for its musical traditions. Talented Boholanos have caught the attention of tourists and international musicians. One of the best-known musical groups in the province is the Loboc Children’s Choir. The choir is composed of elementary and high school students from the town of Loboc carefully selected by their teachers. The group has won several international competitions, including first place at the “Europe and Its Songs” international choir festival in Barcelona in 2003 and first place at the Concorso Internazionale Di Canto Corale “Seghizzi” held in Italy in 2017. Tourists can experience Boholano musicality on a Loboc river cruise, which culminates with musical presentations.

Another occasion on which tourists can experience Boholano cultural creativity is during the monthlong Sandugo festival held every July in Tagbilaran City. The celebration commemorates the blood compact between the Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and the native Rajah Sikatuna in 1565 marking the historic peace pact and the opening of the province to the world. The celebration starts on July 1 and wraps up with a street dancing competition on the third or fourth Sunday of the month. This is the major tourist attraction of the city of Tagbilaran.

Bohol is known for its religious festivals and parades, especially its grand fiesta celebrations. Dating back to the Spanish period, pista is a community (town, barangay, sitio) celebration of thanksgiving in honor of the local patron saint. Cultural presentations are held for at least two days. Families prepare food not only for their relatives and friends but for anybody who comes into their homes. Food is offered all day. During the pista season (especially in the month of May) tourists can experience a festive atmosphere while witnessing traditional dances and musical presentations, often in public places.

Bohol’s traditional handicrafts are produced for touristic consumption as well as for export. Products of loom weaving in the towns of Tubigon, Inabanga, Albur, and Buenavista, basket weaving in Antequera, and pottery making in Albur and Calape can be purchased in souvenir shops in tourist destinations as well as city malls. Tourists can also taste and take home traditional Boholano sweets, including calamay (made of glutinous rice powder, coconut milk, brown sugar, and peanuts) from Albur and Jagna, and peanut kisses and other locally baked pastries.

I-3 Tourist Facilities and Services

By Air, by Sea, and by Land

The island of Bohol can be reached by either airplane or boat. Bohol has one airport, Bohol-Panglao International Airport. The airport project was sponsored by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. At present, there are seven direct flights connecting Bohol and Manila. Three main airline companies offer services on this route: Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and AirAsia. The one-way fare is around PHP3,500 (around US$67). On June 22, 2017, direct international flights began between Seoul-Incheon and Tagbilaran Airport.

An alternative way of getting to Bohol is by ship. There are at least four major seaports in Bohol: Tagbilaran, Tubigon, Jagna, and Ubay. There is no direct sea route between Manila and Tagbilaran. However, since air travel is inexpensive and more convenient than sea travel, people prefer to take a flight from Manila. From Cebu, it is most convenient to sail into the ports of Tubigon and Tagbilaran because of their proximity and the frequency of ferries. On the Cebu–Tagbilaran route, slow ferries cost around PHP210 (US$4) and fast ferries around PHP350 (US$7). The Cebu–Tubigon route is shorter and cheaper. Pump boats also ply between Cebu and the towns of Getafe and Inabanga. Traveling within Bohol is not a problem. Public land transportation is affordable. This includes open-air buses, air-conditioned vans, jeepneys, cabs, tricycles, and habal-habal (transport motorbikes). Tourists can also rent cars and motorcycles.

Accommodations and Other Services

Bohol has luxury hotels and resorts, tourist inns, pension houses, travel lodges, and homestays. In 2015 (the latest year for which data is available), the Bohol Tourism Office counted 360 accommodation establishments in the province, with a total of 6,370 rooms (Province of Bohol 2015, 24). This number is far higher than the 2,000 rooms counted in 2010 (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 8). These accommodations are spread throughout the province, especially in Tagbilaran City, Panglao Island, and Baclayon. With its fine white beaches and proximity to the capital city, Panglao Island has the greatest number of resorts and spas, including a five-star hotel and exclusive resorts.

There are 15 BTO-accredited local travel agencies in Bohol. For those who like shopping, Bohol has shopping malls and department stores. The three main shopping malls are Bohol Quality Mall, Island City Mall, and Alturas Malls. Withdrawing cash is convenient, with 49 banking units and ATMs scattered around the city and municipalities (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 8). Communications are convenient, with telecommunications companies providing mobile and Internet services.

II Governing Bohol Tourism

As mentioned earlier, tourism is a major industry in Bohol. Concerned with reducing the province’s poverty incidence, the provincial government considers tourism as one of the means to achieve economic growth. Adopting the concepts and strategies of pro-poor tourism, local government officials and planners look to tourism to uplift the socioeconomic condition of poor local communities through employment, sharing of income, and growth of local entrepreneurship while at the same time conserving the province’s natural resources (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 1). To achieve these goals, it is crucial for the local government to build institutions and craft legislation.

II-1 Institutionalizing Tourism

Establishing institutions for nature-based tourism strengthened Bohol’s tourism development. With the aim of developing a general framework for tourism development, a memorandum of agreement was signed between the Soil and Water Conservation Foundation and the provincial government of Bohol in 2005. Through the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO), the Bohol Environment Management Office (BEMO), and the BTO, preparatory steps were taken for the formulation of the Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism Framework Plan of Bohol as mandated under the Bohol Environment Code of 1998.

The partnership project involved national agencies, particularly the DOT and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). European development agencies assisted by providing technical and financial support. These agencies included the German Development Service (DED) and Soil and Water Conservation Foundation (SWCF) for technical support; InWEnt for financial assistance; and the UNDP-GEF-SGF Program and the European Union, both through SWCF (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 2).

To provide technical assistance during the formulation of the tourism framework plan, the provincial government of Bohol established a multi-sectoral Ecotourism Technical Working Group. This was composed of regional and provincial government agencies—such as the DENR, DOT, BEMO, PPDO, and BTO—and nongovernmental organizations. Organizers provided modular training for LGUs, NGOs, local communities, academe, and the private sector from March to November 2005. The training focused on topics such as ecotourism and biodiversity, ecotourism product development, marketing and promotion, and monitoring and evaluation (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 3).

The workshop produced the Bohol Ecotourism Club, composed of representatives from local governments, NGOs, local communities, and the private sector. Serving as a “prime mover” and “watchdog” for ecotourism activities in the province, the body ensures the inclusion and implementation of ecotourism principles in municipal tourism development projects. It also seeks to educate the public on ecotourism and to recommend acceptable ethical standards on tourism development projects in Bohol. One of the organization’s roles is to be a “communities’ mentor” to guide people to see alternative income-earning opportunities through tourism (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 3).

The project came to be known as the Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism Framework Plan of Bohol 2006–2015. It served as a bible for investors, people in the tourism business sector, municipal executives, planners, and NGOs in the province for their tourism development and biodiversity conservation projects. Guidelines included principles, regulations, standards, best practices, and ethics for tourism activities that the government considered to be in line with its vision.

Specialized agencies composed of national, provincial, and local government units, NGOs, and organizations from the private sector are in place to promote and facilitate the development of tourism in the province. One is the Provincial Tourism Council. The council was originally composed of more than 50 members—60 percent from the private sector and 40 percent from the government. Before this body was created, a Committee on Tourism was an integral part of the Sanguniang Panlalawigan (provincial council). During that time there was an independent Provincial Investment Office, which had a section for the tourism sector until 1997.

Intending to run for mayor, the Committee on Tourism chairperson of the Sanguniang Panlalawigan decided to turn over the responsibilities of the committee to the Provincial Investment Office. In 2007 the tourism section of the investment office became a separate provincial government entity. This was when the tourism industry started to grow, and the former office was no longer adequate to accommodate the growing needs of the industry. Now, the Bohol Tourism Office (formerly the Provincial Tourism Office) functions as the secretariat of the Provincial Tourism Council.

Since all tourist sites are under the administration of LGUs, the provincial government cannot develop tourist attractions on its own. However, it oversees the overall tourism development activities in the province and provides for the needs of LGUs. The BTO has become the advice-giving and coordinating body of the province for tourism development. The BTO has specific responsibilities. First, it helps LGUs and the private sector in developing their own tourist sites. It also orients planners regarding policies and other issues concerning tourism in the province. It accepts tourism project proposals from LGUs and provides advice and suggestions concerning the viability and marketability of such projects. Second, being the marketing arm of the provincial government, the office employs forms of communication such as posters, brochures, and videos to promote Bohol tourism to the world. Seeing the potential of proposed tourism projects, the office also provides clients for local tourism businesses.

Third, the BTO organizes basic skills training for tourism and hospitality services. In coordination with other government agencies, such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the office organizes seminars and workshops for LGUs, community organizations, and other tourism practitioners to enhance their services. Training includes basic culinary arts, customer service, tourist guiding, and operation of cottages and accommodations. The office also coordinates closely with other government agencies like the DOT for professional and financial resources, especially in organizing seminars, and the DENR on issues concerning protected areas that are now being utilized as tourist attractions.

The Provincial Tourism Council and the BTO have limited power. Although these institutions are under the Office of the Provincial Governor, they cannot take decisions regarding implementation of policies, nor can they regulate tourist activities. Officers are elected, but members meet regularly only twice a year. Core group members meet regularly, and in special cases they discuss pressing issues.

Another government agency that is involved in the province’s tourism industry is the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) under the DENR. The body is composed of barangay captains (village chiefs) and municipal mayors of localities enclosed within protected areas. One-fourth of the entire island of Bohol (75,766 hectares) consists of protected areas (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 11–12). Many of these have become tourist sites, including the Chocolate Hills, Man-made Forest in Bilar, Loboc Watershed, Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, and 15 marine sanctuaries within the seas of Panglao, Dauis, and Baclayon.

As the governing body for deciding on matters related to policy and the administration of protected areas, the PAMB reviews project proposals and tourist activities to check that they comply with the set standards for ecological conservation. The body also decides on budget allocations (Province of Bohol and German Development Service 2010, 15). Coordinating closely with the BTO, the PAMB discusses with development planners on issues related to developing tourist sites in protected natural environments.

II-2 Enacting Tourism

Aside from institutionalizing tourism, the Bohol provincial government also enacts policies and environmental ordinances for tourism development. This legislation aims to ensure the protection of natural and cultural resources in order to help the tourism industry. Such ordinances are put in place in response to national legislations (e.g., Protected Areas System in the Philippines [RA 7586 or NIPAS Act of 1992]) that promote ecological conservation and ecotourism. Bohol pioneered a provincial legislation, the Bohol Environmental Code of 1998, to protect the natural environment, which has become a major component of its tourism industry. This code has become a model for other local governments in the country.

In 2007 the Act to Declare the Province of Bohol as an Eco-cultural Tourism Zone (RA 9446) was promulgated. This law mandates the DOT, the provincial government, and the city of Tagbilaran to coordinate closely in developing and promoting tourism in the province. Coordination involves formulating development plans, protecting natural and cultural resources, consolidating political powers, providing technical and material assistance, and partnering with private and nongovernmental agencies. The law produced the Bohol Tourism Master Plan, which “would be a unified direction of the province to further harness and sustain its vast tourism potential” (Province of Bohol 2007, 1). This law was further strengthened by the promulgation of the Tourism Act of 2009 (RA 9593).

Since 1995 there have been at least 165 provincial ordinances, resolutions, and policies related to tourism development. Many of these concern coordination among different LGUs, particularly with municipal mayors, NGOs, and private agencies. These ordinances urge and encourage partnerships among stakeholders in developing and governing tourist activities. In 2017 the province prepared the Bohol Surprise Tours program, which highlighted 12 new local ecotourism destinations. This program showcases the livelihood activities of host communities as tourist sites. The same year, the province—along with the DOT, the United States Agency for International Development, and private sector representatives—launched the province’s new branding: “Behold Bohol.” This branding aimed to project the revival of Bohol after the 2013 earthquake.

Developing Bohol tourism is a collaborative effort between the provincial government and municipalities. Through the BTO, the provincial government provides municipalities with technical assistance. Technical support includes training of local tourism officers and staff, advertising and packaging of products, and mapping of possible tourism resources. The provincial government also helps in constructing roads leading to tourist destinations. Though the provincial governor heads the entire province, the municipal mayors still have the power to decide the direction of local tourism development. In this sense, the municipalities have greater influence than the provincial government. However, the provincial government provides the general framework and legislative mechanisms to encourage the growth of tourism in municipalities.

After the implementation of the Bohol Tourism Master Plan, LGUs at the municipal level started to develop their own tourism programs and activities. Since LGUs administer most of the tourist sites, they have control over these areas in terms of management. LGUs either coordinate with private agencies to provide environments conducive to tourism, or they develop and manage touristic enterprises by themselves.

Loboc municipality provides an example of collaborative tourism. The town is known for its river cruise. The tourism project is a product of a partnership among the LGU, donor agencies, private investors, and local community organizations. The LGU provided the necessary facilities around the tourism complex, including building the river port for boats and floating restaurants, developing the tourism office and terminal, and providing access and a huge parking area. Private businesses manage the cruise, the shops, and the floating restaurants. Local community organizations participate through musical and cultural performances held along the riverside. Foreign government donors sponsor the lighting in the river’s vicinity.

The Abatan river tour is an example of an exclusively LGU-managed tourism enterprise. The project involves the four neighboring municipalities of Cortes, Maribojoc, Balilihan, and Catigbian. The tour features a cruise through the mangrove forest along the river connecting these municipalities. It includes a visit to waterfalls and local villages, and cultural presentations at the Tourism Center. The coastal municipalities of Panglao, Dauis, and Baclayon have also initiated a similar partnership, called Padayon. The three towns are located within the Bohol Marine Triangle, where there are five major marine ecosystems (see Green et al. 2002, 48). This collaborative project aims at environmental preservation for tourism development.

II-3 Tourism Leadership

Leadership plays an important role in the growth of tourism. The tourism industry of Bohol would not be possible without the leadership of local politicians. Prominent local figures helped bring Bohol tourism to where it is now. The three main personalities were Rene Relampagos, Erico Aumentado, and Edgardo Chatto. With political will and shared vision, these leaders were able to continue what their predecessors had started, despite their differences in political affiliation.

The laying of the groundwork for tourism development in Bohol can be attributed to Relampagos. He has served as a Provincial Board member (1989–92), vice governor (1992–95; 2019–), governor (1995–2001), and member of the House of Representatives (2010–19). During Relampagos’s term as governor, the Bohol Environmental Code (Province of Bohol 1998) was promulgated, which created the BEMO. The code is considered to be the first of its kind in the Philippines and became a model for other provinces in the country. This legislation became the ground on which tourism policies and guidelines sprouted.

During Relampagos’s term as governor, concerns over environmental protection and management were brought to the fore. These gained primary importance in policy making and in formulating development programs for the province. Care for the environment became the starting point for Bohol to engage in ecotourism as a model for tourism development. During Relampagos’s term, the province collaborated with various international and national government agencies, NGOs, and local communities.

What Relampagos prepared, Aumentado cultivated. Aumentado defeated Relampagos in the 2001 gubernatorial race. He started as a member of the Provincial Board (1967–86), then became the vice governor (1988–92), a congressman (1992–2001; 2010–12), and the governor of Bohol (2001–10). In 2001 Bohol was considered one of the poorest provinces in the country. Aumentado saw the potential in tourism as a means of poverty reduction. During his term he placed Bohol on the tourism map, and eventually the province emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

Aumentado continued what his predecessor had started, establishing ties and crafting development plans. Through collaborative work among local and national government agencies and NGOs, Aumentado’s administration produced the Biodiversity Conservation and Ecotourism Framework Plan of Bohol 2006–2015. The plan came about as a response to Executive Order No. 111 (EO 111) (Estrada 1999), which laid the guidelines for ecotourism in the country. The framework became the basis for development projects and activities in the province. During Aumentado’s administration the Bohol Arts and Heritage Code (Province of Bohol 2008) was also promulgated. This code provided the legal basis for the promotion and development of culture-based tourism.

Aside from establishing legislative and institutional mechanisms, Aumentado improved the basic infrastructure of the province. He fixed the circumferential road (the Carlos P. Garcia Circumferential Road) and the minor roads connecting the municipalities, which made transport and access to tourist destinations faster and more convenient. Pacifying the Communist insurgency in Bohol was also considered a great achievement of the former governor. He died in December 2012.

A lawyer by profession, Chatto has served as a member of the Provincial Board (1980–86), mayor (1988–95), vice governor (1995–2001), congressman (2001–10; 2019–), and governor (2010–19). The greatest challenge Chatto faced as governor was the 2013 earthquake. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake left the province with a high number of casualties and heavily damaged roads, bridges, houses, and buildings. Tourist sites and cultural structures, including the Chocolate Hills complex and many of the century-old heritage churches, were heavily damaged.

Through the help of international agencies, Chatto was able to rehabilitate the province. The Behold Bohol project highlights how Bohol reemerged as a tourist destination after the tragic earthquake. During Chatto’s administration, Panglao-Bohol International Airport was also inaugurated. Though Chatto belongs to the opposition party, his support for the Duterte administration gives him a political advantage in pursuing his plans and projects.

III Selling Tourism: The Case of the Local Government of Danao

The town of Danao is in the central part of Bohol. It is located around 66 kilometers (the fastest route) northeast of Tagbilaran City and can be reached by car in around two hours. The town has 17 barangays and had a population of 17,890 in 2015, with 3,364 households. It has an average income of PHP90 million and in 2016 had an Internal Revenue Allocation amounting to around PHP75,526,524. The main source of livelihood in Danao is basic farming. With the LGU-run tourism development, Danao rose from being a sixth-class municipality in 1999 to a fourth-class municipality and ranks first in Bohol and the region in income generation efficiency.

III-1 From Insurgency to Hospitality

Before tourism was developed in Danao, the town was known for its political insurgencies and poverty. The province of Bohol was an insurgent hotbed from 2000 until it was declared insurgent free in March 2010 (Torres 2011, 1). Several attacks and gunfights took place in the province, including raids of government and business centers that were related to insurgent groups. The extreme poverty in the area, especially in farming communities, formed a seedbed for ideology-based conflict. This was the experience of people for decades, although this phenomenon was not something new for Danao. Historically, the town was the headquarters of the group of Fernando Dagohoy, the leader of the longest revolution in Philippine history (1744–1829).

Danao was known also for its poor, malnourished, and low-educated population. In 2003 it was considered the poorest municipality of Bohol and one of the poorest in the country, with a score of 57.2 on the poverty index (National Statistical Coordination Board 2009). Some people survived on small-scale traditional farming and charcoal making. Others moved away to work as domestic help and laborers, undermining family life. With these social and economic conditions, Danao became a pilot area for national government assistance. Government agencies started to introduce livelihood projects among the local people. However, local communities found the assistance insufficient, and the help made people more dependent on government support rather than motivating them to exert the effort to improve their livelihoods.

Today, the local government of Danao is noted for its tourism enterprises. The LGU-run tourism program came to be known as E.A.T. Danao (Eco, Educational, Extreme Adventure Tour). The program’s activities take place at Danao Adventure Park, around 7 kilometers from the town center. The landscape includes cliffs, caves, rivers, rock formations, and century-old trees. These natural features provide a unique venue for outdoor adventure activities, including trekking, kayaking, caving, cliff plunging, zip-lining, rappelling, and root climbing. Visitors can also enjoy the “Sea of Clouds,” a formation of fog and clouds suspended near the tops of neighboring mountains in the early morning.

Then Municipal Mayor Jose Cepedoza floated the idea of having a tourism enterprise in 2001. The idea was realized through his successor, Mayor Louis Thomas Gonzaga, and led to the opening of the park in 2006. Informants said that the concept of an adventure park came about after the mayor experienced AJ Hackett Bungy Jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand. The country offers several adventure activities, particularly on its mountainous terrain. The mayor shared the plan with his advisers and formed a team to conduct a feasibility study. After the death of Mayor Gonzaga in 2016, his mother, Natividad, took office and is continuing the project.

Danao Adventure Park is a product of collaboration and partnerships among stakeholders. The tourist activities started with caving and mountain trekking, until groups of tourists saw the potential of the place. River-based activities were added later. Danao LGU started to connect with adventure enthusiasts, government agencies, and tour businesses for support. Danao’s fame spread, and government agencies—including the DOT and DENR—came to acknowledge the potential of the park.

The DENR helped Danao with resource inventory. The DOT assisted the LGU with product development and marketing. The Department of Trade and Industry helped with the making of souvenir items, while the TESDA helped with the training of local personnel in tourist services. Tour businesses in Bohol and private individuals also helped. Tour agents, Web bloggers, and adventure enthusiasts assisted with the product test run, product development, and marketing. The World Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines also assisted.

The development of Danao tourism is a result of local participation. Local people were involved in the planning and implementation of the project. During the initial stages, they worked together with private agencies and individuals. LGU employees and officials contributed extra hours of work without pay. Barangay officials encouraged their communities to do voluntary work. Civil society organizations helped on the ground without pay. Volunteers helped with clearing the areas where the adventure park would be established, landscaping, and marketing adventure tours. They also started to act as tour guides (Jensen 2010). Local leaders learned through feedback from visitors and tourists how to improve the place and services. This spirit of cooperation led to a sense of community ownership among the local people.

III-2 Tourism Benefiting Local People

The main sources of income from tourism activities in Danao include revenues from individual entrance and parking, adventure activities, and accommodation services. At the time of this study, entrance fees were around PHP40 and parking fees PHP10–30. Adventure activities cost around PHP350 per person, aside from the more expensive “Plunge,” which costs PHP700. Danao Adventure Park has accommodations ranging from PHP600 to PHP1,000 per night. The park also offers adventure packages, which cost PHP1,500–3,500 per person and may include food and accommodations.

LGU-run tourism was able to contribute to the economic and social well-being of the local people. It took two years for Danao to profit from its LGU-run tourism industry. Based on municipal records provided by the Danao LGU, in 2009 Danao had an income of around PHP4.8 million from tourism-related enterprises. The figure grew to PHP21.25 million in 2012. In 2010 the LGU started to give back to the local people what had been gained through their cooperation. However, after the great earthquake hit Bohol in October 2013, Danao experienced a decrease in income due to the low number of tourists. The LGU also had to spend huge amounts on repairing tourist facilities. In 2014 the number of tourists plunged to 7,261 from 25,531 the preceding year. Danao is slowly regaining its visitors. From January to October 2017, there were 23,042 tourist arrivals.

Tourism has provided alternative means of livelihood and social services for the community. Benefits from tourism come in the form of livelihoods, employment, and social services. Social services include scholarship programs, subsidized hospitalization programs, free use of ambulances, supplemental feeding, and health insurance programs. Danao Adventure Park employed 13 local guides in 2006. The number grew to 35 in 2008 and continued to increase to 45 in 2009. Today, local tourism directly employs more than 100 local people as tour guides, accommodation and food service staff, and maintenance and support personnel. Other local people who are earning an income from tourism are the People’s Organizations, which provide food to the LGU-run restaurant and sell souvenir items to visitors. In the area of education, the LGU started the Iskolar sa Torismo (Scholars of tourism) program in 2011. At the time of this study, 83 college students were receiving scholarships in various state colleges and universities in the province. The scholarship program has produced 12 graduates since its inception.

Most of the benefits from tourism go toward health services. The subsidized hospitalization program helps poor patients with their medical fees. From 2011 until the time of this study, 221 people had benefited from the program. The subsidy for the health insurance program had benefited around 4,000 people. The LGU’s free ambulance service has been supported by revenues from tourism activities since 2011. However, the supplemental feeding program for preschoolers ran for only a year.

Aside from the economic and social benefits, tourism has created environmental awareness among local people. People have started to participate in ecological preservation activities. They have stopped cutting trees for their former livelihood of charcoal making. In a personal interview, Mayor Natividad Gonzaga argued that aside from the material benefits gained from tourism, the most valuable outcome was the regaining of pride among the people of Danao. She emphasized that tourism had brought back pride to the place, and the municipality had evolved from being identified as backward and poor to attracting people from around the world with its natural and cultural wonders.

Conclusion

This study examines the changing role of governments in tourism development. Governments play a crucial role in the development of the tourism industry. Local governments have evolved from being passive to more active actors in the industry. From merely providing laws and building infrastructure, governments now manage their own tourism-related businesses. In past decades, the management of tourism was entrusted to the business sector. Multinational corporations and private businesses controlled the operation of resorts, hotels, and other tourist services with minimal intervention from the government. Now, LGUs are competing with private operators.

Entrepreneurial LGUs are a new phenomenon. From governing tourism, LGUs are now also selling tourism. Aside from tax revenues, local governments are gaining additional income from their self-managed tourism businesses, and at the same time they provide employment to local people. This new trend challenges the traditional role of governments in tourism development. It raises questions over how LGUs can carry out governance as well as do business at the same time. With their political advantage, are LGUs more effective than their private counterparts in managing tourism and delivering its benefits to communities?

To illustrate this new phenomenon, this study highlights the case of the tourism industry in the province of Bohol in the Philippines. It examines how LGUs in Bohol can perform both political and corporate functions in tourism. First, the study explores how the provincial government lays the foundation for the development of tourism in its local destinations. Second, this study examines the case of the municipality of Danao as a model for how a once-poor town could grow to become an LGU. With Danao’s natural beauty, its culture, and the cooperation of the local people, the LGU of Danao was able to harness the economic, social, and environmental benefits of tourism.

Bohol has evolved from being a poor to a high-income-generating province with the growth of local tourism. Tourism development has also become a tool to address the problem of political insurgency, which affected people of the province for decades. The province has become one of the top tourist destinations in the country. Its natural beauty and colorful cultures have attracted both domestic and international tourists. Despite the disruption brought about by the great earthquake of 2013, the number of tourist arrivals continued to grow through the years.

The provincial government set the ground for tourism to grow in Bohol. It institutionalized tourism by organizing collective action among various government units, nongovernmental agencies, and local people. Collaboration among stakeholders created political mechanisms that governed tourism and at the same time encouraged LGUs to engage in tourism development projects. Aside from governing tourism, multi-sectoral institutions enable local executives and their communities to obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to manage and operate tourism-related businesses. Tourism has become embedded into local governance.

Aside from institutionalizing tourism, the provincial government of Bohol has provided legislative mechanisms that directly impact tourism. Bohol pioneered a tourism code for regulating tourism development. This code has become a model for other LGUs in the country. Enacting tourism provides a solid legal basis for regulating tourist activities and development. The Bohol tourism code has become a framework for the provincial tourism development plan.

Institutional and legislative mechanisms could not have been efficient without the leadership of Bohol’s local executive. This study highlights the crucial role of three local politicians in the growth of tourism: Relampagos, Aumentado, and Chatto. With their political will and openness to collaboration with other agencies, they were able to put Bohol on the global tourism map.

The municipality of Danao illustrates how an LGU is able to carry out governance as well as do business. From being a poor town, Danao has evolved into a top income-generating municipality in the region. From being a hotbed of insurgency, it is now a top adventure tourism destination in the province. Danao tourism development is a result of leadership and collective action. Collaboration among stakeholders has transformed the once-sleepy town into an ecotourism playground. The LGU, with its political advantage, built its own tourism business through collaboration with different government agencies, NGOs, businesses, and private individuals. This collaboration facilitated the planning, marketing, and operation of tourist services. Thanks to government-run tourism businesses, local people are now participating in and enjoying the rewards of the industry.

Close collaboration enabled the development of tourism in Bohol. The growth of the industry would not have been possible without collaboration among the provincial government, municipalities, and private sector. Although this collaboration was challenged by issues of power relations, particularly between the provincial and municipal agencies, these issues were addressed through constant communication among leaders. Legislative and technical assistance from the provincial government is crucial since it enables municipal governments to engage in the industry. Municipal leadership is crucial in encouraging communities to participate in the tourism industry. The provincial government provides the face of Bohol tourism to the world, while municipal governments provide the actual experience.

This study has mainly explored the wider view of tourism in Bohol. A grassroots-level study of the experiences of local households with the growth of tourism in their localities would be relevant. Examining the political and moral economy of local tourism development would also generate insights into the dynamics of local tourism development.

Accepted: December 15, 2020

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Meynardo P. Mendoza

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Conjugal Mayorship: The Fernandos and the Transformation of Marikina, 1992–2010

Meynardo P. Mendoza*

*Department of History, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University, Leong Hall Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108, Philippines
e-mail: mpmendoza[at]ateneo.edu

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_255

From 1992 to 2010, during the mayoral terms of Bayani and Maria Lourdes Carlos-Fernando, Marikina underwent an extensive transformation. The husband-and-wife team transformed it from a sleepy, semi-agricultural third-class municipality into a model city and the recipient of many awards and distinctions. Aside from providing the physical infrastructure needed to lay the foundation for the city, the Fernandos also transformed the residents by promoting a culture of order and discipline, and later on introducing corporatist practices in the delivery of basic services. In the process, Marikina became sustainable from a financial and environmental standpoint. This paper argues that Marikina’s transformation can be attributed to the following: first, that the skill sets the mayors possessed matched the city’s needs at the time of their tenure; second, that Marikina’s resurgence coincided with the reforms implemented after the transition to democratic rule starting in 1986, in particular, the passage of the Local Government Code; and, third, that Marikina experienced a continuity of policies even if there were changes in leadership. The city did not suffer from what may also be termed as “cancel culture,” wherein gains made by the previous administration were negated as a result of highly polarized politics. The paper further argues that aside from agency, Marikina’s development was also conjunctural. Marikina’s success may be attributed to the confluence of interests among stakeholders; a phenomenon termed policy coalition.

Keywords: Marikina, local transformation, policy coalition, good governance, model city, local politics

Introduction

Marikina’s Great Leap Forward occurred when Bayani Fernando (or BF, as he is called by locals) became the mayor of Marikina in 1992. But unlike the Great Helmsman, Bayani could not use charm and ideology to remold his vision, for he did not possess those attributes. Rather, he styled himself after another Asian strongman of another mold, the neo-Confucian leader Lee Kuan Yew, whose authoritarian style of governance made Singapore what it is today. Singapore, the bustling, clean, and modern city where discipline and respect for authority reign supreme, became the model for Marikina’s transformation. Thus, Bayani Fernando may well be Marikina’s version of Lee Kuan Yew. Both Lee Kuan Yew and Bayani command respect and admiration for their achievements, but certainly not affection. Mao Zedong, on the other hand, had a cult-like following and was treated as an icon even though he led the country to destruction along with the Red Guards. And while Mao and Bayani were succeeded by their spouses, Maria Lourdes (or Marides) is no Jiang Qing. Marides was elected by a big majority, possessed great talent not in drama but in management, and did not belong to a Gang of Four. And while Bayani may have utilized some of the more persuasive practices of Singapore and China in governance, Marikina’s success lay in the cooperation of other stakeholders—business, labor, nongovernmental organizations—who found themselves sharing a common issue and working with the local government to achieve a common goal.

On one level, the husband-and-wife team transformed Marikina by laying the infrastructure groundwork to remodel the city into something new. It has clean and orderly streets with wide sidewalks and bike lanes; motorists following traffic rules and regulations; residents paying their taxes before the deadline; a rehabilitated river park where residents can jog, stroll, or simply gather for family reunions or group meetings; and civility in public spaces. This was hardly the image Marikina had earlier. Until the early 1990s, it was a sleepy, laid-back third-class municipality where visitors came only for its shoe shops. After 18 years, the Fernandos had transformed Marikina into a vibrant model city, so much so that it was adjudged one of the best-managed cities in the Philippines and among the best choices to invest in and raise a family (Vera 2008, 28). After the end of the Fernandos’ terms, Marikina received many awards and distinctions.

On another level, the husband-and-wife team also undertook a sort of cultural revolution. In the Fernandos’ vision of the future, urbanization needed to go hand in hand with public order and decency in public spaces. The husband-and-wife team imposed discipline and public order in the form of urbanidad (roughly translated as “urbanity” or “civility”) or the aesthetic sense of living in a city. Gone are the days when men spat, drank, and urinated in public. Women can no longer hang out their laundry for the public to see. Drivers obey street signs. To provide residents with constant reminders, sidewalks have been inscribed with edicts.

I Marikina’s Geography and Politics

The area now known as Marikina was founded as a mission area by Jesuit missionaries around 1630 (Fabros 2006, 15). Its original inhabitants settled near the river, a tributary of the Pasig River, which linked San Mateo and Montalban in the north to Manila. The first church was established in present-day barangays Barangka and Jesus de la Pena at the foot of the Ateneo de Manila University. Old-time residents claim that Marikina’s boundaries extended to 15th Avenue in Cubao until the creation of Quezon City in 1937.1) In fact, President Manuel Quezon’s former Marikina rest house is now the site of the Light Rail Transit 2 Santolan Station. By 1773, Marikina had been given as a land grant to the Tuason family (Fabros 2006, 16), Chinese mestizos whose descendants include Miguel Arroyo, husband of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Marikina may be divided into two areas. The First District consists of nine barangays and has a land area of 850.53 hectares, or 39.56 percent of the total, while the Second District has seven barangays but a larger land area, with 1,297.47 hectares or 60.44 percent of the total (Marikina City 2020). The First District is the town center, composed formerly of four barangays—Sta. Elena, Sto. Niño, San Roque, and Calumpang—and straddles the southern part of the Marikina River (see Fig. 1). This is Marikina’s old quarters, where the first settlement took place. This is also where the munisipyo (municipal and later city hall), the main church, market, hospital, and sports center are located. As can be expected, this is where old families reside; their businesses (shoes, retail, small- to medium-scale industries) and professions (medicine, dentistry) have made them the municipality’s elites. Longtime residents of Marikina may be distinguished by their chinito (Chinese-like) features, as many are descended from Chinese migrants who settled in Marikina from the middle of the seventeenth century. As pioneer settlers who control the local economy, they may also be said to dominate or control politics.

 

seas1002_mendoza_fig1

Fig. 1 Marikina City Map

Source: Marikina City, www.marikina.gov.ph, accessed March 28, 2017.

 

Until the early 1970s, the First District was notorious for its many dance halls or cabarets. Long before Ermita, Pasay, and Quezon City became Manila’s red-light areas, Marikina was the red-light district. Marikina was at the end point of the Pasig Line of the American colonial-era tranvia (electric rail) system. Because of the area’s remote location, colonial officials favored placing these entertainment facilities in Marikina instead of the downtown area. Thus, for many young men Calumpang became the mecca for another rite of passage.

Because of its wide-open spaces and proximity to Manila, the Second District (Parang, Malanday, and Concepcion) drew numerous businesses to set up their factories there in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These included Fortune Tobacco Corp., BF Goodrich rubber and tire company, Arms Corp. of the Philippines, Eagle Electric, Holland Milk Products, Goya Chocolate Factory, and Mariwasa Tiles and Ceramics. Purefoods also set up shop, but in the First District. As a result, factory workers from many parts of the country started migrating to Marikina.

At the same time, the Second District’s wide-open spaces attracted another type of business: real estate. Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, developers opened up new subdivisions and low-cost housing projects to solve Manila’s housing backlog. Foremost among them were the Marikina Subdivision, Provident Villages, SSS Village, and Rancho Estate. As newcomers to Marikina, it took some time before residents of these new homes could integrate and organize, first as neighborhood associations and later as a voting bloc. Thus, for a long time Marikina’s local officials almost always came from the First District. Even with a larger voter base, prospective candidates from the Second District were handicapped by having none of the traditional electoral networks or campaign machinery that candidates from the old political families in the First District possessed. This disadvantage ended only in 1992, when Romeo Candazo teamed up with Bayani Fernando to run for congress.

Bayani was no stranger to politics. His father, Gil, had also been the Marikina mayor—from 1947 to 1959. As a young boy, Bayani may have had his first exposure to how Marikina should be run. However, he had another calling. He studied civil engineering at the Mapua Institute of Technology, one of the top engineering schools in the country. Thereafter, he founded his own construction company, BF Corporation, becoming a major player in the construction industry. In the 1970s and 1980s local politics was not an option, as martial rule precluded elections and popular participation.

After the Aquino administration came to power, local elections were introduced in 1987. Bayani decided to try his luck, fueled initially by his boyhood dream to revive the stagnant Marikina River and make it a center for community activities (Damazo 2002). Being a neophyte, he lost to Rudy Valentino, the administration’s chosen candidate. Cory Aquino’s popularity was at an all-time high, and whoever she endorsed was ensured of victory. Valentino’s term, however, was lackluster. Not only did Marikina stagnate, but the town became notorious for a series of heinous crimes, including rape, murder, bank robberies, and extrajudicial killings.

Undeterred, Bayani ran again in 1992, this time campaigning on a platform of “an industrial and government-friendly, happy, working-class community” (Villaluz and Sanchez 2017). Bayani capitalized on his being an engineer, wearing his trademark construction helmet during the campaign, and came up with the catchy battle cry “BF gets it done!” The message worked, and his campaign gained momentum. The people of Marikina were fed up with the incompetence of the previous administration. Bayani’s gung-ho attitude and emphasis on discipline resonated with voters, who handed him a landslide victory. His centerpiece program, the Save the Marikina River Project, also appealed to voters. Unlike grandiose programs or projects that were promised at every election but seemed unattainable, Bayani’s project seemed like a doable one given his experience and expertise. Being a newbie candidate also had its advantages. One was that Bayani dodged the trapo (traditional politician) tag and was even supported by progressive forces, among them the Kilusang Mayo Uno.2) Not having many resources to count on, Bayani forged alliances with several sectors based on his vision to include the business community and the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

II The Marikina Way, 1992–2010

For Bayani, Marikina’s transformation necessitated a strong emphasis on order and discipline. He likened his emphasis on discipline and meticulousness to the “broken windows” theory. As the theory explains, an unnoticed broken window, however small, if left unrepaired shows an uncaring attitude on the part of the house owner. If unchecked, this attitude becomes contagious and spreads to others. In practice, this meant rehabilitating and renovating Marikina’s poor infrastructure to allow discipline and order to set in. Bayani said:

There ought to be law and order to put everything in order, and without it there will be iniquity and worse, anarchy. Order is the key to change and progress. When the order is pervasive, people think and behave with civility and urbanity. There can be urbanity only when order is pervasive. (Fabros 2008, 17)

On many occasions, the new mayor could be seen berating those who disregarded Marikina’s ordinances in public.

To restore order and discipline on Marikina’s congested and chaotic streets, Bayani reclaimed the easement designated for pedestrians from illegal structures, parked vehicles, and vendors. To do this, the city council passed a resolution that classified all materials and illegal structures in public conveyances (streets, sidewalks, riverbanks) as garbage, and therefore apt for disposal (Fernando 2007, 11). With this legal mandate, it became possible to reclaim public spaces and enhance mobility. After establishing the necessary right-of-way, Bayani started concreting and asphalting Marikina’s notorious roads. Later, a standard pattern and color were used to pave sidewalks in the whole city. Bike lanes were incorporated between roads and sidewalks. Next came big-ticket items such as renovating the public market and city hall and setting up a new health center and satellite centers in each barangay, covered courts, new school buildings, and much more. Great attention was paid to Bayani’s pet project—the Marikina City River Revival and Park Project. The river was first dredged of silt and garbage, then aerated to remove foul odor and revive fish stocks. Both banks were developed for joggers and picnickers, and restaurants were invited to set up shop in the newly developed area. This project was so successful that it won many awards and citations and received distinguished visitors, both local and foreign.3)

To keep residents physically fit and active, Bayani redeveloped the Marikina Sports Center. Aside from the full-length tartan-covered track oval, this facility also has an Olympic-size swimming pool, a baseball field, and a football field. Marikina was lucky to inherit this facility from the province of Rizal. Formerly called the Rodriguez Sports Center, the facility was created to host the 19th World Softball Championships in 1971 as well as the inaugural edition of the Palarong Pambansa in 1974. But when Metro Manila was created in 1975, Marikina ceased to be part of Rizal Province and joined the new entity. Rizal lost its premier sports facility, to the advantage of Marikina. Bayani further enhanced the facility by erecting a new building for basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and aerobics and spaces for physical education classes. The track oval is open 24 hours a day, while other sports facilities are closed for only six hours daily.

Marikina’s swift physical transformation could be greatly attributed to Bayani’s engineering experience. Unlike other mayors whose education or background was in law or medicine, Bayani knew at once what needed to be done and how to obtain the necessary resources. He applied the principles he used in his company and his work methods to the City Engineering Office (see Table 1). Inefficiency and corruption in government infrastructure projects became things of the past. For the first time, Marikina experienced how it was to be rebuilt as if it was a privately contracted project. In this manner, corporatist practices in the private sector worked well when applied to public service (Tordecilla 1997, 17–18).

 

Table 1 Bayani’s Guide to Leadership

seas1002_mendoza_table1

 

Bayani also promoted the practices of a clean and green city. Waste segregation was introduced: green bags for compostable materials and black bags for recyclable materials. Specific days were set for which garbage bag was to be collected. Offenders—those who put in the wrong waste material—could expect their garbage to be refused or returned. Students and residents were reminded of Marikina’s strict anti-littering policies so that it became practice for many to hold on to their trash until they saw a garbage can. In one of his reelection campaigns, instead of handing out campaign leaflets Bayani handed out metal tongs in his signature green color with a reminder for people to pick up their own litter. Aside from restoring order and addressing Marikina’s deficient and dilapidated structures, Bayani also focused on a seeming disregard for what old-timers called urbanidad. Resolutions were passed that prohibited spitting, urinating, drinking alcoholic beverages, and strolling around shirtless in public areas (Lorenzo 2007). There was even a ban on hanging out laundered underwear exposed for the public to see.

Bayani’s success in transforming Marikina into a model city was due, to a large extent, on the passage of the 1991 Local Government Code. By granting local chief executives more leeway in managing their cities/municipalities, mayors became in a sense more powerful than the president of the republic. While the power of the purse belonged to Congress and not to the president, at the local level the chief executive had the power to decide where to allocate resources or what projects or programs to include in the budget and implement. In many ways, Bayani was able to use this newfound capability. Another contributing factor in Bayani’s success had to do with Fidel V. Ramos’s election to the presidency. Ramos and Bayani had much in common: they were both methodical and sticklers for detail when it came to planning and execution; they also favored infrastructure development, an admirable work ethic, and commitment to discipline. Even their public image was identical: a folded barong tagalog with a hard hat, denoting the willingness of a public executive to roll up his sleeves and do the spadework, or an image of a hands-on manager.

Local chief executives can deliver more and become electable if they are able to access funds and support from the center. As Alfred McCoy (1994) and Patricio Abinales (1998) have pointed out, while local elites are the supreme authority in their locality, they are also dependent on their relations with the central power or the state for their survival. Eventually, Bayani’s hard work and brand of service, along with the visible improvements he made, caught the attention of Malacanang.

III Public Goods and Civic Virtues

Like the ancient Indian ruler Asoka, who reminded his constituents of Buddhist teachings through the construction of the Rock and Pillar Edicts, Bayani inscribed tenets of his philosophy on sidewalks to remind the people of Marikina of them even after his term ended. Sidewalks were painted red to convey a strong message (see Fig. 2). Among the messages Bayani imparted were the following:

 

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Fig. 2 Sidewalks Are Marked with Reminders or Edicts in the Form of Slogans.

Source: Author’s personal photo.

 

- Pantay Pantay Kung May Disiplina (Discipline leads to Equality);
- Disiplina Nagsisimula sa Bangketa (Discipline starts at the sidewalk);
- Magbihis ng Angkop at nang Igalang Ka ng Iyong Kapwa (Wear proper attire to gain respect);
- A walkable city is a healthy city;
- Marikina: a bicycle-friendly city;
- Marikina: a city of government and business-friendly working-class people; and
- Work hard, work well, and work together.

While other cities abroad may have used this strategy, it was a novel idea in the Philippines. Not only were the messages original and innovative, they also reminded citizens that the government was always present and watching. As people walked past these messages, the messages became part of their subconscious, reminding them of the city’s rules and edicts. Most important, Bayani was able to convey that there was a public space where there were rules and norms and that public facilities built by the city government were public goods. They were not for individual use but for the common good.

After reaching the maximum allowable three terms in office, Bayani was succeeded by his wife, Marides, who ran Marikina for the next nine years, from 2001 to 2010. Like in Singapore, where Lee Kuan Yew made way for his son to take his place—thanks in part to Goh Chok Tong’s holding the line until Brig. Gen. Lee Hsien Loong was mature enough—Bayani asked his wife to take his post and continue the project he had started. After all, if a woman could continue the succession in running a business corporation or even a revolt (Gabriela Silang) after the death of her husband, why not in public office!

If Bayani’s term as mayor was focused on improving Marikina’s physical infrastructure, Marides’s term was spent on consolidating the gains made by Bayani and making sure the city became sustainable financially and environmentally. Her term in office was made easier by Marikina becoming a city on December 8, 1996 by virtue of Republic Act 8223. Under the Local Government Code, cities have more leeway in running their affairs than municipalities do; they also have a bigger share of the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) of the national budget.4) Marides was no ordinary housewife or a pushover. She was the daughter of Meneleo Carlos, one of the most successful local entrepreneurs in the country. Carlos attended Cornell University, where he obtained a degree in biochemical engineering in the 1950s. He set up a business empire focused on the production of fiberglass, resins, polymer, and other industrial products. Like her father, Marides also went to the Ivy League school, where she obtained a master’s degree in business management. With her outstanding education and extensive experience running a corporation, Marides was able to further push the transformation of Marikina by coming up with a management system that set the standard for governance in a highly urbanized setting. For her efforts, she was nominated as one of the finalists for World City Mayor in 2008. By the time Marides completed her three terms in 2010, Marikina had received numerous awards both locally and internationally.

Marides emphasized the concept of a healthy city. A healthy city is not only clean but has the facilities for an improved quality of life, such as parks, sports facilities, water treatment plants, a waste management facility, etc. A healthy city is one that promotes a healthy lifestyle. With the city’s motto of “A healthy city leads to a sustainable city,” the initial intention was to rehabilitate the city to make it livable and habitable. But the concept evolved to financial viability, ensuring the city’s standards could be maintained with sufficient funding (Vera 2008, 29). Marikina City provided each family with a health passport—a family record that contained details of each family member’s check-ups, vaccinations, and dental examinations and the nutritional services available at the city health office.

Because of Marides’s corporate background and experience in running a manufacturing firm, her natural inclination was to lead an organization and deal with partners and customers whose satisfaction she had to always take into consideration. Thus, her attitude toward public office was not to shake hands and dole out money but to manage city hall and its employees like a corporation—to deliver its products, which consisted of basic services (Siao 2013). Because Marikina residents were her clientele, she treated them as customers. While customers may not always be right in such a setting, they can certainly demand quality service. And this Marides was keen to fulfill. The mayor instituted a number of feedback mechanisms to gauge the delivery of basic services in terms of courtesy, timeliness, and efficiency. She instituted a “one-strike” policy, meaning city employees could face disciplinary measures or even dismissal if they were subject to complaint. Another aspect of corporate management that she carried into public service was the delegation of powers, making sure that everyone became part of a team and did his or her job.

Marikina’s success under the leadership of the Fernandos may also be attributed to the continuity of the programs and leadership style. What had been started during Bayani’s early years was continued and built upon so that there was ample time for the initiatives to take root and develop. Likewise, the drive for excellence and innovation among employees, and the culture of discipline and urbanity among citizens, became established. A set of doable programs and projects, rootedness in the community, a middle-class constituency that was articulate and politically active, and a system of elections every three years added to the equation. Bayani and Marides Fernando invested heavily in empowering Marikina City by strengthening the administrative and field support services of the city, the pillars that made up the delivery of basic services and the long-term viability of the local government unit (LGU), by allocating sizable funds for capital goods (engineering equipment, riverboats for rescue and relief operations, and ambulances), infrastructure (medical, educational, and sports facilities), as well as capacity building and training. The husband-and-wife team invested in strengthening the capability of Marikina in the long term. While political will has always been mentioned as a key factor in effectively running LGUs, there are limits to what political will can achieve if the foundation is weak and wanting. An analogy may be made to a cart driver beating an old and weary horse. Political will may be important, but so is the means or the capability to deliver services.

IV Policy Coalition through Common Interests

Marikina City is unique in having a statue in honor of a known Communist, Filemon “Ka Popoy” Lagman (see Fig. 3). Moreover, Marikina presents a unique case where labor unions, businesses, and the LGU formed an alliance and institutionalized a tripartite body. If relationships between these groups were marked by enmity in the past, what brought them together was quite unexpected—the ill effects of globalization. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the processes of globalization were being felt more and more in the Philippines. Liberalization, or the entry of foreign goods and services, and the need for greater competition to do away with inefficient, expensive services were becoming the norm. Local businesses that benefited or were protected by the previous trade regime became wary and disturbed. In Marikina, the moribund shoe industry now faced the prospect of demise and extinction. This fear was not without basis. The national government, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), favored an approach based on comparative advantage. Like Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest, industries that could not keep up with the competition would naturally wither away. What the DTI favored was the so-called One-Town-One-Product approach. Instead of pouring resources into unprofitable industries, the DTI advocated for specialization, concentrating on products that the town could excel in producing. For Marikina, this meant closing the century-old shoe industry and opening up new business ventures.

 

seas1002_mendoza_fig3

Fig. 3 A Statue Dedicated to Filemon “Ka Popoy” Lagman, Former Labor Leader, Communist Cadre, and Co-founder of the Partido Manggagawa (Workers Party), Who Worked Out an Amicable Relationship between Business, Labor, and the Marikina City Government during Bayani’s Term.

Source: Author’s personal photo.

Note: The statue is undergoing repainting, obscuring the hammer-and-sickle emblem.

 

Globalization has its underside too. Opening windows may let in fresh air, but it also lets in flies and other insects. In the case of Marikina, smuggled and dirt-cheap Chinese-made shoes, some as cheap as 60 pesos a pair, started flooding the market. This caused deep concern not only among business owners but also among shoe workers and the Marikina city government. In late 1999, progressive groups wary—or critical—of the ill effects of globalization initiated the formation of the Free Trade Alliance. This group was composed of labor federations, NGOs, advocacy groups like the Freedom from Debt Coalition, members of the academic community (notably from the University of the Philippines’ School of Labor and Industrial Relations), and many other like-minded individuals. It comes as no surprise that the chairman was the notable former Senator Wigberto “Bobby” Tanada, whose nationalist credentials were without reproach. By the early 2000s, a common ground between business and labor had been established and a partnership began to take shape.

This collaboration led to the formation the following year of the Philippine Employment–Labor Social Partnership, Inc. (PELSPI), an advocacy group focusing on economic policies and development. The mechanism instituted by the group was to arrive at a social dialogue among partners. PELSPI attracted big business actors, among them the chambers of commerce and business federations, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, and Marcos-related industrialists such as Lucio Tan, owner of Fortune Tobacco Corp. Because Meneleo Carlos, Bayani’s father-in-law, was the chairman of one of the big business federations in the country, he became part of the consultative process. Carlos’s influence among businessmen enabled Bayani to bring together concerned business and workers groups to dialogue and achieve industrial peace in Marikina (Mendoza 2018).

The framework for cooperation was capsulized in the slogan “Marikina—Bayan ng Masasayang Manggagawang Kaibigan ng Industriya” (Marikina—home of happy workers friendly to industries). To institutionalize this mechanism, Bayani set up the Workers’ Affairs Office (WAO), which also acted as the secretariat of the tripartite body. In a way, the WAO assumed the role of the Bureau of Labor Relations and the National Labor Relations Commission of the Department of Labor and Employment because any strikable labor issue passed through it first for dispute resolution. A key factor in the success of tripartitism in Marikina may have been Bayani’s pragmatism. As a mayor well rooted in the community, Bayani was able to differentiate the different levels of radicalism within the labor movement, and identify which among these he could speak to and negotiate with. He did not meddle directly in labor problems. Rather, he let the WAO handle them. He may have been dictatorial in other aspects, but with this tripartite body Bayani consulted first before making a move, even if his decisions did not please the business and labor sectors. In the end, Bayani saw the importance of a cooperative labor sector when it came to attaining industrial peace, a key ingredient for a business-friendly environment (Magtubo 2018).

In the same manner, labor also demonstrated pragmatism in dealing with business and the Marikina city government. Labor groups belonging to the Sanlakas/Bukluran ng Manggagawa/Partido ng Manggagawa were open to negotiation and compromise at the shop (factory) level even if they positioned themselves as radicals at the national level. By working with businesses and the LGU, they received support or resources for mobilization, education, organizing, and other purposes (Magtubo 2018). Being pragmatic himself, Bayani did not interfere with, or oppose, the radical posturing of labor groups at the national level so long as they made Marikina peaceful.

V What Is Local Is Not Always National

All politics is local! So goes the famous dictum describing politics in the Philippines. This may be a truism, as the efforts of the Fernandos to replicate their success in local governance at the national level did not meet with the same level of success. If policy coalition was a factor in Marikina’s transformation, the same could not be said at the national level. On the contrary, Bayani’s projects and programs for the metropolis were met with resistance and hostility. Clearly, the constituency at the national level was so diverse that a minimal amount of consensus among stakeholders could not be reached. Furthermore, interest groups opposed to his plans for change gravitated toward each other and formed a strong lobby against his policies. The same may be said of the teaming up between Richard Gordon and Bayani Fernando as presidential and vice-presidential candidates in the 2010 elections. Despite showcasing the successes of both Olongapo and Marikina Cities, the team fared badly when the election results came in.

Because of Bayani’s success in Marikina’s transformation, he was appointed chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) in 2001 by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. There were high expectations from residents and the business sector for him to turn Manila into a clean and orderly metropolis. As soon as Bayani assumed office, he undertook almost exactly the same projects and approach he had in Marikina, naming it Metro Gwapo (Good-looking metro). In theoretical terms, Metro Gwapo aimed to increase the metropolis’s livability by achieving safety, efficiency, accessible amenities, and pleasant surroundings. In practical terms, the project meant no obstructions, no litter, no decay, no diseases, no stink, and no discourtesy (Lopez 2007, 18).

As in Marikina, what Bayani wanted to do right away was to clear the metropolis of illegal settlers, sidewalk vendors, grime, and crime as well as rebuild the city’s waterways and infrastructure. Clearing operations targeting sidewalk vendors and illegal settlers near waterways became common, much to the consternation and anguish of those affected (Kusaka 2017). U-turn slots, separate bus lanes, concrete barriers separating private from utility vehicles, and traffic constables in uniform dotted the streets of the metro. In addition, much of the signage bore the color pink, a reminder to residents to bring the metropolis to the pink of health.

Bayani’s close association with the president enabled him to acquire additional funds to undertake projects. There was a command center to monitor traffic, the recruitment of more traffic enforcers, the acquisition of more equipment to support operational requirements, the widening of main thoroughfares to ease traffic congestion, the dredging of heavily silted rivers and waterways, the operationalization of pumping stations to mitigate flooding, and even the establishment of motels for employees and stranded commuters in need of short-term lodging (Lopez 2007).

Yet, after several years in office Bayani was able to achieve only a modicum of success in his planned vision for the metropolis. As expected, resistance from street vendors and urban poor in public conveyances was reported vociferously in the media. The negative image created of Bayani (a dictator, heartless, anti-poor, and a tyrant) would impact him later when he ran for national office (Kusaka 2017). The biggest stumbling block to Bayani’s vision, however, came from the mayors themselves. Apprehensive that the reforms being initiated by Bayani would impact on their constituents and governance (traffic, garbage collection, etc.), Metro Manila mayors resisted by insisting that the role of the MMDA was consultative and that, unlike them, the chairman was not an elected official, did not have the people’s mandate, and thus could not force them to obey.

Unlike many local politicians, Bayani was a loyal member of the Lakas-NUCD, the party of Presidents Ramos and Macapagal Arroyo. When Joseph Estrada won as president, Bayani did not switch parties even though the former San Juan mayor derided Lakas-NUCD members. This party loyalty, along with Bayani’s efficient and effective leadership, endeared him to President Macapagal Arroyo. Like many politicians, however, Bayani did not hide his desire to secure national office in the 2010 elections. He believed that he possessed the attributes of a leader: experience, vision, and commitment. Unfortunately for him, his chosen party had other plans. Because Bayani was not considered winnable, the party chose instead the young, energetic, and charming Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, even though he was not a party member. During the Lakas-NUCD national convention, Bayani was not even considered as Teodoro’s running mate.

The party’s decision angered Bayani, and he left Lakas-NUCD permanently. He teamed up with Gordon, former Olongapo City mayor, in the 2010 elections and ran as his vice-presidential candidate. Before Marikina’s transformation under Bayani, Gordon had transformed Olongapo into a model city. Gordon also managed the transformation of the former Subic naval station into an economic zone and freeport. The team capitalized on their success stories. They chose the catchy name “The Transformers” and projected an image of strong leadership and political will. Timing, however, was not on their side. Because they exhibited qualities that were so close to the unpopular president’s, their candidacy did not resonate with voters’ preference. The pair lost miserably: Bayani ended up fourth out of eight candidates.

Aside from the negative publicity he generated as MMDA chairman, Bayani fared badly because he was pitted against veteran Senators Loren Legarda and Mar Roxas as well as Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, a longtime human rights lawyer. When asked during political debates about national issues such as foreign policy, economy, and security, Bayani could not respond. Not only did Bayani lack the eloquence of his rivals, the debates exposed his lack of knowledge beyond local concerns. Unfortunately for him, Bayani showed voters that while he was well versed in running a city, the same could not be said if he took on national office. During the televised debates, all Bayani could muster was the appeal to discipline and obedience to authority, demonstrating to voters that his perspective was very localized. While attention to detail in running a locality proved its worth when he was mayor, the same could not be said should he be elected as vice president. In short, he was not qualified for the position he aspired to.

Bayani’s failed run for national office coincided with Marides’s exit after reaching her three-term limit as mayor. Shortly after, the couple returned to the private sector, focusing on their construction enterprise. Their only child did not show any interest in entering politics, thus ending the Fernandos’ venture into politics.5) This case is atypical of familial politics or dynastic rule in Philippine politics (Quimpo and Kasuya 2010). While many experiences of familial politics in the Philippines have been marked by inequality, poverty, and even being contrary to good governance, Marikina’s is quite the opposite.

Conclusion

There are a number of possible reasons for why the Fernandos’ mayorship did not fit the pattern of political dynasties or dynastic politics. As discussed above, their ascent to office was not inherited but won through elections. Their successors have not necessarily enjoyed cooperative relations with the Fernandos while maintaining the legacy of reform policy. Second, no other member of the family ran for office to continue the Fernandos’ hold on power. Third, while dynasts usually inherit their position and come to public office unprepared or unqualified, the Fernandos brought with them technical and managerial skills as well as long experience in the private sector. It may seem that the Fernando brand of leadership became a thing of the past when the husband and wife left local politics. But the standards set by them became the benchmark by which to measure an aspiring local chief executive (Gregorio-Medel et al. 2007). In the end, the people of Marikina would not expect less from their mayors, expecting them to provide services similar to those that they had received from the Fernandos, if not better.

Marikina’s success may also be attributed to the support the residents gave to the Fernandos. Bayani’s style of leadership resonated well with the mindset of Marikina’s residents. It may be argued that Bayani’s management style appealed to the city’s mostly middle-class residents. For a long time, political leadership and control came from longtime residents of the First District: they dictated the values to the new arrivals in the city. So when Bayani pitched the concept of urbanidad, it was not an alien idea. Rather, it was a common and respected value that the old residents took to heart. Thus, Bayani’s campaign regarding urbanidad was simply a reiteration of an old value in an old setting that was being eroded by rapid development and an influx of migration.

It is doubtful whether this approach or appeal to civility can take root in the much bigger cities of Metro Manila. The departure of old-time residents and the massive influx of migrants from rural areas settling in blighted communities have produced a different demographic, shifting government spending away from capital goods to more basic services. The wide disparity in economic standing and orientation has created a very diverse constituency that makes governance complicated. In contrast, Marikina is still the small municipality that it once was and has a large degree of homogeneity in civic norms. In this sense, the Fernandos were able to govern for a long time and enable Marikina’s transformation because of the consent of local residents.

Accepted: December 15, 2020

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to acknowledge the generosity and kind consideration of Prof. Takagi Yusuke and the Graduate Research Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) for the opportunity to collaborate on this project. The author likewise acknowledges the support given by the secretarial staff and resource persons who made this project possible and gratifying. The author would like to dedicate the paper to Ms. Corazon dela Paz Forteza, former librarian and head of the Personnel Department who died while serving the City of Marikina.

References

Abinales, Patricio N. 1998. Images of State Power: Essays on Philippine Politics from the Margins. Diliman, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Adamos, Pompeyo C. III. 2007. Local Chief Executive’s Political Leadership and Private Voluntary Organization’s Participation: A Case Study of the “Save the Marikina River Project.” Master’s thesis, Ateneo de Manila University.

Damazo, Jef. 2002. Bayani the Hero. http://www.archives.newsbreak-knowledge.ph/2002/07/22/bayani-the-hero, accessed June 12, 2017.

De la Paz, Amelia. 2017. Interview by Meynardo P. Mendoza, November 8.

Fabros, Dann. 2008. The Marikina Way. Philippines Free Press, August 2, pp. 16–22.

―. 2006. Pursuit of Excellence. Philippines Free Press, December 2, pp. 14–24.

Fernando, Bayani. 2007. Doing the Right Thing in Marikina. Biz News Asia 5(41) (November 12–19): 10–22.

Gregorio-Medel, Angelita Y.; Lopa-Perez, Margarita; and Gonzalez, Dennis T., eds. 2007. Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives. Quezon City: Ateneo School of Government; Makati City: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

Kusaka Wataru. 2017. Moral Politics in the Philippines: Inequality, Democracy and the Urban Poor. Singapore: NUS Press; Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.

Lopez, Antonio S. 2007. Super Governor: He Is Rebuilding Metro Manila. Biz News Asia 5(41) (November 12–19): 18–21.

Lorenzo, Isa. 2007. Marikina’s (Not-So-Perfect) Makeover. iReport, Good (Local) Governance. January 12. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. https://old.pcij.org/stories/marikinas-not-so-perfect-makeover/, accessed January 23, 2021.

Magtubo, Renato. 2018. Interview by Meynardo P. Mendoza, Marikina City, January 8.

Marikina City. 2020. Marikina City: The Shoe Capital of the Philippines. http://marikina.gov.ph/webmarikina/Our-City.html, accessed February 29, 2021.

McCoy, Alfred, ed. 1994. An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines. Loyola Heights, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Mendoza, Maria S. 2018. Interview by Meynardo P. Mendoza, Quezon City, January 6.

Ocampo-Salvador, Alma M. 1997. Local Budgeting, A Closed-Door Affair: The Case of the Municipality of Marikina. In Demystifying Local Power: Perspectives and Insights on Local Government Processes, edited by Letty C. Tumbaga, pp. 29–42. Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Social Policy.

Palisoc, Marilou P. 2000. Improving Local Fiscal Administration through the 1991 Local Government Code: The Case of Marikina City. Master’s thesis, Ateneo de Manila University.

Quimpo, Nathan Gilbert; and Kasuya Yuko. 2010. The Politics of Change in a “Changeless Land.” In The Politics of Change in the Philippines, edited by Kasuya Yuko and Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, pp. 1–20. Manila: Anvil Publishing.

Siao, Felyne. 2013. Because We Want to Make Marikina Even Better. Rappler. March 19. http://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections-2013/24107-because-we-want-to-make-marikina-even-better, accessed July 26, 2016.

Tordecilla, Roberto B. 1997. People’s Participation in Crafting Award-Winning Local Government Programs: Local Planning in Marikina and Irosin. In Demystifying Local Power: Perspectives and Insights on Local Government Processes, edited by Letty C. Tumbaga, pp. 5–28. Quezon City: Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs.

Vera, Millie. 2008. The Power to Transform. New Vanity Magazine 15(3): 19–30.

Villaluz, Vanessa C.; and Sanchez, Joseph C. 2017. Innovations in City Development: The Marikina Experience. In Transforming Local Government, edited by Ma. Regina M. Hechanova et al., pp. 73–85. Quezon City: Bughaw (Ateneo de Manila University Press).


1) Interview with Amelia de la Paz, November 8, 2017.

2) Before the split within the Communist Party in the Philippines.

3) For a detailed discussion on the topic, see Pompeyo C. Adamos III, “Local Chief Executive’s Political Leadership and Private Voluntary Organization’s Participation: A Case Study of the ‘Save the Marikina River Project’” (master’s thesis, Ateneo de Manila University, 2007).

4) For studies on Marikina’s fiscal administrative and budgeting systems, please see Ocampo-Salvador (1997) and Palisoc (2000).

5) In the 2016 general elections Bayani ran for a congressional seat in Marikina and won, representing the city’s First District in Congress.

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Kusaka Wataru

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Rise of “Business-Friendly” Local Elite Rule in the Philippines: How the Valdezes Developed San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte

Kusaka Wataru*

*日下 渉, Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya 464-8601, Japan
e-mail: kusaka[at]gsid.nagoya-u.ac.jp

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_223

This paper aims to explain why reform-oriented local politics has gained ground in the Philippines. It has been argued that local politics in the Philippines is characterized by dynastic elites who employ a patron–client relationship, exploitive rentseeking, and coercion and violence. However, a more reform-oriented local politics has emerged in many parts of the country since around the 2000s. What is the driver for the rise of reform-oriented local politics? Does this form of politics weaken or strengthen the local political dynasties? This paper answers the first question by arguing that links between the global neoliberal economy and local policy entrepreneurs have facilitated the rise of reform-oriented and business-friendly local politics. For the second question, it claims that local elites who become successful policy entrepreneurs adopting the new business-friendly politics are likely to further entrench themselves and perpetuate their dynasty by utilizing private capital investment. These arguments are based on the case of the Valdez family in the municipality of San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte.

Keywords: local politics, business-friendly, good governance, rent-seeking, elite democracy, political economy, real estate business

Introduction

Researchers have observed that Philippine local politics is characterized by an “elite democracy” in which oligarchic elites monopolize political power by controlling poor constituents through clientelism coupled with coercion and violence; they also accumulate wealth through exploitive rent-seeking. However, this traditional view cannot explain the rise of more reform-oriented local politics in which local elites seek good governance and local economic development. This paper aims to address two questions related to the change.

First, what is the driver for the rise of reform-oriented local politics? Previous studies have emphasized the importance of political leadership. Aser Javier (2002) attributes the emergence of local governments’ public entrepreneurship to the initiative of local chief executives who make use of the opportunities and power given to them by decentralization, with case studies of Marikina City, the province of Bulacan, and the municipality of Irosin. Emma Porio (2012) also emphasizes the initiatives of city mayors in Metro Manila in implementing networked governance with NGOs and business groups, emphasizing discourses of participation, empowerment, capacity building, and consensus building to deliver better services to constituents in order to be competitive to demands for economic growth and social and environmental governance. Agarie Hideo (2017) reports that in General Santos City, a new reform-oriented politician emerged due to the initiative of NGOs, people’s associations, professionals, and civil servants’ trade unions. Ma. Regina M. Hechanova et al. (2017), examining eight reform-oriented local governments—Albay Province, Bohol Province, Mandaluyong City, Marikina City, Naga City, San Jose City (Nueva Ecija), Municipality of Dumingag (Zamboanga del Sur), and Municipality of Upi (Maguindanao)—identify transformative leadership with visions, strategic programs and initiatives, and citizen engagement as drivers of change. Hara Tamiki (2019) demonstrates how a progressive political coalition composed of the Liberal Party and Akbayan defeated a political dynasty in Siquijor Province through “People Power volunteers” and bottom-up budgeting projects during the Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino administration. A quantitative study by a Japanese research team asserts that mayors who frequently meet their constituents and hold development councils are likely to achieve good performance (Kobayashi and Osaki 2019; Nishimura 2019).

These explanations highlighting political leadership and initiative are convincing but, do not explain the structural factors that have allowed local elites to become more reform-oriented. This paper argues that economic liberalization and the global economy have created a new political arena in which the pursuit of enticing investments from the private sector through business-friendly politics has become more critical for local elites than adhering to traditional exploitive rent-seeking. In other words, the nexus between the changes in economic structure and initiatives of local “policy entrepreneurs” (Takagi 2021) has facilitated the rise of reform-oriented and business-friendly local politics.

Second, do the new economic structure and the rise of reform-oriented local politics weaken or strengthen local political dynasties? To answer the question, it is important to note that local elites’ power bases have shifted from a reliance on landownership and state resources to private resources of investors. With this shift, local political dynasties may become less stable as the importance of monopoly over state resources decreases. Also, economic development can enable constituents become more independent from the local elites by providing them of new private resources. For instance, Raymund John P. Rosuelo (2017) clarifies that urbanization and influx of the middle class into gated subdivisions formed new local constituents, who eroded a political clan’s long-standing dominance in Cainta, Rizal. However, it is also possible for local political dynasties to utilize the flow of private capital to strengthen their power base; this is supported by case studies. Sakuma Miho (2012) notes the continued dynastic rule of the Osmeñas in Cebu City, who successfully created jobs and increased tax revenue by attracting foreign investment to the special economic zone of Cebu Bay reclaimed with official development assistance from Japan. Porio (2012) identifies the paradox that local governments with traditional leadership in Metro Manila tend to transform local governance to become more efficient, innovative, transparent, and accountable to the needs of their constituents in order to remain competitive.

This study supports the latter scenario based on the case in Ilocos Norte, where I confirmed that local elites adopted the new mode of business-friendly governance and succeeded in enticing private capital investment to entrench themselves and perpetuate their dynasty. I also explore conditions that would frustrate the continuation of business-friendly elites’ rule and usher in more open and competitive local politics. For this research, I carried out a total of five field surveys lasting about two weeks between 2007 and 2018 in the municipality of San Nicolas and Laoag City, in the province of Ilocos Norte.1)

I Changing Landscape of Political Economy

I-1 Shifting of Local Elites’ Power Base

Many studies have tried to identify the power bases of Filipino local elites who successfully captured the state and maintained their power for generations. The origin of traditional elites can be traced back to the early American colonial era, when emerging Filipino-Chinese mestizos purchased huge plantations from the departing Spanish religious orders that accumulated lands to seek profits in the international cash crop market (Anderson 1988). The emerging elites entrenched themselves through the lucrative export of cash crops, mainly sugar, to the US market and through the monopolization of political positions through the electoral democracy installed by the American colonial government.

Studies of rural local politics in the pre-martial law era emphasized elites’ landownership and patron–client relationship with poor constituents as their power base (Lande 1965; Agpalo 1972). They discussed an urban setting, where a vast number of domestic migrants moved from rural areas and the land ownership was not concentrated; the emergence of “machine politics” was observed, in which “new men” utilized resources obtained from national politicians to consolidate their constituents’ vote for their political party or faction (Machado 1971; 1974). While the agrarian patron–client relationship is more long term and personal, this urban machine politics is more instrumental and specific to election time. Democratization in 1986 helped to revive such urban machine politics in many localities, including the cities of Metro Manila (Magno 1993; Gloria 1995).

John Sidel (1999) contributed to a theoretical turn by arguing that local elites’ power base is neither landownership nor a patron–client relationship but is in fact found in their access to state resources, including allocation of national revenue, use of rent-seeking, and violence. He argues that the local elites who monopolize access to state resources have ruled over poor constituents in the structural condition of “primitive accumulation of capital” in which resources are concentrated in the state. Kawanaka Takeshi (2002) supports the importance of access to state resources for elites’ power, yet he presents a different perspective in terms of methods of rule. While Sidel emphasizes the local elites’ violence and coercion with the cases of Cavite and Cebu City, Kawanaka explains how Mayor Jesse Robredo’s political machine efficiently distributed services to organized constituents in Naga City.

Although the theoretical turn toward state resources is important, the condition of the state’s monopoly of resources on which these arguments are premised has become increasingly irrelevant in many localities. This is because globalization and economic liberalization have radically changed the structural condition of what Sidel called “primitive accumulation of capital” and have promoted capital accumulation in society—not only in Metro Manila but also in many smaller cities. Continuously increasing remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have increased the number of constituents who are independent of the clientelist relationship with local elites.2) The remittances have also expanded purchasing power of OFW families and the size of local markets, which has attracted inward investment of private capital, both domestically and from foreign investors.3) Thus, the state no longer monopolizes resources, and private capital has increasingly become essential for local elites to consolidate their rule.

Coinciding with the changing economic environment was the decentralization introduced by the Local Government Code of 1991, which gave local governments enhanced discretional authority to tax, issue local bonds, borrow from financial institutions, and engage in development projects in collaboration with the private sector. In general, decentralization provides incentives for local governments to compete for a prosperous local economy (Weingast 2009, 280). In the Philippines’ case, limited devolution of resources from the national to local governments, despite the fiscal decentralization, has intensified the race among local governments to attain investments by providing the private sector with exemption from regulations, tax privileges, and long-term guarantees of profits (Holmes 2016, 124–129).

It is clear that local elites have found new incentives in the changing environment. If they are successful in enticing investments from the private sector, they can stimulate the local economy, create employment, and increase local revenue, all of which are useful in consolidating their electoral holds. It has become irrational for them to maintain the traditional practices of red tape and demanding grease payments from the private sector in exchange for permitting business operations. This new rule of the game introduced by the global economy has pressured local elites to become more business friendly.

This new trend is seen in the fact that each year there are around 150 entries from local government units (LGUs) for the Galing Pook award (Galing Pook Foundation 2017, 3). Since 1993 the Galing Pook Foundation has given this award to local governments that initiate outstanding or trailblazing innovations in local governance. However, Ronald Holmes (2016, 129–131) notes that not all local governments are keen to adopt good governance even when they fail to generate local revenues. He explains that the unconditional Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) from the national government has led to complacency among local leaders, who do not improve public services, causing “flypaper effects” (money sticks where it hits).4)

Andreas Lange explains that the divergence between progressive and regressive local politics is determined by differences in local economic structures. In areas where economic activities are urbanized and diversified, there are likely to be more local elites competing for support from the electorate. Intensified competition gives elites incentives for local economic growth that provides benefits to constituents. By contrast, in areas where economic activities rely on agricultural and state resources, a limited number of dynastic elites entrench themselves through exploitive rent-seeking without being pressurized by the electorate and rival elites, and the economy stagnates as a result (Lange 2010).

I-2 Real Estate Boom in Neoliberal Economy

For progressive local elites, a crucial requirement to attract the private sector is securing and providing urban lands for them. The real estate business, which has recorded a boom since 2003, is the second-fastest growing industrial sector only behind mining as a separate subsector in the country (Bello et al. 2014, 35–66).5) The real estate boom is visible in the active construction of IT parks, shopping malls, and residential towers not only in Metro Manila and its suburbs but also in smaller cities.

A driver for the growth of the real estate business is remittances from OFWs. Remittances almost quadrupled between 2000 and 2016, from US$6.96 billion to US$26.9 billion. As Antoinette Raquiza (2014, 231) clarifies, the growth in the service sector is marked by a remittance-led economy in which business conglomerates branch out to meet the demands created by OFW families who spend money on real estate, retailing, gaming, tourism, education, and health care. Of the OFW remittances, 30 percent is estimated to be invested in real estate (Bello et al. 2014, 46). To seize the opportunity and diversify traditional sources of wealth, established business elites, including Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, and John Gokongwei Jr., have made a full-scale entry into the rapidly growing real estate market within the last two decades, while new entrepreneurs such as Andrew Tan, Manuel Villar, and Andrew Gotianun have built wealth primarily in the real estate business.

Another driver for urban real estate development is the rapidly growing global business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, in which the Philippines, India and China are the leading countries. In 2016, BPO centers in the Philippines generated revenues of US$25 billon, contributing to 9 percent of the country’s GDP growth (Shead 2017). The boom in the BPO sector strengthened international companies’ demand for office space (Bello et al. 2014, 45–46; Raquiza 2014, 230). The BPO business in the Philippines started in 1997 when the real estate tycoon Andrew Tan transformed unoccupied high-rise buildings into the Eastwood City Cyberpark following the Asian financial crisis (Raquiza 2014, 234–235). He was followed by other business elites, such as Lucio Tan, the Ayalas, and the Gokongweis. They successfully lobbied to include BPO facilities as part of the special economic zones authorized by the state to enjoy tax incentives.

According to Raquiza, investment in real estate helped these business elites dramatically increase their wealth accumulation. She explains that their venture into real estate was nothing but an attempt to seize the third most distinct business opportunity, which emerged in the early twenty-first century, when the economy was driven by liberalization and globalization. This followed the first period of the American colonial era—in the early twentieth century—when the production and export of agricultural raw materials and semi-processed goods consolidated the wealth of traditional elites, and the second period, after the post-war independence, in the 1950s, when Filipino entrepreneurs took over departing Americans’ retail trade businesses (Raquiza 2014: 231–232). The current, third, opportunity was formed by the global capital flow into the country and neoliberal state policies that “liberated” lands from the state, domestic manufacturing, and agriculture. Many state lands were privatized, structural adjustment programs negatively affected the old manufacturing industry of import substitution, and the conversion of land use from agricultural to commercial became easier (Bello et al. 2014, 47–48).

However, this neoliberal economy does not mean a departure from rent-seeking and cronyism that characterized the previous political economy. Despite the dominant discourse of free market competition, real estate and construction businesses are protected from foreign capital competition by economic nationalist institutions, including the 1987 constitution. Rent-seeking is still important because real estate is one of the commodities most regulated by the state (Bello et al. 2014, 35–66). Political influence plays a significant role in the following processes: the privatization of state lands, conversion or rezoning of land uses, tax abatements, public service provision, and the construction of infrastructures that affect land value. Edsel Sajor (2003, 98–99) argues that during the real estate boom in Cebu City in the 1990s, the urban planning became about dealmaking with private interests rather than preserving public interests through regulation. Congressmen have exploited their legislative power when diversifying into real estate business (Coronel 2003). The three billionaires in the House of Representatives had real estate businesses in 2017 (Rappler 2018). The owner of Vista Land, Manuel Villar, who served as congressman for three terms and senator for two terms, is the prototype of the new breed of politician.6) He reportedly exercised political influence over public works in order to inflate the value of his lands (Rufo 2010).

Walden Bello et al. (2014, 53–55) insist that land is still the elites’ source of wealth but their economic base has shifted from rural, cash crop-oriented activities to urban development. However, not all traditional elites have been successful in adjusting to the changing business environment. For instance, old landed elites in Metro Manila such as the Tuazons, Aranetas, and Ortigases are no longer leading economic players due to their failed strategy of speculatively holding on to idle assets.7) They are now selling their urban lands to bigger developers.8) Bello et al. (2014, 55) argue that the key for Filipino capitalists to successfully accumulate wealth has become their ability to mobilize large amounts of capital to meet globalized sources of demand.

I-3 Globalized Local Economy in Ilocos Norte

The changes in the political economy have reached from Metro Manila to smaller cities. Ilocos Norte is an ideal place to examine their impact on local politics because of the province’s heavy reliance on international migration and remittances from OFWs. The province is administratively composed of 21 municipalities, one component city, and the provincial capital of Laoag City. Ilocano is the common language of the region. The following historical description of the region is derived from the works of Nagasaka Itaru (2009; 2013).

In Ilocos Norte Province, which lacks large plain lands, agriculture could not support the increasing population. This pushed many males to migrate to sugarcane plantations in Hawaii and fruit farms on the US mainland from the beginning of the twentieth century, during the American colonial period. Among the approximately one hundred thousand Filipinos who migrated to Hawaii between 1915 and 1946, 54 percent were from the three Ilocano-speaking provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union (Young 1981, 360). Although the American government imposed a quota to limit the number of Filipino immigrants in 1934, the quota was removed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and the number of Filipino migrants increased again. In the 1960s, two-thirds to three-fourths of the Filipinos in Hawaii and the US mainland were estimated to be Ilocanos (Lewis 1971, 6). Since the 1980s, migration to Italy has become popular. Ilocanos were the biggest group among the OFWs until the 1990s, when the number of international migrants rapidly increased in other provinces (Nagasaka 2009, 91).

Remittances from OFWs has become the main source of income in the local economy. The population engaging in agriculture in the province continuously decreased from 52.4 percent in 1992 to 45.2 percent in 2000 and 27.4 percent in 2016. Tobacco and garlic were once profitable cash crops in the region, but imports and smuggling of cheaper products from China have negatively affected their production (Molina 2013; Clapano 2019).9) The decrease in selling price has made these cash crops unprofitable due to the high inputs and labor required for cultivation. Growth in the manufacturing industry has stagnated, as it has in many parts of the country, although a few factories continue to operate: the San Miguel Beer and Coca-Cola plants in the municipality of San Nicolas since 1980 and the tomato-processing plant of the Northern Foods Corporation in the municipality of Sarrat since 1984. Reliance on international remittances is reflected in the fact that Laoag City had 16 bank branches for a population of 66,000 in 1975 (Abat 1984, 80); this number of banks per capita could be higher than in Manila. By 2006, the number of bank branches had increased to 29. According to bank managers, branches in Laoag have much bigger deposits than branches in other areas, reflecting the huge amounts of remittance and transfers of pension from the United States (Nagasaka 2013, 361).

Remittances support the locals’ new consumption behaviors. Nagasaka’s 2008 household survey in a village located 15 kilometers away from Laoag showed that 82 percent of the villagers received remittances. Nagasaka notes that urban or middle-class lifestyles unimaginable 10 years ago have spread in the village. An increasing number of villagers complete higher education, pay for water services, and own a motorbike or private car. They drive to Laoag, withdraw remittances from bank ATMs, and eat out. The way that OFWs invest in land has also changed. While it was previously common to buy lands for agriculture or housing in their home village as traditional “prestige goods,” an increasing number of OFWs have purchased real estate in Laoag for their own housing or commercial investment since the 2000s (Nagasaka 2013).

In 1992 there was only one fast food store and one big grocery store in Laoag, but today many shops and businesses can be seen. Investment in the city has increased since the 2000s against a backdrop of enhanced purchasing power of OFW families and intensified competition in Metro Manila, which has pushed investors to seek new opportunities in smaller cities such as Laoag. However, the commercial district of Laoag is small, impossible to expand, and expensive due to the geographical constraints imposed by the adjacent Laoag River. Therefore, a new commercial district has formed in the neighboring municipality of San Nicolas, only 3 kilometers away from the city beyond the Laoag River to the south, including a big shopping mall called Robinsons Place Ilocos (originally Robinsons Ilocos Norte; hereafter the Robinsons). Car showrooms for Honda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Toyota, and Ford have been built along the road connecting Laoag City and Batac City through San Nicolas.

The Robinsons Group was founded by John Gokongweis Jr., the Chinese-Filipino business magnate. He started by establishing a food-manufacturing company, Universal Robina, in 1954; this grew to become one of the largest food and beverage companies in the country. The group diversified into real estate (Robinsons Land) in the 1980s, an airline (Cebu Pacific) and shopping mall (Robinsons Mall) in the 1990s, and many other sectors. Robinsons Mall has increased its branches, expanding from Metro Manila to smaller cities and China; there were 51 branches as of 2018. The Robinsons, which opened on December 3, 2009, is the first and largest shopping mall in the Northern Luzon Region and has a floor area of approximately 22,220 square meters.

When the mall opened, there were concerns that the size of the local population might not support the business. However, its sales in January 2010 were more than double the initial estimate. While this was attributed to the newly opened mall’s attractiveness to customers during the Christmas season, one year later sales were still growing steadily.10) By January 2010, all 54 spaces were occupied. About 80 percent of them were being used by companies based in Manila or those directly run by the Robinsons, and the remaining 20 percent were owned and run by local businesspeople. The mall’s shop lease manager cited the following reasons for its success: there were no competing large-scale shopping malls in the province; local consumers’ purchasing power was boosted by remittances from OFWs; the mall displayed a wide range of goods, including some previously unavailable in the region; and it was the most convenient place to shop for those who had cars, as it had a large parking area.

Real estate development in the area is also impressive. The Robinsons Group built an expensive gated subdivision with a pool and clubhouse in the suburb of Laoag City along the road to Laoag airport.11) Then Senator Manuel Villar also developed his Camella Homes along the airport road. Most of the lots were quickly purchased by families supported by remittances from overseas.

II Business-Friendly Politics of the Valdezes

II-1 Valdez Family

The site where the Robinsons and other commercial facilities were built was called the Valdez Center, named after the Valdez family, a local elite clan in San Nicolas. I argue that the Valdezes, especially the two brothers Alfredo and Hilario, played the role of policy entrepreneurs and had a major role in developing the municipality.

From a historical perspective, local elites in Ilocos Norte could not own a significant amount of land because the region lacked expansive plains suitable for large-scale plantations.12) This provided opportunities for new local elites to emerge through violence during World War II and through higher education after the war. The Valdezes are one of them. Hilario Valdez, who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century, married Chrispina, a sister of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s grandfather. One of their children, Simeon Marcos Valdez, gained influence by leading the anti-Japanese struggle as a battalion commander of the 15th infantry regiment and served as a congressman for 14 years after the war (Velasco 2006). Angela Valdez, Simeon’s sister, married the father of former President Fidel Ramos. Consequently, Simeon was an uncle to both presidents, Marcos and Ramos. After democratization in 1987, one of Simeon’s relatives, Alfredo Valdez Sr., a retired soldier who became a municipal councilor, was appointed officer-in-charge as mayor of San Nicolas by Corazon Aquino’s administration, but he was soon replaced by Marcelo Batangan. Until Alfredo’s namesake son Alfredo Jr. won the mayoral election in 2004 after three other mayors,13) no clan could establish dominance.

Despite the Valdez family’s relationship with powerful political clans, Mayor Alfredo Valdez Jr. emphasizes his middle-class professional origins. He was born in Laoag in 1961 and moved to San Nicolas, his mother’s hometown, during childhood. After finishing high school locally, he studied pharmacy at the Far Eastern University in Manila and became a medical doctor. While working at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, he obtained a master’s degree in hospital management from Ateneo de Manila University. Upon returning to San Nicolas, he worked as a hospital consultant. Encouraged by a local priest, friends, and his brother Hilario, he ran for the mayoral election and won the position in 2004. He has explained that he wanted to remedy such problems as the deterioration of public order and financial mismanagement. He was reelected unopposed in 2007 and 2010. In the 2013 election, Alfredo switched to vice mayor due to the 1987 constitutional limit of serving in the same position for no more than three consecutive terms spanning nine years. His wife, Melanie Grace Valdez, won the election as mayor. Alfredo came back as mayor in the 2016 election and was reelected in 2019, both times unopposed. Since 2010, the Valdezes have assumed the position of vice mayor as well.

In the process of consolidating the family’s power, Alfredo’s brother Hilario, a leading local entrepreneur, played a key role in attracting investment to the municipality, which fueled local economic growth. Hilario studied law at San Beda College and became a lawyer. Recognizing his contribution to the electoral victory of Fidel Ramos to the presidency in 1992, Ramos appointed him as deputy administrator of the National Tobacco Administration and a board member of the National Food Authority. While handling issues related to farmers, he became disillusioned by the tedious procedures of the government. He resigned from both positions and started a shipping and cargo logistics business in 1994. The following year, Hilario expanded his business into his hometown with the establishment of the Venvi Group of Companies, which ventured into agribusiness and then real estate (Guillermo 2006). He suggested his brother Alfredo run for the 2004 mayoral election to create a business-friendly environment.

II-2 Making of the Valdez Center14)

Hilario saw the economic potential in 20 hectares of underutilized, agricultural, low-lying land, which was frequently flooded during the rainy season and would remain waterlogged for a month afterward. This land has now developed into the Valdez Center. Accumulation of the lands started in 1997 when Carlito Abadilla, a local elite in the municipality of Banna, sold 4,000 m2 of the family land to Hilario to finance the clan’s election expenses the following year. To address concerns among board members of the Venvi Group that this development plan would cost a lot, Hilario argued, “What is more important is the good location. If the site is in a bad location, even if the development is easy, the business will be difficult” (Guillermo 2006). When certain lands were purchased, he petitioned the provincial government to allow the moving of soil from the adjacent Laoag River to increase the height of the land to prevent flooding.

The most difficult problem in the course of development was the acquisition of titles to the land. A lot of land was registered in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of the titleholders were deceased, along with their children and grandchildren. In some cases, when the Venvi Group was negotiating the purchase of land from an owner, another person would come forward claiming to own the same piece of land and demand payment. Consequently, the group had to negotiate with multiple claimants and go through the process of judicial titling, which took a lot of time and work. It also took considerable time for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to process administrative titling and for the Department of Agriculture to convert land use from agricultural to commercial. About 60 percent of the process of acquiring the land title for the Valdez Center was completed by January 2009, and 80 percent by February 2019.

It is not rare in large-scale development projects in the Philippines for coercion and violence to be used against residents who oppose land sale or relocation. However, my research into the development of the Valdez Center did not uncover such stories. Rather, it appears that the former landowners earned a profit by selling their land.15) Several times I heard such jokes such as “My grandfather used to own land there, but he sold it to buy a buffalo carriage. If he had not sold it, I would be very rich by now.” The Venvi Group also provides jobs in the Valdez Center to families of landowners, to encourage them to sell their land.

From the beginning, Hilario had a view to develop the site into a commercial district. When some progress was made in developing the land, he asked SM Department Store, the leading mall business—owned by Henry Sy—to build a shopping mall. However, the negotiations broke down, because while the Venvi Group proposed constructing its own commercial facilities and operating a joint venture with SM Department Store, the latter demanded a 50-year lease of the entire land and a monopoly on the shopping mall business. After this, Hilario discussed the business plan with the Gokongweis’ Robinsons Group, and in 2005 they reached a basic agreement for a joint venture, which was finalized the following year. Based on the agreement, in 2007 the Venvi Group first built a commercial facility named 365 Plaza (originally 365 Mall), and in December 2010 the Robinsons Ilocos Norte opened for business.

Following the success, the Venvi Group, which become the biggest corporation in the province, further expanded its businesses in the Valdez Center. In 2011 it built the first condominium in Ilocos Norte, Balai Condominium, consisting of one nine-story building and two four-story buildings with a swimming pool. All the units were purchased while the condominium was still under construction, mostly by migrants living in Hawaii as accommodations for temporary returns home or as rental investments.16) The meat shop Freddo was constructed to promote the Venvi Group’s pork industry. Vivien Hotel started operations in 2018 in 365 Plaza. In a space beside the hotel, the Venvi Group enticed Casino Filipino-Ilocos Norte owned by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, targeting Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders. The Venvi Group also built an IT park, to which it successfully enticed big American BPO companies: Expert Global Solutions (renamed Alorica Ilocos) in 2014 and Accenture in 2015.17) In order to provide accommodation for workers in the Valdez Center, it built the Vesa Hall, composed of four buildings that could accommodate 198 people, in 2019. In the Robinsons, the Valdez Center also hosts such government offices as the Department of Foreign Affairs’ passport center, the Social Security System, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. Thus, the Valdez Center has become a one-stop shop for many purposes, from shopping, eating, working, and living to applying for government services.

Thanks to the real estate development and opening of new businesses, the number and value of real properties have significantly increased. The surge in commercial land and building values between 2008 and 2017 is impressive (Table 1).

 

Table 1 Comparison of Real Properties in San Nicolas

seas1002_kusaka_table1

Source: Office of Municipal Assessor, Municipality of San Nicolas (2018).

 

II-3 Business-Friendly Politics

The economic development in San Nicolas is partially attributable to the area’s geographic attractiveness to investors: it is located at the major transportation interchange in the province of Ilocos Norte and has easy accessibility to Laoag City and Laoag International Airport. Compared with Laoag City, whose commercial district is small and unsuitable for redevelopment, San Nicolas has the advantage of having vast lands along the major road that are suitable for developing large-scale commercial districts.

However, it is wrong to ignore Mayor Alfredo Valdez’s initiative for what he calls “business-friendly” politics.18) The concept seems to be derived from the “Most Business-Friendly Local Government Unit Award,” which has been given by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) since 2002 to promote good local governance and improvement in the business environment under the theme of “What’s good for the citizenry is good for business.” Among the one hundred LGUs nominated each year, San Nicolas won the prize in the level 1 municipality category in 2009, becoming the first winner of the award in Ilocos Norte. The municipality also received the award for three consecutive years in 2012, 2013, and 2014, which made it the first Hall of Famer of the award in Ilocos Norte. The selection criteria in 2009 were twofold: first, “good governance,” which refers to encouraging trade and investments through both “quality customer service,” based on simplified, efficient, and seamless business-related procedures, and “public–private sector partnership” for the formulation and implementation of local developmental plans; and second, the realization of “competitiveness” in terms of “investment promotion,” “micro, small and medium enterprise development,” and “quality management systems and innovation” (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2009). By 2016, revised business friendliness indicators included “anti-red tape act,” “fiscal transparency,” and “trade, investment, and tourism promotion” (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2016).

Alfredo’s initiative has been in line with these indicators of the PCCI.19) Eradicating conventional rent that was exploiting state resources for public projects was a prerequisite for him to put in place new reforms. Immediately upon being elected in 2004, he revoked a plan of the previous administration to build a public market with a loan of 36 million pesos, which he criticized as an inappropriately high price due to collusion with the construction company. The municipality then completed construction of a public market with its own funds without resorting to a loan in 2010.

In order to attract investors, Alfredo implemented a series of reforms. First, he had the municipal council draft and pass the Investment Incentive Code in 2004, the first legislation of its kind in the region, to facilitate investment procedures and provide tax reductions for five years to new investors.20) Hilario also made use of his business network in Manila to bring investors to San Nicolas. Second, Alfredo eliminated the conventional practice of politicians and officials demanding grease money in exchange for licensing and approval for investors. Third, he realized a “one-stop shop licensing center” by eliminating red tape and quickly providing licenses and approvals necessary for business. When investors visited the municipality, rather than letting them go back and forth between various bureaus, he would convene a meeting in the mayor’s office with all related officials in attendance. He said this was also effective in preventing wrongdoing on the part of officials. Fourth, he made sure to maintain security to reassure investors. As validation of this, San Nicolas was recognized as having the Most Outstanding Municipal Peace and Order Council in 2006 by the National Police Commission. Security is particularly important for luring BPO businesses, which operate in the middle of the night due to differences in time zones from the United States.

II-4 Impacts on the Local Economy

The development of the Valdez Center has had various impacts on the local economy. The most positive impact is its huge contribution to job creation. Although some contractors were from Manila, five hundred to six hundred locally hired construction workers worked on building the Robinsons, while two hundred worked on building Balai Condominium. They commuted in the beginning by public transportation but later by newly purchased motorbikes. As of 2019, more than ten thousand people regularly worked as construction workers, salespersons, security guards, and so on in the Valdez Center.21) BPO offices have greater potential to provide jobs with higher salaries to young college graduates. Alorica Ilocos increased its number of employees from nine hundred to 1,500 in 2019.22) To attract workers, it provides 13,000 pesos for relocation assistance. Accenture initially employed two hundred people, increased that number to around one thousand by 2019, and was set to offer five thousand jobs. These BPO companies have pointed to the wealth of talented students and young professionals as a reason for choosing Ilocos Norte to host their branches (ABS-CBN News 2015; Adriano 2015; 2018; Manila Times, April 27, 2016; Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte, Communications and Media Office 2016).

Alfredo also intends to create synergy between San Nicolas’s traditional pottery (damili) industry and newly attracted businesses, which would remind the public that modern design and traditional crafts could go hand in hand (Manila Times, July 28, 2009). Having exempted pottery business operators from paying taxes,23) he asked the Robinsons to use locally produced red bricks for the mall’s exterior and part of the interior. The municipality also invited a volunteer pottery artist from Japan International Cooperation Agency to develop new products that would be attractive for tourists to buy as local souvenirs.

Some local businesspersons found new business opportunities in the Robinsons, but local businessmen I interviewed in 2010 and 2011 were having difficulty adjusting to the new business.24) A Chinese Filipino restaurant owner who invested 700,000 pesos to set up an outlet in the food court complained that the high rent and mandated use of high-quality materials were burdens on his business. Another Chinese Filipino who ran a restaurant in the mall admitted that his business was in the red because of the high rent and expensive utilities and that he would consider withdrawing if the rent did not come down.25) Because of this situation, many local business owners were still in a “wait and see” mode with regard to assuming tenancy in the mall.26)

Investments by big business from the outside also brought threats to existing local businesses. Before the opening of the Robinsons in 2009, there was some opposition to the plan from grocery stores in San Nicolas and an old local department store in Laoag, but there was no serious political opposition. After the opening of the Robinsons, local retail businesses were adversely affected. The 5-Sisters Superstore, a local department store in Laoag, tried to win back customers by improving its stock and increasing sales, but it eventually closed and leased its premises to SM Savemore, which opened in 2011. Vendors at the public markets in Laoag and San Nicolas were also affected by the Robinsons’ opening.27) In particular, those dealing in groceries complained about reduced sales, but they tried to secure suki (regulars) with friendly sales talk and by providing services that department stores could not, such as discounts and free replacement of defective products. They also tried to attract customers by emphasizing that their products were cheaper and fresher than those found in the mall.28)

Yet the biggest reason why many local businesses were able to survive despite aggressive investment by the mall businesses was that local residents receiving remittances from abroad had enough purchasing power to sustain both old and new commercial facilities. Locals generally welcomed the Robinsons as it provided a new place for consumption and entertainment. The rich and middle classes enjoy shopping for luxurious items as well as the convenience of making a significant number of purchases in a single trip because of the mall’s large parking lot, which is a contrast to the congested commercial districts in Laoag. The poor come with their families on holidays to have meals in inexpensive restaurants and indulge in a bit of shopping in an air-conditioned space.29) Yet many consumers use shops closer to their home or workplace to buy items they use daily and the public markets to buy fresh foods.

II-5 Contribution to Local Revenue and Public Services

New businesses have made important contributions to the tax revenue of San Nicolas, which does not enjoy a big share of the IRA from the central government due to its classification as a second-class municipality.30) The amount of IRA to local governments is determined by their classification based on area, population, and income. For instance, Vintar, having the largest area in the province, is classified as a first-class municipality and received 80 million pesos of IRA in 2009, whereas San Nicolas, which has the second-smallest area in the province at 40.18 km2, received only 43 million pesos that year. A municipality can significantly increase its share of IRA by gaining cityhood, which requires satisfying one of two requirements: having an area of 100 km2 or a population of 150,000, or generating a local income of 100 million pesos for the last two consecutive years.31)

It is unrealistic for San Nicolas, which had a population of only 33,642 in 2007 and 36,736 in 2015, to meet the population requirement. Thus, San Nicolas has sought to raise local revenue through its business tax, the largest source of tax revenue.32) Since 2005, the year after Alfredo was elected mayor, San Nicolas’s local revenue has increased dramatically despite the tax reduction for new investors. The increase in local sources of income has outstripped the increase in IRA, which has led to a significant decline of IRA dependency to around 50 percent or even lower (Table 2). Considering the national average of IRA dependency at the municipality level was 78 percent in 2004 and 77 percent in 2016,33) it is clear that San Nicolas has achieved a financial status relatively independent of central government funding.

 

 

By making use of the increased local revenue, the municipality has improved public services, which has helped it win many awards in various fields of good governance. Trophies and certificates for more than sixty awards are exhibited in the municipality hall, which is constructed with locally produced red bricks and ornamented with traditional products. A virtuous cycle is identified: initiatives for good governance yield awards; awards attract investment; and investment increases local revenue to support the betterment of public services, which attracts new awards.

In terms of infrastructure, the municipality implemented the Small Water Impounding Projector “Catching Rain” Program, which utilizes the indigenous and environment-friendly technique of earth dams, water reservoirs, and irrigation systems for agriculture in the municipality, where there are no natural bodies of water for irrigation. This program won the Galing Pook award in 2017 (Dela Cruz 2017b; Galing Pook Foundation 2017, 17). For environmental rehabilitation, to address the rapid increase in waste and garbage generated by economic development, the municipality in 2012 started constructing a sanitary landfill, which came into operation in 2015. This was a progressive initiative, considering that more than 85 percent of LGUs still used open dumps as of 2016, despite the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 enjoining LGUs to convert open dumps into sanitary landfills (Senate Economic Planning Office 2017).

In the field of cultural services, in order to enhance public awareness about the cultural heritage of the local pottery industry, the municipality honored the master craftswoman Paulina “Nana Paul” Rangcapan as a Municipal Living Treasure in 2016 (Municipal Ordinance No. 2016-05). Her story is highlighted in the museum Museo San Nicoleño, which was set up in a historical water reservoir building in 2017 in time for the quadricentennial of San Nicolas’s independence from Laoag (Sembrano 2018). A municipal officer explained that the pottery industry was an important part of San Nicolas’s cultural heritage; even though the Spanish colonial government tried to annex San Nicolas to Laoag, the necessity of managing the pottery industry helped San Nicolas to maintain its independence.34) The municipality also institutionalized the Damili Festival, in which each barangay performs native dances; required elementary and high school students to learn the art of pottery as part of the curriculum; and purchased an old Spanish-style building to preserve the structure and named it Balay San Nicolas. Such programs act as a conduit for tourism development. The municipality became a finalist for the Galing Pook Award for Outstanding Governance Program for its cultural heritage program in 2015. Moreover, Alfredo encouraged and facilitated Manuel Aurelio, a local intellectual, to publish a second edition of his book titled The History of San Nicolas (Aurelio 2013).

As for health and sanitation, the municipality has provided funds to extend health insurance to those not previously covered by PhilHeath: informal workers and unenrolled women about to give birth.35) It has held medical-dental missions and blood donation drives to provide medicine and medical assistance to the people. The Department of Health conferred the National Sandugo Award on the municipality in 2013 and 2017 for actively promoting voluntary blood donation (Dela Cruz 2013; 2017a). In the education sector, the municipality has worked with the San Nicolas Express BIN-I Foundation, a goodwill organization founded and chaired by Alfredo, to provide scholarships to less fortunate students. San Nicolas was also adjudged a National Kabalikat awardee by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in 2013 for its outstanding promotion and enhancement of technical education and skills development (Dela Cruz 2013).

II-6 Race for Investment among Local Governments

According to Alfredo, another advantage of being less dependent on IRA is that local chief executives like himself can withstand harassment from higher-ranking politicians. A feud with the Marcoses, the distant relatives and the most powerful clan in the province, is a serious threat for the Valdezes.36) The Marcoses, who have monopolized the governorship of Ilocos Norte since 1998, was not always supportive to the development of the Valdez Center. The Venvi Group’s application to the provincial government for tax incentives was rejected.37) The Venvi group also had to develop the basic infrastructure for services such as electricity and water by themselves. Imee Marcos, who served as the governor from 2010 until she was elected to the Senate in 2019, declined the Venvi Group’s application for a quarry permit for two years while issuing permits to other businesses. When two senators distributed farm-to-market road funds to the provincial government, Imee did not allocate the funds to San Nicolas. Perhaps frustrated by the Valdezes’ achievements, Imee demanded that investors not invest only in San Nicolas. As if to appease the governor, Alorica opened a small office in Laoag, and Casino Filipino installed several machines in the Plaza Del Norte Hotel and Convention Center which was constructed in Paoay by Imee’s brother Bongbong when he was the governor. The feud with the Marcoses eventually made Hilario to run for a congressional seat but lost to Eugenio Angelo Barba, who was backed by the Marcoses in the 2019 election.

Such conflicts between political clans should be understood in the context of competition over investment, not just as personal matters. Imee herself situated the rise of business-friendly politics as the third stage of development of the province, following the first stage when her father, President Ferdinand Marcos, developed the province through aggressive public spending on infrastructure in the 1970s, and the second stage when remittances from OFWs contributed to the local economy from the 1990s to 2000s, which she believed was not sustainable due to the high social cost of draining the population. In the current third stage, where “small government” is celebrated, local governments seek sustainable development by collaborating with the private sector. The BPO business is especially important because it can prevent university graduates from leaving the province and can increase the purchasing power of young workers. Thus, Imee emphasized that winning the “race towards FDI (foreign direct investment)” was essential, and it was no longer only ASEAN countries that competed for FDI but also local governments in the Philippines.38)

Apart from enticing investment, Imee added another method for the local government to function as an enterprise: pursuing profit in such fields as tourism.39) However, there are still legal and political limitations that discourage local governments from seeking profit as an enterprise.40) Thus, attracting investment is so far the most important strategy.

The impressive successes of San Nicolas have sparked a race for investment among local governments in the Province. Laoag City, whose mayoral position was ruled by the Fariñas clan from 2004 to 2019, legislated the Investment Incentive Code in 2008, four years after San Nicolas, and tried to entice mall businesses. Although its scale is much smaller than that of the Robinsons, the SM Savemore opened in the city in December 2011, replacing the old 5-Sisters Superstore, which was followed by the opening of SM Hypermarket in October 2012. To host the latter, Laoag City renovated the Ilocano Heroes Memorial Hall. In return, SM Department Store donated 1.5 million pesos to Laoag City General Hospital and 300,000 pesos for the renovation of St. William’s Cathedral (Orosa 2012). Puregold Supermarket, a large-scale grocery store run by the Chinese-Filipino businessman Lucio Co, opened its doors in November 2012.

However, the series of big investments in congested Laoag drew opposition in several forms. Local businesses and the Laoag Market Vendors Association opposed the opening of large-scale grocery stores in the city. In response to their anxiety, Laoag City claimed that it could not prevent local development and proposed that local businesses take up tenancy in the malls.41) The strongest protest was against Laoag City’s decision to demolish the historic structure of Laoag Central Elementary School, which was built in 1929, and offer the land to Puregold. The land had originally been donated to the city for educational purposes by the diocese of Laoag. Growing opposition from the school’s parent-teacher association, the community, and the local business sector forced the provincial board to impose a moratorium on the demolition of the heritage structure in 2009 (Arzadon 2009). To avoid further delay in opening, Puregold eventually agreed to downscale its original plan and built its supermarket beside the school.

III Local Politics and Private Capital

III-1 Reexamining Rent in Local Politics

A characteristic of the business-friendly politics in San Nicolas is the close link between politics and business formed by the Valdez brothers. Although Hilario had made a conscious effort not to intervene in politics,42) the two brothers clearly made use of rent to further develop the Valdez Center. It would not be feasible to accumulate and develop the huge lands without strong support from the local government because the business needed to go through many complex procedures to get various kinds of permits. However, the use of such political power by an economic actor is usually regarded as rent-seeking, which harms the economy. In that case, why did the use of rent by the Valdezes promote the development of the local economy instead of harming it?

According to the mainstream neoclassical economic theory, rent essentially harms the economy because it gives incentives for economic actors to indulge in rent-seeking, inefficiently spending resources for unproductive purposes such as lobbying, petitions, and donations, as opposed to profit-seeking, in which resources are utilized for productive purposes in the market, thus contributing to economic development. On the other hand, there are arguments that some forms of rent have produced more benefits than costs, contributing to economic growth in East Asia and Southeast Asia, contrary to the dominant neoclassical view (e.g. Chang 1994; Khan 2000a; 2000b; 2006; Kang 2002). According to Mushtaq Khan, it is possible to measure the different economic impacts of rent by subtracting the cost of rent-seeking from the benefits of rent. While a positive difference signifies that rent is “value-enhancing,” a negative difference shows that rent is “value-reducing” (Khan 2000a; 2000b; 2006).

In the Philippines, rent-seeking has been identified as a major obstacle to economic development. Paul Hutchcroft (1998; 2000) argues that oligarchic elites have engaged in predatory rent-seeking from the state for their self-interest at the cost of economic rationality and the general welfare of the nation. He also states that privatization of businesses previously controlled by the state did not lead to the abolition of predatory rent-seeking because it produced new rent—the state’s licensing of the entry of private capital—which could be utilized by companies enjoying the most favorable political connections to take advantage in bidding and negotiation (Hutchcroft 2000, 241). Rent-seeking in the Philippines is expensive and unproductive because so many actors compete for rent; the state is weakened by many authorities informally intervening in and influencing the formal bureaucracy. This condition makes the outcome of rent-seeking so unpredictable that beneficiaries of rent pursue narrow self-profit instead of investing in development that contributes to broader interests (Hutchcroft 2000; Kang 2002).

In stark contrast to the general description of the Philippine political economy, however, it is undeniable that value-enhancing forms of rent have worked in the case of San Nicolas. This can be attributed to two factors. First, the cost of rent-seeking has been at its minimum because of the high predictability of its outcomes at the level of local government, where the number of actors is limited and negotiation with a chief executive with strong leadership is reliable. Rent-seeking from the central government is much more complex and incalculable due to the many informal authorities involved. In the case of San Nicolas, the family tie, coupled with the shared vision and interests of the Valdez brothers, has made the cost of rent-seeking little to none. Another factor making rent-seeking inexpensive is the changing economic structure. The cost of rent-seeking is likely to become more expensive in a setting where the state monopolizes resources or provides lucrative business opportunities and a number of companies are competing for rent, as in the case of overbidding for a public project. However, private capital has become more dominant over state resources and local governments are not always in the position to choose investors. In the new setting where many local governments compete to attract private capital to their localities, the cost of rent-seeking to companies must be much cheaper.

Second, the rent utilized by the Valdezes for the development of the Valdez Center produced general benefits to the local economy because the Valdezes tapped the potential of the local market rather than monopolizing it. The enticement of the international BPO companies further expanded the local market by strengthening the purchasing power of its workers and families. Furthermore, the Valdezes succeeded in creating and maintaining a competitive market. They did not put undue pressure on other private capital and instead used their own businesses as instruments to attract new investment from Manila and abroad. They explained that investors would not be interested in investing in a large expanse of empty land and therefore it was necessary for the Venvi Group to create some successful examples with their own money.

Yet, the economic impacts of rent can change over time, and value-enhancing forms of rent can become value-reducing (Khan 2000b). At least three negative scenarios are conceivable for San Nicolas. If investment in the municipality further increases and multiple companies compete for business permits from the local government, the cost of rent-seeking may balloon, and this may take away from the benefits of the rent. Also, if demand in the local market becomes close to saturated, the businesses of the Valdezes and other companies that enjoy rent may prevent the development of other private capital and inhibit the competitive market. Lastly, a change in local political leadership may seriously disturb the conditions that have kept the rent productive. The weakness of local bureaucracy under the “spoils system” of the Philippines, in which high-ranking local officials’ tenure is dependent on electoral outcomes, raises the risk.

III-2 Changes and Continuity in Elite Rule

Sidel stated that the structural condition of the state’s monopoly of resources helped local elites to entrench their power through access to the state. This paper argues, however, that conditions have changed as private resources have accumulated in society—not only in Metro Manila but also in many smaller cities—through international remittances and investments by the private sector since the 2000s. The new structural conditions have provided local elites with an incentive to switch their political dominance strategy from predatory rent-seeking for state resources to enticement of private sector investments. The new strategy enables local elites to enhance their revenue, improve public services, and receive awards, which further attract investment. The Valdez brothers were the pioneering policy entrepreneurs who first adapted the new strategy in Ilocos Norte.

However, the new structural condition does not always produce policy entrepreneurs who practice reform-oriented local politics throughout the Philippines. Given that the new strategy is not always available for local elites who do not enjoy geographic conditions suitable for commercial development, the gap between progressive and regressive local governments will become bigger. Even in cities with potential for investment, not all local elites can smoothly change the conventional way of doing politics. Aggressive enticement of investment without sufficient coordination can also invite local opposition, as seen in the case of Laoag. Thus, it can be argued that the new structural condition provided local elites with a new rule of a game in which those who succeeded in adapting themselves to the new rule became dominant and those who did not do so began failing.

This study also confirmed the tendency that business-friendly local politics strengthens the power base of dynastic local elites. The case of San Nicolas suggests that business-friendly politics facilitates the emergence of a new type of local dynasty. The fact that Alfredo won reelection unopposed in 2010, 2016, and 2019 shows that the Valdezes were able to establish a dynasty through reform-oriented politics in the municipality, whose political landscape had once been so competitive that none of the ambitious clans had been able to build a stable dominance.

For more established dynasties such as the Marcoses, the changing structure of the political economy may have provided a new challenge. Yet, Imee was confident in the dynasty’s stability, insisting that local governments ruled by long-standing dynastic elites were more advantageous to economic development through business-friendly politics. This was because stable, strong leadership enabled them to implement a long-term plan, while competition among many interests, coupled with frequent changes in leadership in national politics as well as more competitive local politics, could stagnate development.43)

Although it may be tempting to dismiss Imee’s argument as mere self-justification for dynastic elites, the study’s findings affirm her view. Theoretically, the presence of many actors and unpredictability in electoral politics increase the cost of rent-seeking, which tends to have a negative impact on the economy. On the contrary, dynastic local politics limits the number of actors and unpredictability in politics, which can reduce the cost of rent-seeking and thereby produce a positive outcome. Empirically, this study exemplifies that local elites can strengthen their hold on power through business-friendly politics by managing the channel of capital inflow, providing more job opportunities, and improving public services.

However, a change in the way local elites allocate resources to constituents and the way the latter evaluate the former may eventually lead to more pluralistic local political competition. In traditional clientelist and machine politics, local elites directly distribute resources to their followers for votes as a token of their personal “kindness.” In contrast, in business-friendly politics, local elites indirectly benefit a broad range of constituents, beyond their narrow political affiliation, through economic and social development. This can make constituents more independent of local elites and thereby weaken the latter’s direct control. Moreover, because constituents value performance and competence in the local elites, even established dynasties may fail if they fail to perform for the people. Although this study does not have data showing such signs, new studies on failed or weakened dynasties in the new environment of a political economy would reveal conditions for change.

Accepted: December 15, 2020

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1) I am deeply grateful to Nagasaka Itaru, Ariel Tejada, and Mario Tejada for facilitating my research.

2) The amount of remittances from OFWs increased from $694 billion in 1985 to $18,763 billion in 2010 and $28,943 billion in 2018 (Philippine Statistics Authority).

3) The net flow of foreign direct investment into the Philippines increased from $12 million in 1985 to $1.07 billion in 2010 and $9.802 billion in 2018 (World Bank, n.d.).

4) Holmes also notes that real property tax collection on idle lands tends to be low because the financial and political process of land valuation is more costly than a possible increase in revenue from taxes, due to the limited power of local governments to set tax rates.

5) Current prices of real estate, renting, and business activity according to the gross national income and gross domestic product recorded double-digit growth except from 2008 to 2009.

6) Manuel’s son Mark became the secretary of public works and highways in the Duterte administration despite the family’s interest in real estate. Manuel’s wife, Cynthia, who was reelected to the Senate in 2019, chairs the Senate’s Agriculture and Food Committee despite the Villar family’s interest in converting agricultural lands into the family’s subdivision project sites.

7) Speculation was a major strategy they used for accumulation, because of the high and secure returns coupled with failure of the state to collect idle land taxes due to penetration of the elites’ interest (Goss 1998, 91–92; Cardenas 2011, 17).

8) Sajor (2003) points out that while the Osmeñas and Aboitezes, the two traditional landed elite families in Cebu, became real estate developers, other landed elites speculatively held on to their lots without developing or selling them and thus lost out on business opportunities.

9) Production of tobacco declined by an average of 5.36 percent annually from 2001 to 2007 (Espino et al. 2009).

10) Interview with Pia Guirre, shop lease manager of Robinsons Ilocos Norte, February 2, 2011.

11) Those who offered land for residential development were local elites. According to Nagasaka (2013), the owner of a local department store called 5-Sisters purchased the land a long time ago from the Agcaoilies, an old elite family, and sold it to the Robinsons for their subdivision, whose units were sold for 2.9 million to 6.6 million pesos in 2010.

12) The elites previously held a relatively large amount of land in the province of Ilocos Norte, but due to the practice of divided inheritance, the size of their landholding decreased (Nagasaka 2009, 57).

13) They are Benjamin Madamaba (1988–92), Angelo Barba (1992–2001), and Manuel Hernando (2001–4).

14) The description here is drawn from interviews with Alfredo Valdez (February 1 and 8, 2010; February 19, 2019); Hilario Valdez (February 20, 2019); Ed Mar Vincent Bonoan, former municipal councilor of San Nicolas and deputy leader of the operation team, the Venvi Group (February 7, 2010); and Guirre.

15) According to Bonoan, there were cases in which some residents tried to extort an excessive amount of money from the Venvi Group using false documents.

16) The reason why the group built a condominium when there was plenty of land to build houses was so that migrant workers returning home temporarily could enjoy peace and quiet as well as privacy. The units ranged in size from 47 m2 to 170 m2 and were sold for prices ranging from 1.1 million to 3 million pesos in 2010.

17) Alorica Inc., a California-based customer service company, acquired Expert Global Solutions in 2016. Accenture’s branch in Ilocos Norte was the third after Manila and Cebu.

18) A municipality official who had served three mayors also noted that it was after Alfredo was first elected that various reforms were started under the banner of being “business friendly” (interview with Reidemor Bumanglag, head of human resources, municipality of San Nicolas, January 31, 2011).

19) The following discussion is based on interviews with Alfredo Valdez, February 1 and 8, 2011.

20) San Nicolas Investment Incentive Code of 2004; interview with Bonoan, who drafted the bill, on January 28, 2011.

21) The Venvi Group directly hired five hundred to six hundred workers as of 2019.

22) Alorica Ilocos offered 390 pesos a day for new workers, which was much higher than the minimum wage of 310 pesos in the region in 2019.

23) Licensing requirements are also exempted for pottery business operators except for those who produce bricks that construction companies purchase with official documents.

24) Rent varies from one business type to another. In 2010, for a restaurant the monthly rent was 600 pesos per square meter as well as a small percentage of total sales.

25) He expected that if a new large-scale shop opened in Laoag City, the Robinsons would reduce its rent in order to retain tenants.

26) Interview with Robert Bismonte, president, Laoag/Ilocos Norte chapter, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on January 29, 2011.

27) However, the revenue from the Laoag public market decreased by only a small margin after the Robinsons’ opening because the city administration made efforts to prevent tax flight by strictly monitoring shipment to the market and sales. On the other hand, merchants in the Laoag public market demanded a reduction in rent from Laoag City because the loan of 140 million pesos to build the public market in 1999 had been paid off in July 2009 and because the merchants’ sales had been reduced with the opening of the Robinsons. As for vendors in the San Nicolas public market, because the market opened in November 2010, it is impossible to compare revenues before and after the Robinsons’ opening.

28) A vendor dealing in clothes said that her products were cheaper for “everyone,” in contrast to the more expensive products at the Robinsons, partly due to the latter’s high rent. A chicken vendor said that because chickens sold at the Robinsons were frozen, she was trying to compete by selling as much fresh chicken as possible.

29) The shop lease manager claimed that tenants at the Robinsons were chosen to cover all classes of customers (interview with Guirre).

30) When Alfredo assumed the mayoral position in 2004, San Nicolas was a fourth-class municipality.

31) In Ilocos Norte, Batac was granted cityhood by Congress in 2007 even without satisfying the income requirement, but the Supreme Court revoked the decision in 2008. Batac regained cityhood in 2010 after the Supreme Court nullified its previous decision.

32) Coca-Cola paid the highest business tax of an annual 6 million pesos, which was followed by the Robinsons’ 3 million to 3.5 million pesos from 2010 to 2017 (interview with Henry Ulep, treasurer, San Nicolas, January 27, 2011 and November 26, 2018).

33) Bureau of Local Government Finance, Department of Finance (2004, 20; 2016). The average IRA dependency of the municipalities in Ilocos Norte also decreased from 73.4 percent in 2009 to 52.2 percent in 2016.

34) Interview with Richie Cavinta, February 19, 2019.

35) See Municipal Resolution No. 2019-52, which was enacted to comply with the National Health Insurance Act of 2013.

36) Interviews with Alfredo Valdez and Hilario Valdez, February 19 and 20, 2019.

37) The Ilocos Norte Investment Board pointed out that Venvi had acquired land titles for only 2 to 3 hectares of the 20 hectares for which the application had been made (interview with Bismonte).

38) Interview with Imee Marcos, February 3, 2011.

39) Imee pointed to Governor Ray Villafuerte of the province of Camarines Sur as a successful example. The governor put back profits gained from promoting tourism into school-building projects.

40) Imee criticized that Jesse Robredo, secretary of the Interior and Local Government of the Benigno Aquino III administration issued three memorandums to constrain local governments’ economic independence.

41) Interview with Joshua Paulino, head of Management Authority of Laoag Public Market, February 1, 2011.

42) Interview with Bonoan, January 28, 2011.

43) Interview with Imee Marcos.

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Takagi Yusuke

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Policy Making after Revolution: The Faces of Local Transformation of the Philippines

Takagi Yusuke*

*高木佑輔, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), 7–22–1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106–8677, Japan
e-mail: y-takagi[at]grips.ac.jp

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.2_199

The decentralization process trigg Congressional Record. Quezon City: House of Representativered by the Local Government Code of 1991 resulted in local politicians rising to the national political arena in the 2016 Philippine elections. A former mayor of Davao City was elected to the presidency and the widow of a former Naga City mayor to the vice presidency. These cases reflect various political dynamics, including bossism, patronage politics, a developmental authoritarian regime, and a grassroots democracy. Beyond typological studies on local politics, this chapter reveals the transforming nature of local politics by scrutinizing policy making and policy implementation at the local level. Local policy makers become policy entrepreneurs when they find innovative ways to implement existing policies in particular local contexts or when they create new local policies. The policies may take on their own nature, or a built-in nature, via new institutions and changing expectations that outlast the term of political leaders. After reviewing conventional knowledge to understand the transforming nature of local politics, this chapter provides a brief case study of the coalition politics behind the Local Government Code of 1991. Policy coalitions—made up of politicians, bureaucrats, civil society activists, and businesspeople—work to make and implement policies at the national and local levels.

Keywords: local politics, reform policy, policy entrepreneurs, policy coalition, decentralization, built-in nature, local transformation, the Philippines

Introduction

The decentralization process triggered by the Local Government Code of 1991 resulted in local politicians rising to the national political arena in 2016. A former mayor of Davao City was elected to the presidency, and the widow of a former Naga City mayor was elected to the vice presidency. A former mayor of Makati City also led the presidential race in 2015, but he lost in the end. The 2016 election results were more striking than previous election results. Almost all the presidents prior to the implementation of the local government code had experience serving as senators with nationwide electoral districts.

It is, however, misleading to paint the fruits of the reform as one color. President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo represented two different types of local leadership after decentralization. Mayor Duterte was famous for his iron-fisted approach toward rebels and vigilantes in Davao City, and his ruling style was investigated by the national government’s Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, Mayor Jesse Robredo, the vice president’s late husband, was known for a reform-oriented governance that empowered local residents, which was admired by local and international observers (Kawanaka 2013; Parreño 2019). Local politics are diverse enough to allow iron rule by strongmen as well as a democratic governance that encourages citizens’ participation.

The early literature on local governments is dominated by claims that bossism characterized local governments. In a compilation about local political bosses, Alfred McCoy (1994) emphasizes that the weak Philippine state has failed to penetrate into society. Political families, also called clans or dynasties, have maintained their power bases through illegal or extralegal ways, such as violence. McCoy emphasizes social forces such as family, while John Sidel (1999) points out the significance of the American colonial state’s institutional legacy of elected local officials who dominate economic resources and administrative prerogatives.

The discourse based on the weak state, or bossism, does not cover Philippine politics’ entire nature. The investigative journalism exposing bossism and warlordism represents a space for freedom of speech and a right to know, a space sustained by brave journalists. Based on Sidel’s bossism framework, leading Filipino journalists have exposed stories about local bosses throughout the country (Lacaba 1995).

Moreover, the story of policy making reveals an interesting context where policy makers exploit bossism or warlordism in reform politics. Jose Almonte, an influential presidential adviser to President Fidel Ramos, pointed out the use of publications on dynastic rule to generate public support for dismantling the telecommunication sector’s monopoly in the early 1990s (Almonte 2015, 241). Policy makers such as Almonte exploited studies on dynastic rule to carry out reform and successfully dismantled the telecommunication industry’s monopoly, revealing the political dynamics beyond those of a simple oligarchy.

We can expect contested politics among oligarchs, bosses, and reformers (cf. Quimpo 2008). Against the dominant discourse of a weak state, several policy reforms appear in tax laws, peace building, social policy, and budgeting at the local level (Sidel 2014; Takagi 2017; Hara 2019). McCoy (1994) refers to the Mafia’s resilience in Italy to highlight illicit activities in Philippine local politics. Italian local politics, however, were characterized not only by the Mafia but also by a rich history of social capital accumulated by the local civil community (cf. Putnam 1993). Local politics in the Philippines may be as diverse as Italian local politics.

As shown in Jose Magadia’s (2003) study on social capital, citizens actively engage with public issues in places with a dense civic community. In a study on social capital in local Philippine politics, Kobayashi Jun and Osaki Hiroko (2019) found that local political leaders with strong ties to residents performed well in social service delivery, while those with strong ties to the central government performed well in administration. Using the same data set, Nishimura Kenichi (2019) argues that most local governments with councils performed better than those without.

In the following sections, this chapter seeks to appreciate various local political practices and to understand the transformation of local politics by highlighting policy making. The first section critically reviews existing literature on local politics and argues that there may be pockets of local transformation where policy entrepreneurs work locally for reform, despite the presence of a developmental authoritarian state, a patronage-driven state, and a weak state in other parts of the country. The second section elaborates the concept of policy entrepreneurs and coalition politics to shed new light on Philippine politics through a case study on making the Local Government Code of 1991. The third section examines the cases studied and clarifies the practices of local policy entrepreneurs and the nature of local coalition politics in each case.

I Varieties of Local Political Practices: Beyond the Weak State

A critical review of the existing literature reveals some clues about political development in local settings. In his insightful paper on local Philippine political economies, Emmanuel de Dios classifies local leadership into three types: patrons and patronage (clientelism), bosses and violence (warlordism), and brokers and national resources (De Dios 2007, 166–177).

First, local leaders in a system of clientelism often depend on landownership and exploit the huge socioeconomic gap between themselves and their constituencies. Patrons can dominate physical forces by appointing local police or by organizing private militias; they can achieve political stability but cannot provide socioeconomic development. De Dios (2007) repeatedly mentions cases where landlords dominate large farm areas and exploit patron-client relations with minimal social burden to their clients. Other scholars point to machine politics, in which professional politicians provide material benefits only to constituencies in cities (Machado 1972). Patrons in rural areas and machine politicians in cities both engage in patronage politics, whose ideals oppose politics based on contested programs or platforms of political parties (Kitschelt 2000).

Second, bosses are local leaders who maximize violence to stay in power. In his influential study on bossism in the Philippines, Sidel (1999) emphasizes the political legacy of American colonial state building after independence. As a result of the peculiar sequence of colonial state building—introducing local elections before making a national bureaucracy—elected officials dominate the nation’s economic and coercive resources. Thereafter, local political leaders consolidate their power against the national administration because national politicians depend on local politicians for voter mobilization. Based on bossism, the Philippines has a predatory state that mostly fails to use legitimate violence and fails to consolidate the rule of law.

Third, brokers are local leaders who excel at bringing national resources to local areas. They impose initiatives from above and fail to represent the people’s voices through political parties. De Dios highlights Mayor Tomas Osmeña of Cebu, who developed the city by establishing a special economic zone and consolidating his power base as the head of the Osmeña family.

The typology of de Dios is an excellent starting point to consider a new perspective on local politics and the Philippine state.1) Tellingly, he recognizes the economic development under brokers and bosses while criticizing socioeconomic performance under patronage politics or clientelism. For instance, de Dios recognizes socioeconomic development under the rule of strongmen such as Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City and Governor Juanito Remulla of Cavite Province. We can hardly expect socioeconomic and political development within a weak state and oligarchy, so de Dios provides a hint of a new perspective.

Fig. 1 highlights the differences between de Dios’s argument and the previous weak state argument, which also differs from his trifold typology of local leadership.

 

seas1002_takagi_fig1

Fig. 1 Varieties of Local Political Leadership and the State beyond the Weak State

Source: Author based on De Dios (2007).

 

The y axis shows the degree of socioeconomic development, and the x axis shows authoritarian versus democratic regimes.

The first quadrant depicts socioeconomic development and no political violence. The detailed case studies on each leadership type reveal a mixture of individual initiatives, supporter organizations, and policy sets. In the case study on Mayor Osmeña of Cebu City, Sakuma Miho (2012) describes an evolving developmental strategy led by the mayor. Osmeña worked hard for the Metro Cebu Developmental Project to grow Cebu City’s coastal area after the 1987 elections. Learning from the failed project in the 1960s, Osmeña designed the government-led developmental project and successfully borrowed 12.3 billion yen from Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund. Osmeña maximized the Local Government Code of 1991, which allows local governments to contract a loan without intervention by the national government. In 2008, Cebu City finally turned its deficit into a surplus to manage the economic zone and provide social services to its citizens. One may argue that the mayor represents the Osmeña clan’s dynastic rule, but the Osmeña clan also has competition. The Garcias emerged as a competing political force in Cebu politics from the early 2000s (Pabico 2007).

Mayor Robredo’s much-lauded leadership of Naga City could be a better example of the first quadrant. Robredo built his professional career before running for political office. He created an innovative financial scheme for owners of small- and medium-sized businesses while raising tax collections from the big businesses in the city. He also invented a conditional aid scheme to help the urban poor with medicine and funerals (Kawanaka 2013). Kawanaka Takeshi criticizes Robredo’s machine politics, but we cannot underestimate Robredo’s innovative policy-making achievements when considering other local machine politics.

Mayors Osmeña and Robredo achieved socioeconomic development, but others in machine politics or family politics failed at developmental projects. Two types of family politics and machine politics apparently exist: static and transformative. In the static politics of Fig. 1’s fourth quadrant, leaders focusing on redistributing existing pies merely transferred slices of pie from the central government to local governments and reproduced the existing socioeconomic stagnation. Meanwhile, in transformative politics, political leaders do not depend on the existing socioeconomic structure but rather seek transformation, which may lead to the area’s socioeconomic development. Notably, Osmeña supported the local government code’s creation, while some politicians opposed decentralization to avoid disturbing local power bases (Katayama 2001, 117).

In the second quadrant, political leaders achieve socioeconomic development but depend on violence and suppression. This combination typifies a developmental authoritarian leadership, which was historically a common type of national leadership in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia under Suharto, Thailand under Sarit and Thanom, and so forth. As de Dios points out, economic development in Cavite Province fits into this type of leadership. Governor Remulla of Cavite Province exploited experts’ knowledge of the Japan International Cooperation Agency when he invited Japanese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the 1980s.2) Besides, Remulla worked with the top Filipino technocrat at the time, Cesar Virata, who was born in Cavite and served as finance minister and prime minister under the Marcos administration (Coronel 1995, 4, 11). He obtained FDI while suppressing opposition with an iron fist (Coronel 1995).

Another famous example of a local developmental authoritarian regime can be found in Davao City under Mayor Duterte. Duterte was first appointed by the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino in 1986 and was then elected in 1988, when the city of Davao was called the “murder capital” of the Philippines because of its clashes among the Communist insurgents, anti-Communist cults like Alsa Masa, and several criminal syndicates. Aside from empowering the local police, Mayor Duterte apparently “outsourced” an anti-criminal campaign to private gunmen, which evolved into the so-called Davao Death Squad (Parreño 2019, 128–131, 177–195). While he adopted an iron-fisted approach against violence in the city, he sought economic development through FDI following the model of Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew (Parreño 2019, 173–174). Highlighting the achievements in Davao, Duterte climbed the ladder to the presidency of the Philippines in 2016.

In the third quadrant, we can assume a classic type of weak state that has failed in democracy and socioeconomic development. We may also call such a state predatory since it emphasizes the role of institutions rather than the social structure (Sidel 1999). Differences exist between developmental authoritarian leadership and predatory authoritarian leadership, with the latter failing to achieve economic development. Nationally, President Ferdinand Marcos failed socioeconomically, especially in the 1980s, but he might have equaled other leaders, such as Suharto and Sarit, in abuse of political power. In the Philippines, lists of bosses exist in the weak state at the national and local levels (cf. McCoy 1994; Lacaba 1995).

In the fourth quadrant, de Dios distinguishes local economic development under patrons from a developmental authoritarian state (the second quadrant), using the examples of Tarlac and Cavite Provinces (De Dios 2007, 182). In both provinces, Japanese capital provided direct investments in the 1980s. In Tarlac, the Japanese electronics company Sanyo had relations with then President Aquino, who did not dismantle her family’s plantation (Hacienda Luista) in the province. Tarlac and the surrounding provinces failed to maximize opportunities from being adjacent to the National Capital Region, but Cavite became a center for manufacturing exports and enjoyed economic growth. According to de Dios, the difference might have resulted from differing political leaderships in the two provinces: the Remullas could not dominate Cavite’s urban political economy, while the Aquino and Cojuangco clans maintained dominance through landownership (De Dios 2007, 182). Not much could be expected from the patronage-driven state leadership in Tarlac.

With examples fitted into each quadrant of Fig. 1, we now shift the discussion from why the Philippines has a weak state in general to why some areas have successfully freed themselves from authoritarian rule and socioeconomic underdevelopment—toward the first quadrant in Fig. 1. In the following section, we highlight the transformative role of policy making in emerging states.

II Policy Making as Institution Making

II-1 Policy Entrepreneurs in Local Politics

In transforming states in Fig. 1, someone made a difference. In this special issue, we focus on the role of policy makers who become policy entrepreneurs by creating new policies or finding new ways to implement existing policies. In his classic work on policy studies, John Kingdon (2003, 196–208) highlights the roles of certain policy makers, calling them policy entrepreneurs. Policy entrepreneurs invest their resources into policy-making processes because of certain interests and values, and for the simple joy of participating in the process (Kingdon 2003, 123). Lobbyists work for existing interests, but policy entrepreneurs make a difference through policy making. Scholars focusing on the role of policy entrepreneurs, therefore, highlight policy-making innovations.

Kingdon focuses on national policy entrepreneurs, while this special issue looks at local policy entrepreneurs. Locally, policy entrepreneurs may find new ways to implement existing policies. The Philippine Local Government Code of 1991, for instance, allows local governments to carry out various initiatives, but it is poorly utilized by local practitioners. Local policy entrepreneurs are not necessarily the same as policy makers with new ideas. Policy entrepreneurs interpret an existing policy in a local context to create a new local policy initiative.

We examine policy entrepreneurship in its implementation and creation. Local policy entrepreneurs find ways to implement national laws locally. Those who helped make economic zones in the Calabarzon area exemplify policy entrepreneurs who utilized the national government’s development policy to enhance the local economy. Policy makers also create new laws at the national and local levels that are designed for local development via the national government’s actions. Those who worked on the Local Government Code of 1991 exemplify this type of policy entrepreneurship.

II-2 The Built-in Nature of Reform Policy at the Local Level

In the weak state framework, political players do not focus on policy making and implementation. They may neglect the achievements of their predecessors and fail to consolidate reform initiatives, resulting in a weak state. Against this backdrop, Filomeno Sta. Ana, who has worked for tax reform beyond the administration, argues that policy making is part of institution making. If institutions are sets of rules shaping people’s behavior, public policy is an example of an institution (Sta. Ana 2010).

The built-in nature of reform policy may appear in institutions, organizations, and people’s expectations. Ma. Regina M. Hechanova et al. (2017) provide a candid collection of transformations in eight local governments—provinces, cities, and municipalities—that received a Galing Pook Award. Table 1 summarizes their findings.

 

Table 1 Transformation of Local Governments

seas1002_takagi_table1

Source: Based on Hechanova et al. (2017).

 

Reviewing this rich case study shows some instances of consolidation of the reform policy beyond the terms of individual politicians, whose terms are limited by law to a maximum of three (or nine years in total). In other words, case studies of local transformation reveal a series of continuous reforms beyond the term limits of particular politicians, as a result of the built-in nature of local policy making.

Local policy entrepreneurs succeeded in ensuring the continuation of their policy innovations beyond their limited terms in office in two ways. First, the successors came from the incumbents’ families or close aides and followed their predecessors’ initiatives, as expected. The cases of Marikina in 2001 and Mandaluyong, Bohol, and Naga exemplify this pattern.

More intriguing are the cases where competitors simply followed or expanded upon their predecessors’ policies. Notably, the successor of the reform-oriented mayor of Marikina City actually ran against the candidate nominated by the mayor, but the successor maintained similar policy initiatives as the previous mayor after winning the 2010 elections (see Chapter 3).

How did policy initiatives survive a political power struggle in the latter cases? Succession comes from the reform policy’s built-in nature. For instance, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation introduced a community-based disaster preparedness program in Albay Province under Governor Romeo Salalima in 1989 (Amo and Felipe 2010; Alampay 2017, 15). After Joey S. Salceda was elected governor in 2007, he added climate change to the existing disaster risk reduction and management program and established the Climate Change Academy–Disaster Risk Reduction Training Institute. Salceda advanced the program and was elected co-chair of the board of the Green Climate Fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2011 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, n.d.). Salceda once again fought against Salalima in the 1998 elections and improved upon, instead of abolishing, his predecessor’s initiative, illustrating how the issue survived a political power struggle.

II-3 The Policy Entrepreneurs’ Coalition for the Local Government Code of 1991

Coalitions of Policy Entrepreneurs

When policy entrepreneurs form a coalition to make a new law, they can make a big difference. In his study on educational reform and reproductive health lawmaking, Takagi Yusuke reveals that policy coalitions under the Benigno Aquino administration were made up of policy entrepreneurs from within and outside the government. The policy coalitions achieved policy reform in certain areas even without a program-oriented political party with a party platform to formulate a full set of reform policies. This was because policy coalitions can play a similar role as political parties in a certain program through continuous efforts for policy advocacy, making, and implementation (Takagi 2017).

Policy coalitions become especially powerful when they can go beyond the immediate stakeholders. In educational reform and reproductive health lawmaking, advocates can enlarge their coalitions by framing issues in terms that the business community understands (Takagi 2017). In this subsection, we review the creation process of the Local Government Code of 1991 to see an emergence of policy coalitions comprising advocates with local autonomy, anti-Marcos politicians, and technocrats working for liberalization and privatization.

Economic Bureaucracy

Significantly, some economic planners worked for decentralization before the democratization (Hill et al. 2007, 11–12). As Alex Brillantes and Abigail Modino point out, policy makers under the authoritarian regime could achieve administrative dis-concentration but not political decentralization (Brillantes and Modino 2015). The planners prepared for reform despite neglect or political machinations by then President Marcos.

In December 1986, after democratization that February, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) published the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, 1987–1992. The planners clearly identified “decentralization, checks and balances, and minimal government intervention in economic activities, as well as the need to provide for necessary infrastructure facilities and basic social services” as the principles governing the government’s role and structure (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 38). The plan mentioned three paths to achieving decentralization. First, more power would devolve from the central government to local governments. Second, regional and local governments would be strengthened as focal points for local development. Third, the government would encourage people’s participation.

Notably, the NEDA proposed this plan when the government was under heavy pressure to avoid expansionist fiscal measures. The NEDA discussed, for instance, the employment implications of market-oriented reforms, such as trade liberalization, tax reform, and public sector reform, and some cabinet members emphasized an employment-oriented economic policy (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 36). The planners prioritized market-oriented reform over poverty eradication, although they recognized poverty eradication as “the ultimate aim of development efforts” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 3).

The planners discussed regional development in greater depth in the plan’s second chapter, titled “Regional Development and Physical Planning Framework,” but they did not forget about fiscal constraints. In the chapter, the planners examined problems and strategies to deal with each of the 13 geographical regions’ issues in Fig. 2.

 

 

First, the planners highlighted poverty as a critical problem throughout the country, and they pointed to the widespread poverty in the Visayas area, or Regions VI, VII, and VIII (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). They also mentioned the gap in the incidence of poverty within the country: the National Capital Region had a 43.9 percent poverty incidence, but Region V’s (Bicol’s) hit 73.2 percent (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). In poverty-stricken regions such as Bicol, planners suggested developing the rural hinterlands and upland areas by diversifying crops (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 71). To achieve this goal, they proposed developing off-farm employment opportunities in livestock-based enterprises in Masbate, in agroforestry industries in Catanduanes, in wood-based industries in Sorsogon and Camarines Norte, and so on.

Second, when it came to productivity, only the National Capital Region and Region IV (Southern Tagalog) exceeded the national average; Regions II (Cagayan Valley), V (Bicol), and VIII (Eastern Visayas) remained the least productive (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 50). The planners suggested utilizing existing resources more efficiently in low-productivity regions. In Region II (Cagayan Valley), for instance, the authorities prescribed expanding and intensifying unutilized and underutilized croplands via irrigation, farm-to-market roads, and so forth (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 67). The planners presented three categories of agricultural products to be promoted: products with existing comparative advantages (such as unhusked rice and white corn), products with linkage potential (such as tobacco and coffee), and products with high nutrients. The last category reflects the lack of highly nutritious foods in the region.

Third, off-farm income, indicating economic transformation from an agrarian economy, ranged from 61 percent in Regions IV (Southern Tagalog) and VII (Central Visayas) to 33 percent in Region XII (Central Mindanao).3) The Cavite–Laguna–Batangas Growth Corridor was established in Region IV so that provinces could absorb FDI. Region VII’s Cebu City is an urban center, along with Mactan International Airport, which has an export-processing zone.

The NEDA plan’s last chapter points out the necessity of administrative reform. The planners criticized previous decentralization efforts for their “conflicting tendencies” of reform orientation and stated that “greater and meaningful decentralization, therefore, will have to be a major policy agenda for this plan period” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 393). In its recommendations, the NEDA listed issues to consider, such as transferring authority over social services and local infrastructure projects from the central government to local governments, increasing Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA), increasing freedom for local development plan making, and so forth (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 404).

In addition to the reform’s possible positive outcomes, planners worried about bossism. The plan, in fact, refers to “the need to minimize the evils of local oligarchies, nepotism, and corruption” (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 405). The planners suggested policy makers should encourage citizens’ participation to mitigate the evils, though they did not elaborate further. The policy makers recognized the issues of local politics, which were addressed by the Aquino cabinet’s local minister, as discussed below.

Revolutionary Government

Another significant development toward local governance reform evolved within the Corazon Aquino administration and gained special momentum from the People Power Revolution. Minister Aquilino Pimentel Jr. began purging incumbent elective officials in local governments that were dominated by affiliates of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL, New Society Movement), President Marcos’s party, and appointing officers in charge (Nemenzo 1988, 227). With Pimentel’s draconian measures, 76.3 percent of governors, 66.7 percent of mayors, and 42.7 percent of town mayors were purged within two months (Asano 1992, 239). Pimentel’s actions were controversial because he aggressively removed local KBL politicians and seemed to have appointed close affiliates of his party, PDP-Laban. Within anti-Marcos factions, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization, led by Vice President Doy Laurel, had 37 seats, and Pimentel’s PDP-Laban had only 10. The KBL, however, occupied 124 seats in the assembly (Asano 1992, 233). Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile Sr. accused President Aquino of working toward peace with the Communist Party and its New People’s Army and demanded that some of the officers in charge in local governments be replaced (Nozawa 1987, 293).

Over time, Pimentel lost influence in both the cabinet and his own party. He was forced out by Peping Cojuanco Jr., brother of Corazon Aquino, as the president of PDP-Laban in October 1986 and subsequently resigned from the cabinet amid the power struggle between President Aquino and Defense Minister Enrile in December the same year (Asano 1992, 241, 244). Pimentel would be elected senator in 1987 and play a vital role in making the Local Government Code of 1991, but his being once replaced by the president shows he was not the only policy maker working for decentralization.

Pimentel was not the sole voice for local autonomy within the administration. Aquino appointed members of the constitutional commission, which supported decentralization. Article X of the 1987 Constitution covers local government. Section 3 of the article states, “The Congress shall enact a local government code which shall provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization.” In the articles, the framers clearly state that local government units can create their own resources via taxation, fees, and charges in addition to a certain allotment from national taxes (Sections 5 and 6, Art. X, Constitution).

Aquino actively promoted decentralization and organized the Cabinet Action Committee on Decentralization to examine powers and responsibilities to be given to local governments in May 1988. The committee implemented the Pilot Decentralization Project to examine the feasibility of reform (Matsuda 2011, 6). Notably, President Aquino worked closely with Dr. Ediberto de Jesus, who established and managed the Rural Development Management Program at the Asian Institute of Management in 1977. President Aquino appointed de Jesus as the presidential adviser on rural development and asked for a government-wide nongovernmental organization liaison system, including the NEDA Focal Point in 1988 (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 1994, 48). The presidential office was heavily involved in rural development, and on September 8, 1988 the president certified several administrative measures to increase the IRA to local governments (House of Representatives, July 24, 1990, 93).

Congress and the Making of the Local Government Code of 1991

Pimentel, who resigned as local government minister and was elected senator in 1987, worked in the senate to establish the local government code (Brillantes 2003; Matsuda 2011). Meanwhile, in the lower house, the Committee on Local Government prepared the bill for two years before submitting it to congress on June 6, 1990 (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 761). Crafting the code took time, and the bill’s deliberation was delayed because some members of congress feared losing influence in their own local constituencies (Fukushima 1991, 328). After continuous criticism from her own administration, President Aquino convinced congress to work on the local government code in 1990.

Congressman Celestino Martinez of Cebu served as chair of the Committee on Local Government and sponsored the bill in a speech on June 7, 1990 (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 755). Martinez emphasized four points: fiscal decentralization via IRA reforms and decentralization via deconcentration, devolution, and citizen empowerment.

Through deconcentration, lawmakers stipulated how national departments delegated authority to regional, district, and field offices. This reflected criticism of the previous Local Government Code of 1983, which prescribed that national departments and agencies could delegate authority only to their own local branches (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 757).

A distinguishing feature of the code is its trust in the electoral process rather than in meritocracy or technocracy. In his sponsorship remarks, for instance, Congressman Hilario L. De Pedro III of South Cotabato clarified the difference between administrative decentralization and political devolution by quoting Speaker Ramon Mitra:

As Speaker Ramon Mitra himself has observed, the bulk of power in government is concentrated in the sectoral line agencies which are run by nonelective Manila-based functionaries with little empathy for ordinary Filipinos. . . . It is high time that the fulcrum of political power shifts away from imperial Manila to our local governments. (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 758)

De Pedro’s emphasis on politics rather than administration is intriguing, and it aligns with his support of the local government code. Lawmakers apparently believed in the legitimacy and capacity of elected officials rather than in a professional bureaucracy.

Devolution confers a national government’s power and authority to a local government (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 756). The local governments’ functions cover a range of activities, including the construction of administrative halls, roads, bridges, and schools and the establishment of day care centers, health centers, public markets, and cemeteries (House of Representatives, June 6, 1990, Sec. 20).

Concerns about local oligarchs arose during discussions on this issue. Congresswoman Socorro Acosta of Bukidnon, who founded a local NGO for microcredit in her region and was one of the sponsors of the bill, spoke about the risk of domination by political elites and countermeasures against this risk in the code (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 761–762; Mukherjee 2007). She argued that lawmakers had prepared a recall mechanism and used NGO participation in local development councils as safeguards against domination. Additionally, she expected the local government code would provide opportunities for political education and enhance political leaders’ capabilities.

Generally speaking, lawmakers were optimistic about their trust in NGOs, reflecting the atmosphere right after democratization led by the People Power Revolution. Regarding citizen participation, lawmakers mentioned the arrangements of elections, the recall of local politicians, the participation of local education boards’ management, and the participation of NGOs in the planning processes for development (House of Representatives, June 7, 1990, 756).

While the Local Government Code of 1991 was being made, a coalition advocating for local autonomy began emerging. First, economic managers concerned about the country’s financial conditions prepared a medium-term development plan that clearly promoted decentralization to enhance local governing capacities without large government expenditure. Second, President Aquino and Local Government Minister Pimentel were very interested in local autonomy in the context of democratization or departure from dictatorship and supported the constitution, which promoted the same principles. Third, Senator Pimentel and some legislators worked in congress to institutionalize decentralization by highlighting the role of local politicians and civic participation in governance.

II-4 Local Development after Decentralization

The policy coalitions for decentralization helped local governments to see the fruits of reform through the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991. Brillantes, who was instrumental in decentralization, argued that it yielded good and best practices in many local governments (Brillantes 2003). Good practices properly implemented existing policies, and the best practices were creative policy making by local practitioners. Resonating with the Local Government Code of 1991, the Galing Pook Foundation assessed local governments’ performance. Figs. 3 and 4 show the achievements of local governments.

 

seas1002_takagi_fig3

Fig. 3 Galing Pook Awardees by Category (1994–2014, n = 392)

Source: Galing Pook Foundation (various years).

 

 

seas1002_takagi_fig4

Fig. 4 Galing Pook Awards by Region (1994–2014, n = 392)

Source: Galing Pook Foundation (various years).

 

Fig. 3 illustrates the activity fields awarded by the foundation. Environmental protection, health and sanitation, and local economic development were the top three areas awarded. When it comes to indigenous people and labor dispute resolution, however, good and best practices appear difficult to find.

Fig. 4 shows the awarded local governments by region. As of 2018, the Philippines had 16 regions. According to Fig. 4, Region VII (Central Visayas) received the most awards. In our case study, we examine Bohol in this region, focusing on its ecotourism promotion and poverty eradication measures. The National Capital Region received the second-largest number of awards. In our case studies, Marikina City exemplifies reform-oriented governance and environmental protection in this region. Meanwhile, two autonomous regions, the Cordillera Autonomous Region and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), were the lowest performers. As will be discussed in Chapter 5, people in the ARMM face more difficulties than those in other regions, but some people are moving forward to make a difference by cooperating with military officers implementing civil-military operations.

In terms of human development, we can observe improvement in general, although the gap between the national average and Muslim Mindanao is still wide, according to Fig. 5.

 

seas1002_takagi_fig5

Fig. 5 Philippine Subnational Human Development, 1990–2017

Source: Global Data Lab (n.d.).

 

While moderate improvement in human development may be observed throughout the country, improvement does not occur automatically. As we will see from the summary in the next section and more details in succeeding chapters, policy entrepreneurs and their coalitions make a difference at the local level.

III In Search of Local Policy Entrepreneurs

In this special issue, we encounter policy entrepreneurs with and without policy coalitions. Chapter 2, on San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, details Mayor Alfredo Valdez’s innovative leadership. Valdez worked toward business-friendly governance to encourage local and international investments. Valdez’s administration built the Valdez Center to entice one of the country’s largest retailers: Robinsons. Working coalitions led by mayoral initiatives and supported by private businesses began to emerge. Further, the administration took advantage of opportunities presented by the growth in the local economy via remittances from Filipinos working abroad. The San Nicolas case exemplifies the uncoordinated efforts of policy entrepreneurs and private businesses.

In Chapter 3, on Marikina City in the National Capital Region, the author finds that reform-oriented governance originated with a couple who retained power for almost two decades. The mayors maximized opportunities created by the Local Government Code of 1991 by encouraging local governments to work directly with international donors to improve the city’s socioeconomic conditions. In this chapter, Mendoza argues that the successive mayors were not trapped by “cancel culture” but developed reform policy based on their predecessors. This case exemplifies a coalition of local politicians, business leaders, and labor leaders who collaborated to mitigate liberalization’s negative impact.

Chapter 4, on Bohol Province, highlights coordinated efforts among the provincial, city, and municipal governments to eradicate poverty by promoting ecotourism. Bohol Province orchestrated efforts to promote ecotourism, which increased economic development and freedom from a Communist insurgency. It is an impressive successful case of local transformation through policy entrepreneurship.

Finding coalitions is difficult in Sulu, in the ARMM, where civil authority largely failed to provide peace and order, as the author discusses in Chapter 5. Instead, the military provides de facto governance in Sulu by emphasizing a civil-military operation promoting social welfare. The governance, however, depends on a military leadership that is usually stationed in Sulu for two years or less and can change the operation’s emphasis from a “search and destroy” operation to a civil-military operation or vice versa.

Conclusion

As a critical review of the literature on local politics, this chapter sheds new light on local practices in the transforming Philippine state. In a transforming state, policy entrepreneurs and policy coalitions may collaborate to make a difference through policy making. Policy entrepreneurs may be able to build in reform initiatives through innovative policy making and policy implementation.

Policy entrepreneurs can make a bigger impact when they create a coalition covering various societal interests. The Local Government Code of 1991 resulted from continuous efforts by various policy makers, including economic planners, legislators, the president, and professionals working for rural development. The policy coalition established foundations for local development, some of which have been awarded by the Galing Pook Foundation.

The following chapters will show the practices of various local actors in creating a transforming state at the local level. They reveal individual policy entrepreneurs or coalitions of practitioners who collaborate to make a difference in local governance.

Accepted: December 15, 2020

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Kobayashi Jun 小林盾; and Osaki Hiroko 大﨑裕子. 2019. Firipin no shakai kankei shihon: Shucho no shakai kankei shihon wa jichitai pafomansu o kojo saseru noka フィリピンの社会関係資本―首長の社会関係資本は自治体パフォーマンスを向上させるのか [Social capital in the Philippines: Does the mayor’s social capital improve the local governments’ performance?]. In Tonan Ajia ni okeru chiho gabanansu no keiryo bunseki: Tai, Firipin, Indoneshia no chiho erito sabei kara 東南アジアにおける地方ガバナンスの計量分析―タイ,フィリピン,インドネシアの地方エリートサーベイから [Quantitative analysis on local governance in Southeast Asia: Studies on the local elite surveys in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia], edited by Nagai Fumio 永井史男, Okamoto Masaaki 岡本正明, and Kobayashi Jun 小林盾, pp. 173–185. Kyoto: Koyo Shobo.

Lacaba, Jose F., ed. 1995. Boss: 5 Case Studies of Local Politics in the Philippines. Pasig: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Machado, Kit. 1972. Changing Patterns of Leadership Recruitment and the Emergence of the Professional Politician in Philippine Local Politics. Philippine Journal of Public Administration 16(2): 147–185.

Magadia, Jose J. 2003. State-Society Dynamics: Policy Making in a Restored Democracy. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Matsuda Yasuhiko. 2011. Ripe for Big Bang? Assessing the Political Feasibility of Legislative Reforms in the Philippines’ Local Government Code. The World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/895301468092388017/pdf/WPS5792.pdf, accessed February 13, 2019.

McCoy, Alfred, ed. 1994. An Anarchy of Families: State and Society in the Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Mukherjee, Vinia D. 2007. New Political Dynasties: Bukidnon’s “Nontraditional” Dynasty. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. https://old.pcij.org/stories/bukidnons-nontraditional-dynasty/, accessed February 9, 2019.

Nemenzo, F. 1988. From Autocracy to Elite Democracy. In Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power, edited by A. Javate-de Dios, P. Bn Daroy, and L. Kalaw-Tirol, pp. 221–268. Metro Manila: Conspectus.

Nishimura Kenichi 西村謙一. 2019. Firipin chiho jichi ni okeru kaihatsu hyogikai no koka: Jyumin sanka seido wa jichitai no pafomansu ni ikanaru eikyo o ataeru noka フィリピン地方自治における開発評議会の効果―住民参加制度は自治体のパフォーマンスにいかなる影響を与えるのか [Impacts of the development council in Philippine local politics: How does the citizen participation system affect the performance?]. In Tonan Ajia ni okeru chiho gabanansu no keiryo bunseki: Tai, Firipin, Indoneshia no chiho erito sabei kara 東南アジアにおける地方ガバナンスの計量分析―タイ,フィリピン,インドネシアの地方エリートサーベイから [Quantitative analysis on local governance in Southeast Asia: Studies on the local elite surveys in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia], edited by Nagai Fumio 永井史男, Okamoto Masaaki 岡本正明, and Kobayashi Jun 小林盾, pp. 89–107. Kyoto: Koyo Shobo.

Nozawa Katsumi 野沢勝美. 1987. Akino seiken anteika eno kuto: 1986 nen no Firipin アキノ政権安定化への苦闘―1986年のフィリピン [The Aquino administration’s struggle for stabilization: The Philippines in 1986]. In Ajia, Chuto doko nempo 1987 nen ban アジア・中東動向年報1987年版 [Year book of Asian and Middle Eastern affairs 1987 Edition], pp. 287–320. Tokyo: IDE.

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1) De Dios criticizes all three types of leaders because they do not guarantee accountability for leadership as a functional party system does. Party politics might guarantee accountability, but party systems have failed to capture the changing nature of constituencies even in older European democracies and the United States.

2) I appreciate Miriam Grace Go for her insights on the local development of Cavite.

3) Data on the NCR’s off-farm income are not shown in the plan, but statistics for the country in general are shown: 50.2 percent (Republic of the Philippines, NEDA 1986, 53).

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Vol. 10, No. 2, Takagi Yusuke

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 2

Faces of Local Transformation: Policy Coalitions and Socio-economic Development in the Philippines

Editorial Note

Recalling the period right after the 2016 national elections in the Philippines, I cannot forget the disappointment of a friend who flew from Manila to Tokyo for a short stay. As a student studying pockets of efficacy in Philippine politics, whose gloomy picture has been highlighted by other scholars, I scrambled to convince her that the country had achieved a series of policy reforms that one administration could hardly dismantle. However, my efforts were in vain. The conversation stayed in my mind for a long time and pushed me to consider a new perspective on Philippine politics.

The 2016 election was indeed a great starting point for reconsidering our perspective on Philippine politics. Newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte was apparently a typical reminder of local bosses whose stories have been compiled and discussed for many years within the circles of academia and investigative journalists. The victory of Leni Robredo as vice president, however, rejected any black-and-white judgment on Philippine politics. Her late husband had been a symbol of reform at the local level in restored Philippine democracy, and research on civil society mushroomed after the Philippine democratization in 1986. The cruel picture presented by President Duterte and the rosy picture symbolized by the late husband of Vice President Robredo are at opposite ends of the spectrum of Philippine local politics.

To begin with, research team members got together at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in March 2017 and sought pockets of efficacy or bright spots in local politics. At the second meeting, at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, in July 2017, I explained the idea of policy coalitions to shed new light on Philippine politics, and we discussed several examples of bright spots in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. At the last meeting at GRIPS in March 2018, we discussed the findings. The contributors submitted their drafts and revised them through a peer review process. The results form the chapters of this special issue.

In the first chapter, Takagi Yusuke reviews existing literature on local politics in the Philippines and proposes the concepts of coalition politics and policy coalitions to appreciate the role of human agency in making a difference in various areas, rather than presenting snapshots of success stories.

The next four chapters are detailed case studies on local development. Chapter 2 captures the dynamics of how local leadership sought business-friendly governance and achieved economic growth in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Chapter 3 scrutinizes the politics of disciplinarian leadership to achieve eco-friendly local governance and the continuous efforts of reform policy by successive mayors in Marikina City, National Capital Region. Chapter 4 studies the endeavor of a governor to eradicate poverty and insurgencies by promoting ecotourism in Bohol, Central Visayas Region. Meanwhile, Chapter 5 shows a different face of the military in “governing” Sulu, where the military engaged in civil-military operations and brought about a certain stability.

Last but not least, let me recognize those who helped us make this project possible. First, as an editor, I would like to appreciate each contributor and participant of the workshops held in Tokyo and Kyoto. Aside from the contributors to the current volume, I appreciate the participation and substantial contributions by Marilen Danguilan, Marites D. Vitug, Miriam Grace Go, Romel Dongeto, Danica Aisa P. Ortiz, Nenita Dalde, Ma. Aurora Quilala, Arnold Alamon, and Orville Ballitoc. Without your insights and understanding, we could not have completed this project. I would like to recognize the administrative support provided by Kawamura Akiko and Fukuma Ritsuko of GRIPS. I am also grateful to Carol Hau for helping us to organize the workshop in Kyoto. I am grateful to those who helped us in the review process with their tough but constructive comments. I also appreciate Nathan Badenoch, Shitara Narumi, and unanimous reviewers for their guidance and valuable input.

Takagi Yusuke 高木佑輔
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS)

DOI: doi.org/10.20495/seas.10.2_197

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Vol. 10, No. 1, François Molle et al.

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

Intensification of Rice Cultivation in the Floodplain of the Chao Phraya Delta*

François Molle,** Chatchom Chompadist,*** and Thanawat Bremard**

*This article is dedicated to the late Professor Takaya and his colleagues from Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, who carried out seminal work on the Chao Phraya Delta in the 1970s and 1980s.
**G-Eau, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), 361, rue JF Breton, BP 5095, 34196 Montpellier Cedex 5, France
Corresponding author (Molle)’s e-mail: francois.molle[at]ird.fr
***ชัชชม ชมประดิษฐ์, Royal Irrigation Department, Samsen Nakornchaisri Dusit Bangkok 10300, Thailand

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_141

Over the past 50 years rice cultivation in Asian deltas has undergone impressive intensification. In the Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand, traditional deepwater and floating rice varieties have gradually been replaced by high-yield varieties (HYVs). However, until recently a floodplain of 300,000 ha was still cultivated with traditional varieties. We analyze how these varieties came to be replaced by single/double cropping of HYVs and describe the new water regime that has been established, taking the Bang Kum drainage basin as an illustration. While the shift brought a welcome increase in rural incomes, we show how the change in water management has had serious negative cross-scale consequences that have not been considered. We end by discussing the government’s plan to alter the water regime in the area again, as part of its “monkey cheek” (flood retarding) policy. We show that rather than enhancing management flexibility and the floodplain’s buffering capacity, as it claims, this policy in fact undermines both.

Keywords: deepwater rice, rice cultivation, flood management, flood retarding basin, Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand

I Introduction

Asian deltas’ landscapes and water regimes—most notably the Pearl River, the Red River, the Mekong, and the Chao Phraya River—have undergone spectacular historical transformations (Catling 1992; Tanaka 1995; Kono 2001; Molle and Dao Thê Tuân 2006; Biggs et al. 2009; Le Thuy Ngan et al. 2018; Nguyen Van Kien et al. 2019). The state and farmers alike have incessantly and relentlessly reshaped their waterscapes through the construction of dams, dikes, canals, drains, sluice gates, and pumps in order to reduce the risk/variability and occurrence of flooding while enhancing the provision of irrigation water to fields. By doing so, they have allowed growth in cropping intensities as well as diversification away from rice to fruit and vegetables or aquaculture, in a typical Boserupian scenario of agricultural intensification (Boserup 1981).

In the Chao Phraya Delta, in central Thailand, considerable changes have taken place, particularly since the early land reclamation in the late nineteenth century and the establishment of irrigation networks in the 1960s and 1970s (Takaya 1986; Kasetsart University and ORSTOM 1996). Patterns of rice cultivation are extremely heterogeneous and combine contrasting cropping intensities (from one to three crops per year), gravity canal irrigation to semi-controlled flood regimes, and High Yield Varieties (HYVs) as well as floating rice cultivated in 3 m-deep waters (Kasetsart University and ORSTOM 1996). Around 2000 the delta had approximately 300,000 ha of flood-prone areas cultivated with “traditional” rice varieties (TVs) (Molle et al. 1999). Although well adapted to flooding, these varieties, and the associated floodwater regime, confined agriculture to a single annual crop with relatively low productivity, which constrained farming systems and farmers’ livelihoods (Kaida 1974; Takaya 1986; Molle and Thippawal 1999).

Unlike the Mekong Delta, where flood-prone areas were gradually diked and protected from heavy floods for most of the year, the Chao Phraya floodplain remained under a semi-controlled water regime whereby the rise in flood level was attuned to the growth of traditional rice varieties. The latest in-depth study of the floodplain concluded that the area was trapped in low-productivity single cropping because it was impossible for managers to prevent these low-lying areas gathering large amounts of excess water during the (late) rainy season1) (Molle et al. 1999). Shifting to HYVs grown outside the flood period would also entail developing the land and irrigation infrastructures as well as increasing water supply at times when it was already insufficient. Any change was therefore deemed unlikely.

This article offers a historical retrospective of the transformations of the Chao Phraya floodplain, building upon seminal works by Takaya Yoshikazu (1986) and Molle et al. (1999; 2001b) on the intensification of rice cultivation in the different sub-ecosystems of the delta. Transformations in the past 20 years were studied based on Landsat and Sentinel images (available through the LandViewer platform), official documents and media releases, and visits to Royal Irrigation Department (RID) regional and local offices as well as to the floodplain itself in 2017–19. After each visit, the information from farmers, officials, and satellite images was triangulated in order to make sense of transformation on the ground. The paper first provides some historical elements on early cultivation of the delta’s floodplain and then describes the gradual shift from traditional deepwater rice cultivation to HYVs, ending with a final watershed transformation around 2010, unpacking the conditions that allowed for this unexpected transformation. To do so, we take the case of the low-lying area of Bang Kum, in Ayutthaya Province. But such a transformation must also be understood through its cross-scale consequences. We show that scaling up the new water management regime associated with the shift to the whole floodplain has crucial delta-wide implications for both dry-season and floodwater management. This provides a fascinating illustration of cross-scale and systemic feedback loops that are hard to anticipate when a coherent global understanding of the water regime is lacking. Finally, we show how an in-depth understanding of the water regime can serve to critically appraise the recent (and flawed) policy of exploiting the floodplain, once again, to mitigate flood intensity in the Chao Phraya Delta and the basin as a whole.

II The Floodplain Management System

II-1 Early Cultivation in Flooded Areas of the Chao Phraya Delta

The cultivation of rice in the floodplain of the Chao Phraya was described by travelers to Siam prior to the twentieth century, often with bewilderment. Pallegoix Mgr. (1976 [1852]) observed, “this river floods and submerges the plain once a year . . . at the end of August it spreads onto the countryside and rises up to one meter and sometimes more above the bank.” All observers noted the random nature of such cultivation, which depended on the extent and duration of the flood, with Pallegoix expressing surprise that “there are some years in which the river floods only part of the plain . . . all the fields which the water cannot reach are lost.” Likewise, as early as 1688 N. Gervaise remarked:

[N]othing is feared more than drought, because it causes the price of rice to increase so much that a quantity that in a year of high rainfall would cost only six francs, in a dry year is worth twenty-nine or thirty francs.

Similar observations also prompted A. E. Stiven (1994 [1903]) to state that “the cultivators . . . are to a large extent at the mercy of the rains and floods. Excessive rain, however, does not cause so much anxiety to the farmers as excessive droughts.”

Heavy flooding necessitated the use of floating rice varieties, that is, those that elongate rapidly as the water level rises. An early mention of floating rice appears in De la Loubère (1986 [1693]):

[T]he Siamese do not reshape their land. They till it and sow it when the rains have sufficiently softened it, and they gather their harvest once the water has retreated, and sometimes while it remains and they can go only by boat. All the land that is overflowed is good for rice and it is said that the ear always rises above the water; and if the water rises a foot in twenty hours, the rice grows a foot in twenty-four hours.

Details of the flood regime in the Chao Phraya Delta prior to the construction of the Bhumibol (1964) and Sirikit (1974) Dams are not known. However, the entire delta was cultivated with TVs—a term that refers to photosensitive varieties with long stems (0.5 to 1 m for “deepwater rice” and up to 4 m for “floating rice”) and cycle durations (between five and nine months) (Tanabe 1980; Takaya 1986). A map from 1950 (Fig. 1) shows that flooding occurred annually in most of the delta, with the exception of the levees around the river and main canals, the coastal zone, and a few higher-elevation areas.

 

seas1001_molle_fig1

Fig. 1 Flood Zoning in the Late 1940s

Source: Thailand, Ministry of Agriculture (1950).

 

II-2 The Greater Chao Phraya Irrigation Scheme of the 1960s and 1970s

The water regime in the Chao Phraya Delta has been in a state of constant change over the last 60 years, in line with gradual land development and the “artificialization” of the natural landscape and hydrological regime. The introduction of the Greater Chao Phraya irrigation scheme in the 1960s and 1970s saw irrigation canals built on the natural levees bordering the waterways and water controls increased on the higher land served by these canals (Small 1972), enabling double cropping.

However, low-lying areas in the upper delta remained vulnerable to flooding caused by a combination of excess flow from the river system, streams originating on the sides of the delta, return flows from higher irrigated land, and local rainfall. To better regulate the flood pattern in terms of height and duration, dikes were built around the (lower) part of these “drainage boxes” (Molle et al. 1999) with regulated outlets to the rivers. (Fig. 2 shows the general structure of a drainage box.) In the 1970s, most of the floodways through which the Chao Phraya River could spread into low-lying areas were gated and closed. Following the floods of 1975, for example, the embankments were raised 50 cm above the flood level. By the late 1980s, around 500,000 ha of traditional rice varieties were still cultivated in the Chao Phraya Delta (Puckridge et al. 2000).

 

seas1001_molle_fig2

Fig. 2 Schematic Diagram of a Drainage Box

Source: Molle et al. (1999).

 

Thus, a system of 20 main drainage boxes was gradually constructed and improved in the upper delta. (Fig. 3 shows the name and main outlet of each of these boxes.) It allows water to accumulate within the boxes to a suitable height and retains it at that level until the rice ripens, at which point it is drained for harvesting. This takes place in December or January, depending on the box, once the water level in the river system outside the boxes has subsided, allowing water to be drained by gravity. The drainage rate depends on the box (topography, design of outlet sluices, rice variety, etc.). If there is a single variety, quick drainage is required for harvesting. Where there are several, those growing lower down usually need water for a few days longer and the drainage rate is slower. The rate also depends on downstream conditions in the river. These are affected by the inflow into the delta and the drainage of other boxes. Fig. 4 shows the drainage curves of the three regulators located on Khlong Bang Phra Khru draining the Bang Kum box following the opening of the gates around December 12. We see that the upstream regulators raise the water level, delaying the drainage of those farther downstream.2)

 

seas1001_molle_fig3

Fig. 3 Main Drainage Boxes in the Chao Phraya Delta

Source: adapted from Molle et al. (1999).

 

seas1001_molle_fig4

Fig. 4 Drainage of the Bang Kum Box 1994–95 (Three Outlets)

 

While boxes allow a degree of control, risk is not fully eliminated. High inflow can exceed the drainage capacity of the boxes, leading water to rise above normal levels and submerging some deepwater rice varieties. If the inflow is too weak, it can cause the water level to rise too slowly or not high enough. A delay in draining the box can force farmers to harvest their rice by boat. Higher land tends not to flood and can be irrigated by canals and cultivated with HYVs. Depending on the year, location, and water availability it can even be double-cropped.

III The Wholesale Shift from Traditional Rice Varieties to HYVs

III-1 The First Wave of Change

The construction of the Bhumibol and Sirikit Dams, as well as the development of smaller dams and diversion works in the upper and middle sections of the Chao Phraya basin, decreased the intensity of flooding (see Molle et al. 2001a; Tebakari et al. 2003). This first manifested itself in the lower delta, where flooding was on average far less severe. Farmers in the upper half of the West Bank (Chao Chet Bang Yihon and Phraya Banlue Projects) found that they could afford to partly protect their fields from flooding by building dikes. Raised road embankments also helped to polder fields from the many waterways that crisscross the West Bank (Takaya 1986; JICA 1992). Where the risk was too high, calendars would be shifted in order to cultivate before and after the flood period. In the West Bank, but also in the East Bank, these changes led to the disappearance of TVs (Tanabe 1980). The availability of water during the dry season (from the Chao Phraya Dam and pumping from adjacent rivers) enabled farmers not only to shift to more productive HYVs but also to double-crop their fields, with substantial economic gains.

In the late 1980s improved water control in the Mae Klong basin3) also reduced flooding along the Song Phi Nong River, which marks the divide between the Mae Klong alluvial fan and the paddy fields of Suphan Buri to the west of the Chao Phraya Delta. While Song Phi Nong used to be famous for its semi-aquatic lifestyle, with locals living on the first floor of their houses and using boats during the flood period (see Sumet 1988), farmers found that the reduction in flooding meant they could grow one HYV before the flood and another after, as in the West Bank.

From the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s, several drainage boxes of the upper delta underwent similar changes in their regulation (Molle and Jesda 1998). First, the level was reduced in the flood period as the intensity of flooding appeared to lessen, due to an overall decline in inflow and the development of intermediate cross-regulators on the boxes’ main drains that allowed greater, stepwise control of the water. The development of on-farm infrastructure on the high lands gave better access to irrigation water from canals, and the spread of individual axial pumps allowed farmers to tap low water from canals, drains, and rivers, facilitating the cultivation of HYVs, which in turn required a lower water level in the box (Molle et al. 2001a).

Second, the target water level at the end of the draining of the box and the beginning of the dry season was increased. As fishing was an important complement to local livelihoods, in the past the boxes were fully drained in order to catch fish more easily in the depressions. However, the target regulation level was raised as dikes were built along both sides of the box main drains, where the remaining water could be stored for use in gardening in the villages or the cultivation of nearby fields, and also perhaps as a result of reduced interest in fishing. Changes in regulation were quite substantial in boxes such as Lam Chuad (from 4 m to 5.5 m), Watmanee (2.3 m to 4.5 m), and Sala Deng (2.5 m to 3 m) (Molle et al. 1999).

But shifting from TVs to the double cropping of HYVs on higher land that is no longer flooded comes with two preconditions: first, the terrain must be leveled and supplied by a water distribution network, where previously floodwater was simply spread across uneven land. This on-farm investment—shouldered by farmers—was facilitated by the ever-cheaper cost of earth-moving machinery and service. Second, irrigation water must be provided by the RID, especially for the second (post-flood) crop that will grow in the dry season, with hardly any rainfall, although in some boxes farmers resort primarily to local resources, including rivers. Water supply depends on the capacity/willingness of the RID to provide water, but farmers have understood that starting cultivation as soon as possible after the flood (sometimes even draining their individual plot by pumping in order to start land preparation early) has two advantages. First, they benefit from the residual soil wetness and water stored in the canals; and second, it compels the RID to supply them with water in the latter stages of cultivation, as the sight of drying paddy fields in media releases is considered unpalatable.

III-2 The Conversion of Drainage Boxes

Despite the transformations discussed above and the overall decrease in the regulated water level in the boxes, by the turn of the century TVs in the delta still occupied around 300,000 ha (Molle et al. 1999). It was, then, hardly envisioned that this remaining flooded land could be converted to HYV double cropping. On the one hand, excess water (from local rainfall, lateral drains entering the delta, return flows from irrigated areas) had to go somewhere, and when the rivers rose to high levels they could not be drained out of the boxes (in the absence of pump stations). On the other hand, the RID was loath to see the demand for dry-season water increase when the supply could irrigate, on average, only around half the delta (Molle et al. 2001a). Yet, despite these limitations, most boxes saw their rice patterns transformed around 2010.4) Below, this is illustrated by the case of the Bang Kum drainage box (BKB).

The BKB covers around 83,000 rai, of which 38,000 belong to the Roeng Rang Project and 45,000 to the Kok Katiem Project. Administratively the BKB comprises 22 tambon (subdistricts) belonging to three provinces (Lop Buri, Ayutthaya, and Saraburi) (RID 2018) (see Fig. 5). Ninety percent of the land is used for rice and the rest for taro, other crops, fishponds, small-scale factories, government buildings, temples, and residential areas (RID 2010). The land elevation in the BKB averages 2.9 m (above mean sea level), varying between +2.7 m and +3.2 m (RID 2010).

 

seas1001_molle_fig5

Fig. 5 Bang Kum Drainage Box (BKB), with Regulated Outlets (Round Circles Points)

Source: RID (2018).

 

At least in the BKB’s lower parts, farmers have been limited by the floodwater regime. Although this regime was regulated, as described above, and therefore afforded a degree of predictability and stabilization of production, yields remained low, at an average of 35 thang (0.35 tons) per rai. The main varieties included the Khao Tah Heng and Pin Kaew 56 (floating rice) varieties (Molle et al. 1999). Farming system analysis in the village of Ban Nong Mon (Molle et al. 2001b) in the heart of the box in 2000 revealed in particular low rice productivity and limited diversification, as well as many absent villagers renting their land to relatives or other villagers, fewer children (due to a lack of economic prospects), a high rate of emigration, and significant off-farm income. A comparison with two other villages, one in Lop Buri Province and the other in Suphan Buri Province, with cropping intensities of 1.45 and 2.9 respectively, showed that the average net income of 822 baht/rai observed in Bang Kum was much lower than the values observed in the other two villages, 2,560 baht/rai and 7,195 baht/rai respectively. Although this stark per rai productivity gap was partly bridged at the household level because Bang Kum had smaller families, larger farms, and a higher reliance on non-cropping activities, off-farm work, and remittances, the per capita income in Suphan Buri remained twice as high as in Bang Kum (yet remarkably far from the initial ratio in land productivity, which was close to 8). This confirmed that environmental constraints to intensification resulted in lower household incomes.

In the late 1990s the RID and provincial services attempted to develop secondary local water resources so farmers could grow a second crop of rice in the dry season, just after harvesting. They excavated ponds surrounded by huge dikes in the lower part of the boxes, but this did not lead to double cropping as the second crop faced three obstacles (Wuttitchai 2000): the limited time window (January to April), which could be reduced by a late flood recession; the need to pump water over high dikes (incurring costs); and the need for collective action (farmers starting alone would see their crops devastated by rats, which had little to feed on in the dry season).

As in the cases of the Upper West Bank and Phak Hai Project, the overall average decline in floodwater inflow during the rainy season became increasingly evident in the BKB, where the target water level was reduced from 4.8 m to 4.5 m in the early 1990s, allowing higher plots to avoid flooding and grow HYVs with water from irrigation canals. In 1995 two farmers from Ban Nong Mon in the BKB attempted dry-season cropping of HYVs but had their fields overrun by rats, followed by flooding. A farmer leader’s attempt at dry-season cropping met with success in 1997—but his fields were located on the higher fringe of the BKB, so he could get irrigation water from the canal.

Collective action was initiated in the 2000s toward a radical, box-wide change in water regulation and rice-cropping patterns. In 2002 a group of farmers in the lower BKB invested 2.8 million baht of their own savings to dig nine ditches with parallel dirt roads, and collectively organized the water management (RID 2010). Their initiative was rewarded with 22.5 million baht from a bumper rice crop that year. The success led them to form a Water User Group consisting of 84 members with 4,700 rai. They invited government agencies from various sectors to discuss abandoning flood-season rice cropping of TVs in favor of the double cropping of HYVs—one crop before the flood and a second after it.5) The RID backed the initiative. Pressure for change mounted when rice cropping became extremely attractive, as the government took to subsidizing production. In 2008–13 the average farm gate price reached 9.6 baht/kilo against a commonplace value of 6–7 baht (OAE, various years).6) If we take the total cost of production of one rai of HYV at 3,600 baht (Stuart et al. 2018) and a yield of 0.85 tons, this hike actually represents an increase in net income by a factor of 2.4.

Neighboring farmers in one area would come together to build a channel to their plots. However, on land that sloped gently toward the central drain, higher plots were hard to reach. Farmers would either have to build two or more consecutive reaches, pumping water from the lower to the higher in stages, or raise the water level from below by operating the gate accordingly. But the latter would cause low-lying plots near the drain to flood, and indeed conflict arose between the owners of low- and high-lying plots (RID 2018, 36–37). Low-lying plots were surrounded with higher bunds to allow a target water level in the box of +3 m so water could penetrate inland through networks of ditches dug by farmers. In order to reach higher land, the target level was gradually increased to +3.2 m once lowland farmers had improved their plot bunds and roads and dikes had been raised and strengthened.

The draining of the box was also contentious, as growers of TVs harvested their crops in late December/January, thereby sometimes delaying the sowing period for the farmers of HYV rice to late January or mid-February. The RID attempted to resolve disputes by holding meetings for farmers to convince the TV growers of the benefits of shifting to two HYV crops and “do[ing] away with old farming habits” (RID 2010, 3–10). It was finally agreed, and in 2010 the RID altered the water regime, replicating what had just occurred in the Watmanee box in the same Kok Katiem Project.

The shift to double cropping entailed a redefinition of the flood-management regime as it had been practiced over previous decades. During the flood period the BKB would now be drained as allowed by the water level in the downstream Khlong Bang Phra Khru (Fig. 5). When the level rose in that canal (which connects the Lop Buri and Pasak Rivers and therefore reflects their respective water levels and flow conditions), the gates would be closed and water would accumulate in the box. There would be no specific attempt to store water, but—as during Phase II—if need be, water could be stored up to 4.5–4.8 m without disrupting local life. As soon as river levels downstream allowed, the gates would be reopened and water drained out of the box. Some years this could be done as early as November, allowing the post-flood crop to be established early, thus maximizing the chances of a second crop the following spring.

However attractive on paper, the new dynamic was not without its limitations, as mentioned earlier with regard to higher-elevation land. TVs were cultivated on rough and uneven ground that was ploughed and sown only after the first rains, usually in April or May. Neither the early rain-fed growth nor the later flooded stages required particular land leveling. But the cultivation of HYVs required investment in farm infrastructure, such as that undertaken by the 84 farmers of the BKB in 2002. This included access roads, plot leveling, and bunds and a network of channels to convey water to inland plots from the low-lying drains and depressions where it was stored.

Despite these investments, eased by the availability of machinery or the possibility of using their four-wheel tractors to grade the land, farmers quickly harvested the benefits of the transformation. From a low benefit estimated at around 1,400 baht/rai for traditional varieties, the double cropping of HYVs yielded7) the handsome sum of 9,100 baht/rai to those who managed to double-crop (for a price of 9.6 baht/ton).

III-3 The “Monkey Cheek” Project and the Requalification of Flood Management

On September 20, 2016 Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Chatchai Sarikulya endorsed—as earlier governments had—the “monkey cheek” (kaem ling) policy, by embracing the use of low-lying land as a buffer at times of flooding (Thanaporn 2018). The move was likely prompted by a very late rice harvest in 2016, which prevented the boxes from being used and shifted the excess flow to the main stem of the Chao Phraya River, damaging houses in Ayutthaya (Bangkok Post, October 11, 2016; RID 2016). Gen. Chatchai Sarikulya issued a ruling that established a cropping calendar intended to accelerate crop establishment and harvesting in 13 areas, termed “monkey cheeks,” in the Chao Phraya basin, including the BKB.8) The new cropping pattern was trialed in 2017, and on May 1 the RID began distributing water for rice cultivation in the 12 monkey cheeks located in the delta (1.15 million rai). The plots were harvested in August and early September before the land was purposely flooded (officially on September 15) so as to store water in line with the new policy. Once filled, the drainage boxes were drained at the beginning of December (officially on December 1).

The shift from the management regime of the early 2010s brought several changes. While still aimed at enabling two crops of rice, it required more formal planning of the cropping calendars within the box so that cultivation (before September 15) and flood mitigation (after September 15) did not conflict. It also required the box to be filled to its full capacity and enforced a no-cultivation period of 2.5 months to allow for fishing. In exchange, the RID committed to sending water in both early May (so harvesting could take place before the flood) and the dry season (from the beginning of November once the flood had receded), while farmers would be compensated if their crops were damaged by an early flood in August.

IV Management and Technical Complexities of Rice-Water Relationship

The changes described in the preceding section allow us to identify four main phases in the development and management of the floodplain. These are summarized in Table 1. Each of these phases corresponds to a major shift in the water management regime. The water regime established around 2010 (Phase III), briefly described above, allowed a spectacular shift from one TV to one or, increasingly often,9) two HYVs. However, the new regime was complicated by a dependence on hydrological conditions both locally and in the upstream areas where the flows that traverse the delta originate. Enhancing local benefits made it necessary to reshuffle the water regime, but this created disbenefits in other parts of the delta. We first examine how such negative externalities were created and later turn to briefly analyzing the most recent promotion of the kaem ling policy (Phase IV) (subsection IV-3).

 

Table 1 Main Phases in Floodplain Management

seas1001_molle_table1

 

IV-1 Juggling Water and Time

Under optimal conditions, that is, in a year not hampered by excessive flooding in the wet season or water shortage in the dry season, this new regime (Phase III) in the BKB could be described as follows: during the potential flood period, typically mid-September to mid-November, water would either be drained or stored when downstream river conditions did not allow drainage. There was no need to store a specific amount of water above that required for the next cultivation season thanks to that stored in the drain, at a set level of around 3.2 m above mean sea level. The duration of the flood period in the BKB depended on a combination of local rainfall, sideflows, and possible excess water in the delta (relieved by diverting water to drainage boxes10)), as well as whether the water levels farther down the river needed the BKB outlets to be fully closed.

As the water receded, sometime in mid-November to December,11) the box would be partially emptied. Farmers would then begin preparing the land without delay on soil still saturated with water, which facilitated ploughing and puddling, and saving the water needed to soak the soil before these operations.12)

However, with rice gradually established across the BKB and irrigated with water stored between the dikes of the main drains, the available levels quickly declined. The extent to which crops can be established (particularly on higher ground, far from the central drain), and the time taken for this, thus depend on additional supply, which can come from several sources (Fig. 6):

 

seas1001_molle_fig6

Fig. 6 Inflows to the BKB

Source: Molle et al. (1999).

 

1. Released from Chai Nat-Pasak feeder canal by the RID through secondary canals or drains to supply the BKB

2. Pumped from the Lop Buri River and Khlong Bang Phra Khru to meet irrigation needs, including permanent pumps set up by subdistricts or farmers themselves, and mobile RID pumps in case of crisis

3. Local storage either in excavated natural ponds (bung) or dug reservoirs, both of which can be fairly large in certain boxes, such as Lam Chuad and Wat Ulom. In the BKB the army has recently excavated a buffer reservoir with local funding.

4. Return flow from the higher areas in the Roeng Rang and Kok Katiem Projects that receive canal water and irrigate by gravity (from both canal tail-ends and the drainage system), but these areas generally receive water later (and may be allocated very limited water, depending on the year).

A major consequence of the new regime that must be emphasized is that by allowing farmers in the box to forego their TV and cultivate after the flood recedes, the RID has implicitly put itself in the position of having to ensure supply to the area once local resources are exhausted. Since the overall availability of water—at the basin or delta level—is very limited in the dry season, and although the BKB partly grows its post-flood crop based on local water resources, this creates added competition between upstream highland farmers (who receive water by gravity through the canal system) and lowland farmers in the box.

Indeed, the optimistic planting of rice after the flood can be confronted by a lack of water toward the middle or end of the cycle. This leads to desperate measures on the part of farmers, as in the BKB in 2015, when 40 pumps were pooled to extract water from the bottom of the BKB main drain13) (see Fig. 7), compelling the RID to find ways to support paddy fields in want of water so as to avoid damaging media coverage of withering crops. (This included pumping water from the Lop Buri River and Khlong Bang Phra Khru [see Fig. 5] with mobile pumps and allowing extra releases from the Chao Phraya Dam.) But losses in yield are not always preventable: in March 2016, 400,000 rai were damaged in the delta.14)

 

seas1001_molle_fig7

Fig. 7 Farmers Collectively Pumping the Remaining Water in the BKB Main Drain (2015) (Khun Somboon, Ban Nong Mon)

 

Therefore, in 2019 and again in 2020, low or uncertain stocks led the RID to announce at the beginning of the year that farmers should not cultivate dry-season crops, as the water supply could not be assured. The move was intended to renounce responsibility and prevent any criticism of the RID should crops fail. Yet, despite the warnings there were reduced yields and even crop loss, demonstrating that in practice it is not possible to prevent farmers from embarking on cultivation if they have access to water.

Around three to four months after sowing, depending on the rice variety used and access to water,15) fields in the box are drained in order to allow mechanical harvesters to operate. Farmers in the higher parts of the box, who have to pump water from below to irrigate (unless it reaches them from above, through the canal system), now benefit from their plot’s position and drain by gravity. Conversely, farmers on lower land—below the regulation level of 3.2 m—who can get water from the main drain into their plot by gravity sometimes need to pump water out. All such operations are carried out using mobile axial pumps generally powered by two-wheel tractors. It is possible for managers to lower the regulation level (say from 3.2 m to 1.5 m in a week) so all the fields can be drained by gravity, including the lowest. Once this is done, in a matter of days the gates are closed again to allow the water level to recover so that farmers can begin their second crop.

In May, therefore, farmers are eager to embark on a second HYV crop. However, this also may face water shortages, since there is little flow from upstream plots and the rainy season water delivery is only slowly beginning in the basin; the latter can be delayed if rainfall is late and upstream storage dams are depleted. In addition, Roeng Rang Project is fourth in line on the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal, and it takes time before it can receive and divert its full share. Water supply can be enhanced by two natural sources, but these are unpredictable:

5. Local rainfall, which can vary widely at the beginning of the rainy season

6. Rainfall in the rain-fed areas of Saraburi and Lop Buri Provinces, which generates sideflows that traverse the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal through siphons and then the Kok Katiem and Roeng Rang Projects to feed their drainage system and the BKB

As the rainy season unfolds, more water is diverted to both the highlands and the box, the latter also benefiting from the return flow of the former (sources 1 and 4 above). Irregularity in the total supply combined with the nature of the plot (topography, elevation, distance from water sources, etc.) governs two things: whether a particular farmer in the box decides to grow a second crop or not, and when he will be able to do so. Lowland farmers facing limited water supply in April–May may wait for supply to increase later in the rainy season, but the issue then is timing: those sowing their crop, say, at the beginning of June would have to harvest it after mid-September and face the risk of flooding, meaning that some forego cultivation. This creates the counterintuitive scenario of some farmers in the BKB no longer growing rice in the rainy season (Fig. 8).

 

seas1001_molle_fig8

Fig. 8 Cropping Calendars in the BKB and the Issues Faced (Phase IIII)

 

Storage is almost always low by the end of the dry season. Indeed, in April 2019 the deputy PM revealed that 23 large reservoirs were below 50 percent of their total water capacity due to releases made to “meet the high water demands in the [Chao Phraya] basin during the rest of the dry season” (Pratch 2019). And the situation can be dramatic if dam storage is extremely low. It can severely delay the establishment of the main crop, meaning the crop cannot be fully harvested if floods arrive in October (or earlier). This was precisely the case in 2016, which followed a year of very limited inflow in 2015 compounded by excessive releases in the dry season and minimal rainfall and runoff at the beginning of the rainy season. By the end of September 750,000 rai had not yet been harvested,16) and the RID delayed the sending of excess water to drainage boxes, creating tension with the governor of Ayutthaya, who demanded that pressure be relieved for those living outside the dikes.17)

Served by gravity irrigation canals, higher land faces a different set of constraints and a different calendar. Here farmers usually start rainy-season cultivation in June or even later, harvest after the main rainy period, and await supply from the RID in January or later to grow a second crop.18) This crop is therefore conditional upon water availability in the delta and Chao Phraya basin.19) Return flow benefiting BKB farmers also depends on the extent and timing of double cropping upstream. Such contingencies can be alleviated by growing shorter-term rice varieties (between 85 and 105 days) or exploiting local reserves (private or public ponds and reservoirs). But a 2,000-rai area located at the end of Kok Katiem’s Canal 21, which follows the left bank of the Lop Buri River and ends up in the BKB, illustrates the issues. The downstream fields receive water very late in the dry season (as upstream farms abstract water from the canal first and also because priority is given to BKB lowlanders), and therefore they are commonly not harvested until the end of June. Since the risk of flooding is high, farmers here prefer to use traditional varieties (deepwater rice) for the ensuing wet season. Hence, the shift from TV to HYV in the lowlands, and the priority lowlands were given, limited the supply and delayed delivery to an area that had to go back to TV in the rainy season!

This detailed description of the constraints on growing two crops in the BKB (summarized in Fig. 8) serves to show that intensification (a shift from TV to HYV and from one to two crops) comes with a higher risk in a context where the control of water flows remains partial.

IV-2 Impact of Phase III on Land and Water Resource Use

The shift in rice cultivation observed in the BKB brought a radical leap in land productivity. The average output per hectare grew from 1–2 tons in the 1990s to up to 10 tons where two crops could be grown. However, this came at the cost of more chemicals sprayed on fields that had once received only natural silt. On the other hand, the creation of an almost permanent wetland in the box bottom boosted fish stocks and attracted a spectacularly high number of birds that preyed on fish.

In the Roeng Rang and Kok Katiem Projects the shift has substantially increased the efficiency of water use since return flows from higher land are collected by the drainage system and reused in the BKB. Gates remain closed most of the year, and this is particularly clear in the dry season, when no water is lost (with even some inflow gathered at high tide). In the rainy season water efficiency is less of an issue since natural runoff generally exceeds agricultural demand. Reservoirs excavated in the box capture some wet-season water to be used during the dry season and therefore also raise water use efficiency.

Effective communication increases efficiency too. The RID organizes one or two meetings a year (attended by 200–300 farmers from eight amphoe/districts) in Don Phut, in the middle of the BKB, to agree on cropping calendars and regulatory targets. RID staff also visit local authorities to coordinate the communication of the new water management approach to communities. This includes the use of the mobile phone application Line, via which farmers are informed of the daily water level at key locations.20)

Since the RID gave all farmers in the Roeng Rang and Kok Katiem Projects the opportunity to double-crop, they have been able to increase their income (see subsection III-2). However, at a wider level, that of the basin, this agricultural intensification is highly problematic. By allowing the shift in farming practices across the whole delta’s floodplain, the RID substantially increased the overall water demand in the dry season. With more diversions to irrigation projects and no return flow to the river system, less water is available to sustain the river flow and, eventually, the Chao Phraya River at its estuary.21) The growing abstraction of water from Khlong Bang Phra Khru and the Lop Buri River (and elsewhere from the Noi and Tha Chin Rivers) has also reduced river flows. All this worsens the chronic problem of saline water intrusion that periodically affects the lower delta in dry years (and threatens, for example, durian and other fruit orchards in Nonthaburi and even the main intake of Bangkok’s domestic water supply).22)

The shift also has mixed implications for flood management. On the one hand the filling of the box, which is left to depend on hydrological conditions, represents an optimal kaem ling flood management strategy, with boxes filled as late as possible to absorb any forthcoming excess. On the other hand, though, the BKB can now be under cultivation at a time (say, late September) when (in Phase II management) the box would already be absorbing early excess water that would gradually flood and sustain traditional varieties. The late presence of crops in the BKB is due to the increased staggering of rice cropping, as farmers try to adapt two crops to an uncertain water supply environment (the six sources identified above) while sharing water at the local level (Fig. 8). In other words, farmers cannot establish their crop at the same time because of the time needed to distribute water spatially.

The limited ability to absorb early water excesses has both local and broader consequences. Since no excess water can be sent to the BKB (or other boxes) before crops are harvested, the RID is obliged to block incoming sideflows by closing the siphons that traverse the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal. This causes flooding along the eastern embankment, which must then be dealt with through pumping ponding water into the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal itself. Across the delta the late cultivation of the boxes prevents the RID from making use of them and concentrates excess flow in rivers, which is problematic for people residing outside of the dikes, as illustrated in Ayutthaya in 2016 (described above). In summary, when scaled up to the level of the delta the local reshuffling of the water regime in the different boxes generates externalities at other scales.

IV-3 Impact of the Kaem Ling Policy in Ayutthaya (Phase IV)

The early flooding in Ayutthaya led the government to float a policy in late 2016 seeking to establish a fixed calendar to prevent late harvesting in drainage boxes. However, the complexity of the situation described above, with multiple cropping calendars varying in space and time according (mainly) to access to a diversity of (also varying) water resources, cannot be simplified and made uniform without a loss of flexibility and negative consequences.

The regulation shift achieved in the late 2000s (Phase II) saw improvements in flood management. Indeed, keeping the drainage boxes as empty as possible by releasing water at every opportunity maximizes their buffering capacity. This added capacity varies greatly since it depends on whether the boxes are filled naturally or from diverting irrigation canals—a complex and fluctuating process. The new policy (Phase IV) came with four potential negative impacts.

The first was that buffering capacity in the boxes was reduced with the introduction of the “Release water in plots, release fishes in lowlands” project23) by the governor of Ayutthaya in association with the Department of Fisheries, the RID, and the MOAC. The new policy would enforce a fixed calendar, whereby farmers would have to harvest before September 15 (or a similar date) so that boxes could be filled, but then the RID would start filling them even when it was not necessary. This would reduce the buffering capacity that could be needed later in October, depending on future hydrological events and patterns.

Second, the policy of filling the boxes to capacity actually reverts to the water management mode of the 1990s (Phase II), except that no rice is now cultivated in the boxes during the flood period. The process brings in fertilizing silt, kills weeds, and allows fish to grow—and villagers to catch them—benefits emphasized by the local authorities of Ayutthaya. Records show that in four of the past five years the water level inside the BKB peaked above 4 m, despite the policy of minimizing the levels in the boxes. This means that the control of weeds and the inflow of silt are partially achieved by the Phase III management. Filling the boxes to capacity, whether necessary or not, also reduces the average buffer capacity. This is ironic since the policy is promoted under the kaem ling banner as a flood-mitigation strategy.

Third, the policy is to keep water in the boxes for 2.5 months. While this extension enhances fish production, it may delay the emptying of the boxes and therefore the establishment of the post-flood crop or prevent the cultivation of a second HYV crop in the box altogether.

Fourth, as well as flood management the policy promotes double cropping, thereby increasing the demand for water in the dry season. Phase III made double cropping possible, but it was mostly left to farmers to find the water to grow the post-flood crop (although the RID was at times forced to supply some to avert crop loss). In a bid to gain farmers’ acceptance, however, the new policy includes priority water supply to the farmers in the kaem ling boxes in both the dry and early wet seasons, ensuring that they can harvest on time (mid-September). This increases water demand as well as encourages farmer complaints when the promised water is not delivered.

Another incentive included in the policy is the government’s commitment to compensating farmers if early flooding damages their crop, on the condition that they register their land. The outcome of this, according to one local official, is that farmers have been tempted to register far larger cropping areas than they actually have.

It remains unclear whether this policy has in fact been implemented in the BKB as it has in the boxes near Ayutthaya (Bang Bal and Phak Hai Projects) and Bang Rakam in Phitsanulok, which are monitored more closely and may have a more direct impact on reducing water levels in the Chao Phraya River. Local residents appear unconcerned, explaining in particular that Ayutthaya’s governor cannot impose the policy here because half of the BKB lies in Lop Buri Province.

V Discussion and Conclusion

The history of rice intensification over the past three decades in the floodplain of the Chao Phraya Delta in general, and the Bang Kum box in particular, shows how a trend that began in the late 1980s and 1990s in the less flooded areas of the lower delta took hold across the delta. The shift from one TV to the single/double cropping of HYVs was made technically possible by several factors, ranging from ever-increasing storage and diversion capacity in the upper Chao Phraya basin (reducing the average flood pattern24)), increased availability of secondary sources (drains and ponds in low-lying areas, excavated reservoirs, pumping from rivers, etc.), and elevated roads to technological advances (mechanized farm processes, the availability of short-cycle rice varieties, etc.) (see Molle et al. 1999; 2001a).

But the shift also indirectly resulted from the government’s policy to support rice prices (Ricks 2018). The delta’s floodplain had long been known for its aging farmers, smaller families, and high rates of tenancy (near Ayutthaya) (see Molle and Thippawal 1999), and a comparison of farming systems in three areas with contrasting cropping intensities in 2000 showed that low rice incomes forced villagers to migrate and/or work off-farm (Molle et al. 2001b). It is, therefore, understandable that windfall profits from rice due to a rise in prices encouraged farmers to act collectively and to coordinate with the RID to implement a full-fledged change in water management. Farmers who could, after investments in on-farm infrastructure, achieve a double cropping of HYVs could multiply their rice income more than sixfold. Although no in-depth research was conducted in the BKB after the changes, the authors’ two visits to Ban Nong Mon in 2018 provided some striking visual hints of the new wealth of the village since the survey conducted 20 years earlier. Water use efficiency has also substantially increased in the projects thanks to local storage and the recycling of return flows.

It is not fully clear why the RID abandoned its policy to discourage the expansion of dry-season water demand. One reason might be that the 1987–2000 period, when Phase II management prevailed, was shown in retrospect to be a period with low dry-season water availability. In contrast, the 2000–11 period can be considered “wet”: the amount of water released by the Bhumibol and Sirikit Dams between November and April (the dry season) in the 2007–11 period, during which prices were raised, was 8.5 billion m3, against 6.6 billion m3 for a median year before 2000 (Molle et al. 2001a). During the same period, the average area irrigated in the dry season in the delta was 5.8 million rai, versus 3.1 million rai during the 1900s (OAE, various years). Another reason is that changes in management were negotiated largely at the project level, without considering wider implications at the delta or basin level. If such considerations were mentioned, they were probably pushed aside in the face of social and political pressure in favor of expanding rice cultivation.

The most fascinating finding of this research is perhaps the interconnectedness of diverse areas through the water regime, and the cross-scale impacts of changing water distribution and cropping patterns. Water availability depends on a number of factors, some natural (rainfall—both local and in the upper basin—sideflows, dam inflow) and some manageable (dam releases, scheduling, allocation, etc.). The combination of these depends on and also shapes complex and fluctuating hydrological patterns. Farmers set their crop calendars by weighing risk and uncertainty and taking into account local conditions (topography, equipment, mix of accessible or potential water sources, price of rice, etc.). But particular choices at the local level, when combined, have implications for water allocation and flood management at the delta/basin level. Notwithstanding the local benefits of the broad shift to double cropping, the floodplain of the delta has experienced some macro-level negative impacts.

The first is increased water demand in the dry season that results in competition over the resource and reduced return flow to the river system. As we have seen, this competition occurs between uplanders and lowlanders but also at a wider scale, since water allocation in the dry season resembles a zero-sum game (Molle et al. 2001a). The spread of dry-season cropping over the 300,000 ha of floodplain therefore means that the water used to fuel this expansion has to come from somewhere else: there will be more saline intrusion into the Chao Phraya and Tha Chin Rivers, areas elsewhere in the basin will be deprived of water, groundwater elsewhere will be increasingly depleted, or more water will be released from the dams. This last outcome may reflect increased water storage, like in the 2000s, but it can also reflect carelessness: more water is released during the dry season, at the cost of increased risk in case dams do not fill up again quickly at the beginning of the ensuing rainy season. This is what was observed in 2019 and 2020, for example.

The second cross-scale disturbance brought about by the shift to HYVs was the constraint not to flood the drainage boxes before they were harvested. This loss of flexibility in flood management resulted in unusual early flooding near Ayutthaya and flooding along the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal, as sideflows could not be allowed into the delta.

The policy implemented in 2017 was justified by its aim of avoiding such problems and restoring a degree of predictability to cropping calendars. Yet it seems to have been devised without a full understanding of water management in the delta’s floodplain. The introduction of fixed calendars would reduce management capacity, add rigidity where flexibility was required, and shift the risk from farmers (who adjust to the water regime) to the RID (which committed to supply them). Ironically, the policy was devised under the banner of the monkey cheek policy while actually undermining an existing system that was close to an optimal monkey cheek strategy. This complexity is not easily comprehended, which is why a form of adaptive management that favors flexibility and risk-taking at the farm level is preferable to a top-down approach that attempts to freeze crop calendars within a fluctuating and unpredictable environment. Although the strategy has been implemented in Bang Rakam, near Sukhothai, and in other drainage boxes of the delta, it seems that its practical implementation in the BKB, and possibly elsewhere, will prove unviable.

Accepted: September 4, 2020

Acknowledgments

The first author would like to warmly thank the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, for the scholarship extended to him and during which this paper has been written.

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Le Thuy Ngan; Bregt, Arnold K.; van Halsema, Gerardo E.; Hellegers, Petra J. G. J.; and Nguyen Lam-Dao. 2018. Interplay between Land-Use Dynamics and Changes in Hydrological Regime in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Land Use Policy 73: 269–280.

Molle, François; and Dao Thê Tuân. 2006. Water Control and Agricultural Development: Crafting Deltaic Environments in Southeast Asia. In A History of Water, Vol. 1: Water Control and River Biographies, edited by Terje Tvedt and Eva Jakobsson, pp. 144–171. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

Molle, François; and Jesda Keawkulaya. 1998. Water Management and Agricultural Change: A Case Study in the Upper Chao Phraya Delta. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 36(1): 32–58.

Molle, François; and Thippawal Srijantr. 1999. Agrarian Change and Land System in the Chao Phraya Delta. DORAS Project, Kasetsart University, Research Report No. 6.

Molle, François; Chatchom Chompadist; Thippawal Srijantr; and Jesda Keawkulaya. 2001a. Dry-Season Water Allocation and Management in the Chao Phraya Delta. Research Report No. 8, submitted to European Union, Bangkok. https://horizon.documentation.ird.fr/exl-doc/pleins_textes/divers19-02/010047106.pdf, accessed September 25, 2020.

Molle, François; Sripan Durongdej; Chatchom Chompadist; Joannon, Alexandre; and Yuphaa Limsawad. 1999. Improvement of Rice Cultivation and Water Management in the Flooded Area of the Central Plain of Thailand: A Zoning of Rice Systems by Using Remote Sensing Imagery. DORAS Center, Kasetsart University, Research Report No. 5, submitted to NRCT, Bangkok.

Molle, François; Thippawal Srijantr; Latham, Lionel; and Phuangladda Thepsatitsilp. 2001b. The Impact of the Access to Irrigation Water on the Evolution of Farming Systems: A Case Study of Three Villages in the Chao Phraya Delta. DORAS Center, Kasetsart University, Research Report No. 11, http://g-eau.fr/images/PRODUCTION/Articles_chercheurs/Molle_F/3_Chao_Phraya_Delta_villages_study_R11_DORAS.pdf, accessed September 25, 2020.

Nguyen, Van Kien; Pittock, Jamie; and Connel, Daniel. 2019. Dikes, Rice, and Fish: How Rapid Changes in Land Use and Hydrology Have Transformed Agriculture and Subsistence Living in the Mekong Delta. Regional Environmental Change 19: 2069–2077.

OAE (Office of Agricultural Economics). Various years. Agricultural Yearbook. Bangkok: OAE.

Pallegoix Mgr. 1976 [1852]. Description du Royaume Thai ou Siam [Description of the Kingdom of Siam]. Bangkok: DK Book House.

Pratch Rujivanarom. 2019. Water Situation Worrying. The Nation. April 14. https://www.nationthailand.com/news/30367687, accessed March 1, 2020.

Puckridge, David; Tawee Kupkanchanul; Wilailak Palaklang; and Kalaya Kupkanchanakul. 2000. Production of Rice and Associated Crops in Deeply Flooded Areas of the Chao Phraya Delta. In proceedings of the conference “The Chao Phraya Delta: Historical Development, Dynamics and Challenges of Thailand’s Rice Bowl,” Bangkok, December 12–15, pp. 51–85.

Ricks, Jacob. 2018. Politics and the Price of Rice in Thailand: Public Choice, Institutional Change and Rural Subsidies. Journal of Contemporary Asia 48(3): 395–418.

RID (Royal Irrigation Department). 2018. Karn chai phuen thi lum tam thung Bang Kum phuea rong rab pariman nam laak รายงานการศึกษา การใช้พื้นที่ลุ่มต่ำทุ่งบางกุ่มเพื่อรองรับปริมาณน้ำหลาก [Use of Bang Kum low-lying area for floodwater retention study project]. Water Management Division, Bureau of Water Management and Hydrology, RID.

―. 2016. Drought and Flood Management in Ayutthaya RID. Ayutthaya: RID.

―. 2010. Khrongkarnsueksa phuea karnphattana prasithiphap karnthamngarn tam tuachiwad khamrabrong karnpatibatrachakarn (cho po 11): Raingarn karnsueksa phuea phattana phuen thi lum tam thung Bang Kum โครงการศึกษาเพื่อการพัฒนาประสิทธิภาพการทำงานตามตัวชี้วัดคำรับรองการปฏิบัติราชการ (ชป ๒๒): รายงานการศึกษาเพื่อพัฒนาพื้นที่ลุ่มต่ำทุ่งบางกุ่ม [Study project for the development of work performance according to Statement of Approval indicator (RID 11): Study project for the development of Bang Kum low-lying area].

Small, Leslie Eugene. 1972. An Economic Evaluation of Water Control in the Northern Region of the Greater Chao Phya Project of Thailand. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.

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Tebakari Taichi; Yoshitani Junichi; Virat Khao-Uppatum; and Chanchai Suvanpimol. 2003. Trends in Decreasing Discharge in 1970s–1990s in the Chao Phraya River. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Hydrology and Water Resources in Asia Pacific Region, Kyoto, March 13–15, Vol. 1, pp. 185–190.

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Voogd, Sjoerd. 2019. The Bang Rakam Model: Farmers’ Perceptions on a Flood Retention Policy in Phitsanulok and Sukhothai Province, Thailand. Master’s thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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1) The option of constructing large-scale pumping stations to remove that excess water into the river system, as practiced in the Red River Delta, for example, was considered economically unsound at this stage of the development of rice cultivation in Thailand.

2) Note the tidal effect on Khlong Bang Phra Khru, located 15 km upstream of Ayutthaya.

3) Notably with the construction of two large storage dams.

4) The generalization of the shift observed in Bang Kum to the whole floodplain was confirmed by satellite images and visits to six different boxes.

5) Those who helped mediate the process included a former director general of the Department of Agricultural Extension and a head of district with political support.

6) The reasons for this sharp increase in rice prices are beyond the scope of this paper. For further details, see Ricks (2018).

7) Not accounting for the investments made in on-farm development.

8) Twelve were situated in the middle and lower basin, the Bang Rakam low-lying land being the only one located in the upper basin (Sukhothai and Phitsanulok Provinces). Bang Rakam served as a pilot area for this policy, which is sometimes said to follow the Bang Rakam Model (Thanaporn 2018; Voogd 2019).

9) As on-farm infrastructure was improved.

10) In the BKB this could be done by allowing water from the Lop Buri River to enter at Tha Mek gate or by releases from the Chai Nat-Pasak Canal to drains and canals.

11) Or as late as January in years of exceptional flooding.

12) Considered as typically requiring 250 mm of water when the soil is dry.

13) The operation was conducted at high tide, when the water level would rise, since the tidal effect could be felt as far as the BKB.

14) ThaiVisa (2016).

15) Depending on their location, plots may have access to the drain, the irrigation canal, the rivers, and possibly a reservoir, or a combination of these sources. This dictates when a plot will start cultivation—from early if close to the main drain, to late if only canal water is accessible.

16) Bangkok Post (October 11, 2016).

17) Apinya and Sunthorn (2016).

18) Observations in the field, however, suggest a more complex—and sometimes mind-boggling—pattern, since it is not rare to observe neighboring paddy fields at all stages of cultivation. This can be explained by the heterogeneity in topography, water access (proximity to canals, drains, natural streams or ponds, local reservoirs, etc.), and farmers’ strategies.

19) Historically the cropping intensity in the delta in the dry season has been around 50 percent (see Molle et al. 2001a), but in recent years double cropping has become more frequent in the basin as a whole (higher runoff) and in Roeng Rang and Kok Katiem Projects in particular.

20) The RID sets up chat groups, which can be joined by scanning a QR code, clicking on a link, or being added by an existing member.

21) Approximately 80 m3/second must be maintained in the estuary to avoid saline water intrusion.

22) Chularat (2016). In January 2020 saline intrusion in the Chao Phraya again threatened domestic supply, leading to plans to divert water from the Mae Klong basin.

23) In this project the Department of Fisheries releases fish into the uncultivated paddies as the RID fills the box for around three months. Farmers can thus gain complementary revenue from fishing while waiting for the next sowing period.

24) At the same time, climate change works to increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme events.

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Vol. 10, No. 1, Byron Josue de Leon

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

Peasant Violence in Early Nineteenth Century Philippines and Guatemala: The Cases of Apolinario de la Cruz and Rafael Carrera in Comparative Perspective

Byron Josue de Leon*

*Independent Scholar
e-mail: bjdeleon.lorini[at]gmail.com

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_119

The Philippines and Guatemala belong to a common indigenous Hispanic cultural sphere defined by the presence of large numbers of pre-Hispanic populations and their transformation by the institutions and rule of a shared history within the Spanish Empire. In the first half of the nineteenth century both regions were undergoing analogous fiscal pressures and economic transformations toward capitalist modes of agricultural production. They were also being introduced to global markets: the Philippines under the tutelage of a colonial regime and Guatemala under an inexperienced and dysfunctional federation of states. The brunt of the economic changes fell mostly on the lower castes of their societies, indigenous peasants. During the 1830s and early 1840s, despite efforts by the authorities in the Philippines to modernize and universalize the management of tribute in the colony, the territory’s fiscal system varied throughout the archipelago. By 1841, the year of the cofradía’s uprising in the province of Tayabas, tribute administration remained under the old corruption-plagued system led by alcaldes mayores and gobernadorcillos. These factors help to explain the background and motivations for the early nineteenth century peasant revolts led by Apolinario de la Cruz in the Philippines and Rafael Carrera in Guatemala.

Keywords: colonialism, peasant violence, Philippines, Guatemala, Apolinario de la Cruz, Catholic Church, state repression, cofradía

The study of peasant violence in the early nineteenth century requires an interregional comparative perspective. The Philippines and Mesoamerica make appropriate candidates for interregional comparison due to their relative similarities in socioeconomic composition, colonial history, and political importance within the Spanish-dominated territories. The aim of this research is to analyze the 1841 Cofradía de San José revolt led by Apolinario de la Cruz in the Philippines in comparative perspective with the peasant rebellion led by Rafael Carrera in Guatemala in 1837. The revolt led by Apolinario, a former lay brother in the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, was ultimately put down by Spanish colonial authorities in November 1841; and the movement led by Carrera, a former army drummer and pig farmer, managed to defeat the Central American federal government in March 1840. However, this research’s assumption is that both cases represented the reactions of countryside peasants unified under the banner of religion against state intrusiveness in peasant traditional life and the imposition of heavy tribute during a period of rapid economic change in both locations and beyond. The paper will first give a sociopolitical description of the backdrop to the two revolts. It will begin by discussing the issue of land property as established in colonial legislation, followed by a brief survey of the economic conditions in the first half of the nineteenth century in both locations, continuing with a description of the reforms made to tribute collection. A brief description of the independence of Central America will be given to provide the reader with the political context in which the peasant revolt occurred in the former Kingdom of Guatemala. Lastly, the topic of religion in both territories’ revolts will be addressed. The research finds that peasant violence occurred in Guatemala when the state intervened in peasant life through the imposition of heavy tribute, forced labor, and/or confiscation of church and communal property—features in colonial and former colonial states adjusting to capitalist modes of production in the early nineteenth century—and suggests that similar forces were at play in the province of Tayabas (now Quezon Province) in the Philippines during the revolt of the Cofradía de San José and should be regarded as possible explanations for the 1841 peasant revolt in the Philippines.

The Imposition of Hispanic Modes of Property in Spain’s Overseas Dominions

Spaniards brought novel Hispanic institutions into the newly discovered lands of the Americas and the Philippines; and, most important, they imposed these Hispanic institutions on the newly discovered peoples. The new Hispanic modes of property introduced the concept of individual ownership of land, an alien concept for indigenous peoples who had previously exploited land under the basis of ejidos, or communal ownership of land. This communal mode of land exploitation was standard not only among the peoples of Mesoamerica but also among all the indigenous peoples whom the Spanish encountered in their overseas expansion, both on the American continent and in the Philippines.

From the sixteenth century onward, there were already two types of individual agricultural property owners in the Kingdom of Guatemala: owners of small properties who worked in subsistence agriculture; and owners of large properties, better known as haciendas, which were geared toward commerce in agricultural surpluses either in domestic markets or overseas. The owners of small properties were for the most part ladinos—people who were ethnically indigenous but culturally Hispanic or mixed-raced Spanish and indigenous (mestizo). Ladinos tended to have more pronounced indigenous than Spanish physical features. The haciendas were for the most part owned by Spaniards, criollos—Spaniards born in the colonies—or corporately by religious orders. The masses of indigenous people exploited their lands in the form of ejidos.

The majority of ladino settlements did not enjoy any legal support throughout the colonial period. Colonial authorities also resisted the founding of new poblaciones or towns that would have given these groups access to more land. Large property owners backed the authorities’ resistance to the founding of new settlements and to the conferral of legal rights to these small owners (Solórzano 1984, 98). It was also common for peasants to settle within the boundaries of haciendas, whose owners accepted them due to the labor they provided on their property and the possibility of retaining some proportion of the goods produced by the peasants as a form of payment for the use of their land. In fact, there were many cases in which poblaciones and towns were founded within haciendas, as studies from El Salvador demonstrate (Solórzano 1984, 98), and which occurred in Guatemala as well, particularly on its southern coast. One example of the latter is the current municipality of Palin, which originated from a previous hacienda. It is likely that such developments were commonplace in the region. Due to these complexities it is hard to determine with precision which territories were actual haciendas and which were settlements of a conglomeration of small producers utilizing common lands. What can be said with more certainty is that the expansion of territories owned individually by either haciendas or small landowners was occurring at the expense of indigenous communal lands and was analogous to the demographic increase of non-indigenous groups.

Another important element to consider is that in those regions of the kingdom where the proportion of the non-indigenous population was higher, the income generated for the government’s treasury from sales taxes (alcabala) was among the most important sources of revenue; this was the case in San Salvador in the last two years of the eighteenth century. Conversely, in areas where the proportion of the indigenous population was higher, the most important source of revenue was tribute; this was the case in Chiapas, now in southern part of Mexico, and most of Guatemala (Solórzano 1984, 109).

The Legal Basis of Property in the Indies: Recopilación de leyes de Indias

As in Mesoamerica, Hispanic institutions—among them individual ownership of land—were to be imposed in the Philippines upon indigenous populations that for generations had possessed their lands communally. Through individual landownership, proprietors were able to exclude outsiders from seemingly freely available land. This state of affairs would be hard to understand by communities on the islands that were used to working the land communally. It was expected that there would be clashes between communities needing access to lands and property owners excluding them. Nicholas Cushner’s (1973) research on Meysapan, an Augustinian property formerly located in Tondo, is a good case for studying the development of large state holdings in the Philippines that could have been replicated in other parts of the territory.

The origins of Meysapan can be traced to a sixteenth-century royal grant in favor of the Augustinians of San Pablo monastery, a holding that would increase in size through the acquisition of nearby land initially owned by both Spaniards and indigenous groups in a succession of transactions that would turn Meysapan into “one of the largest estates in seventeenth-century Philippines” (Cushner 1973, 34). Cushner states that the legal basis for the acquisition of property in the Philippines was the Recopilación de leyes de Indias, Book IV, Title XII, particularly Laws I, II, VII, IX, and XIX. The principalia, the native elite class of colonial Philippine society, seems to have benefited most when Hispanic modes of property were imported from overseas, a situation that allowed many in the group to gain individual ownership of village lands.1)

In the Recopilación, it is established in Law I that:

It is our will that it may be given and be given houses, solares,2) lands, caballerías,3) and peonías,4) to all those who settle in the new lands, that by the governor of the new settlement be indicated, making distinction between esquire and pawn, and those of lower grade . . .

and particularly Law IV:

If in the already discovered areas of the Indies there are some sites and regions so good that it suits the formation of settlements, and some people are willing to settle and live in them . . . the viceroys and presidents give them in our name lands, solares, and waters . . . and be it for the duration, according to our will. (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia 1841, 119)5)

Thus, we can appreciate that land was a patrimony of the Spanish Crown, and the distribution of land was to be done by high-level colonial bureaucrats in the name of Spanish monarchs, who granted land to those who were deemed to have provided loyal service.

In the case of Meysapan, the large state managed to increase its holdings through donations by principalia owners who expected goods or services in return for their donation, such as the provision of livestock or yearly Masses by local priests. By donating land to the Augustinians, the previous owners of the lands were in fact circumventing the prohibition by the Recopilación against the selling of property to religious orders or any member of the clergy (Recopilación Book IV, Title XII, Law X). Cushner mentions the case of Julian Talo, a principal land speculator who purchased land from other Filipinos in 1624 and later sold that land to the Augustinians for 300 pesos (Cushner 1973, 36). How Talo was able to sell his land to the clergy is unexplained, but two years later he made another donation to the religious order. It was in such ways that the religious group expanded its territory. The means through which these principales acquired ownership of the lands they donated or sold is not clearly explained, but it is reasonable to expect that their access to members of the colonial bureaucracy must have aided them in the acquisition of previously common land.

The estate of Meysapan leased land mainly to local natives and also to some Spaniards, sometimes through contracts with specific obligations and time of validity. Work in the lands of the religious orders must have been attractive for natives in the surrounding areas since domestic service to the religious orders granted exemptions from tribute and personal services (Cushner 1973, 44). In this way, the necessary labor force was obtained for the exploitation of the land. Meysapan is a representative example of how large haciendas originated in the Philippines during the centuries of colonial rule by the Spanish. Cushner concludes by stating that the imposition of “the concept of private ownership of land, superimposed on the native population, had created oppressive landholding patterns beneath whose weight the Filipino peasantry is still struggling” (Cushner 1973, 53). The patterns of landownership were diverse in different parts of the Philippines, as also in Mesoamerica. What can be said in a general way is that the large state was a feature of Spanish rule in all of its possessions and became the economic basis for land exploitation. In addition, it represented a source of friction with natives, particularly in territories with large native populations. The hacienda, an economic unit with a semi-governmental domain (Lockhart 1969, 425), would become the foundation on which nineteenth-century capitalism would be based, having at its core the governmental bureaucracy as the distributor and arbiter of patrimony.

The Economic Importance of Estancos in the Early Nineteenth Century

After Spain’s loss of possessions on the American continent, it became crucially important for Spanish colonial officials to achieve self-sufficiency in Manila. Commerce would be the way to achieve self-sufficiency, but due to the slow progress of commerce in the Philippines the colonial state became the main economic agent, capable of developing the market and the bases needed for the production and distribution of certain mass-consumed goods. It was on this basis that the state participated in the archipelago’s economy through an economic model based on estancos (government monopolies), which became the key existential link between the colony and metropole throughout the nineteenth-century Philippines (Fradera 1999, 28). The years 1820–1920 represent a period of radical change in the Philippines, due to the unstoppable progress of the Industrial Revolution and the high demand for agricultural goods produced on the Philippine islands, most important among them tobacco, abaca, coffee, and sugar (Larkin 1982, 612). These new products competed favorably in global markets and represented an important opportunity for Spain’s non-metal-producing colonies to acquire an economic significance previously not even imagined. For the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, it also meant a further century under the command of Spain (Álvarez 2004, 115).

The improvement of fiscal incomes in Philippine coffers would come mainly from sugar and tobacco, complemented by alcohol made from coconuts, among other products. Debates on the future of the Philippines within the Spanish world had been ongoing since Miguel López de Legazpi reached the islands in the sixteenth century. In 1782 José Basco y Vargas, in a political move aimed to improve the income for the military in the Philippines, established estancos, a significant novelty that would later become the key institution for the modernization of nineteenth-century Philippine economic life, and the sought-after financial solution to the bankruptcy and final independence of New Spain (Fradera 2005, 48). The Philippine government’s revenue from estancos in 1839 was around 67.5 percent of total revenue. The percentage would keep increasing over the years. The second-most important source of revenue was tribute, which represented 20.3 percent of the total in 1839 and 19.8 percent in 1852 (Fradera 2005).6)

This economic dependence on estancos and Indian tribute and labor was shared also in Mesoamerica and would constitute the main characteristics of nineteenth-century sociopolitical life in both regions. These two sources of income became indispensable for the Philippine government to try to keep itself economically afloat, especially since by 1834 and 1839 the territory remained economically strained and its trade balance and pension system in a clear deficit (AGI 1834; 1840b). The First Opium War (1839–42) also caused strains in the islands’ commerce, with the arrival of boats reduced due to developments in China (AGI 1841). So dire was the economic situation that the Philippine Treasury was unable to completely honor payments due and was falling behind in its obligations. For instance, in 1840 the Philippine Treasury was ordered to make a payment of 247,000 pesos, of which only 84,250 pesos could be paid (AGI 1840a). Channels existed for the avoidance of forced Indian labor and tribute. One was military service, particularly in the Philippines; and another was membership of religious organizations such as cofradías, which conferred immunity from forced labor (Di Tella 1990, 24). Exemptions were possible also by working on lands possessed by religious orders, as mentioned earlier. The alcalde mayor was the highest local official in charge of the hacienda (treasury) of its jurisdiction, and the gobernadorcillo acted as the local agent responsible for the collection of tribute, proceeds from the sale of indulgences, and exemption fees from personal service obligations (Bankoff 1992, 681–682).

One of the most significant sources of revenue for the treasury of the Kingdom of Guatemala was the subsidies emanating from New Spain, a dependency that was also shared by the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, until economic depression forced New Spain to suspend financial aid in the second decade of the 1800s. The subsidies were meant to be invested in the modernization and military defense of these territories. For the kingdom’s treasury, there were four main sources of income: the first was government monopolies or estancos of tobacco and aguardiente (liquor); the second was alcabala (sales tax) and almojarifazgo (trade taxes); the third was Indian tribute; and the fourth was the Church tithe. Of the four, estancos of tobacco and liquor represented the most important source of income by 1820, providing around 50 percent of the income entering the treasury of the kingdom just before the final separation with Spain (Hawkins 2004, 41).

On the Bourbon Reforms, Reformation from Above

As the Spanish historian José Miranda González described, reformer heads of state—from Catherine the Great of Russia to Holy Roman Emperor of Austria Joseph II and Charles III of Spain—were heading a process of modernization sweeping Europe under the banner of enlightened despotism (cited in Commons 2003, 42). The gradual top-to-bottom process of reformation and modernization of Spain’s metropolitan and colonial bureaucracies that began in the early eighteenth century under the new Bourbon Dynasty is known collectively as the Bourbon Reforms. For Spain and its colonies, the main aims of the reforms were uniformity and universality of the legal framework (a result of which was the Recopilación), a reorganization of administrative territories through intendancies, stimulation of the economy through enterprises that would increase the wealth of the kingdoms (the formation of estancos was a result of this impulse), among other measures in the realms of commerce and education. The Crown’s goal with these series of measures was to regain authority lost to the lower hierarchies of the colonial bureaucracy and traditional groups of colonial society, an erosion of authority that accelerated in the economically depressed seventeenth century. In essence, the measures were designed to consolidate absolutism in the lands belonging to Spain (Arroyo 1989, 89).

Among the most important reforms was the introduction of the intendancy system. Intendants were responsible for collecting revenue (a duty that previously belonged to the alcalde mayor), finding means to increase revenue, supervising the lenders of land and preventing them from oppressing the people in their jurisdiction, granting payment delays to farmers when needed, among other administrative duties (Fisher 1928). Aimed at improving the collection of tribute and limiting the corruption of local officials, intendancy was introduced progressively across the Indies: in Havana in 1764, northern Mexico in 1768, Louisiana in 1775, Venezuela and Argentina in 1777, the Philippines in 1782 (where the system did not enjoy much success) (Fisher 1928, 8), Peru in 1784, and the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1786 (where five intendancies were set up). Although the initial plan was to create five intendancies in the Philippines—in the territories of Manila, Ilocos, Camarines, Iloilo, and Cebu (Commons 2003, 59)—only one was established, in Manila. It was removed after two years, making the income collection system in the Philippines inconsistent with developments on the American continent and also making tribute collection different among the Philippine provinces themselves, a characteristic that would have implications for the events described later in this paper.

A possible reason behind the failure to implement the intendancy system may have been disputes surrounding the competing jurisdictions between the new intendants, the previous structure of alcaldes mayores, and a network of officials from the Treasury Superintendency (Fradera 1999, 103). Despite the bureaucratic reformist zeal in the Americas in the final decades of the eighteenth century, the Philippines would see the continuation of power of the “alcaldes mayores, and corregidores, parish priests and curates, all of them structured over the mechanisms of control associated with the collection of indigenous tribute” (Fradera 1999, 105). Given that alcaldes mayores in the Philippines were to retain their tributary functions, let us examine the importance of their roles, the implications of their roles on the Philippine political system, and what the roles meant for Guatemala when these officers were in place.

Alcaldes Mayores, Tribute Collection, and Governmental Corruption

Tribute was one of the main sources of revenue for the Manila authorities from the establishment of the captaincy in the sixteenth century until the final century of Spanish possession of the islands. Tribute was imposed on indios, mestizos, and Chinese according to a pyramidal structure: indios were taxed the least and Chinese the most—but Chinese were exempted from labor obligations—while the mestizo caste fell somewhere in between. This progressive tax structure was based on the castes’ varying capacities to produce wealth: the Chinese were the biggest producers of wealth and the indigenous peasants the smallest—although for Edgar Wickberg there might have been in the Spanish mind a correlation between economics and biology (Wickberg 1964, 64). Tribute (capacitación) and labor obligations (polos y servicios) were not required of the traditional principalia posts of cabezas de barangay and gobernadorcillos, including members of their immediate family, and those who were working the land in large haciendas belonging to religious orders. In the seventeenth century indigenous soldiers who had provided exemplary service to the state could also be exempted from bandala (forced purchase of agricultural goods) and repartimiento (forced labor) (Mawson 2016).

The collection of tribute depended on alcaldes mayores, gobernadorcillos, and cabezas de barangay alongside lesser-known but important lower clerical officials such as the directorcillo, who aided the gobernadorcillo in legal matters and tasks involving the Spanish language, an ability that most gobernadorcillos lacked, and the fiscalillo, the ecclesiastical counterpart who aided local priests in distant towns (Bankoff 1992). As in Mesoamerica before the introduction of the intendancy system, the collection of tribute was plagued with corruption; and the result was

much more than simply corruption. An entire commercial system based on government officials came into existence. The Spanish corregidores (magistrates), alcaldes mayores, and governors who ruled in the Kingdom of Guatemala in reality were entrepreneurs who organized a variety of business activities that affected the economic integration of the whole of Central America. (Patch 1994, 78)

Robert Patch reveals that the average salary of an alcalde mayor in eighteenth-century Western Guatemala was around 600 pesos a year, but corrupt practices could boost that income to 12,000 pesos (Patch 1994, 98). To put this amount in context, Eliodoro Robles notes that in the nineteenth century the captain and governor-general of the Philippines received an annual salary of 13,325 pesos and three grams of oro común, which combined amounted to 20,000 pesos (Robles 1969, 16); the official salary of the viceroy of New Spain was a similar amount. Geography mattered: it was in regions with high concentrations of indigenous populations that there was more opportunity for wealth accumulation by local officials. This system allowed the Crown to maintain a colonial bureaucracy at little cost, and presented local bureaucrats with commercial channels for personal enrichment, a system where corruption was “an integral and necessary part of the colonial system” (Patch 1994, 80). This same system was in operation in the Philippines. Cushner describes how local officials such as the gobernadorcillo, who “represented the central government on the village level, was reduced to practice fraud in order to support the ordinary running of village affairs” (quoted in Bankoff 1992, 682).

Reform of Tribute Collection in the Philippines

Josep Fradera in Filipinas, la colonia más peculiar (1999) gives a very detailed and clear description of the reforms that alcaldes mayores experienced in the Philippines. The alcaldes mayores were responsible for the collection of tribute. They depended on a network of local officials led by gobernadorcillos and cabezas de barangay, in a process that depended on tributary lists produced by local parishes. Tribute was required to be paid to the alcalde mayor and his network of subdelegates (gobernadorcillos and cabezas de barangay) in the form of produce, usually unhusked rice (palay), which was then transported and sold in local markets by the alcalde at a profit. This suggests that the amount of rice collected from peasants was inflated for the purpose of personal profit by the collectors. The system was rife with corruption, as mentioned above, and measures were taken to gradually reform it beginning in 1768, with limited success. The most important modifications to the collection of tribute occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1826 tribute was required to be paid in metallic money in an attempt to curb the abuses of the alcaldes and gobernadorcillos. The gathered amount was to be placed in accounts belonging to the Philippine Treasury (previously it was deposited in provincial accounts), and in 1837 it was decreed that jurists should be named for the post of alcalde mayor.

In spite of all these measures, adoption was not uniform in all the territories. In 1837 a decree established that military officers were to be named alcaldes mayores in the provinces of “Caraga, Samar, Iloilo, Antique, Capiz, Albay, Camarines Sur and Tayabas” as well as the Marianas, Cavite, and Zamboanga, which already had military governments (Fradera 1999, 172). It would not be until 1844 that the alcaldes lost the privilege of carrying out commercial activities while holding office. By 1840 most provinces were collecting tribute in the form of metallic money, with the exception of Tayabas and Ilocos, which were still paying in commodities. A number of important circumstances coincided in 1841, the year that Apolinario’s brotherhood violence erupted: first, the group’s home province of Tayabas was still required to pay heavy tribute in the form of rice; second, the alcalde mayor in charge of tribute collection was a military officer; third, the alcalde still retained the right to commerce, which was a means for personal enrichment and a source of abuse against peasants; and fourth, Tayabas Province was still being run by gobernadorcillos even though the surrounding provinces were not.

Guatemala and the Preservation of Empire

The process of gaining independence in the Kingdom of Guatemala was quite different from developments in the seat of government in New Spain and in the Spanish colonies of South America. While Mexico and South America were involved in violent civil wars in 1810–21, the Kingdom of Guatemala—like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines—remained stable and loyal to the absolutist Ferdinand VII, making the kingdom a case of preservation of empire (Hawkins 2004). Guatemala’s independence came about not through a violent independence struggle, but through the political instability caused by a military revolt in 1820 led by Rafael del Riego in Spain against Ferdinand VII, which forced the king to restore the contentious Constitution of 1812. The constitutional crisis in Spain led to Mexico’s decision to finally secede from Spain and form an independent Mexican Empire in 1821. Mexico encouraged the Kingdom of Guatemala to secede from Spain and join its new empire; at the same time, it dispatched military forces toward the Guatemalan border in order to exert pressure. Ultimately, Guatemalan representatives agreed that the Guatemalan territory would join the Mexican Empire. Thus, the struggle for the independence of Central America from Spain was carried by Mexico, and was not a result of an internal project that aimed for the emancipation of the former kingdom (Acosta 2014, 17).

Mexico’s experiment with independence, led by the military man Agustín de Iturbide, would be short-lived. The experiment began when the viceroy of New Spain sent Iturbide to defeat the rebels approaching the capital in 1821. After seeing the strength of the rebels, Iturbide signed a pact with the rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, known as the Plan of the Three Guarantees.7) In it, New Spain declared its independence from Spain (first guarantee), established Catholicism as the state religion without tolerating any other (second guarantee), and declared the union between Americans and Europeans (third guarantee). The plan named, of all people, Ferdinand VII as emperor of the new political entity (Article 4), or in his absence any other prince from the Bourbon Dynasty (Mexican Government Documents 2019).

After the plan was rejected by Ferdinand VII, Iturbide was named emperor by the Mexican Congress in May 1822. By March 1823 Mexico was once again embroiled in a civil war, and Iturbide’s short reign ended with his abdication. Central America convened a congress and in June 1823 declared its annexation with the Mexican Empire null and void. In this way the Central American region found itself surprised with independence for a second time, and once again without violence (Acosta 2014). This marked the beginning of the United Provinces of Central America, and this was the political backdrop against which Carrera’s peasant uprising would make its appearance.

Peasant Revolts, Reactions from the Countryside

Both the revolt by the Cofradía de San José led by Apolinario in Tayabas Province in the Philippines and the movement led by Carrera in eastern Guatemala were peasant revolts that could be categorized as movements of the folk, of the masses, of those coming from the villages, of the laymen—or, using a term employed by Robert Redfield, revolts belonging to the little tradition (Redfield 1955; Sturtevant 1976; Ileto 1979).

Both uprisings—in 1841 in the Philippines, and in 1837 in Guatemala—were led by charismatic leaders from humble origins who had participated, however indirectly, in two of the most important political institutions of the nineteenth century, the Church and the military. These two institutions were for the most part the only channels in colonial society (and postcolonial society in the case of Guatemala) that could provide some measure of upward social mobility to a small number of members of the lower castes.

Apolinario (or Hermano Pulé) was born in 1815 in Lucban, Tayabas Province. Encouraged by churchmen, he attempted to have a clerical career, but this was ultimately denied to him by the Spanish authorities. He worked as a donado or lay brother in the Hospital San Juan de Dios, in Manila, for six years until he was unexplainably fired in March 1840. The ex-donado along with other members of his community founded the Cofradía de San José in 1832 in his hometown of Lucban. The cofradía enjoyed great popularity and an increase in membership, which in 1840 numbered in the thousands. This success drew the suspicion of local authorities and led to a series of measures against the brotherhood. The brotherhood sought official recognition from secular and religious authorities numerous times, but each time it was denied. The authorities’ responses were increasingly repressive, which led to an open revolt by the brotherhood on October 23, 1841. Despite its initial success in the revolt, the cofradía was suppressed by colonial authorities on October 31, 1841, and its leader, Apolinario, was executed a few days later.

Carrera was born in 1814 in what is today Guatemala City. Of mulatto, mestizo, and Spanish descent, he was described as possessing a physical complexion closest to an Indian’s (Woodward 2008). Born into a humble family, Carrera enlisted in the federal army as a drummer when he was 12 years old. He rose through the ranks to attain the title of sergeant. After his time in the army he engaged in several odd occupations, from being a cochineal planter to finally becoming a pig farmer in the eastern town of Mataquescuintla in 1832. Motivated by members of the Church to fight against the government’s liberal anti-clerical policies and the implementation of forced labor, he led the rebellion in 1837 that eventually saw the collapse of the government. He participated in the creation of a conservative government that he himself eventually oversaw.

The ages of both leaders are noteworthy: Apolinario was 27 years old at the time of his revolt (AHN 1842), while Carrera was 23 years old when he led his movement.

Causes of the Revolts, the Push for Capitalism

To understand the probable causes of the revolts led by Apolinario and Carrera, it is important to view the oppressive forces subjugating the respective communities. In the case of the Cofradía de San José, as mentioned earlier in the paper, the province of Tayabas was under different fiscal pressures from its neighboring provinces. The cofradía’s province was one of only two territories where tribute was still being collected in the form of commodities (the other being Ilocos), the alcalde mayor had been recently militarized, and countrywide the weight of tribute had been standardized to 12 reales8) (Fradera 1999) (1 peso was equal to 8 reales). That means despite the efforts of the colonial authorities to modernize the tributary system in the Philippines, in the province of Tayabas the tributary structure in place was still the old corruption-plagued system dominated by alcaldes mayores and gobernadorcillos. This background may have influenced the likelihood of people joining the brotherhood and supporting it. It even seems that neighboring provinces did not have either gobernadorcillos or parish priests:

The authorities in Tayabas Province, and even those in the neighboring provinces of Laguna Batangas and Tondo, which did not have gobernadorcillos or parish priests—people who held so much influence among the natives—had not only remained loyal to the Supreme Government but even taken preemptive measures to defend the provincial capital and to capture Apolinario, dead or alive. (AHN 1842)

After independence from the Mexican Empire in 1823, the five states that previously made up the Kingdom of Guatemala formed a new independent nation called the United Provinces of Central America. The new Central American state became embroiled in a series of domestic political struggles involving the conservative and liberal parties. The conservative party was in favor of preserving the old institutions, privileges, and social leadership of the Catholic Church. The liberal party, inspired by political developments in the United States and the cultural influence of the British Empire, wanted to replace traditional Hispanic and indigenous institutions with those considered modern and civilizational, such as the privatization of means of production, separation of Church and state, and free trade. In the Guatemalan state, the political struggle between these two factions involved political intrigue and coups d’etat that eventually led to open hostilities as early as 1826. By 1831 the liberals were in a strong position, having gained the presidency of the state of Guatemala and the presidency of the federal government, under which ambitious liberal reforms took place. The main targets of the reforms were the Church and ejido lands, with the confiscation and auctioning of religious and indigenous communal property. The Guatemalan government raised the head tax to two pesos, “an amount sufficient to harass the Guatemalan peasant of the 1830s who operated principally in a barter economy” (Woodward 2008, 49).9) Infrastructure works depended on Indian labor, a population regarded by the upper classes as indolent. Exemption from labor obligations required payment of the daily low wage; this was not possible for most workers, making this kind of labor a forced one (Woodward 2008). The government sought to develop the countryside by extending land grants to Europeans willing to settle there (Griffith 2012). Liberals viewed this series of land measures as modern and civilizational, but the peasantry was instead further infuriated by the actions. It was in the midst of this turmoil that in 1837 Carrera made his entry into the scene.

Similar developments were taking place in the Philippines in the 1830s, but at a much slower speed. It was in the first half of the century that colonial authorities were seeking ways to improve and modernize the economy in capitalistic terms. In 1839 the Philippine Treasury lamented over the territory’s trade imbalance, regretting that despite the territory’s many natural resources, its advantageous geographical location in Asia—close to the Chinese Empire—and its wealth in lands and people, it was underperforming. A treasury official viewed this economic malaise as originating from the inhabitants of the colony:

The causes of this malaise I already conveyed to His Majesty in the letter of January 28, No. 321. The main wealth of these islands is found in agriculture, and it finds itself being given to the tanned-skin caste of poor indios, who in every part of the world where they are found display apathy, sloth, and indifference to the comforts of life that are acquired through labor. This caste lacks capital and that active white caste that can guide them with the intelligence toward wealth and well-being. (AGI 1840b)

The official offered a solution for the economic difficulties of the islands: the protection of all foreign capitalists trying to establish themselves in the Philippines, particularly those that used their own capital and industry for the acquisition of land. From the same source, it is possible to see the 1834 request made by the president of the United States to the Spanish government for a royal permit for a businessman named Jonatan Willard Peel to establish himself in the Philippines to conduct commerce (AGI 1840b).10)

The Veneration of Saint Joseph: The Role of Religion in Peasant Violence

Various studies have made important contributions to the study of the Cofradía de San José, focusing on its religious aspects. Ikehata Setsuho used the activities of the Cofradía de San José as “a means of clarifying the nature of popular Catholicism in the Philippines in the first half of the nineteenth century” (Ikehata 1990, 111). Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution used the readings of the passion of the Christ (specifically the Pasyon Pilapil) as understood by the masses as a means of understanding how the traditional mind operates. According to him, Catholic traditions such as Holy Week “fundamentally shaped the style of peasant brotherhoods and uprisings during Spanish and early American colonial periods” (Ileto 1979, 11). On Apolinario’s uprising, Ileto notes:

The events that culminated in the bloody revolt of 1841 was [sic] not simply a blind reaction to oppressive forces in colonial society; it was a conscious act of realizing certain possibilities of existence that the members were made conscious of through reflection upon certain mysteries and signs. (Ileto 1979, 30)

Notwithstanding the enormous impact of Pasyon and Revolution on Philippine historiography since its publication in 1979, Ileto’s use of textual documents to understand the masses that revolted against their Spanish masters was convincingly put into question by Joseph Scalice, who argued that Ileto’s ambiguously termed masses did not experience the Pasyon in written form but through singing (pabasa) and dramatic acting performances (sinakulo), which both the elites and lower members of Tagalog society participated in (Scalice 2018). For Scalice, sources other than the Pasyon or the awit (Tagalog verse) are needed to begin to understand the consciousness of peasants, day laborers, and members of the working class who played a role in the Philippine Revolution:

We will not, however, learn from this reconstructed consciousness why the masses revolted to begin with. To address this latter question we must address the historical circumstances that shaped working-class and peasant consciousness and that made revolution an objective necessity for members of those groups. The Philippine Revolution emerged in the late nineteenth century from out of the dramatic transformations in the colony’s economic and political life. (Scalice 2018, 50)

For David Sturtevant, among others, the Cofradía de San José’s coalition of peasants and principales and its revolt confirmed Spanish fears by representing “the first coordinated religious rebellion in Philippine history” (Sturtevant 1976, 82). For Teodoro Agoncillo and Oscar Alfonso the motives behind the revolt led by Apolinario were also religious (Agoncillo and Alfonso 1960, 140), while for David Sweet the roots of the violence lay in a combination of discouraging the practice of traditional customs, combined with heavy taxes and labor, an increase in the economic importance of mestizos, and the “arbitrariness and a morality of the country clergy” (Sweet 1970, 114). When attempting to locate the factors that prompted the cofradía’s revolt, given what is discussed in this paper, Sweet’s argument seems to be the most reasonable. As Juan Carlos Solórzano and Douglass Sullivan-González succinctly describe in their works on Carrera’s peasant uprising in Guatemala, indigenous and ladino peasants saw their economic, social, and religious institutions under threat from the modernizing forces being promoted by the state. For Apolinario’s and Carrera’s movements, religion became the unifying ideological motivation under which previously fragmented castes would join together as a community in defense of traditional peasant life (Solórzano 1987, 9; Sullivan-González 1998, 85). Thus, in the Philippines, the diverse members of Apolinario’s movement became conscious of their common interests and under the ideological unifying banner of religion sought to defend themselves from the state’s constraints and its intransigence toward freedom of assembly.

Likewise, in Guatemala a multiethnic and multi-class alliance formed; and a blend of “power politics and religion unique to Latin America in the 19th century” developed in Carrera’s organized revolt (Sullivan-González 1998, 4). In both cases local priests played an important role as the most important nodes in local village networks, providing valuable moral support and guidance to the leaders while legitimizing the movements in the eyes of community members with their presence. Apolinario’s adviser, Father Ciriaco de los Santos—who also managed the finances of the brotherhood as its treasurer—was the person through whom Apolinario met Don Domingo Rojas, a wealthy mestizo businessman. He counseled Apolinario to gain as many supporters as he could in order to force the authorities to approve the recognition of the cofradía or, if unsuccessful, to cut heads (cortar cabezas), in which case Apolinario and his friends were in danger (AHN 1842). This advice from Rojas probably made the tragic turn of events nearly unavoidable.

As in the case of the Cofradía de San José, members of the Church played key roles in Guatemala’s peasant uprisings. The liberal government’s anti-clerical policies forced many leading clergymen to live as exiles in Louisiana and Cuba and in the case of Father Mariano Durán led to death by firing squad. For Carrera, Father Francisco Aqueche played a very important role: not only was the latter the link through which Carrera would meet his wife, Petrona Carrera, daughter of a wealthy local man in Eastern Guatemala, but it was also he who convinced Carrera to accept the request by local peasants to lead them in revolt against the government. Carerra’s forces managed to finally defeat their opponents, led by the president of the federation, Francisco Morazán, on March 19, 1840. The date was subsequently used not only to commemorate Carrera’s important military victory but also as testament to the link between God’s favor and the country, as the vicar general testified—for March 19 coincided with the festive day commemorating Saint Joseph (Sullivan-González 1998, 72).

The Regulatory Base of the Cofradías

The primary goal of Apolinario’s brotherhood was to achieve official recognition for the Cofradía de San José. For this reason it is important to discuss the institution of cofradías. Apolinario and his followers believed that official recognition of the confraternity depended on the approval of either the ecclesiastical or secular authorities in the Philippines; they submitted applications at least four times to this end, meeting refusals every single time. The authorities at the Ministry of Justice in Madrid who in 1842 reviewed the confraternity’s uprising the previous year (AHN 1842) advised the Audiencia of Manila to be vigilant of the governor’s magistrates and the alcaldes mayores of all the provinces to enforce Law XXV, Title IV, Book I of the Recopilación, which regulates the establishment of cofradías. The law states that to

establish cofradias, juntas, colleges, or councils of Spaniards, indios, blacks, mulattos, or other people of any condition or quality, even if the things and ends were pious and spiritual, precedes our licence and authority from Ecclesiastical Prelate and having been made the ordinances and statutes, be presented to the Royal Council of the Indies, so that in it, it be observed and dispensed with what is suitable . . . and if it were approved or confirmed, may not gather nor council, without the presence of any of our royal ministers, that by viceroy, president, or governor be named. (Paredes 1681)11)

The regulation concerning the establishment of cofradías in the Spanish Indies was much more restrictive than the regulation governing the provision of land. Land was to be distributed by governors, presidents, and viceroys, while religious brotherhoods needed the direct approval of the king himself through the Council of the Indies.12) This indicates how strongly the metropolitan authorities mistrusted autonomous religious groups as early as 1600, when the law was enacted. The mistrust of confraternities in Europe was widespread from medieval times: these pious organizations were seen as threats to both secular and ecclesiastical powers. The Church in Europe succeeded in bringing brotherhoods within its jurisdiction with the edicts of the Council of Trent (1545–63), while the state dealt with the threat posed by these organizations by suppressing them (Eisenbichler 2019, 1). In spite of the limitations imposed in the Recopilación, confraternities were widespread in the Spanish Indies: in the New Spanish capital, for instance, there were thousands of recognized confraternities by the eighteenth century and many more unrecognized ones (MacLeod 2019, 281). By the last part of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, secular and religious authorities in New Spain were targeting confraternities, particularly their funds, and trying to abolish them (MacLeod 2019, 284).

Confraternities were means through which indigenous communities could preserve some autonomy and pre-Hispanic traditions, celebrate feasts, provide funeral assistance, aid in Christian conversion, and promote general solidarity in their communities. They also provided social status to their members, provided extra income for priests, and conferred exemptions from forced labor (Di Tella 1990). Some cofradías’ holdings were also designed for “evading the exactions of church and state” (MacLeod 2019, 302). For instance, on June 29, 1773, an earthquake struck the seat of government of the Kingdom of Guatemala. Due to the destruction, government officials decided to transfer the capital to a new location, where the current capital—Guatemala City—still stands. Such an enterprise required a large number of indigenous laborers and the forced migration of indios from the central valley of Guatemala. Many resisted these measures by migrating to other pueblos, fleeing into the mountains, or refusing to pay tribute. Some “joined religious cofradías to be exempt from all low class labor” (Pedro Pérez Valenzuela 1934, quoted in Jones 1940, 11).

Conclusion

The Philippines’ nineteenth-century peasant violence should not be treated as a local spontaneous reaction unconnected with wider events in other parts of the former Spanish world and beyond. Peasant violence is a reaction against the state’s economic and political intrusiveness in peasant community livelihoods and should be seen as an act of resistance in the defense of the traditional peasant economy, organization, and traditions. Apolinario’s confraternity, although religious in nature, was victim to a centralized and militarized colonial state, traumatized by the loss of its American colonies and obsessed with discovering and destroying any hint of a political movement for independence or a movement that might be used by third parties with independentist aims13) (AHN 1842). The case of the Cofradía de San José represents more than the mere suppression of a religious brotherhood. Its importance is that it represented the emergence of a modern civil society organization in colonial Philippines, tragically suppressed by an arbitrary regime afraid of reliving the traumatic events that had led to the loss of the American colonies.

Accepted: August 24, 2020

Acknowledgments

The author would like to acknowledge the kind support received from Prof. Onimaru Takeshi at Kyushu University, the peer-reviewers’ valuable comments, and the editor’s hard work and patience with this paper.

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Sullivan-González, Douglass. 1998. Piety, Power, and Politics: Religion and Nation Formation in Guatemala, 1821–1871. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Sweet, David. 1970. A Proto-political Peasant Movement in the Spanish Philippines: The Cofradia de San Jose and the Tayabas Rebellion of 1841. Asian Studies 8(1): 94–119.

Tribunal Supremo de Justicia [Supreme Justice Tribunal]. 1841. Recopilación de leyes de los reinos de las Indias [Compilation of laws of the kingdoms of the Indies], edited by Boix. Second Tome. Fifth Edition. Madrid: Impresor y Librero.

Wickberg, Edgar. 1964. The Chinese Mestizo in Philippine History. Journal of Southeast Asian History 5(1): 62–100.

Woodward Jr., Ralph Lee. 2008. Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871. Athens: University of Georgia Press.


1) In his paper, Cushner refers to the newly introduced concept of individual landownership as private ownership, an understanding of property rights shared by James Lockhart. It is important for the reader to be aware that the Recopilación itself does not mention the concept of private property or ownership; it discusses property ownership in terms of the Spanish word propio, which carries connotations of individual, particular, and/or proper (but not private) possession of an object. Diccionario de la Lengua Castellana (1791) defines propio as “What belongs to someone, with the right of using it freely to his will,” while it defines privado as “What is executed by the view of few familiar and domestically, without formality” and “what is particular and personal of each,” among a few other definitions not relevant here (DLC 1791, 696). When the Recopilación uses the word privado, it does so mostly as the past tense of privar, which is defined by the same dictionary as “to strip away, or remove something that was possessed” (DLC 1791, 682) and used in the description of penalties and punishments for individuals who transgressed the law. For instance, an alcalde mayor who bought silver illegally would be privado (removed) from his office (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia 1841, 142). This is not to challenge the validity of employing the term as Cushner does, but to clarify the use of the word in the context of the time studied. The link between privado and property would probably persist until the nineteenth century.

2) Small landed property where a house was built.

3) Large unit of land around 43 hectares.

4) Small unit of land around 4.46 hectares (Konetzke 1977, 40).

5) The original Spanish documents were translated into English by the author of this paper. All responsibility for any error of translation falls entirely on this author.

6) Before the establishment of estancos of tobacco, tribute was the most important source of government revenue in the Philippines. Its importance at the close of the eighteenth century was even higher if taking into consideration provincial records of tribute collection as opposed to the accounts registered in Manila (Álvarez 2004).

7) Widely known as the Plan de Iguala.

8) For David Sweet (1970, 98), however, the amount of tribute was 3 pesos, which was equal to 24 reales.

9) Head tax was the same form of taxation as in the recent past colonial regime, that is, indigenous tribute.

10) The source is significant because it clearly shows the racist attitude of Spanish officials toward the indigenous populations in 1840. It is important also because it shows the unfavorable economic conditions that the Philippines was perceived to be in compared with other foreign colonies, even Spain’s own Cuba and Puerto Rico. To improve the economic performance of the islands, the Spanish official recommended capitalism and white immigration.

11) The law is titled “Cofradías may not be founded without license from the king, nor be gathered without the presence of magistrates and royal ministers.”

12) The Council of the Indies was suppressed in 1836. During the time the brotherhood made its applications in 1840–41, the administration of the remaining colonies was the responsibility of the Overseas Government within the Secretary of State and Office of the Navy.

13) After investigating and analyzing all the evidence surrounding the cofradía’s revolt, government officials in Madrid concluded that there was no plot or conspiracy by the members of the brotherhood against the authorities or to make the islands independent. Their efforts were focused on the establishment of the confraternity. Additionally, the officials revealed that the members involved in the violence had indicated that they would not pay tribute (AHN 1842).

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Vol. 10, No. 1, Shimojo Hisashi

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

Local Politics in the Migration between Vietnam and Cambodia: Mobility in a Multiethnic Society in the Mekong Delta since 1975

Shimojo Hisashi*

*下條尚志, Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Kobe University, 1-2-1, Tsurukabuto, Nada-ku, Kobe 657-8501, Japan
e-mail: shimojoenator[at]gmail.com

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_89

This paper examines the history of cross-border migration by (primarily) Khmer residents of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta since 1975. Using a multiethnic village as an example case, it follows the changes in migratory patterns and control of crossborder migration by the Vietnamese state, from the collectivization era to the early Đổi Mới reforms and into the post-Cold War era. In so doing, it demonstrates that while negotiations between border crossers and the state around the social acceptance (“licit-ness”) and illegality of cross-border migration were invisible during the 1980s and 1990s, they have come to the fore since the 2000s. Despite the border being legally closed in the 1980s and 1990s, undocumented migration as a livelihood strategy was rampant due to the porous nature of the border. In the 2000s, the border began to be officially opened to local people and simultaneously function as a political boundary to regulate belonging and identities. The changes in migratory patterns indicate that the mapping and establishment of a national border alone is not enough to etch it in the minds of people, especially minorities who have connections with people in the neighboring country. Rather, a border “hardens” through continuous negotiations between state actors, who become suspicious of influence from a foreign country, and cross-border migrants, who become dependent on the state for their needs.

Keywords: cross-border migration, licit-ness, illegality, collectivization era, post-Cold War era, Khmer, Vietnam, Cambodia

Introduction

This paper examines the history of cross-border migration by (primarily) Khmer residents of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta since 1975. Using a multiethnic village in a coastal province of Vietnam as an example case, it follows the changes in migratory patterns and control of cross-border migration by the Vietnamese state, from the collectivization era (1975–86)1) to the early Đổi Mới (renovation) reform era (1986–mid-1990s) and into the post-Cold War era (from the late 1990s). In so doing, it demonstrates that although migrants have crossed the border to take advantage of political and economic differences between Cambodia and Vietnam as a livelihood strategy for decades, the Vietnam-Cambodia border has begun to effectively function as a political boundary to regulate their belonging and identities only since the early 2000s. This regulation of cross-border migration is a result of a new political calculus on the part of (1) local residents, who have become dependent on the Vietnamese state for economic and religious needs, (2) local governments in the delta, which are suspicious of human and information flows from Cambodia, and (3) the Vietnamese state, which officially protects ethnic Khmer.

Ambiguities and the political instability of the boundary between Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and Cambodia have abounded since before colonization. Nguyen Phuc Anh began to govern the delta at the end of the eighteenth century and eventually unified almost all provinces of today’s Vietnam under a single state, officially declaring the foundation of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802. The Nguyen Dynasty indirectly began to govern the Mekong Delta through local political leaders, but it lost control of many parts of the delta when Khmer rebellions against the centralization erupted in the 1830s (Kitagawa 2006, 182–183, 190, 221–222; Vũ Đức Liêm 2016, 89–91). As Vũ Đức Liêm observes, the Nguyen Dynasty attempted to demarcate boundaries (giới) by digging canals such as the Vinh Te canal, which is located not far from today’s national border, and to translate those physical markers into cartography. It did not, however, differentiate provincial boundaries from the national border when managing the “Khmer world” (Vũ Đức Liêm 2016, 93), and in that sense it can be said that the modern national border did not emerge during the Nguyen Dynasty. In the late nineteenth century, the delta and Cambodia were integrated into a federation of states known as French Indochina.2) Although the administrative line drawn between the two regions during the French era began to work as a national border in 1954, intensification of the Vietnam War during the 1960s, when several political forces collided,3) brought disorder to the borderland (Chandler 2008, 242–249). Even during wartime, people created many open-air marketplaces along the border in areas uncontrolled by the states (Lê Hương 1970, 10), and people migrated from Southern Vietnam to Cambodia to seek a higher Buddhist education or livelihood. However, as the Vietnam War expanded into Cambodia, notably in 1970—when the Norodom Sihanouk regime was overthrown in a coup by general Lon Nol, whose army units massacred hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians near Phnom Penh on the dubious grounds that they were allied with the Communists (Chandler 2008, 251)—a large number of Vietnamese citizens in Cambodia returned to Vietnam.4)

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, conflict between the unified Vietnamese government and the Khmer Rouge increased political tensions in the borderland. These tensions eased when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and established a pro-Vietnam government in Phnom Penh in 1979. Starting in 1975, the Vietnamese socialist economy stagnated, making it difficult for people to make a living. This, combined with the easing of border tensions, spurred people in the delta not only to flee Vietnam by sea as “boat people” but also to migrate overland to Cambodia and then to Thailand as refugees, laborers, or traders to access means of livelihood. Migration continued throughout the 1980s and increased in the early 1990s, when the economic boom in Phnom Penh under the governance of the United Nations offered promise in the face of the social dislocation and economic difficulty caused by Đổi Mới reforms and a new market-oriented economy in Vietnam.

According to Evan Gottesman (2003, 165–168), during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, the Vietnamese military established checkpoints along the border; and anyone from Vietnam who attempted to flee to Thailand via Cambodia was detained, disciplined, and forced to return to Vietnam. Gottesman also notes, however, that cross-border smuggling may have been secretly permitted by both the Hanoi and Phnom Penh governments during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Indeed, we know that Cambodian timber and rubber were smuggled into Vietnam, and beer and Vietnamese electric generators were smuggled into Cambodia (Gottesman 2003, 311–314). Research conducted for this paper confirms that from 1979 through the 1990s local migrants crossed the border using informal routes to avoid checkpoints, suggesting that border control was ineffective and undocumented migration occurred during that time.

It is generally assumed that the decollectivization and market liberalization stimulated by Đổi Mới reforms in 1986 eased economic difficulties in Vietnam on the whole, though there were still many poor in rural areas, especially areas with high ethnic minority populations, and the gap between the rich and the poor tended to widen (see Vo Tri Thanh and Pham Hoang Ha 2004, 83–84). According to Philip Taylor (2004), the result of decollectivization and land liberalization policies was that increasing numbers of Mekong Delta farmers had to sell their land and thus had—and still have—less access than ever to the profits from the delta’s agricultural economy.5) Taylor also mentions briefly that many farmers in the delta, especially Khmer people who missed out on many benefits of the liberal reforms, sought work in the urban centers of the delta, or in nearby cities such as Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City (Taylor 2004, 237, 245, 252). Taking into consideration these arguments over Đổi Mới, this paper puts into focus the pattern of those who, failing to cope with the rapid penetration of the market economy, began to migrate to Cambodia in order to seek a livelihood.

Andrew Hardy observes, “at the heart of the Đổi Mới transition lay the process of land decollectivisation and it was this, above all, that undermined the state’s control over population mobility” (Hardy 2003a, 124). While Hardy’s (2003a; 2003b) research focuses mainly on the contemporary history of government-sponsored and spontaneous internal migration from the northern Red River Delta to Vietnam’s highlands, Iwai, Ono, and Ota analyze migrations from the Red River Delta to the floodplain of the southern Mekong Delta since the Đổi Mới reforms (Iwai et al. 2016). This paper deals with cross-border migration between Southern Vietnam and Cambodia as an extension of such internal migrations.

Beginning in the late 1990s, Vietnam gradually returned to international society, accelerating its market economy. Subsequent economic growth during the 2000s witnessed an explosion of industries around Ho Chi Minh City, which began to absorb the rural population. Reflecting this pattern, some people who had moved to Cambodia returned to their home in Vietnam due to its improving social and economic situation. In tandem with this phenomenon, control of migrants crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border intensified and became more firmly institutionalized from the 2000s, as the government became more suspicious of the human and information flows from Cambodia.

One notable exception to this pattern is the regulation of Khmer monks from Vietnam crossing the border to study in Cambodia. This movement has been strictly regulated since 1975, due to Vietnam’s concern over those monks being influenced by the environment of anti-Vietnamese politics in Cambodia, as Taylor’s ethnographic studies observe (Taylor 2014, 59; 2016, 282–285).6) While Taylor’s research stresses Khmer monks’ migration to and from Cambodia, this paper focuses on the interaction between laypeople’s migration and state control, whose pattern is different from that of the monks.

Timothy Gorman and Alice Beban (2016) reveal that contemporary migrant workers from Vietnam cross the Cambodian border as farmers to cultivate shrimp, and Sango Mahanty (2019) analyzes traders circulating between Vietnam and Cambodia to buy and transport cassava. According to these studies, in order to mitigate their legally unstable position or to facilitate the transnational trade of cash crops, these border crossers voluntarily attempt to establish ties with state actors, such as border guards, military personnel, or local authorities.

Some migrants circulating between both countries today survive by making use of the social insurance provided to the poor in Vietnam and the economic boom of Cambodia’s borderlands. In so doing, they rely not only on the state’s insurance programs but also on middlemen in their homeland to arrange official documents such as passports and ID cards.

By explaining the historical changes in cross-border migration trends, this paper betters our understanding of why migrants from Vietnam have come to depend more on state actors since the 2000s. The paper is structured as follows. The first section presents an overview of the migration between Vietnam and Cambodia while reviewing some literature on borders and migration. After explaining the field site of P. village in the second section, the paper details the patterns of undocumented migration during Vietnam’s collectivization era (1975–86) in the third section, and during the early Đổi Mới reform era (1986–mid-1990s) in the fourth section. The fifth section discusses the circulation of migrants and Vietnamese regulation of the border and migrants in the post-Cold War era (from the late 1990s). In examining the changing migration trends and state regulations, this paper concludes that while interactions between border crossers and the state around the social acceptance (or “licit-ness”) and illegality of cross-border migration were invisible during the 1980s and 1990s (when undocumented migration was rampant despite the border being legally closed), they have come to the fore since the 2000s, when the border was institutionally opened to local people.

I Creation of a Border

In Southeast Asian historical studies, it is assumed that since the mapping and demarcation of modern national borders, the formation of the state and creation of nationhood have been actively pursued (Thongchai 1994). The border gradually emerges in people’s imagination of a nation through migration control policies such as exclusion or greater scrutiny (Osada 2011). Given this “hardening” of borders, some studies focus on how migrants strategically take advantage of social and economic differences on either side of the border, engaging in sophisticated cross-border smuggling using various, often corrupt, networks (Tagliacozzo 2005; Ishikawa 2010).

Itty Abraham and Willem van Schendel (2005) refer to the borderland as both a “licit” and an illegal space. They define licit activities not as permissible by law, but rather in contrast to the popular sense of “illicit” activities; in other words, licit activities are legally banned but socially sanctioned and protected. The borderland is a space formed by the intersection of multiple competing authorities and enforcements. Neighboring states often hold different views on both the law and licit-ness. As a result, what is considered licit, or what may be allowed on one side of the border, may be considered strictly illegal and not allowed on the other side. As people cross borders to work in sweatshops and brothels to avoid labor regulations or the vice police, strategic interactions or “border games” ensue between border enforcers and unauthorized border crossers (Abraham and Schendel 2005, 22–23).

In light of the border and migrant studies mentioned above, the case of P. village in Vietnam raises the question of how concretely migrants have etched the national border in their minds as a “boundary” to differentiate their own society from the society on the other side of the border. Many people in P. village migrated to Cambodia during the 1980s and 1990s to escape economic difficulty. This undocumented migration was not fully controlled by either of the two states, whose lax governments did not trace the mobility of border crossers after their initial border crossing or during long stays. This enabled the people in P. village to continue to recognize their own homeland and Cambodia as a mutually connected cultural and economic space, even after the establishment of the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Border crossing through informal routes was frequent at least until the 1990s, as border crossers relied on backstreets along the border, long-distance family or relative networks, personal experiences, and middlemen preparing land or sea transport. The cases from P. village demonstrate that the Vietnam-Cambodia border was not clearly “etched in the minds of people” as a boundary to regulate mobility or identities, and it did not strictly function as a political institution, as it was virtually porous and permeable until the late 1990s. Schendel (2005, 52) notes that the permeability of a border can differ along its length based on physical features, intensive policing of a particular section, cross-border agreements, and the varying degrees of physical or linguistic difference between borderlanders on either side. Due to a combination of these factors, the Vietnam-Cambodia border was very porous, and although not strictly legal, migration between the countries was habitual and licit, in that it was socially sanctioned among P. villagers and even overlooked and tolerated by the states.

However, the Vietnamese state has paid increasing attention to this undocumented migration and lack of border governance, especially since the early 2000s. Today the Vietnamese government pays particular attention to Khmer people crossing the border, due to the sensitivity of the territorial politics of the Mekong Delta, which in Cambodia is still called Lower Cambodia (Kampuchea Kr[a]om) and considered a territory taken by Vietnam. In the late 1970s, the Pol Pot regime raided the borderland on the Vietnam side with the aim of reclaiming the Mekong Delta (Chanda 1986, 96–98). However, the political presence of Khmer in the delta was temporarily forgotten when the pro-Vietnam government was installed in Phnom Penh after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Following Vietnam’s withdrawal of troops from Cambodia, the Vietnamese government lacked the ability to prevent local residents from crossing the border, and serious political problems relating to the border, migrants, and Khmer ethnicity did not surface until the late 1990s. However, since the early 2000s, as people, goods, and information from Cambodia have continued to flow into Vietnam, the Vietnamese government has become concerned that if the Khmer people have more contact with Cambodian society, previous political issues might resurface. The regulation of migrants from P. village, many of whom identify as ethnic Khmer, is closely connected with Vietnam-Cambodia border governance. As explained below, only since the 2000s have interactions between unauthorized migrants and territorial states around the licit-ness and illegality of cross-border migrations started to make themselves visible. This has happened even in P. village, which is located quite far from the border.

II Methodology and Field Site

This paper is based on oral histories and ethnographic data collected in P. village ()7) between December 2010 and March 2012. I lived and conducted fieldwork in the village for 15 months, collecting ethnographic data about society-state relations in everyday lives and oral histories of people’s survival strategies to avoid subsistence crises during wartime, the collectivization era, the early Đổi Mới reform era, and the post-Cold War era. I also conducted several one- to two-week research trips in the borderlands of Cambodia and Vietnam, as well as Phnom Penh, to gather information related to migration trends.

P. village is located 150 km from the Cambodian border on the east bank of the Bassac River in Soc Trang, a coastal province in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. Soc Trang is home to many ethnic Khmer who have remained connected with Cambodian society through their language and Theravada Buddhism even after national border demarcation in the mid-twentieth century. The ethnic Khmer have lived together and intermarried with ethnic Chinese and Viets (ethnic Kinh, the majority in Vietnam).8)

According to Vietnamese government statistics from 2009, ethnic Viets (Kinh) are the largest ethnic group in the Mekong Delta, accounting for about 92 percent of the population; ethnic Khmer account for around 7 percent and ethnic Chinese just 1 percent (see Table 1). Within the delta, Soc Trang is ethnically diverse, with 64 percent of the population ethnic Viet, 31 percent Khmer, and 5 percent Chinese. The province is also recognized as having the largest Khmer population in Vietnam and the largest Chinese population in the delta. Within Soc Trang Province, P. village has a higher percentage of Khmer residents. Government statistics from 2011 show that 79 percent of P. village is ethnic Khmer, followed by ethnic Viet (19 percent) and ethnic Chinese (2 percent).9) In my survey, according to the ethnicity registered with the government, of the 395 people living in “Samrong ward (khu),”10) Q. hamlet (ấp), P. village, 390 were ethnic Khmer, 3 were Viet, and 2 were Chinese. However, 170 of the 390 people registered as Khmer had Chinese (154), Viet (13), or both Chinese and Viet (3) kinship ties among their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents on their father’s, mother’s, or both sides. Intermarriage between different ethnic groups is common, and as a result many villagers today identify themselves as ethnically mixed, or métis (in Vietnamese [VN], lai; in Khmer [KH], cat), and speak multiple languages.

 

Table 1 Populations of Vietnam, Mekong Delta, Soc Trang, and P. Village

seas1001_shimojo_table1

 

Most residents of P. village maintain connections with Cambodian society through the Khmer language and Theravada Buddhism. Despite its distance from the Cambodian border, the village has two Khmer temples, from which monks, since at least the early twentieth century, have traveled to temples in Cambodia to undertake higher religious and secular education or to engage in meditation practices (Shimojo 2015, 24–33). The majority of villagers have relatives and acquaintances who travel to Cambodia for work, and many routinely cross the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

Examining changes in the local politics of P. villagers’ migration patterns enhances our understanding of the Vietnam-Cambodia border and cross-border migration for two reasons. First, the mobility of ethnic Khmer, who are the majority in P. village and in Cambodia, often leads the Vietnamese state to give importance to regulating the border and cross-border migration. Second, the village’s location far from the border exemplifies broader changes in migratory patterns in the Mekong Delta more accurately than a location on the border, reflecting which state (Cambodia or Vietnam) or which economic center (Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City) historically attracted people in the delta in response to the economic and political conditions of each era. Analysis of societies located in the borderlands, where people routinely cross the border for their economic and social needs, may not reveal such historical migratory patterns.

III Migration during the Collectivization Era (1975–86)

III-1 Refugee Migration

Refugees who fled Vietnam from 1975 to 1986 during collectivization were generally regarded as “boat people” who crossed the ocean (vượt biển). However, many migrants in P. village evacuated over land, relying on their local knowledge of Cambodian society to move from Vietnam to Thailand via Cambodia. The number of such people from P. village increased after early 1979.

Following the reunification of North and South Vietnam, the socialist regimes of Vietnam, China, and Cambodia entered a new phase in their interrelations, shifting from an outward “fraternal” cooperation (in support of Communist revolutionary movements) during the Vietnam War era to “fratricidal” conflict in the post-Vietnam War era. The Pol Pot regime spread anti-Vietnam sentiments, insisted on claiming territorial rights to the Mekong Delta, and frequently collided with Vietnamese military personnel stationed in the borderlands. Ultimately, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and occupied Phnom Penh in January 1979. To support the Pol Pot regime, China invaded Vietnam in February 1979, fighting in the Sino-Vietnam borderland (Elliott 1981, 8–10; Evans and Rowley 1984, 39, 45–57; Chanda 1986, 231–262; Kimura 1996, 76–90).

Due to the two international wars, ethnic Khmer and Chinese, and métis Khmer- and Chinese-Viets in P. village—whose loyalty to Vietnam was now suspect—were placed in a politically sensitive situation. In addition to the worsening of China-Vietnam state relations, most had lost their livelihoods due to the Communist government’s promotion of collective farming and redistribution of land, its direct purchase of food, and its establishment of a rationing system. Landlords, rice merchants, millers, and shopkeepers who had engaged in the production and distribution of exported rice were forced to close their businesses.

In response to the political and economic situation, some people decided to flee by land. Com (a Chinese-métis Khmer), a family member of a once-rich landlord in P. village, described the journeys of his younger brother and sister:

In Vietnam at that time, people were forced to participate in labor service [VN: công tác, KH: polakam], but they had no work of their own and no way to earn money. My younger brother crossed the Cambodia border and arrived in Thailand in 1979. He moved from Thailand to the Philippines by boat, and in the end he migrated to Canada. My younger sister and her husband arrived at a refugee camp in Thailand via Cambodia and migrated to Canada. Her husband had been engaged in the “revolution’s work,” but he had a difficult life.11)

As Com’s brother-in-law’s case reveals, the refugees included those who had participated in the “revolution’s work” as cadres of the new government, indicating that economic difficulty was a more serious factor than political positions when deciding to flee. Having local knowledge of Cambodia was also an important factor for those choosing to flee by land. Com’s eldest stepsister, Sang (an ethnic Khmer), pointed out that her younger brother had been sent to Phnom Penh as a South Vietnamese soldier during the Vietnam War, and therefore he was familiar with the city.12)

Upon Vietnam’s successful invasion of Cambodia, tensions in the borderlands caused by the international conflict rapidly eased and more people fled overland, defying the border and making use of their own language and past experiences.

III-2 Circulating Migration

Beginning in 1979, migrant workers and traders as well as refugees repeatedly passed thorough the porous border. Some people in P. village circulated repeatedly between Vietnam and Cambodia. Rat, an ethnic Khmer, said:

After the liberation, I didn’t engage in collective farming because it was troublesome. After the Pol Pot regime collapsed in 1979, I traveled every two weeks between Phnom Penh and P. village as a ku roup [painter]. I sold pictures for 5,000 riel each until I stopped going to Phnom Penh one year later. In Vietnam fertilizer and agricultural chemicals were scarce and the land was not fertile, but business was free in Cambodia. I passed through Kompot in Cambodia via Ha Tien by car to go to Phnom Penh. I didn’t cross the formal border but entered Cambodia by an informal route.13)

Although ku roup in Khmer means “painter,” strictly speaking Rat was not a painter. To earn money in Cambodia, he collected pictures of deceased people from bereaved families and brought those pictures to a painter in P. village. The painter created portraits of the deceased, and Rat then returned to Cambodia to sell them to the bereaved families.

Rat went to Cambodia not only because the restrictions on private activities in the black economy there were comparatively lax, but also because he was accustomed to Cambodian society. He had been to Phnom Penh as a monk to study Pali at Unalom Temple for a year in the late 1960s, as many Khmer monks in the delta had in the past. Rat could also take advantage of the informal car route connecting P. village with Phnom Penh via Ha Tien and Kompot (see Fig. 1) that was being created at the time. Rat’s narrative shows that repeated border crossing was possible because of the porous border.

 

seas1001_shimojo_fig1

Fig. 1 Mekong Delta and Vietnam-Cambodia Border

Source: Esri, GEBCO, DeLorme, NaturalVue | Esri, GEBCO, IHO-IOC GEBCO, DeLorme, NGS.

 

In the mid-1980s, some people even migrated to Thailand via Cambodia to engage in undocumented work. Han said:

I went to Thailand by car without a passport to work as a laborer [KH: kammakor], from 1986 to 1992. First I stayed in Phnom Penh for half a month, and after that I moved to Thailand. I did physical labor like loading and earned about 20 baht per day. The pay was a little bit better in Cambodia than in Vietnam at that time. Both Vietnam and Cambodia were under Communist rule, but Thailand was a liberal country. I stayed in Surin Province, Thailand, and I worked on a cassava farm for 20 baht per day. I could understand 80 percent of the Surin Khmer dialect. I don’t know which road I used to cross the border, because I just went along with others and got into a car. I was a manual laborer [KH: si chhunual ke]. Vietnam was very poor, and furthermore, we were obligated to participate in labor service for one month per year. Although I had farmland in 1985, we only produced one annual rice crop, which was not profitable.14)

It was possible for P. villagers, many of whom could speak Khmer, to work not only in Cambodia but also in Surin Province, Thailand, where many ethnic Khmer resided. Han’s narrative reveals that groups of migrant workers from Vietnam crossed the border via informal routes with the help of mediators who prepared transportation for workers’ groups to Cambodia and Thailand.

The two narratives above show that people from Vietnam went to Cambodia seeking less intervention in their lives and a freer economic space. After the Pol Pot regime was driven out of Phnom Penh in 1979, many people in the delta, especially Khmer speakers, crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border to escape difficulties in their lives brought about by state policies. Migration from Vietnam to Cambodia and Thailand during collectivization, not only to escape the political situation but also to partake in cross-border trade and migrant work, was possible because in the face of political chaos, the state powers could not control the porous border and the human flows searching for informal routes and work. During this time, although cross-border and internal migration was legally banned or restricted, it was socially licit in P. village and carried on across informal routes stretching from the village to Cambodia and on to Thailand. In that sense, the Vietnam-Cambodia border at the time did not function as a political apparatus to regulate interactions between migrants and the state or to functionally regulate the licit-ness or illegality of migrations.

IV Migration during the Early Đổi Mới Era (1986–mid-1990s)

IV-1 Withdrawal of the Vietnamese Military from Cambodia

At the beginning of the 1990s, the political situation in Cambodia began to change, prompted by the withdrawal of the Vietnamese military from that country. For a decade, Vietnam and the pro-Vietnam government in Cambodia (the Cambodian People’s Party) had fought with Pol Pot’s guerrillas and other anti-Vietnam forces that were supported by China and several Western countries. However, after mediation by the Soviet Union, which hoped to normalize its relations with China, Vietnam began to withdraw its military from Cambodia in June 1988, completing its withdrawal in September 1989 (Kimura 1996, 222–232; Gottesman 2003, 336–350). After the withdrawal, the political situation in Cambodia began to rapidly and drastically change. In 1991 the pro-Vietnam government and anti-Vietnam forces in Cambodia concluded the Paris Peace Accords. In 1993 the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) implemented a parliamentary election, which resulted in the establishment of the Kingdom of Cambodia and major changes in the country’s politics and economy. By 1989 the Cambodian People’s Party government had all but abandoned the socialist economic system, and in 1993 the new Kingdom of Cambodia government officially introduced a market economy system (Gottesman 2003, 280–300; Amakawa 2004, 4–14).

The change in the military power balance, political pluralization, and the introduction of a market economy in the early 1990s further motivated people in P. village to attempt to cross the border to escape economic difficulties.

IV-2 Undocumented Migration of the Poor into Cambodia

During the period of political change in Cambodia, the number of migrant workers from P. village seeking to escape economic difficulties increased to levels higher than the 1980s. The villagers I interviewed said that in the early 1990s the Cambodian economy was better than the Vietnamese economy, and that a significant number of Vietnamese citizens lived in Phnom Penh. In Samrong ward, Q. hamlet of P. village, the number of migrants going to Phnom Penh to work was markedly increased from 1992 to 2002 (see Table 2). To determine how and why people went to Phnom Penh, I analyzed the oral histories of several people in P. village who had made border crossings.

 

Table 2 Reasons for Migrating to Phnom Penh from Samrong Ward, 1979–2011 (unit: one person)

seas1001_shimojo_table2

 

The main reason why people migrated to Cambodia was their inability to cope with the rapid development of the market economy in Vietnam after the initiation of Đổi Mới in 1986. Đổi Mới reforms brought private economic activities that had been part of the black economy during the Collectivization Era out into the open. As people began to engage in a wider range of crop productions, commercial production was diversified. In P. village, the cultivation of watermelon was popular at the end of the 1980s. According to an official monograph published by the communist party in Soc Trang province in 1988, trucks from Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho would gather at P. village just before Tet (the lunar new year), and merchants would purchase watermelon produced in the village (Vũ Lân et al. 1988, 61).

Than, a Khmer-métis Chinese villager who lived in Samrong ward, Q. hamlet of P. village, told me that he cultivated watermelons from 1988 to 1990. He and his wife transported the harvest by bus to sell in Ho Chi Minh City. The variety of watermelon he grew was large but did not taste very good, so he could sell the fruit only as decoration for the Tet celebration. Since he could harvest only once per year, Than found it increasingly difficult to make sufficient profit from this endeavor and eventually stopped. After that he mortgaged his farmland to Hang, who was also a resident of Samrong ward, for 100 kg of rice at twofold interest before going to Phnom Penh (rice was desired because it was a valuable currency during the economic dislocation of the time).15) Although some people, such as Than, attempted to produce new agricultural products, they did not receive any state support in the form of technical assistance, investments, loans, etc. Thus, they were at high risk of failure or becoming dependent on private moneylenders such as Hang, who often charged high interest rates.

Than said that he went to Phnom Penh for a year and a half from 1991 to 1992 with his wife and youngest daughter. Without a passport, he crossed the border not through a border gate but via an informal route. He worked as a traveling wharf laborer in a town near Phnom Penh, loading commodities onto a ship and traveling on the ship to Saigon, where he unloaded the items, and then repeating the cycle.16)

People moved to Cambodia also to be closer to relatives. According to Than, his adopted brother (his parents’ adopted child) had lived in Phnom Penh since 1982, so Than went to Phnom Penh relying on his relationship with his brother. His brother earned enough to live on, working in a factory manufacturing bottle lids. Than said that when he lived in Phnom Penh, he met many ethnic Viets who had migrated from Vietnam.17)

Don, another P. villager, went to Phnom Penh with his family to work during the 1990s due to food shortages, insufficient profit from agriculture, and lack of agricultural expertise. He explained that he had sold all of his land because his wife was sick and his five children were very young.18) According to his acquaintance, Don sold his land because, like many other villagers, he had failed in his watermelon cultivation enterprise.19)

Thus, Don went to Phnom Penh to escape the economic difficulties experienced by farmers in rural villages in the Mekong Delta and to take advantage of the economic boom in Cambodia. Under UNTAC, Phnom Penh offered a significant economic incentive that attracted poor wage laborers: US dollars were used by the foreign militaries stationed there, and the value of the US dollar was much more stable than that of Vietnamese đồng or Cambodian riel.

Don’s wife said that during the 1990s only agricultural wage labor such as rice harvesting was available in Vietnam. The average daily wage of a manual laborer in Cambodia was 5,000 riel for a woman and 8,000 riel for a man, but it was just 4,000 riel in Vietnam.20) In Phnom Penh, Don’s wife took care of housework while Don worked as a carpenter for 150,000 đồng per day.21) According to Don’s wife, the potential earnings in Phnom Penh meant that not only Khmer people born in Vietnam, but also many ethnic Viets, lived in Cambodia.22)

The final reason why Don’s family chose to go to Phnom Penh was that Don’s older sister had moved there before the Pol Pot regime was established,23) although, according to Don,24) she died during the Pol Pot era. Don’s wife explained that one reason they chose not to go to Ho Chi Minh City was because they had no acquaintances there. Thus, Don’s family chose to go to Phnom Penh to work because the city was not an unknown place. The experience of Don and others highlights the importance of family or acquaintance networks in choosing the routes migrants traveled along and their destinations.

During the 1990s, like the 1980s, circulating migrants traded commodities and worked in the borderlands of the two countries. Con, who lived in P. village, told me that in the early 1990s there was no work in Vietnam and wages were extremely low, even in Ho Chi Minh City. To earn money, he traveled repeatedly between Cambodia and Vietnam from 1992 to 1993. His father, Rat, as mentioned above, also repeatedly crossed between Cambodia and Vietnam as a ku roup (painter) around 1979, after the collapse of the Pol Pot regime. Con said that he also went twice a month to Takeo Province in Cambodia, near the Vietnam-Cambodia border, by local bus (xe đò) and collected pictures of deceased people by going door to door. Without a passport, he crossed the border either near Cam Mountain in Tinh Bien District or Sam Mountain in Chau Doc city in An Giang Province (see Fig. 1). His maternal uncle had migrated to Cambodia in the 1980s and worked as a goldsmith in Takeo Province.25) Con stayed at his uncle’s house.

The photographs in Fig. 2 are of the area surrounding a rice packaging factory located near the border in Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province in Vietnam, which is adjacent to Takeo Province in Cambodia. The borderland is located in a vast floodplain area, which is often inundated during the rainy season. The photographs show that there is no natural geography or official facilities to prevent people from crossing the border. In terms of intensive policing (Schendel 2005, 52), the Vietnam-Cambodia border, notably the Tinh Bien-Takeo borderlands, was more porous and permeable for people in P. village during the early Đổi Mới era than during the collectivization era. In addition, because internal migration was tolerated by the government after Đổi Mới, more and more people relied on informal and licit routes that had been continuously developed in several places since pre-Đổi Mới times, and where licit middlemen and networks prepared ships or land vehicles to enable cross-border migration.26)

 

seas1001_shimojo_fig2

Fig. 2 Landscape of the Vietnam-Cambodia Borderland Visible from Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province

Sources: Left: Satellite photo obtained from DigitalGlobe, Earthstar Geographics | NOSTRA, Esri, HERE, Garmin, METI/NASA, USGS.
Right: Photograph looking toward the Vietnam-Cambodia border taken by the author at the location of the white spot in the photograph on the left.

 

IV-3 Economic Attraction of Phnom Penh in the Early 1990s

Whereas some people, such as Than, Don, and Con, relied on connections with family or relatives to go to Cambodia, others went based on their own experiences. For example, Thu, a Chinese-métis Khmer woman from P. village, had lived in Phnom Penh with her late husband from 1968 to 1973 or 1974, during the Vietnam War. After the initiation of Đổi Mới she was too poor to keep her land, so she sold it and returned with her five children to Phnom Penh, where she lived from 1992 to 2010. Without passports, Thu’s family took a local bus with what little money they had and crossed the border via an informal route in Tinh Bien District. When the family arrived in Phnom Penh, Thu found that all of her husband’s brothers had died during the Pol Pot era, and therefore she had no acquaintances left in the city. According to Thu, the prices of commodities in Cambodia in the 1990s were higher than those in Vietnam, but wages were better because Cambodia was economically more liberal. In 1993, when the United Nations established UNTAC, US currency became widely used in Cambodia. Thu opened a kiosk and sold food, while her children worked as laborers. She said that many ethnic Viets lived in Phnom Penh at that time. According to her, ethnic Viets, who comprised a larger population than Kampuchea Krom (Khmer born in Vietnam),27) spoke the Khmer language fluently and operated street stalls in the city.28)

During the early 1990s, people migrated to Cambodia because it offered better economic opportunities (including relatively higher wages). Although economically motivated, such migration relied on long-distance family or relative networks and personal experiences. The number of people crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia increased sharply in the early 1990s due to the rural economic depression in the Mekong Delta and political and economic transformation in Cambodia. Finally, undocumented border crossings were not fully controlled by the government because border governance at that time had not been sufficiently developed, and people noticed that many points along the border were still porous, especially in Tinh Bien District. Depending on family and other networks, and past memories and experiences connecting the two countries, people created informal and socially licit routes stretching out from their village toward the border and beyond.

V Migrants and Border Control in the Post-Cold War Era (from the Late 1990s)

V-1 People Circulating Legally between Vietnam and Cambodia

As mentioned above, the political and economic situation in Vietnam began to change in the 1990s. Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995, resulting in the removal of an embargo on external assistance, trade, investment, and loans entering the country. The main reasons for this change were the United States beginning to lift its economic sanctions on Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, the lifting of the US embargo on Vietnam in February 1994, and the US normalizing its diplomatic relations with Vietnam two weeks after the latter joined ASEAN (Kimura 1996, 283–285; Elliott 2012, 147–155). Vietnam became increasingly accessible to international society, and it became easier for Vietnamese who had moved overseas to return home to live.

The flow of people from P. village changed in line with the transformation in international politics. The major destination for people from P. village gradually changed from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, the economic center of Vietnam, as the economic lure of Phnom Penh weakened. As shown in Table 3, the number of workers from Samrong ward migrating to Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding suburbs was markedly increased between 2001 and 2011. Many of the migrants found work at timber- or fruit-processing companies, industries that were growing rapidly around Ho Chi Minh City. In contrast, the number of workers migrating to Phnom Penh was low between 2003 and 2011 (see Table 2). However, the number of people traveling to Phnom Penh to visit family members increased between 2001 and 2010, suggesting that although the transnational relationship between P. village and Phnom Penh remained, the number of people moving to Phnom Penh for economic purposes was decreasing.

 

Table 3 Migrant Workers from Samrong Ward in Ho Chi Minh City and Its Suburbs by Type of Work, 1997–2011 (unit: one person)

seas1001_shimojo_table3

 

In P. village, I often saw middle-aged or elderly people staying in the village for a few days or months but then suddenly leaving without notice. They would come from Cambodia and spend their time at a coffee shop engaging in enthusiastic chitchat with villagers regarding current news and rumors from Cambodia. They stayed with their children who lived in the village.

Some P. villagers earned enough to live in both countries by making strategic use of each country’s unique political and economic situation. For example, Son, who was staying temporarily in P. village in August 2011, told me:

From 1978 to 1979 I worked as a laborer in Ho Chi Minh City, but from 1983 to 1990 I migrated to Cambodia to work. In Cambodia, I sold bread as a day laborer. After that I returned to Vietnam, but even today I go to Cambodia every four or five months. At the moment I am staying in P. village for three or four days until my passport is renewed, and then I plan to return to Cambodia. Every time I cross the border, I do so in Tinh Bien District. There are three casinos in Ratanakiri [Cambodia]. One of them is managed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The casino’s customers come mostly from Vietnam, so my daughter works there because she can speak Vietnamese. I have no land in Vietnam, but I have 20–30 công (2.6–3.9 ha) of land in Ratanakiri.29) There are rubber tree plantations, and some foreigners are mining for gold there. In Vietnam, I can use medical services for free because I am recognized as a “poor household” by the government. Every time I get sick, I come back to Vietnam. When I have spent all of my money, I call my daughter and ask her to send me USD200–300.30)

Son survives thanks to the social insurance for the poor in Vietnam and the economic boom in the Cambodian borderlands. He went to Cambodia and worked as a laborer in an undocumented way at least until the 1990s, as did many villagers. As he recently verified his Vietnamese citizenship by getting a passport, he now simultaneously uses the preferential treatment for poor households in Vietnam while depending for money on his daughter who works at a casino near the border in Cambodia. Only foreigners are permitted to gamble at casinos in Vietnam, so many casinos have been built in the borderland on the Cambodian side, catering to customers from Vietnam.

V-2 Government Suspicion of Khmer Cross-border Migrants

Why is Son recognized by the Vietnamese government as belonging to a poor household, and how can he use the Vietnamese social insurance system? Starting in 2001, Vietnam’s government implemented policies to eliminate poor households, especially among ethnic minorities in the Mekong Delta.31) Today the local government in P. village gives high priority to social insurance policies for poor Khmer households. The government exempts these households from school expenses and provides housing or assistance for their living expenses.32) However, this special status is based on stereotypes and suspicion against Khmer within the Vietnamese government and society, which have historically considered Khmer to be poor. An official 1991 Communist Party document reports that ethnic Khmer do not receive enough of an education; therefore, some ethnic Khmer Communist Party members violate national policies because they do not understand the meaning of the ethnic and religious policies of the Party-state. The document also notes that the matter has had a negative impact on society, the economy, sentiment, thought, and politics.33) Therefore, the government now focuses on Khmer people in order to avoid such negative impacts. The document continues:

We must fight against the plots and means of the hostile forces who make use of historical issues, religious ethnic problems, and trifling mistakes, and distort plans, cause splits, stir up ethnic animosity, spread nasty rumors, and disrupt the implementation of the advocacies and policies of the Party-state.
 We organize and support ethnic Khmer in Southern Vietnam who hope to cross the Vietnam-Cambodia border to visit their relatives and acquaintances based on state laws, while restricting border crossings between the two countries. That is, we take people’s convenience into consideration while protecting public order in both our country and our neighboring country.34)

Thus, the Vietnamese government constructed a social insurance system for ethnic Khmer in Vietnam, a border control system, and a system to regulate migrants in order to eliminate negative impacts on the Party-state. In addition, the government, which was not stable enough to realize its political and economic policies until the 1990s, has attempted since the turn of the twenty-first century to integrate ethnic Khmer into the nation-state and cut off influence from Cambodia with the provision of social insurance.

One day in 2011, while staying in Soc Trang, I interviewed an official who recounted the following incident:

In 2009, before you came to Soc Trang, Khmer monks launched a protest against the government in Soc Trang Province. The protest broke out when traffic police arrested two monks for the violation of riding on the backseat of a motorbike. That affair was distorted and spread by evil people, who manipulated the monks into starting the protest. This incident is referred to as the “August Affair” among police.35)

Informants mentioned that the Vietnamese authorities were wary of “evil people,” or members of political organizations formed by Khmer going from Vietnam to Cambodia who identified themselves as “Khmer Kampuchea Krom (Khmer of Lower Cambodia).” Using various forms of media, such organizations accuse the Vietnamese Communist government of ignoring historical problems, human rights violations, and religious oppression of ethnic Khmer in Vietnam.

Taylor analyzes the contesting narratives as follows:

Although these contesting claims on the Khmers of Lower Cambodia/the Khmer minority of Vietnam are held with equal passion, each is coloured by deep ambivalence. Many Cambodians suspect that the Khmer Krom have been subject to Vietnamese assimilatory rule for so long that they are no longer fully Khmer. For their part, Vietnamese officials lament the recalcitrance of a minority group whom they label pejoratively as backward, insular and marginal, and whose continuing identification with Khmer nationalist mythology threatens the integrity of the Vietnamese nation. (Taylor 2014, 252)

How do these nationwide contestations affect local politics? The government has begun implementing conciliatory policies toward ethnic Khmer as it has become more cautious of them. For example, according to residents in P. village, although the government formerly fixed the date of Kathen—a Khmer festival after the end of the rainy season in which laypeople offer donations such as new robes to temples—since 2009 the authorities have allowed each temple to decide its own date on which to hold the festival.36) Also, during my stay in P. village, Communist Party members at the village, district, province, and even central government levels often visited Khmer temples during ritual ceremonies to donate large amounts of money.37)

While Vietnam’s government emphasizes that it is considerate of the Khmer ethnicity and religion in Vietnam, it remains extremely cautious, even when people try to import items for religious activities from Cambodia. A good example is the process of importing books of the Buddhist Pali canon (the representative Buddhist scripture). Theravada Buddhist temples have imported the canon from Cambodia for a long time. Even today, there is no publisher that can print the canon in the Khmer language in Vietnam, so temple representatives must go to Cambodia to buy the books themselves. However, bringing any books into Vietnam is a complicated process and requires support from a local official. Ke, who works as chairman of the Buon Temple Committee in P. village, recalled that in 2006 or 2007 he was able to buy the canon, but:

It took a total of two months to get my passport and complete the procedure. Than [a P. village policeman] offered to help me. It was necessary to get permission from the district committee to start the procedure. If we had imported the Pali canon without permission, it could have been confiscated. My wife and I hired a car and went to Phnom Penh with another policeman, the wife of the Party secretary in the village, and two monks. Although I invited Than, he was too busy with work to come with us. We bought about 100 volumes in a large building in Phnom Penh.38)

V-3 Role of Middlemen in Negotiating between the Local Community and the State

From 1998 to 2008, Than worked as a policeman and then as a member of the village people’s committee, and he has been a clerk for the Buon Temple Committee for a long time. He was a monk in the Buon Temple from 1971 to 1975 and can read and write both Khmer and Vietnamese, so he was responsible for the exchange of documents between the temple and the local government. Because he had experience dealing with affairs of public order and administration, he was the temple’s go-to person for government matters. He was also the preferred person for the temple to negotiate with the local government to obtain permission for religious activities and economic support from the secular authority. Than may be regarded as a middleman between his religious community and the secular authority.

Dealing with religious affairs was not his only work. As a sideline, he also instructed others on how to obtain official documents such as passports and ID cards. When I lived in P. village, people returning from or migrating to Cambodia would visit Than’s house and ask him to arrange the documents they needed. Than said that his monthly salary from the village people’s committee was only 830,000 đồng (USD41 in 2011) but he earned no less than USD50 per month through his side business.39)

The reason why Than could earn so much through this sideline is that the rate of literacy in the Vietnamese language among the villagers is very low, so most people are unable to deal with administrative procedures. The older people are, the more likely it is that they have received no public education.40) To avoid problems when dealing with administrative procedures, people are dependent on Than, who studied to junior high school level and is now a government official.

Than also has knowledge of administrative procedures relating to people who crossed the border without documents, such as those who moved to Cambodia from 1979 to the early 1990s without a passport or ID card and recently returned home. For example, Thu said that although she returned to Vietnam in 2010 after crossing the border without a passport in the early 1990s, she still had not received her Vietnamese citizen ID card as of 2012.41)

Although it seems that Thu does not have any intention of returning to Cambodia, many people still travel back and forth between the two countries. Because the local government exerts strict control over those crossing the border, migrants depend on middlemen such as Than who can help them obtain a passport and ID card. In fact, Than himself had been to Phnom Penh to work without possessing a passport in the early 1990s, and so he had a good understanding of the migrant’s situation.

Both the local community and the state need middlemen like Than. If the Vietnamese government attempts to excessively restrict the flow of migrants, singling out the movement of Khmer people across the border, the state’s legitimacy may be questioned, as it officially claims to be a multiethnic state that treats each of its 54 ethnicities equally. Excessive restrictions may upset residents who have historically been connected with Cambodian society though Theravada Buddhism. Mediated by local middlemen, cross-border migrants and the local government now negotiate over their belonging and identities regulated by the national border. In other words, after migrants and the state started to negotiate around the licit-ness and illegality of cross-border migrations, people had no choice but to be conscious of the border’s existence and their nationalities.

Conclusion

Cross-border movement has long been accepted as a licit (formally illegal but socially acceptable) (Abraham and Schendel 2005, 22–23) activity by the local community in P. village and overlooked by both the Vietnamese and Cambodian states. Even after the Vietnam War ended and North and South Vietnam were unified, state power was too limited to control the flow of refugees and migrant workers across the border, mainly because political control in the borderlands became lax with the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in 1979. The Đổi Mới reforms prompted the development of a market-oriented economy and a marked political transformation in both countries from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. However, the process of rapid market liberalization coupled with the lack of social insurance policies in Vietnam also sent many peasants in Vietnam into economic difficulty. They fled life in Vietnam, traveling without a passport or documents via informal routes and across the porous border to Cambodia, where political changes and the rise of the market economy were more intense, to find work. Licit middlemen and transnational human networks facilitated their movement by preparing sea or land vehicles along these routes, which had developed and adapted since the pre-Đổi Mới era. Although it is generally assumed that the Đổi Mới reforms drastically improved people’s livelihoods, this paper suggests the contrary. Without any official state support, people who decided to migrate due to the rural economic depression in Vietnam and the political and economic transformation in Cambodia had no choice but to rely on local moneylenders, family networks, and past experiences to secure livelihoods.

The situation changed in the early 2000s. Vietnam had joined ASEAN, accelerating its return to international society and the removal of many restrictions on the entry of foreign assistance into the country in the late 1990s. As a result, it experienced rapid economic development in the 2000s. Some people in P. village began to return to Vietnam from Cambodia due to the improving social and economic situation; others circulated between the two countries, taking advantage of better economic opportunities in Cambodia and the social insurance that the Vietnamese government began to provide. However, the establishment of greater political stability and a borderless market-oriented economy made Vietnam’s government recognize the importance of ensuring control of the border.

To this day, many of those who returned from Cambodia do not possess passports or official ID cards because they crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border during the 1980s and 1990s in an undocumented way. Local authorities in Vietnam continue their efforts to confirm the citizenship of these returnees, particularly because of the government’s concern that Khmer nationalists in Cambodia might instigate unrest among ethnic Khmer in Vietnam. Increasing amounts of information about Cambodia are reaching local communities in Vietnam through these returnees. Therefore, the Vietnamese government has recently attempted to regulate people’s movements and improve their recognition of the state’s territory by confirming citizenship and controlling the flow of information. At the same time, it is implementing insurance policies and conciliatory actions to appease ethnic Khmer.

These policies cut both ways. To deny the ethnicity and religion of the Khmer would call into question the legitimacy of the multiethnic state and produce discontent. Therefore, the government has no choice but to respect the ethnicity of Khmer in Vietnam while simultaneously denying the historical social ties between Khmer in Vietnam and Cambodia. For their part, local people are seeking out information and commodities from Cambodia and crossing the border as part of their everyday lives. The struggle between society and state reveals itself through middlemen who mitigate the concerns of both sides.

The situation in P. village reveals a dichotomy of social acceptance (licit-ness) and illegality with regard to migrants crossing the border. This dichotomy has recently become a political issue: as Vietnam’s government intensifies its control of Khmer migrants who cross the border, the contradiction of the Vietnamese state territory and the principles underlying the government’s ethnic and religious policies becomes more visible. Although the Vietnamese government has attempted to restrict the flow of migrants across the border and integrate them into the nation-state as an “ethnic minority,” excessive regulation of migration would reveal the contradiction with the state principle to equally protect ethnic minority cultures, and in turn create discontent in society. On the other hand, local people must increasingly depend on state actors in order to make strategic use of the social and economic differences between Cambodia and Vietnam while avoiding excessive state control.

Today the Vietnamese state and border crossers continue subtle negotiations over the latter’s belonging and identities, the duality of which has been socially sanctioned (licit) but is now becoming regulated by the national border, particularly through middlemen who meditate between the local government and migrants. Such negotiation was not visible during the 1980s and 1990s, when the border between the two countries was virtually porous despite being legally closed; it has become visible only since the early 2000s, when the political and economic situation of each country began to stabilize and mobility between the two countries was openly institutionalized and legalized. The changes in migratory patterns indicate that the national border, despite being mapped and officially established, is not always etched in the minds of people. This is especially true of minorities who have connections with people in the neighboring country. Rather, the national border begins to be etched through everyday and continuous interactions between state actors, who become suspicious of influence from a foreign country, and cross-border migrants, who become dependent on the state for their needs.

Accepted: August 4, 2020

Acknowledgments

I began writing this paper based on an earlier paper published in Japanese (Shimojo 2018), but thanks to the constructive criticism by anonymous reviewers, I was able to submit a completely revised version. I would like to thank the reviewers for their assistance related to previous studies and conceptualizations related to migration and borders, and editorial suggestions. In addition, I would like to thank my excellent copy editor, Jackie Imamura, who repeatedly proofread my unclear paper. All errors remain mine.

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Shimojo Hisashi 下條尚志. 2018. Betonamu-Kambojia kokkyo no ekkyo ido o meguru rokaru na seiji: Reisen shuketsu go Mekon Deruta no Kumeru jin ekkyosha to Betonamu kokka ベトナム―カンボジア国境の越境移動をめぐるローカルな政治―冷戦終結後メコンデルタのクメール人越境者とベトナム国家 [The local politics of transnational migration between Vietnam and Cambodia: Khmer border crossers and the Vietnamese state in the Mekong Delta after the end of Cold War]. Ajia Afurika gengo bunka kenkyu アジア・アフリカ言語文化研究 [Journal of Asian and African studies] 95: 152–179.

―. 2015. Datsu shokuminchi ka katei no Mekon Deruta ni okeru Kumeru jin no gengo, bukkyo, kizoku 脱植民地化過程のメコンデルタにおけるクメール人の言語・仏教・帰属 [Language, Buddhism, and belonging during decolonization: The Khmers of the Mekong Delta]. Ajia Afurika chiiki kenkyu アジア・アフリカ地域研究 [Asian and African area studies] 15(1): 20–48.

Tagliacozzo, Eric. 2005. Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865–1915. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Taylor, Philip. 2016. Searching for a Khmer Monastic Higher Education in Post-socialist Vietnam. In Connected and Disconnected in Viet Nam: Remaking Social Relations in a Post-socialist Nation, edited by Philip Taylor, pp. 273–310. Canberra: ANU Press.

―. 2014. The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty. Singapore: NUS Press; Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

―. 2004. Redressing Disadvantage or Re-arranging Inequality? Development Interventions and Local Responses in the Mekong Delta. In Social Inequality in Vietnam and the Challenges to Reform, edited by Philip Taylor, pp. 236–269. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Thongchai Winichakul. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Tomiyama Yasushi 冨山泰. 1993. Nanko suru wahei kyotei no jikko: 1992 nen no Kambojia 難航する和平協定の実行―1992年のカンボジア [Execution of the difficult peace agreement: Cambodia in 1992]. Ajia doko nempo 1993 nemban アジア動向年報1993年版 [1993 yearbook of Asian affairs] edited by Ajia Keizai Kenkyujo アジア経済研究所 [Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO], pp. 223–236. Chiba: Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO.

Việt Nam Cộng Hòa, Bộ Kế hoạch Phát triển Quốc gia (VNCHBKHPTQG) [The Republic of Vietnam, Ministry of State Planning and Development]. 1973. Niên giám Thống kê Việt Nam 1972 [Statistical yearbook of Vietnam, 1972]. Sài Gòn: Viện Quốc gia Thống kê [Institute of State Statistics].

Vo Tri Thanh; and Pham Hoang Ha. 2004. Vietnam’s Recent Economic Reforms and Developments: Achievements, Paradoxes, and Challenges. In Social Inequality in Vietnam and the Challenges to Reform, edited by Philip Taylor, pp. 63–89. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Vũ Đức Liêm. 2016. Vietnam at the Khmer Frontier: Boundary Politics, 1802–1847. Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 20: 75–101.

Vũ Lân (Chủ Biên); Phương Hạnh; and Bạch Mai. 1988. Xã P, Đất nước Con người [P Village (or Commune), Country, and People]. Hậu Giang: Ban Chấp hành Đảng bộ và Ủy ban nhân dân Huyện Mỹ Tú – Hậu Giang [Committee of the communist party and people’s committee of My Tu district, Hau Giang].

Unpublished Sources
Công văn UBND Xã P [People’s committee of the P village (or commune)], Bảng Tổng hợp toàn số, khẩu [Table / Data for total population], 2011.

Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam, Ban Chấp hành Trung ương [The central committee of the communist party of Vietnam], Số: 68CT/TW, Chỉ thị về Công tác ở Vùng Đồng bào Dân tộc Khơ-mer [No. 68 CT/TW, directive on mission in Ethnic Khmer Regions], April 18, 1991.

Thủ tướng Chính phủ [Prime Minister], Số: 74/2008/QĐ-TTg, Quyết định về Một số Chính sách Hỗ trợ giải quyết đất ở, đất sản xuất và Giải quyết việc làm cho Đồng bào dân Tộc thiếu số nghèo, đời sống khó khăn vùng Đồng bằng sống Cửu Long Giai đoạn 2008–2010 [No. 74/2008/QĐ-TTg, decision on compensation, support upon living land and manufacturing land, and employment solving for poor ethics groups in the Mekong Delta from 2008–2010], June 9, 2008.

Usuki Sayaka 薄さやか. 2013. Kambojia kingendaishi ni okeru ningen shudan bunrui gainen カンボジア近現代史における人間集団分類概念 [People-Grouping concepts in the modern history of Cambodia]. Master’s thesis, Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University.

Websites
DigitalGlobe, Earthstar Geographics | NOSTRA, Esri, HERE, Garmin, METI/NASA, USGS. https://www.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=d94dcdbe78e141c2b2d3a91d5ca8b9c9, accessed June 8, 2020.

Esri, GEBCO, DeLorme, NaturalVue | Esri, GEBCO, IHO-IOC GEBCO, DeLorme, NGS. https://www.arcgis.com/apps/OnePane/basicviewer/index.html?webmap=5ae9e138a17842688b0b79283a4353f6, accessed June 8, 2020.


1) The naming of the era is based on local naming practices; those in my field site call the era thời tập đoàn (collectivization era), rarely using the term thời bao cấp (rationing era), which is generally much better known.

2) On the migration between French Cochinchina (Southern Vietnam today) and the Protectorate of Cambodia by Khmer monks, see my paper in Japanese (Shimojo 2015).

3) These were the South Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, the United States, the National Liberation Front, and the Khmer Rouge.

4) The official number of Vietnamese citizens in Cambodia decreased from 400,000 in 1969 to 210,000 in 1970 (VNCHBKHPTQG 1973, 387).

5) In Khanh Hau village, Long An Province in the Mekong Delta, where several Japanese scholars conducted intensive fieldwork in the late 1990s, the farmland shared by the agricultural collectivization was returned to the former owners by Đổi Mới reforms, resulting in large numbers of landless households. Among them, not only the original landless households but also some others became landless because the process of land inheritance between generations did not catch up with the rapid population growth over 40 years (Iwai 2001, 121).

6) When Buddhist and secular educational institutions were revived and restructured in the 1990s in Cambodia, many Khmer monks from Vietnam resumed undocumented travel to Cambodia for study, but the Vietnamese government attempted to restrict them from going (Taylor 2016).

7) Although is often translated as “commune,” this paper translates as village, because the people in P. village do not distinguish between the terms làng (natural village) and (the smallest administrative unit), treating both as the same.

8) The people in P. village use the term “Viet” rather than “Kinh.” Based on the local context, I use “Viet” in this paper.

9) Công văn UBND Xã P, Bảng Tổng hợp toàn số, khẩu, 2011.

10) Samrong ward, which is located in Q. hamlet (ấp) of P. village, is the focus of this study. Although it is not an official place name, in my fieldwork I used this name for convenience of explanation. Q. hamlet is officially separated into three wards. Samrong ward encompasses most of ward 2 and part of ward 3. At the time of my household survey (December 2011–January 2012), Samrong ward had 663 residents (713 including people traveling to work outside of the ward). I lived in an area known in the Khmer language as “Phno (dunes) located on the fringe of the Samrong trees.” Thus, I named the study area “Samrong ward.”

11) Interview with Com (born 1950), male, Chinese-métis Khmer, farmer, living in P. village, March 6, 2012.

12) Interview with Sang (born 1936), female, Khmer, farmer, living in P. village, January 12, 2012.

13) Interview with Rat (born 1948), male, Khmer, farmer, living in P. village, February 28, 2012.

14) Interview with Han (born 1951), male, Chinese-métis Khmer, farmer, living in P. village, February 22, 2012.

15) At that time, Hang had enlarged his farmland by claiming the land of another debtor who was unable to repay his debt. Interview with Than (born 1955), male, Khmer-métis Chinese, member of P. village people’s committee, living in P. village, February 22, 2012.

16) Interview with Than, February 22, 2012.

17) Interview with Than, March 1, 2012.

18) Interview with Don (born 1953), male, Khmer, carpenter, living in P. village, September 9, 2011.

19) Interview with Than, February 22, 2012.

20) The exchange rate at the end of December 1992 was USD1 = 2,310 riel (Tomiyama 1993).

21) The exchange rate at the end of December 1992 was USD1 = 10,505 đồng (Murano 1993).

22) Interview with Don’s wife (born 1954), female, Chinese-métis Khmer, homemaker, living in P. village, February 29, 2012.

23) Interview with Don’s wife, February 29, 2012.

24) Interview with Don, March 4, 2012.

25) Interview with Con (born 1973), male, Khmer, guard at a junior high school, living in P. village, March 4, 2012.

26) The people whom I have interviewed so far mentioned Tinh Bien (a vast floodplain, see Fig. 2), Ha Tien (a port city on the Gulf of Siam), and Long Binh (a city along the Bassac and Binh Di Rivers) as popular informal border crossing areas during the 1980s and 1990s. These areas today have official border gates through which almost all people can cross with a passport.

27) In 1970, when the Cambodian civil war broke out, the number of “Vietnamese citizens” in Cambodia decreased sharply from 400,000 to 210,000 (VNCHBKHPTQG 1973, 387). The number of “Vietnamese” was just 8,200 in 1981, when the Vietnamese military invaded, but had increased to 95,600 by 1995 (Usuki 2013, 26–28). It is unclear whether “Vietnamese” in some of the surveys conducted at that time referred to ethnic “Viets” or “Vietnamese citizens,” including ethnic Khmer born in Vietnam. Furthermore, it is unclear whether people who migrated from Vietnam without possessing passports were counted in these statistics. However, what is certain is that the number of people classified as “Vietnamese” was increasing.

28) Interview with Thu (born 1947), female, Chinese-métis Khmer, seller of cheap candy, living in P. village, February 24 and March 3, 2012. In 2010 Thu moved back to P. village, where she set up a small business selling candy.

29) Công is the local unit for measuring land; 1 công is about 0.13 ha.

30) Interview with Son (born 1952), male, Khmer (his father was born in Cambodia), wage laborer, living in P. village and Ratanakiri, August 11, 2011.

31) Thủ tướng Chính phủ, Số: 74/2008/QĐ-TTg, Quyết định về Một số Chính sách Hỗ trợ giải quyết đất ở, đất sản xuất và Giải quyết việc làm cho Đồng bào dân Tộc thiếu số nghèo, đời sống khó khăn vùng Đồng bằng sống Cửu Long Giai đoạn 2008–2010, June 9, 2008.

32) Interviews with Than, January 13, 2011 and 7 March 7, 2012; Son, August 11, 2011; Cang (born 1950), male, Khmer, traditional medical practitioner, living in P. village, August 18, 2011.

33) Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam, Ban Chấp hành Trung ương, Số: 68CT/TW, Chỉ thị về Công tác ở Vùng Đồng bào Dân tộc Khơ-mer, April 18, 1991.

34) Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam, Ban Chấp hành Trung ương, Số: 68CT/TW, Chỉ thị về Công tác ở Vùng Đồng bào Dân tộc Khơ-mer, April 18, 1991.

35) Interview conducted on September 7, 2011. I have anonymized the interviewee in order to protect the interviewee from political persecution.

36) Interview with Pho (born 1971), male, Chinese-métis Khmer, farmer, living in P. village, October 16, 2011.

37) Author’s field notes, September 26–27, 2011.

38) Interview with Ke (born 1940), male, Khmer, farmer, March 6, 2012. It can be assumed that Ke bought the Pali canon at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh.

39) Interview with Than, February 8, 2012.

40) In Samrong ward, P. village, of the 419 people over 20 years old, 89 had never studied at a public school, 172 had studied in a primary school, and 111 had studied in a secondary school. Thus, the majority had never studied in a public school or had studied only up to primary school level (based on the author’s survey conducted from November 2011 to January 2012).

41) Interview with Thu, March 3, 2012.

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Vol. 10, No. 1, Vivek Neelakantan

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

“No Nation Can Go Forward When It Is Crippled by Disease”: Philippine Science and the Cold War, 1946–65

Vivek Neelakantan*

*Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 431 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-2426, United States
e-mail: vivekneelakantanster[at]gmail.com

Quirino, Elpedio. 1949

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_53

This article outlines a notion of postcolonial Philippine science. First, it touches on the links between science, medicine, the Cold War, and nation building. Second, it examines the niche occupied by applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine, in nation building. Between 1946 and 1965, Philippine presidents understood science functionally, in terms of harnessing the country’s natural resources for economic development; and strategically, in terms of the Philippines being a regional leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. To realize the Philippines’ Cold War aspirations, they mobilized technical assistance from the US. The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project (1946–49) and the establishment of the International Rice Research Institute (1962) indicated a shift in the emphasis of US assistance from economic aid to technical cooperation in the field of nutrition and agriculture.

Through a close study of the Philippine Medical Association, this article examines inner tensions between physicians who advocated an individualized treatment of disease and those who advocated mass campaigns. Between 1946 and 1965, a mobilization mentality suffused the practice of science in the Philippines such that the pursuit of knowledge would lead to unanswered Cold War questions—particularly socialized medicine—expanding healthcare access to rural areas.

Keywords: Philippines, postcolonial science, Cold War, disease eradication, Bataan Rice Enrichment Project, International Rice Research Institute, Philippine Medical Association, socialized medicine

In his first State of the Nation Address, on January 25, 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines asserted, “We must have a healthy manpower as the most essential factor for economic advancement. No nation can go forward when it is crippled by disease” (Magsaysay 1954). The address attests to the centrality of public health in transcending the problem of underdevelopment of the postcolonial state.

The 1950s coincided with the emergence of the Cold War and decolonization in Southeast Asia. The US sought to subvert the spread of Communist ideology. To this effect, it secured the loyalty of leaders from Asia and Africa through a program of technical assistance, particularly in agriculture and health. By portraying poverty and disease as the breeding grounds of Communism, the US sought to assist with disease eradication, particularly the anti-malaria campaigns in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. The Filipino political leadership perceived public health as the means to usher in development of remote islands and was open to US developmental assistance (Neelakantan 2015a).

This study investigates the niche in nation building occupied by applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine. The argument has two strands. First, Philippine science was packaged as a program of delivery that was intended to address basic needs of the people, particularly self-sufficiency in food. Second, between 1946 and 1965 Philippine presidents understood science functionally, in terms of harnessing the country’s natural resources for economic development; and strategically, in terms of furthering the country’s aspirations as the leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. To realize the Philippines’ Cold War aspirations, the presidents mobilized US technical assistance. The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project (1946–49) and the establishment of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Los Baños in 1962 indicated a shift in the emphasis of US assistance in the Philippines from economic aid to technical cooperation, particularly in the field of nutrition and agriculture.

Locating the “Postcolonial” in Philippine Science

This article seeks to outline a notion of postcolonial Philippine science. The notion of “postcolonial” has considerable conceptual ambiguity. It has been taken to signify a time period after colonialism; a critique of the legacy of colonialism; an ideological backing for newly created states; a complicity of Western knowledge with colonial projects; or an argument that colonial engagements can reveal the ambivalence, anxiety, and instability deep within Western thought and practice (Anderson 2002, 645). Postcolonial theory seeks to contest the assumption that Western knowledge is objective, authoritative, and universally applicable.

In 1959, W. W. Rostow described the stages of “economic growth” in his non-Communist manifesto. Rostow emphasized the role of science and technology in achieving takeoff from a traditional society (Rostow 1959). Science, according to Rostow’s narrative, was diffused from Europe. George Basalla amplified this diffusionist perspective by giving details of the spread of Western science from its European center to the periphery or the colonies (Basalla 1967, 612–622). According to Basalla’s simple evolutionary model accounting for the diffusion of science, in phase one the periphery provided raw materials for European science. In phase two, the derivative and dependent institutions of colonial science emerged; and sometimes an independent national science, called phase three, would later develop. By the early 1990s, Basalla’s simple evolutionary model of scientific development provoked extensive criticism. In the early 1990s, Paolo Palladino and Michael Worboys—taking Lewis Pyenson’s work on the Dutch East Indies as a proxy for diffusionism in science—suggested that Western methods of knowledge had not been accepted passively but were selectively absorbed in relation to existing traditions of knowledge and religion (Pyenson 1989; Palladino and Worboys 1993, 102). Imperialism also shaped the development of metropolitan institutions and knowledge. Discussions of diffusion and nation building have gradually given way to talk of contact zones and network construction.

Postcolonial science as a field of enquiry crosses geopolitical boundaries as it tracks flows, circuits of scientists, knowledges, machines, and techniques (Anderson 2002). Postcolonial science—which focuses on contact zones of clashing knowledges—is incomplete unless it is firmly situated in a political and institutional context (Abraham 2006, 213). Science is central to forging the identity of the postcolonial state. It exists simultaneously as history, as myth, as political slogan, as social category, as technology, as modern Western knowledge, and as an instrument of change (Abraham 2006, 213). Postcolonial science in the Philippine context was a state-building project—as reflected in the establishment of the Philippine Research Reactor (PRR-1) atomic reactor and IRRI.

Given the paucity of historiography on postcolonial Philippine science, one might justify this study on the basis of a lack. But the story of Philippine science during the Cold War is rather eclectic in terms of archival sources. Therefore, a paucity of secondary literature does not provide justification for this article. Rather, this study closely examines the underlying concerns of Philippine presidents (1946–65) and scientists in addressing the dilemma of how to refashion science that was at once relevant to the Philippines’ national needs and increased the country’s visibility on the international stage. For example, Kathleen Gutierrez investigates the ways in which medical botany writing furthered the symbolic and commercial promise of plants in the context of postcolonial nationalism and international science. Based on a close reading of the Filipino botanist Eduardo Quisumbing’s Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, Gutierrez highlights the features of medical botany writing that produced articulations of nationalism in the Philippines in the aftermath of World War II (Gutierrez 2018, 36). Through his writing and encyclopedism (genre-bending deluge of information, colonial science, and use of scientific terminology), Quisumbing established a fresh narrative for Philippine science that had emerged from the ravages of wars and colonial influence. Medicinal Plants, according to Gutierrez, is an expression of scientific achievement through encyclopedic gesturing to effect science-minded aims and create a certain kind of nationalism through flora (Gutierrez 2018, 62). As the scope of Gutierrez’s article is restricted to botany, the role of applied sciences, particularly medicine, in nation building remains marginal in the narrative.

Physicians dominated the first generation of nationalist leaders in the Philippines under American colonialism (1898–1946). For the nationalist physicians, decolonization was linked to the tropes of scientific progress (Ileto 1988, 105; Anderson and Pols 2012, 93).

Warwick Anderson (2007) contends that the production of scientific knowledge was treated as an index of modernity and national development in the Philippines. But Anderson’s article does not elaborate on the circumstances under which science became an instrument of postcolonial nation building.

Sunil Amrith’s influential monograph (2006) argues that India played a more influential role in shaping post-World War II Asia’s health paradigms than did the Indonesians or the Burmese, who were preoccupied with establishing the legitimacy of the postcolonial state amidst much ethnic strife. However, this line of argument does not hold true with respect to transnational Philippine initiatives in agriculture, for example, the training of Indonesian students from the Faculty of Agriculture (Bogor) at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Agriculture at Los Baños in the 1950s. Nonetheless, Amrith’s monograph has opened new possibilities for historians to examine the transnational circulation of technical expertise across Asia.

During the 1950s, a concern with nation building in newly independent states of Asia and Africa was central to modernization theory. The dominant narrative at the time was how to develop Asian and African states toward a new form of modernity along Western, if not necessarily capitalist, lines (Berger 2003). A conspicuous feature of the political landscape across Asia during the 1950s was an increased emphasis on the role of the state in mediating national development. Gabrielle Hecht observes that at the heart of the modernization theory were disagreements between the USSR and the US regarding industrialization of newly independent countries. Whereas the USSR offered a development path that would lead Asian countries to socialism through large-scale industrialization, the US envisaged that with the right sort of technical assistance, any human society could climb the ladder of progress and that industrialization and democratization would proceed hand in hand (Hecht 2011, 1–12). A common denominator underlying competing US and USSR visions of modernization for newly decolonized nations was the ability of science to provide a panacea for the problem of underdevelopment. But the reception of international technical assistance was uneven across countries (Immerwahr 2015, 11).1)

Anderson (2012) notes that since the 1970s there has been active debate about the meaning of science, technology, and medicine within the Indian context, much of it occurring within the Gandhian, Marxist, subaltern, and postcolonial frameworks. However, the relationships among Indian, Southeast Asian, and global science and technology studies scholarship remain fragmentary. A major research question raised by this article is whether Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science more generally, or whether it embodied a distinctive national flavor.

“Scientific Research, in the Long Run, Does Pay Off in Terms of Pesos and Centavos”

The challenges of post-World War II national reconstruction necessitated quick changes in the Philippine economy that included producing cash crops for export, increasing food production, and improving people’s living standards. To this end, Presidents Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino (between 1946 and 1953) mobilized applied sciences—particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine—that would enable the nation to attain self-sufficiency in economic affairs. At the time, within Philippine policy circles it was noted, “Scientific research, in the long run, does pay off in terms of pesos and centavos, in terms of higher efficiency and reduced man-hours of work, in terms of richer harvests and healthier citizens” (Varela 1954). Financial limitations of the state implied that scientific investigations were tied to practical concerns. In general, research in the Philippines lacked funding and the state struggled to attract the best minds to research.

On June 3, 1946—a month before US colonialism finally ended in the Philippines—Roxas, in his first State of the Nation Address, outlined the challenges facing the nascent nation. The Philippines was born amidst much political turmoil.2) Roxas expressed disappointment that the government did not have the financial means to support postwar economic rehabilitation:

Public health and sanitation have retreated far from the level which existed before the war. Epidemic is a constant threat. The three great pests of our land—the rat, the mosquito, and the locust—have thrived on our misfortune and threaten us with both disease and hunger. Control measures against all of them must be taken.

Famine is a strong possibility; shortages of food are even now critical. We are immediately faced by a shortage, which will grow more critical within the next few months, in our staple food product—rice. In some sections of the country rice is not being planted because of the lack of carabaos and the threat of rats and locusts. In others, planting is diminished because of the absence of law and order and the fear that the harvest may be stolen. There is a world shortage of rice. Many nations of the earth are as unfortunate as we; in the case of our own shortage we can expect very little assistance from abroad. We are doing everything in our power to get as much assistance as we can. (Roxas 1946)

Given the scarcity of rice, Roxas mobilized the population to grow corn, root crops, and vegetables. He emphasized an all-out food campaign that encouraged the substitution of rice with corn. His administration also introduced the idea of anti-famine gardens.3) In addition to increasing the production of rice, Roxas identified symbolic capital in disease eradication (particularly malaria) as the means to resuscitate a strong and healthy population.

In January 1946, five months after the end of the Pacific War, the US—in mutual agreement with the Philippine Bureau of Health—developed a road map for preventing disease that had a negative bearing on economic recovery. The US Public Health Services (USPHS) appropriated a sum of US$1 billion to assist the Philippine Bureau of Health to rehabilitate the devastated Philippine quarantine service, the School of Hygiene at Alabang, and the Bacteriological Laboratory of the UP.4) The USPHS identified malaria as a rural disease that vitiated agricultural productivity and estimated that up to half the working population was afflicted with the disease.5) The Bureau of Health, with restricted allocation of funds, was unable to cope with malaria and its associated socioeconomic effects (see Fig. 1).

 

seas1001_neelakantan_fig1

Fig. 1 The Malaria Control Unit of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation Program (1946)

Source: National Library of Medicine, NLM Image ID 10395113.

 

After Philippine independence in July 1946, the USPHS was unable to cement cooperation with the Malaria Control Organization of the Philippine Department of Health as the latter suffered from a shortage of trained medical personnel. As a result, the USPHS implemented malaria control as a public health rehabilitation project. Its methods included house-to-house surveys of the disease among inhabitants of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental Provinces, entomological surveys, public health propaganda through lectures illustrating the importance of the disease, and control of the vector through insecticidal spraying. Malaria control was incorporated into the curricula of elementary and high schools, particularly in these two provinces. Not surprisingly, the Negros Islands recorded an 85 percent decrease in the incidence of malaria between 1946 and 1950 and a 65 percent decline in death rates attributed to the disease.6)

Despite successes in specific areas, the malaria control program in the Philippines prior to 1950 was beset with organizational bottlenecks. The national government had granted the measly sum of 180,000 pesos for malaria control work (Francisco 1950, 347). Insecticidal spraying was the weakest arm of the program. Most of the plantation owners had not taken malaria seriously, and there was a pervasive absence of preventive measures.

Until 1950 the Philippines suffered from economic instability primarily due to a budgetary deficit and an insufficient increase in the production of cash crops (particularly sugarcane and abaca); the latter could be partly attributed to malaria and schistosomiasis, which impeded the efficiency of the workforce. To compound the problem, the Huk rebellion gained momentum in March 1950.7) The US was determined to retain the Philippines within the orbit of democratic powers but was concerned that the latter’s inability to release peso savings for capital investment, stimulate industrialization, and raise people’s living standards would lead to internal unrest.8) The Bell Mission recommended that the US government provide financial assistance amounting to US$250 million to the Philippines so that the latter could carry out a five-year plan of economic development (Ravenholt 1951, 414).

After the sudden death of Roxas in 1948, Quirino, a political conservative and pro-American, drew support from the sugar barons for presidency. During his presidency, large-scale inequalities in the distribution of agricultural holdings provided a fertile breeding ground for the Huk rebellion (Merrill 1993, 137–159).

Quirino’s first State of the Nation Address exhorted Filipino citizens to work toward total economic mobilization and attacking poverty (Quirino 1949). In his quest for the nation’s economic self-sufficiency, the president devised measures to increase the acreage under rice, particularly in Mindanao:

We must turn our concentrated attention to the development of Mindanao. Something must be done without loss of time to convert that vast region into a real empire of wealth. I recommend a general program of road construction to encourage production and communication. The establishment of the planned hydro-electric and fertilizer plant in Maria Cristina Falls will give the proper agricultural and industrial incentives. Locust pest is hampering the agricultural development of Northern Mindanao and even as far as Bohol and Cebu. I also recommend that sufficient appropriation be set aside to eradicate this winged enemy to our increased production. (Quirino 1949)

The Philippine government’s proposal of opening Mindanao for economic development converged with the Economic Cooperation Administration’s (ECA) plan of containing the spread of the Huk rebellion to the island (Fifield 1951, 16).

Magsaysay—secretary of defense (1950–53) during Quirino’s presidency—had won military victories against the Huks. He contested the 1953 presidential election on a Nacionalista Party ticket against the Liberal candidate Carlos Romulo. After assuming office in 1953, Magsaysay promised to ameliorate people’s living conditions.

In his second State of the Nation Address, Magsaysay asserted that there was more to national security than simply maintaining territorial integrity and public order. As an independent nation, the Philippines had to assure its citizens freedom from disease, ignorance, and want (Magsaysay 1955). Magsaysay emphasized that the government could not do everything for the Filipinos and that people had to help themselves (Magsaysay 1956). To this effect, the Magsaysay administration reoriented health, education, and welfare programs with an emphasis on self-help.9) Magsaysay’s concern with the “common man” was the logical first step in imbuing the Filipino way of life with the substance of democracy. In the pursuit of democratic ideals, he urged Filipinos to work ground-up—from factories, barrios (rural areas), and towns (Magsaysay 1956). For the fulfillment of Filipinos’ basic needs, he identified the following requirements: (a) self-sufficiency in food (rice); (b) a strong administrative apparatus for the implementation of community development; (c) industrialization based on the utilization of locally available resources; (d) reorientation of the education system with an emphasis on science; and (e) scientific research (see Fig. 2).

 

seas1001_neelakantan_fig2

Fig. 2 Community Development through Self-Help (c. 1957)

Source: Series: Propaganda Posters Distributed in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, 1900–2003, Record Group 306: Records of the US Information Agency (1900–2003); US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Identifier 6949000.

 

Magsaysay exhorted that education reforms in the Philippines be oriented toward general, scientific, and vocational education. He expressed concern that diminishing interest in natural and physical sciences ran contrary to the rapidly developing requirements of the atomic age (Magsaysay 1955). At the heart of Magsaysay’s concern was how to refashion science such that it was at once open to international collaboration and relevant to national priorities. To this end, he created a Science Advisory Committee in 1955 composed of representatives from universities and research organizations. The committee did not explicitly mention medicine in its agenda.

Magsaysay’s vision of using public health as a pathway for economic development was congruent with the US objective of subverting Communism in newly independent countries. In 1955 US President Dwight Eisenhower pointed out that a strong program of international aid was urgent in order to prevent newly independent countries of Asia and Africa from deflecting to the Communist camp.10) To this end, the Eisenhower administration appropriated US$700 million to target toward technical and economic assistance to underdeveloped nations, particularly in the form of malaria eradication.11) Eisenhower observed that by 1954, malaria had attacked 200 million people and killed over two million and that the US had formulated a blueprint in cooperation with the World Health Organization to wipe out malaria globally. Eisenhower contended that malaria eradication was congruent with the American national interest of opening up new markets in underdeveloped countries. In the fiscal year 1954, the ECA loaned US$22 million to the Philippines to augment food production and ameliorate public health conditions in rural areas, especially to eradicate malaria.12) The apparent speed with which malaria could be brought under control using DDT made malaria control attractive for US planners, who saw the elimination of the disease as an instrument for winning “hearts and minds” in the war against Communist expansion (Packard 1997, 283).

By 1954 the Magsaysay administration had enacted the Rural Health Act, which provided for the establishment of rural health units for every municipal district. The Act instituted health officers for municipalities. The power of municipal health officers was centralized with the provincial health officers (Ford and Cruz 1957, 687–696). At the time, isolated disease eradication programs related to malaria, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases were implemented on a piecemeal basis. The district health officers had limited authority to implement health programs within their jurisdiction. Most activities of the rural health units were concentrated at the level of the poblacion (district headquarters), leaving outlying barrios underserved (Neelakantan 2015a). At the time, the major stumbling blocks to Philippine development were administrative and political.13) Governmental functions were dispersed among an excessive number of departments, which resulted in diffusion of responsibility and led to procedural delays in the implementation of public health programs.

Despite the administration’s legislative measures—such as the enactment of the Rural Health Act—that reaffirmed Magsaysay’s commitment to ensuring freedom from disease, the implementation of public health measures was contingent on the availability of American aid. The Eisenhower administration wanted Magsaysay to mount vigorous attacks on the Philippines’ socioeconomic problems and to become a symbol in the war against Communism (Cullather 1993, 332). But these hopes were not fulfilled. Within months of Magsaysay’s inauguration, the ruling Nacionalista Party coalition fragmented. Growing Filipino resentment against the US military bases in the Philippines threatened bilateral relations.

In a confidential letter to then US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Magsaysay expressed concern that the Philippines did not have the means to fully implement the rural development program.14) He requested US$10 million from the Eisenhower administration to implement the program and prevent disillusionment among the masses.15) In requesting increased funding for the rural development program, Magsaysay emphasized the centrality of the Philippines to the success of the US anti-Communist propaganda in Asia.

The Philippines’ strong cultural ties with the US placed the former’s scientific research on a strong footing vis-à-vis other ex-colonial nations in a similar economic position (Varela 1954, 363). At the time, it was widely held within scientific circles that pure research undertaken in US laboratories could serve as a stepping-stone for applied research undertaken by Filipino scientists. The institutional foundations of Philippine science in the postwar period appeared to be jeopardized by the bureaucracy. The governments under Roxas and Quirino were disappointing in their budgetary allocation to research (Gutierrez 2018, 44–45).

The Philippine Bureau of Science, established in 1905, undertook research in tropical medicine, botany, zoology, entomology, and geology. The research activities of the bureau were disrupted due to the Pacific War (1942–45). In 1947, after Philippine independence, the Bureau of Science was renamed the Institute of Science. The institute carried out research in various branches of science and drew personnel from state universities.16) It undertook quality control of vaccines produced locally at Alabang and established minimum standards for agricultural products. But research coordination was carried out by the National Research Council of the Philippines (Neelakantan 2019). The combined efforts of the National Research Council of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines resulted in the passage of Republic Act 1606 in August 1956, “An Act to Promote Scientific, Engineering and Technological Research, Invention and Development” (Valenzuela 1960, 515). This Act created the National Science Board, which provided financial incentives for a number of research projects, particularly pharmaceutical and pharmacological research on Philippine medicinal plants; nutrition surveys that assessed the nutritive value of Filipino foods; and biological research on antibiotics, tetanus toxoids, and human rabies (Valenzuela 1960, 515). Increased congressional interest in science during Carlos Garcia’s presidency (1957–61) resulted in the creation of a committee to revise Republic Act 1606 in order to mobilize private participation in research funding. The results of the congressional committee were spelled out in Republic Act 2067, a measure that was intended to integrate, coordinate, and intensify science and technology and foster innovation.

Republic Act 2067 paved the way for the Science Act of 1958. The Science Act established the National Science Development Board (NSDB) in place of the former National Science Board, although the changes were cosmetic. The NSDB supervised and partially funded the following projects: (1) the establishment of the Institute of Applied Research and Graduate Studies in Engineering in the UP; (2) scientific and industrial research under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Science and Technology; (3) pharmaceutical and pharmacological research in the College of Pharmacy, UP; (4) the promotion of science consciousness under the leadership of the National Science Foundation of the Philippines; (5) agricultural research in the College of Agriculture, UP; and (6) nutrition research, undertaken by the Food and Nutrition Center, UP College of Medicine (Valenzuela 1960, 516–517). The Philippine Atomic Energy Commission’s radioactive iodine studies on treating various thyroid disorders attracted the attention of the International Atomic Energy Commission (Valenzuela 1960, 520).

The scientific landscape of the Philippines during the 1950s and 1960s could be characterized in terms of symbolic projects that signified the nation was increasing its visibility and respectability within the international community. An editorial in the Manila Times on November 4, 1963 proclaimed that the egg-shaped dome of the new atomic reactor, the PRR-1—built with US assistance under the Atoms for Peace program—symbolized the Philippines’ desire to keep pace with development along Western lines.17) The public hoped that the atomic reactor would serve as a training ground for local scientists, inspire a new generation to take up science, and halt the emigration of scientists overseas. During the 1960s and 1970s, the PRR-1 became the nucleus for research in the Philippines on radioisotope production, neutron spectrometry, and reactor physics before it was mothballed in 1988 due to technical reasons (Guillermo 2012).

Postcolonial science in the Philippines was largely statist in its orientation. The Philippine private sector’s need for research was less urgent than the adaptation of already available technology from abroad, especially in the textile, flour milling, steel, and pharmaceutical sectors. Philippine private industries’ gross expenditure on research and development accounted for a mere 0.04 percent of the gross national income (Ramirez 1962, 465). At the time, research was influenced by government priorities in national development such that when an area of science happened to be defined as relevant to national priorities, funding from the NSDB would be assured. Between 1958 and 1966, applied research attracted almost 90 percent of all research funding, whereas basic research did not receive more than 10 percent of available resources (Ramirez 1962, 465). Consequently, Philippine scientists had to work independently to obtain grants from the US.

Low salaries and lack of prestige accorded to scientists dissuaded Filipino students from pursuing a research career. For instance, Ralph Blanco, a former instructor of mathematics at De La Salle University, worked out a hypothesis on the symmetry of energy and matter (Marasigan 1955, 85). His hypothesis could be verified by bringing together electrons and positrons and producing gamma rays. But to verify the hypothesis, Blanco needed a Bevatron (particle accelerator). As Bevatrons were expensive, Blanco abandoned his field of research and instead joined the civilian defense forces. Blanco’s inability to continue his research is illustrative of the neglect of mathematics and physics in Philippine science, given their perceived inability to address the country’s developmental needs in contrast to agricultural or medical sciences. The underlining features of the Philippine research landscape of the 1950s included an excessive emphasis on teaching rather than research and the absorption of most productive scientists into administrative positions.

Amador Muriel, a former physics instructor from the UP, recounted that until 1956 the university did not have a single doctoral physicist. Between 1959 and 1967, of the 12 Filipino students who had left for the US to earn a doctoral degree in physics, only one returned home (Muriel 1970, 38–39). Similarly, of the 13,829 foreign-born physicians in the US in 1966, 25 percent were Filipinos (Van der Kroef 1968, 243). The lack of local facilities for proper training of professionals and the lack of incentives to stay in the Philippines were two factors responsible for the brain drain of Filipino professionals overseas.

Euro-American Empire, Scientific Nationalism, and the Cold War: The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project, 1946–49

In 1946 beriberi was the second leading cause of death in the Philippines, after tuberculosis. Between 1947 and 1949, a province-wide feeding experiment was undertaken in Bataan, as a collaborative venture between the American chemist Robert R. Williams, who synthesized thiamine, and Juan Salcedo, the Philippine secretary of health between 1950 and 1953. The experiment revealed that polished white rice enriched with thiamine reduced the incidence of beriberi in vulnerable populations. Yet, by willfully exposing 50 percent of Bataan’s population to polished rice—and, consequently, beriberi—Williams recreated the prisons and asylums that European and American researchers had used to induce beriberi in unwilling research subjects in colonial Philippines prior to World War II (Ventura 2020). The attainment of Philippine political independence in 1946 was concomitant with the onset of the Cold War, marked by political, ideological, and military rivalry between the US and the USSR. The US—in its attempts to stem the appeal of the Soviet planned economy and land reforms—designed technical solutions to hunger such as rice enrichment. Such technical fixes medicalized food scarcity.

A deep historical contextualization of the Bataan Rice Enrichment Project reveals that Euro-American biomedical practitioners discovered beriberi in carceral laboratories in colonial Philippines that included prisons, plantations, barracks, and leprosy colonies (Ventura 2020, 294). Unlike Williams, who narrowly associated beriberi with thiamine deficiency, Filipino physicians prior to World War II, particularly Manuel Zamora and Primo Arambulo, encountered beriberi as a problem of infant mortality and maternal health. These physicians introduced tiki-tiki (a thiamine-rich rice bran supplement) that could be produced at low cost (McElhinny 2009; Ventura 2020). Arambulo equated tiki-tiki with national self-sufficiency. Salcedo did not reject rice enrichment in favor of tiki-tiki, as the latter was associated with a children’s supplement during the late colonial period (Ventura 2020, 305). Post-World War II nutritional enrichment programs were meant to supplement adult diets.

The nutrition policy in postcolonial Philippines bore the imprint of Salcedo. He began his career between 1929 and 1936 at the UP as an instructor of physiology. In 1943, during the Pacific War, he took graduate courses at Columbia University. There he met Williams, who had synthesized vitamin B1 in 1935. Together, Salcedo and Williams worked out a plan to attack beriberi in the Philippines in 1943 (Baldwin 1975, 11). The plan became feasible after the defeat of Japan in 1945. In 1946 Hoffman-La Roche pioneered the rice enrichment premix consisting of thiamine, niacin, and iron that was subsequently used in the Bataan rice enrichment experiment, beginning in 1947. At the time, Salcedo was director of field operations of USPHS and was the founding father of the Philippine Association of Nutrition, a nongovernmental institution that agitated for the creation of a state entity dedicated solely to the problem of nutrition. In 1948 the Roxas administration appointed Salcedo as the chairperson of the state-created Institute of Nutrition (see Fig. 3).

 

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Fig. 3 Juan Salcedo, Health Secretary of the Philippines (1950–53) and Chairperson of the NSDB (1962–65, 1966–70)

Source: With permission from the Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines.

 

The Bataan experiment was made possible due to a grant from the Williams-Waterman Fund for the Combat of Dietary Diseases to the Philippine Department of Health. Seven municipalities on the east coast of the province with a population of 63,508 constituted the experimental area, whereas the remainder of the province—which included five municipalities with a population of 29,393—constituted the control area (Salcedo et al. 1950, 503). People from the experimental area consumed artificially enriched polished rice over the two-year period of the study, leading to a cataclysmic fall in mortality to near zero levels by 1949. The ratio of persons who displayed symptoms of beriberi dropped from 12.76 percent in 1947 to 1.55 percent in 1949 (Salcedo 1962, 573). In contrast, the death rate due to beriberi remained unchanged in the control area. By denying enriched rice to the control area, the Bataan experiment unknowingly exposed research participants to the risk of beriberi (Ventura 2020, 294).

In 1951 Salcedo extended the practice of rice enrichment to the provinces of North Luzon, particularly Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan, the rice bowl of the Philippines. Retail prices of rice increased by 1 percent as a consequence of rice enrichment costs borne by millers (National Research Council 1958, 9). Local ordinances were enacted that forbade the sale of unenriched rice, but these were poorly enforced. In August 1952, as health secretary (1950–53) under the Quirino administration, Salcedo spearheaded the enactment of National Rice Enrichment Act 832, which made rice enrichment mandatory.

First, rice millers protested against the legislation as millers who did not comply with the national law had a 1 percent cost advantage over the complying ones (National Research Council 1958, 9). Second, due to an extant legislation in the Philippines, rice millers and other producers were obligated to pay a 2 percent tax on the value of their output. Of the 8,000 rice millers in the Philippines during the early 1950s, 7,000 were very small millers who did not maintain account books. As a result, nearly 90 percent of rice millers did not pay tax. But with the introduction of the Act, traders were apprehensive that with the Department of Health’s supervision of the distribution of premix—which included thiamine used in rice enrichment—the government could readily calculate the tax evaded by the millers (National Research Council 1958, 9). Provincial millers formed a union to resist the Enrichment Act.

The chief factor slowing the expansion of rice enrichment in the Philippines was the underlying concern among Filipino state officials outside the Department of Health that the thiamine premix was possibly monopolized by Hoffman-La Roche. Williams’s role as patent holder for synthetic thiamine raised considerable suspicion in the Philippines that he was motivated by profit (Williams 1961, 171; Ventura 2020, 306).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) critiqued the findings of the Bataan study and the National Rice Enrichment Act in 1956. In its critique, the FAO noted that rice enrichment was introduced to Japan in 1950 (Mercado 1956, 1–10). The Japanese method of rice enrichment consisted of enlisting the support of housewives, who would voluntarily add thiamine to rice; this was in contrast to the Philippines, which mandated rice enrichment by the mills through state legislation. The FAO findings revealed that in contrast to Japan, the Philippines did not emphasize nutrition education, a critical pillar in ensuring the successful implementation of the National Rice Enrichment Act.

In his biography, Salcedo reminisces that Magsaysay assured him of presidential support for rice enrichment (Williams 1985, 52). But in reality, Magsaysay did not do so. In his address to millers in 1955, Magsaysay promised to seek the repeal of the Rice Enrichment Act (Williams 1985, 52). Salcedo was disappointed, as the law had not been implemented on a significant scale. A few days before his death on March 15, 1957, Magsaysay had planned to organize a national conference to identify organizational bottlenecks that impeded the implementation of the rice enrichment program (Editorial 1958). His successor, Garcia, created a committee to study the means to implement the Rice Enrichment Act. But the committee was unable to complete its task, and its activities were postponed due to the influential rice millers’ lobby.

The Garcia administration attempted to implement the Rice Enrichment Act through the Office of Nutrition in order to coordinate those working on nutrition-related issues at the regional or provincial level (Valencia 1960, 46–49). The Institute of Nutrition—which had been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health during the Roxas and Quirino presidencies—used to provide consultation to the government on nutrition-related matters. A rider in the budget prevented the Institute of Nutrition from releasing any of its funds for activities related to implementation of the National Rice Enrichment Act (Mercado 1956, 1–10). The implementation of the Act faltered due to organizational bottlenecks.

Instead of investigating the cause of beriberi, the Bataan Rice Enrichment Project sought to demonstrate to the Filipino government and citizens the benefits of fortifying polished rice with thiamine. Although rice enrichment raised post-World War II hopes of worldwide eradication of nutritional diseases through UN agencies such as the FAO, enrichment also medicalized food scarcities attributed to socioeconomic inequalities. Williams was deeply embittered by his inability to turn the Bataan project into an international model for rice enrichment. He attributed the FAO’s rejection of the results of the Bataan project to “hostility to Americans on the part of Europeans or hostility to Filipinos on the part of other Asians” (Williams 1961, 202). As US technical assistance became tethered to Cold War objectives, the Philippines became less free to reject US aid agreements which mandated that US companies supply commodities necessary for technocratic projects (Ventura 2020, 309). While beriberi’s decline in Manila might have apparently contributed to declining interest in rice enrichment, endemic hunger in rural areas of the Philippines—particularly in Mindanao in 1960—might have provided an impetus to the discovery of miracle rice at the IRRI in 1966.

All in a Grain of Rice: The Cold War Origins of the International Rice Research Institute

The prevailing political and intellectual climate in the US between 1945 and 1955 was shaped by the Cold War, a part of which included the Population-National Security Theory. This theory purported to causally link overpopulation, resource exhaustion, hunger, political instability, appeal to Communism, and danger to US national interests (Perkins 1998, 119–121). According to this theory, world hunger was a cause of resource extraction and further political instability. Plant breeding could be seen as a panacea for hunger because science could increase and stabilize yields. The apolitical nature of science in solving tractable problems related to food and population growth was instrumental in bringing together the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in the establishment of the IRRI.

In 1950 US President Harry Truman appointed Nelson Rockefeller as the chairperson of the International Development Advisory Board to expand the Point Four Program, intended to assist people of underdeveloped nations to increase their living standards. In 1951 Rockefeller published his report in Foreign Affairs. The report indicated that the security and prosperity of the US and industrialized nations could be maintained only if there was complementary progress of economically backward regions (Rockefeller 1951, 530). Rockefeller noted that the first priority of US foreign policy was to raise food production in underdeveloped nations by 25 percent, followed by the development and export of raw materials from those countries to the US and Europe, and to render technical assistance. He warned that any reckless handling of US technical assistance to underdeveloped countries would disrupt supplies of raw materials to the US as a result of the former countries being thrown into the close economic orbit of the USSR (Rockefeller 1951, 528). The report was illustrative of a dominant view in US political circles that saw the food problem in newly independent nations in relation to political and economic problems. In 1951—as Rockefeller was advising Truman on the implementation of the Point Four Program—his foundation was creating a new research and funding division to define the world food problem and its solutions (Anderson 1991, 62).

In 1950–51 the Rockefeller Foundation contemplated establishing a major agricultural science division which could draw on the foundation’s experiences in the Southern US, China, and Mexico. At the time, P. L. Mapa, secretary of agricultural and natural resources of the Philippines, in an informal correspondence with John D. Rockefeller III cited the achievements of the Mexican program of the foundation, which had raised people’s living standards (Anderson 1991, 67). In the view of Philippine agricultural scientists, increased production of rice and corn would contribute to the creation of economic stability—but the varieties of seeds available at the time did not yield as much as those planted in other countries. Mapa advocated raising people’s living standards in the Philippines, as the country was a good example of democracy in Asia and it was crucial for democracies to achieve economic stability (Anderson 1991, 71). The Rockefeller Foundation conceded that there was a special problem in the Philippines with respect to the correlation between the prevalence of hunger and the appeal of Communist ideology. The identification of health and agriculture as objects of attention of the Rockefeller Foundation occurred in conjunction with a belief in the universal application of science and technology (Anderson 1991, 63). Foundation officials referred to “tractable” problems, meaning those that would yield to the application of science and technology. Work on tractable problems helped the foundation in dealing with governments as these problems seemed free of political entanglements during the Cold War.

Ex-CIA official John Kerry King, in his 1953 article in Foreign Affairs, noted that in Cold War Asia—caught between two opposing ideological blocs—the supply of rice had major political implications. The major challenge in the struggle to keep South and Southeast Asia free of Communist domination was raising people’s living standards. In 1952, Communist China emerged as a net exporter of rice after several years of scarcity. China used rice in its propaganda to reinforce the productive superiority of the Communist system. At the time, a need was felt within US foreign policy circles to convince South and Southeast Asian nations that increased production and a higher standard of living were possible in their own countries without resort to totalitarian methods. King asserted that “the struggle of the East versus the West in Asia is, in part, a race for production and rice is the symbol and substance of it” (King 1953, 453–460). King’s statement was significant as it placed rice in the context of regional security and US relations with non-Communist Asia.

The establishment of the IRRI was the result of a joint venture between the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños, and Cornell University. The Ford Foundation funded the IRRI after its earlier investment in community development programs in India amounting to US$100 million (1951–53) failed to generate dramatic results (Anderson 1991, 81). The community development program was undertaken for geopolitical reasons. The foundation feared that a rapidly expanding population relative to food supplies in Southeast Asia would result in newly independent countries of the region falling into the Communist camp (Chandler 1992, 6). Disruptions in India’s Second Five-Year Plan around 1960–61, caused by declining agricultural yields, shifted the focus of American aid programs in the country from containing peasant unrest to increasing agricultural yields. The Central Intelligence Agency urged the Ford Foundation to take immediate action to avert a food crisis in Asia (Cullather 2010, 162). The new director of the Ford Foundation, Henry Heald, hired the Cornell agronomist Forrest Hill to reorganize the foundation’s international development program. Hill had visited the corn and wheat research stations of the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico and pushed to bring the Mexican model to the rice fields of Asia. In 1955, the Rockefeller Foundation enlisted the services of the Cornell agronomist Richard Bradfield. As the newly appointed assistant director of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1955, Robert Chandler accompanied Bradfield to identify requirements of agricultural colleges in the Philippines, Japan, Burma, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Pakistan and awarded grants for fellowships and specific research projects (Chandler 1992, 4). This was the beginning of the Rockefeller Foundation’s action program for agriculture in Asia.

The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations promoted project-oriented research—a US answer to totalitarian Soviet science—in the shadow of the Sputnik (Cullather 2010, 162). Given the Ford Foundation had an endowment four times larger than the Rockefeller Foundation and the latter’s experience in staffing international programs since 1913, the two foundations cemented collaboration by 1958. In January 1959, Bradfield—while in Asia for the Rockefeller Foundation—stopped in the Philippines to explore the proposal of setting up a rice institute. He noted that L. B. Uichano, then dean of the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños, expressed enthusiasm for the establishment of such an institute (Chandler 1992, 8). Between June and September 1959, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations reached an agreement for the establishment of the IRRI.18)

Three factors influenced the collaboration between Cornell and the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños. First, Cornell had some involvement with the Philippines dating back to the colonial period. Several students from the College of Agriculture had been trained in Cornell. Second, the College of Agriculture was devastated during World War II and was consequently isolated from international developments in agriculture. Third, the ECA became directly involved with the College of Agriculture in what was then known as the Los Baños Technical Assistance Project. Cornell became involved soon after. With the strengths of Cornell—known for its extensive research program in all branches of agriculture—and the needs of the college at Los Baños in mind, a contract was signed on July 1, 1952 that introduced the land-grant concept of university service, as adapted to the Philippine context. The land-grant concept emphasized experimentation toward finding solutions to common problems that beset Philippine agriculture (Turk 1974, 30).

Between 1955 and 1960, the UP College of Agriculture had already established a niche for itself in training undergraduate students from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. At the time, the Faculty of Agriculture (affiliated with Universitas Indonesia) was in dire need of research staff.19) As a way out of the situation, Sukotjo, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Bogor, approached the Rockefeller Foundation with a proposal to train Indonesian undergraduate students overseas. The foundation brokered an agreement with Indonesian and Filipino officials for training Indonesian undergraduates from the College of Agriculture, Bogor, at Los Baños and pledged US$120,000.20) By 1957, the first cohort of 12 Indonesian students from the College of Agriculture at Bogor arrived in Los Baños for training, some of them funded by the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) of the US government.21) The Rockefeller–ICA joint initiative to train Indonesian agricultural science undergraduates in the Philippines was intended to deepen friendship among Asian nations.22) The most significant episode for the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños was the founding of the IRRI.

In 1960, the island of Luzon was viewed as the most logical choice for the establishment of the IRRI (Chandler 1992, 188). The Philippines was a rice-producing country where demand for the crop far outstripped supply. Average production figures were low, and there was a dearth of indigenous agricultural research.23) Los Baños had been a pilgrim destination since pre-Christian times. The IRRI’s proximity to Mount Makiling—a sacred site since pre-Christian times—cast a spiritual aura on the institute that the discovery of miracle rice only confirmed (Cullather 2004, 237). Chandler never explicitly invoked Makiling’s legends, but an imprint of these legends may be echoed in the vernacular names the Filipino press attached to the IRRI’s first varieties, for example, IR8 or “miracle rice.”

The Rockefeller Foundation selected the world-renowned modernist architect Ralph Walker to design the IRRI buildings. Constructed completely out of imported materials, the sprawling one-story aluminum-and-glass structures featured modular walls to encourage an egalitarian office culture (Cullather 2010, 163). Facing the IRRI laboratory building was an experimental farm that replicated climatic conditions across Asia (see Fig. 4).

 

seas1001_neelakantan_fig4

Fig. 4 The IRRI Building in the Distant Background (1963). Scientists and trainees were expected to wade through the slush of the experimental farm. During the early years of the IRRI, before power tillers were developed, carabaos were used to prepare the experimental plots.

Source: IRRI Archives.

 

Given the historical context that led to the establishment of the IRRI, what was the focus of the institute? The focus included: (a) developing well-adapted high-yielding varieties of rice suited to tropical climates; (b) genetic study of mutation; (c) research on the physiology of growth, nutrition, and reproduction of rice; (d) studies on the physical composition, soil chemistry, and microbiology of paddy soils; and (e) observing the effects of water and temperature on plant growth. Chandler and his team collected 10,000 varieties of rice worldwide, recorded the characteristic features of each strain, and placed the varieties in cold storage for future use by scientists.24) During the early years (1960–64), research scientists affiliated with the IRRI undertook investigations on tropical varieties of rice which were unreasonably tall and leafy and susceptible to lodging (when plant stems are weak to the point that they can no longer support the grain, causing the plant to fall over). Tropical varieties were susceptible to rice stem borer attacks that reduced yields. Scientists at the institute attempted to identify rice strains resistant to borer attacks and use these strains in developing new high-yielding hybrid varieties.25) The IRRI maintained a program to evaluate the efficacy of insecticides used against stem borers.

During the 1960s, the IRRI established a regional research program and convened periodic conferences that focused on problems of international economic importance, including one that focused on rice blast disease, a leading cause of global food insecurity.26) Senior scientists from the institute trained agricultural educators from Thailand, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

Under the vision of Jacob George Harrar, who became president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1961, the IRRI devoted its attention to developing high-yielding varieties of rice suitable for tropical climates. Southeast Asia in general suffered a serious deficit in rice production. The Asian farmer had a “rice complex” that was comparable to the “cotton complex” of the American South.27) The rural population of Asia depended excessively on rice not only as a source of income but also as the main source of food. The IRRI sought to discourage the excessive dependence on rice by undertaking research in leguminous crops such as mung, cowpeas, and soybean that could correct dietary deficiencies.28)

The first decade of the IRRI (1960–70) reflected the imprint of Chandler’s ideas. The IRRI defined the global food problem in Malthusian terms. The task for the institute was to determine how global food production would increase to keep pace with the ever-rising population (Oasa and Jennings 1982, 39). Between the two alternatives of either increasing the yield per unit area or addressing inequities in rural society, IRRI scientists opted for the former. Chandler was concerned about low rice yields and slow adoption of agricultural techniques. His concern alluded to the reluctance of farmers to adopt technological advances. At the same time, he dismissed farmers’ concerns about the costliness of technology as an “excuse” (Oasa and Jennings 1982, 39). In doing so, Chandler accepted inequality in rural society as a given. Research had to eliminate constraints imposed upon higher yields. From the inception of the IRRI, Chandler elected to avoid incremental agricultural improvements and instead go for the big jump strategy that emphasized technology as a catalyst to increase crop productivity (Cullather 2004, 239). Chandler wanted to take plant genetics to its frontiers to show the world that higher yields were possible (see Fig. 5).

 

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Fig. 5 Mechanized Paddy Threshers (1960s)

Source: IRRI Archives: Early Field Experiments and Machines.

 

Filipino agronomists critiqued the big jump strategy. Dioscoro Umali, dean of the College of Agriculture at UP, noted that high-yielding varieties of rice were contingent upon expensive inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides (Cullather 2004, 240). Shallow-rooted dwarf varieties of plants were dependent on precise hydraulic management that most farmers were unaware of. Farmers were forced to discard nearly all the traditional practices and adopt new techniques for planting, weeding, irrigation, harvesting, and threshing. New chemicals and irrigation would require access to credit networks that local farmers did not have. If adopted, high-yielding rice varieties would radically disrupt the social environment in which the crop was grown. Umali tried to rescue the straightforward objective of increasing rice production from the ballooning expectations that clustered around high-yielding varieties of the crop.

During the formative years of the IRRI (1960–70), crop yields did rise but slowly. The growth of agricultural production across Asia was marginal (less than 3 percent) and barely in line with population growth (Umali 1972). In organizing and institutionalizing the sharing of technology in rice production, the IRRI’s role was limited to assembly and dissemination of knowledge but did not take into account the adaptation of a given technology to suit the needs of specific countries. Despite these shortcomings, the achievements of the IRRI are significant. The institute placed increased emphasis on international scientific exchanges and cooperative research programs between the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. Within the IRRI, a logic different from the stereotype of the Asian farmer as traditional was meant to operate: scientifically ordered spaces within the institute would be populated with an interdisciplinary phalanx of scholars who would work on global issues such as food insecurity. During the 1950s and 1960s, Filipino scientists such as Umali pursued their careers within the confines of national science. But by the 1970s—with the IRRI’s introduction of the Liaison Scientists Program—Umali officiated as the IRRI’s liaison scientist in the People’s Republic of China. He coordinated between international aid agencies such as the FAO—in his capacity as assistant director general and regional representative for Asia and the Far East—and the National Agricultural Research System of China in formulating a national rice production strategy.

“No Variety of Want Is More Individualized than Illness”: The Philippine Medical Association, Socialized Medicine, and Anti-Communist Propaganda

During the early years of the Cold War (1946–47), the American Medical Association (AMA) used socialized medicine as a political weapon to disparage President Truman’s proposal for compulsory national health insurance. The AMA suspected physicians who advocated universal health care of being Communists. At the time, opponents of national health insurance focused on maintaining the professional independence of doctors. Medicine became a blazing focal point in the fundamental struggle to determine whether the United States would become a free or a socialist state (Warner 2013, 1452–1453). The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) during its early years (1939–46) was an affiliate of the AMA.29) Affiliation with the AMA conditioned PMA physicians to be skeptics of the state-centered approach to public health. During the 1950s, the PMA was faced with the dilemma of meeting the goals of the Philippines’ rapidly expanding public health program without compromising on professional standards.

The year 1949 was significant for the working class in the Philippines as President Quirino recommended before Congress the passage of a legislation providing prepaid medical services to rural populations (Department of Health 2014, 3). At the time, a faction within the PMA expressed concern that Quirino’s proposal would lead to the growth of socialized medicine, defined as the total mobilization of medical care under government control (Torres 1949, 249–255). Luis Torres, a PMA physician also affiliated with the Philippine Federation of Private Medical Practitioners, contended that socialized medicine claimed to provide a panacea to the public health problem through the taxation system. But for every peso spent on health care, the proposal to extend prepaid health care to the rural population would entail additional administrative expenditure, for example, 190,000 government employees for a population of 18 million people (Torres 1949, 249–255). One of the weaknesses of socialized medicine, according to Torres, was that it promised too much. The taxpayer made undue demands on doctors’ time and disrupted the doctor-patient relationship. Furthermore, Torres noted that doctors would not be able to maintain confidentiality of patients’ records under a system of socialized medicine, given insurance claims. He warned that socialized medicine sounded the death knell for democracy in the Philippines. But PMA members—particularly Rodolfo Gonzalez, the incoming PMA president (1950)—did not subscribe to Torres’s views.

In 1950, Gonzalez noted that the Philippines suffered an acute shortage of hospital beds for poor patients, estimated at 8,500 for a population of 18 million people (Gonzalez 1950, 187–191). The government did not have enough funds to establish more hospitals, which in Gonzalez’s view led to a vicious cycle. He argued that the less the state took care of the health of the masses, the more difficult it would be for people to engage in productive work, especially agriculture and industry. The less the productivity of the people, the lower would be the state income and the harder it would be for the government to carry out its social amelioration program. Gonzalez appealed to PMA members to help the government by maintaining “charity beds” in private hospitals. Gonzalez’s views with respect to greater state intervention in public health were shared by then Health Secretary Salcedo (1950–53), who was also the president of the PMA between 1952 and 1953.

At the inaugural address of the First Southeast Asian Medical Conference in Manila on May 8, 1951, then incoming PMA President Eugenio Alonso criticized shortcomings of the Quirino administration’s proposal to provide prepaid medical services to rural areas. He pointed out that no variety of want was more individualized than illness. The illness of a wage earner from tuberculosis or the failing health of children due to malnutrition was a problem that needed treatment of individual patients (Alonso 1951, 455). Alonso shed light on the contradiction that although 700 million pesos had been spent by the government on public health by 1951, 90 percent of patients did not see a doctor. He contended that medical inadequacies could be remedied through amelioration of people’s living conditions. He questioned the feasibility of undertaking nutrition research in the Philippines, or educating people about the nutritive value of food, at a time when people did not have enough to eat. Given the lack of consensus within the PMA on the question of expanding rural health care, the association was faced with a dilemma. At the heart of the matter was how to hold the association together when there were so many private practitioners who were fearful of increased competition from the state. One way out of the dilemma was to benefit both private and government practitioners.

In 1951, as the president of the PMA, Alonso proposed major changes in the organization of health work, i.e., decentralization of health activities to rural areas (Stauffer 1966, 96). His underlying rationale was that with the decentralization of the government’s health activities, government physicians would be sent to rural areas. In the process, the scope of state medicine would be expanded, a prospect he hoped would appease government physicians. Alonso hoped that private physicians would like the proposal to dispatch government physicians to more rural areas and free the cities and towns for private practice. But neither of the two camps liked Alonso’s proposal. Government physicians were reluctant to get transferred to remote areas, whereas private physicians were apprehensive of increasing state presence in public health (Stauffer 1966, 96).

In 1952 the Quirino administration, despite opposition from sections of the PMA, succeeded in passing Republic Act 747, “An Act to Regulate the Fees to Be Charged against Patients in Government Hospitals and Charity Clinics Classifying Patients According to Their Financial Condition” (Republic Act 747, 1952). The Act established a classification system for individuals who would be eligible for free treatment in government hospitals. A year later, the Quirino administration liberalized the classification system such that Filipino families with a monthly income of less than 100 pesos qualified as indigents and were eligible for free hospitalization (Stauffer 1966, 127). Nearly 90 percent of Filipinos qualified as indigents under the Act. Subsequent to the passage of Republic Act 747, there was a rapid construction boom of public hospitals. Many small hospitals, acquired through pork-barrel funds, could not be staffed by government doctors (Stauffer 1966, 128).

Public spending on health acquired a new lease of life during the Magsaysay era (1953–57). During his election campaign, Magsaysay made many promises for a better quality of life in the barrios and repeatedly reminded the PMA about expanding medical care to rural areas. He appealed to the association to abandon its “mercenary” zeal and instead return to its “missionary” zeal of service (Stauffer 1966, 123). In line with its preelection promises, the Magsaysay administration had to increase public spending on health and, in turn, increase taxation. Physicians united under the umbrella of the PMA to resist what they interpreted as “socialized medicine” and the deterioration of professional standards, given that a majority of physicians recruited to the Rural Health Units were political appointees (Editorial 1959). The PMA bargained for a subsidy to be provided to Filipino physicians who elected to set up practice in rural areas (Icasiano 1955, 230–233). The then president of the association, M. C. Icasiano, warned the Magsaysay government that medical services in rural areas should not be disbursed as a matter of charity but must be extended on the basis of self-help such that barrios could independently support private practitioners.

During the Garcia presidency (1957–61), Rodolfo Guiang—a private practitioner from Pangasinan and a member of the PMA—proposed an Indigency Plan that was intended to meet the increasing demand for medical care in the Philippines and free densely populated urban areas for private practice (Stauffer 1966, 96). The plan would screen the population to identify those who could be given free medical treatment due to their inability to pay. While working out details of the PMA Indigency Plan with the Department of Health, private physicians realized that the Garcia administration was less cooperative than they had anticipated. The association subsequently began to use socialized medicine as a weapon to break the monopoly of state medicine in dealing with the indigent population of rural Philippines. In 1960, an editorial in the Journal of the Philippine Medical Association noted that “socialization of medicine” was one of the many insidious manifestations of the socialist-Communist monster that was a danger to Philippine democracy (Stauffer 1966, 129). Although the government gave assurances of cooperation with the Indigency Plan, it failed to support the plan financially. The association subsequently worked on the Indigency Plan as a voluntary project.

Until the early 1960s, socialized medicine was a recurring theme in the PMA annual meetings. In 1961, Diosdado Macapagal was elected president of the Philippines. He introduced a comprehensive Five-Year Integrated Plan for the country’s socioeconomic development, proposing improvement of various public services, including the delivery of health care (Department of Health 2014, 104). In 1962, then Health Secretary Francisco Duque designed a plan that would extend medical services to the needy at no additional cost. The PMA labeled the proposed scheme “socialized medicine” that stifled physicians’ individuality and removed incentives for professional advancement (Guiang 1962).

Between 1949 and 1962, the PMA focused on the type of medical care most suitable for the Philippines. In its early efforts to achieve satisfactory distribution of physicians across rural areas, the association advocated that government physicians be sent to rural areas while freeing urban areas for private practice. But the plan did not work, due to mutual distrust between private and government physicians. The association was successful in thwarting any plans for expanding the state’s role in Philippine public health. First, it launched a propaganda campaign through journal articles and newspapers that enlightened the Filipino public regarding the importance of treating diseases at the individual level. Second, the association preyed on the public’s worst fears regarding the loss of doctor-patient relationships and the erosion of professional standards associated with the expansion of public health services. At the same time, it tapped into the Philippine political leadership’s fear of Communism and portrayed socialized medicine as a threat to the nation’s democracy. In a rather demagogic manner, the association used socialized medicine to stifle any debate amongst physicians regarding nationalized health care.

Conclusion

This article does not chronicle the successes or failures of individual disease control programs as they were implemented in the Philippines. Rather, it seeks to understand the niche that applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine, occupied with respect to national reconstruction in the aftermath of Philippine independence in 1946.

The lingering question as to whether Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science more generally, or whether it was imbued with a distinctly national flavor, cannot be easily answered. It entails situating the “postcolonial” in Philippine science. Science was the raison d’être of the modern nation-state. In other words, the phenomenon called state building by modernization theorists was the identification of the state’s projects as uniquely modern: state building crucially depended on the principles of science and technology (Abraham 1997). In the Philippine context, institutions such as the PRR-1 atomic reactor and IRRI belonged to the postcolonial space.

This article highlights three discerning features of postcolonial Philippine science. First, science was packaged as a comprehensive program of delivery intended to address the basic needs of people. Second, Philippine presidents understood science in terms of balancing national needs and nurturing the country’s Cold War ambitions as the leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. But the Philippines’ aspirations as leader of the free world in Southeast Asia were contingent on the availability of US technical assistance. For instance, the Bataan rice enrichment experiment failed to turn into an international model of rice enrichment due to other Asians’ suspicion of Filipinos. As the Philippines was drawn into the US orbit during the Cold War, the Philippine government became less free to reject technical assistance agreements which mandated the involvement of private American corporations. Third, science in postcolonial Philippines was statist, i.e., conducted on behalf of the people but at the discretion of the state. The Philippines inherited colonial scientific bodies such as the Bureau of Science—which drew on the models of similar institutions extant in the US—although the emphasis during the 1950s shifted from basic to applied research.30)

Given the emphasis on packaging science as a comprehensive program of delivery, and the emphasis on applied over basic research, one may infer that Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science in Southeast Asia and shared parallels with Nehruvian India and Soekarno-era Indonesia (Arnold 2013; Neelakantan 2015b). What distinguished postcolonial Philippine science from its Indian and Indonesian counterparts was its dovetailing with US objectives of subverting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. For instance, Magsaysay had to emphasize the geopolitical significance of the Philippines—as being in the frontline against Communism in Southeast Asia—while requesting US aid for malaria eradication during the 1950s. In contrast, India and Indonesia sought to achieve a delicate equilibrium between increased receptiveness to foreign aid and maintaining their respective political sovereignty (Arnold 2013, 361; Bu and Yip 2015, 6). A mobilization mentality suffused the practice of science in the Philippines during the 1950s such that the pursuit of knowledge led to new unresolved questions associated with the Cold War, such as socialized medicine—expanding health care access to the entire population—resulting in political deadlocks. These deadlocks, in addition to institutional bottlenecks that seemed almost insurmountable during the 1950s, have stymied the implementation of health legislation to the present.

Accepted: June 26, 2020

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1) After its efforts to implement communitarian strategies as part of the New Deal (1933–39) failed, the US bankrolled community development programs in the Global South, in the aftermath of World War II. Such measures were calculated to win political loyalties of local villages in the fight against Communism. The US included a community development program in its bilateral aid package to India in 1952. It invested great hopes in India’s community development program that focused on democratic decentralization. But the benefits of the Indian program were elusive. Local development plans were modest in their ambition and focused on the construction of wells, market roads, and community centers that benefited well-off members of the village communities. Conspicuously absent from the community development initiatives in India were issues associated with social inequality. In contrast, in the Philippines—where the Huk rebellion threatened to topple the government—the community development program was seen by the US government as a form of counterinsurgency. Through community development, Filipino politicians sought to create vertical bonds that linked peasants to landlords and crowd out the dangers of peasant solidarity. Around 1953, when the Huk rebellion subsided, the US exported the Philippine variant of the community development program to Vietnam.

2) The Huk rebellion—a peasant-based guerrilla insurrection—was directed originally against Japanese occupation (1942–45) and later against the failure of Roxas’s social welfare program as the legislation had several loopholes. The economic objectives of the Huks—developed between 1946 and 1950—reflected a strong Communist orientation by 1950. The Huks advocated real independence for the Philippines, “unsullied” and “unadulterated” by economic ties with the US, such as the Bell Act. Instead, they advocated a more equitable crop distribution between landlord and tenant, government purchase of large landed estates and their sale to tenants, and agricultural loans to aid small farmers. As the Huks were unable to get along with Quirino, they backed José Laurel. However, the Huk candidate lost the 1949 presidential election against the Liberal candidate, Quirino. Consequently, the Huks denounced electoral processes. The Huk Politburo declared the existence of a “revolutionary situation” in January 1950 and advocated an armed overthrow of the government. By March 1950 the Huks asserted their manifesto, “New Democracy,” which would erase the economic, political, and cultural domination of the US, feudal landlords, and the Liberal Party and instead place political control in the hands of the Filipino peasantry, proletariat, and intelligentsia. For details, see Fifield (1951).

3) In 1948, the republican government in Indonesia designed a three-year food production plan (christened the Kasimo Plan, after then Minister of Food Affairs I. J. Kasimo) aimed at achieving self-reliance in food. In order to guarantee a high quality of rice, Kasimo advocated the creation of seedling gardens. For a parallel with Indonesia, refer to Nawiyanto (2013).

4) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

5) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

6) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

7) By 1950 Huk leadership had been taken over by the Communists, who alleged that the Philippine government was a “puppet” in the hands of the US. See, for example, Neal Peterson et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, East Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 6 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1976).

8) Paul Claussen et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, East Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 6, Part 2 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1977).

9) The notion of self-help was evolved by the Magsaysay administration to attack the root causes of rural poverty by stimulating community initiative and responsibility.

10) Draft of Eisenhower’s Speech, 1955, File White House Correspondence: General Files, John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

11) Draft of Eisenhower’s Speech, 1955, File White House Correspondence: General Files, John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

12) Policy toward Philippines, File NSC 5413/1, NSC Series: Policy Papers Subseries, White House Office of Special Assistant: NSC Records, 1952 to 1961, Box 10, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

13) Donald Stone, Common Administrative Obstacles to Development, Dated January to April 1961, Dennis Fitzgerald Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

14) Robert McMahon et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Southeast Asia, Vol. 22 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1989).

15) Letter from President Magsaysay to US Secretary of State Dulles, March 15, 1956.

16) S. N. Dasgupta, Status of Research in the Philippines 1948 (I), UNESCO Report No. UNESCO NS/71, January 18, 1950.

17) Letter from C. H. G. Oldham to R. H. Nolte, Science in the Philippines: Problems and Opinions, January 6, 1964, Doc CHGO-22, Institute of Current World Affairs.

18) The Ford Foundation had allotted US$250,000 for land purchases and architectural fees, whereas the Rockefeller Foundation had advanced US$165,000 to meet the operational costs for 1960 (see Turk 1974, 187).

19) University of the Philippines: College of Agriculture, Indonesia Scholarships, Record Group (RG) 1.2, Finding Aid (FA) 387A, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 98, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC).

20) Letter from J. C. Harrar, Rockefeller Foundation, to Dr. Vidal Tan, President of UP, November 9, 1955, FA 387A, RG 1.2, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 98, RAC.

21) Correspondence between Robert Chandler and George Trduerger, May 13, 1957, FA 387A, RG 1.2, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 99, RAC.

22) Correspondence between Robert Chandler and George Trduerger, May 13, 1957.

23) NSDB Role in Science Progress in the Philippines, University of the Philippines [Undated], FA 387 A, RG 1.2, Series 242, Box 1, File 1, RAC.

24) IRRI: Brief Description of Training Program, November 2, 1962, FA 388, RG 1.3, Subseries 242 D, Box 17, File 168, RAC.

25) IRRI, Proposal to the US Agency for International Development [Undated], FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, Folder 171, RAC.

26) Draft of a Proposal to the Ford Foundation for Support of Certain Phases of the Training and Regional Program of the IRRI [Undated], FA 388, RG1.3, Series 242D, Box 17, File 164, RAC.

27) Letter from Norman Efferson, Louisiana State University Agricultural College, to the Rockefeller Foundation, August 27, 1963, FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, File 171, RAC.

28) The Improvement of Grain Legumes Production: Communication from the IRRI [Undated], FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, File 170, RAC.

29) The Philippine Islands Medical Association, precursor of the PMA, was founded in 1903 as an affiliate of the AMA. By 1921, Filipino physicians had become members of the association. By 1932, private practitioners had splintered from the Philippine Islands Medical Association and founded the Philippine Federation of Private Medical Practitioners, although many members of the federation continued to hold membership of the former. In 1939, the Philippine Islands Medical Association was renamed the PMA to reflect its nationalist orientation.

30) For a comparison with Indonesia, see Messer (1994) and Goss (2011).

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

“No Nation Can Go Forward When It Is Crippled by Disease”: Philippine Science and the Cold War, 1946–65

Vivek Neelakantan*

*Consortium for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 431 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-2426, United States
e-mail: vivekneelakantanster[at]gmail.com

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_53

This article outlines a notion of postcolonial Philippine science. First, it touches on the links between science, medicine, the Cold War, and nation building. Second, it examines the niche occupied by applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine, in nation building. Between 1946 and 1965, Philippine presidents understood science functionally, in terms of harnessing the country’s natural resources for economic development; and strategically, in terms of the Philippines being a regional leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. To realize the Philippines’ Cold War aspirations, they mobilized technical assistance from the US. The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project (1946–49) and the establishment of the International Rice Research Institute (1962) indicated a shift in the emphasis of US assistance from economic aid to technical cooperation in the field of nutrition and agriculture.

Through a close study of the Philippine Medical Association, this article examines inner tensions between physicians who advocated an individualized treatment of disease and those who advocated mass campaigns. Between 1946 and 1965, a mobilization mentality suffused the practice of science in the Philippines such that the pursuit of knowledge would lead to unanswered Cold War questions—particularly socialized medicine—expanding healthcare access to rural areas.

Keywords: Philippines, postcolonial science, Cold War, disease eradication, Bataan Rice Enrichment Project, International Rice Research Institute, Philippine Medical Association, socialized medicine

In his first State of the Nation Address, on January 25, 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines asserted, “We must have a healthy manpower as the most essential factor for economic advancement. No nation can go forward when it is crippled by disease” (Magsaysay 1954). The address attests to the centrality of public health in transcending the problem of underdevelopment of the postcolonial state.

The 1950s coincided with the emergence of the Cold War and decolonization in Southeast Asia. The US sought to subvert the spread of Communist ideology. To this effect, it secured the loyalty of leaders from Asia and Africa through a program of technical assistance, particularly in agriculture and health. By portraying poverty and disease as the breeding grounds of Communism, the US sought to assist with disease eradication, particularly the anti-malaria campaigns in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. The Filipino political leadership perceived public health as the means to usher in development of remote islands and was open to US developmental assistance (Neelakantan 2015a).

This study investigates the niche in nation building occupied by applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine. The argument has two strands. First, Philippine science was packaged as a program of delivery that was intended to address basic needs of the people, particularly self-sufficiency in food. Second, between 1946 and 1965 Philippine presidents understood science functionally, in terms of harnessing the country’s natural resources for economic development; and strategically, in terms of furthering the country’s aspirations as the leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. To realize the Philippines’ Cold War aspirations, the presidents mobilized US technical assistance. The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project (1946–49) and the establishment of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Los Baños in 1962 indicated a shift in the emphasis of US assistance in the Philippines from economic aid to technical cooperation, particularly in the field of nutrition and agriculture.

Locating the “Postcolonial” in Philippine Science

This article seeks to outline a notion of postcolonial Philippine science. The notion of “postcolonial” has considerable conceptual ambiguity. It has been taken to signify a time period after colonialism; a critique of the legacy of colonialism; an ideological backing for newly created states; a complicity of Western knowledge with colonial projects; or an argument that colonial engagements can reveal the ambivalence, anxiety, and instability deep within Western thought and practice (Anderson 2002, 645). Postcolonial theory seeks to contest the assumption that Western knowledge is objective, authoritative, and universally applicable.

In 1959, W. W. Rostow described the stages of “economic growth” in his non-Communist manifesto. Rostow emphasized the role of science and technology in achieving takeoff from a traditional society (Rostow 1959). Science, according to Rostow’s narrative, was diffused from Europe. George Basalla amplified this diffusionist perspective by giving details of the spread of Western science from its European center to the periphery or the colonies (Basalla 1967, 612–622). According to Basalla’s simple evolutionary model accounting for the diffusion of science, in phase one the periphery provided raw materials for European science. In phase two, the derivative and dependent institutions of colonial science emerged; and sometimes an independent national science, called phase three, would later develop. By the early 1990s, Basalla’s simple evolutionary model of scientific development provoked extensive criticism. In the early 1990s, Paolo Palladino and Michael Worboys—taking Lewis Pyenson’s work on the Dutch East Indies as a proxy for diffusionism in science—suggested that Western methods of knowledge had not been accepted passively but were selectively absorbed in relation to existing traditions of knowledge and religion (Pyenson 1989; Palladino and Worboys 1993, 102). Imperialism also shaped the development of metropolitan institutions and knowledge. Discussions of diffusion and nation building have gradually given way to talk of contact zones and network construction.

Postcolonial science as a field of enquiry crosses geopolitical boundaries as it tracks flows, circuits of scientists, knowledges, machines, and techniques (Anderson 2002). Postcolonial science—which focuses on contact zones of clashing knowledges—is incomplete unless it is firmly situated in a political and institutional context (Abraham 2006, 213). Science is central to forging the identity of the postcolonial state. It exists simultaneously as history, as myth, as political slogan, as social category, as technology, as modern Western knowledge, and as an instrument of change (Abraham 2006, 213). Postcolonial science in the Philippine context was a state-building project—as reflected in the establishment of the Philippine Research Reactor (PRR-1) atomic reactor and IRRI.

Given the paucity of historiography on postcolonial Philippine science, one might justify this study on the basis of a lack. But the story of Philippine science during the Cold War is rather eclectic in terms of archival sources. Therefore, a paucity of secondary literature does not provide justification for this article. Rather, this study closely examines the underlying concerns of Philippine presidents (1946–65) and scientists in addressing the dilemma of how to refashion science that was at once relevant to the Philippines’ national needs and increased the country’s visibility on the international stage. For example, Kathleen Gutierrez investigates the ways in which medical botany writing furthered the symbolic and commercial promise of plants in the context of postcolonial nationalism and international science. Based on a close reading of the Filipino botanist Eduardo Quisumbing’s Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, Gutierrez highlights the features of medical botany writing that produced articulations of nationalism in the Philippines in the aftermath of World War II (Gutierrez 2018, 36). Through his writing and encyclopedism (genre-bending deluge of information, colonial science, and use of scientific terminology), Quisumbing established a fresh narrative for Philippine science that had emerged from the ravages of wars and colonial influence. Medicinal Plants, according to Gutierrez, is an expression of scientific achievement through encyclopedic gesturing to effect science-minded aims and create a certain kind of nationalism through flora (Gutierrez 2018, 62). As the scope of Gutierrez’s article is restricted to botany, the role of applied sciences, particularly medicine, in nation building remains marginal in the narrative.

Physicians dominated the first generation of nationalist leaders in the Philippines under American colonialism (1898–1946). For the nationalist physicians, decolonization was linked to the tropes of scientific progress (Ileto 1988, 105; Anderson and Pols 2012, 93).

Warwick Anderson (2007) contends that the production of scientific knowledge was treated as an index of modernity and national development in the Philippines. But Anderson’s article does not elaborate on the circumstances under which science became an instrument of postcolonial nation building.

Sunil Amrith’s influential monograph (2006) argues that India played a more influential role in shaping post-World War II Asia’s health paradigms than did the Indonesians or the Burmese, who were preoccupied with establishing the legitimacy of the postcolonial state amidst much ethnic strife. However, this line of argument does not hold true with respect to transnational Philippine initiatives in agriculture, for example, the training of Indonesian students from the Faculty of Agriculture (Bogor) at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Agriculture at Los Baños in the 1950s. Nonetheless, Amrith’s monograph has opened new possibilities for historians to examine the transnational circulation of technical expertise across Asia.

During the 1950s, a concern with nation building in newly independent states of Asia and Africa was central to modernization theory. The dominant narrative at the time was how to develop Asian and African states toward a new form of modernity along Western, if not necessarily capitalist, lines (Berger 2003). A conspicuous feature of the political landscape across Asia during the 1950s was an increased emphasis on the role of the state in mediating national development. Gabrielle Hecht observes that at the heart of the modernization theory were disagreements between the USSR and the US regarding industrialization of newly independent countries. Whereas the USSR offered a development path that would lead Asian countries to socialism through large-scale industrialization, the US envisaged that with the right sort of technical assistance, any human society could climb the ladder of progress and that industrialization and democratization would proceed hand in hand (Hecht 2011, 1–12). A common denominator underlying competing US and USSR visions of modernization for newly decolonized nations was the ability of science to provide a panacea for the problem of underdevelopment. But the reception of international technical assistance was uneven across countries (Immerwahr 2015, 11).1)

Anderson (2012) notes that since the 1970s there has been active debate about the meaning of science, technology, and medicine within the Indian context, much of it occurring within the Gandhian, Marxist, subaltern, and postcolonial frameworks. However, the relationships among Indian, Southeast Asian, and global science and technology studies scholarship remain fragmentary. A major research question raised by this article is whether Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science more generally, or whether it embodied a distinctive national flavor.

“Scientific Research, in the Long Run, Does Pay Off in Terms of Pesos and Centavos”

The challenges of post-World War II national reconstruction necessitated quick changes in the Philippine economy that included producing cash crops for export, increasing food production, and improving people’s living standards. To this end, Presidents Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino (between 1946 and 1953) mobilized applied sciences—particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine—that would enable the nation to attain self-sufficiency in economic affairs. At the time, within Philippine policy circles it was noted, “Scientific research, in the long run, does pay off in terms of pesos and centavos, in terms of higher efficiency and reduced man-hours of work, in terms of richer harvests and healthier citizens” (Varela 1954). Financial limitations of the state implied that scientific investigations were tied to practical concerns. In general, research in the Philippines lacked funding and the state struggled to attract the best minds to research.

On June 3, 1946—a month before US colonialism finally ended in the Philippines—Roxas, in his first State of the Nation Address, outlined the challenges facing the nascent nation. The Philippines was born amidst much political turmoil.2) Roxas expressed disappointment that the government did not have the financial means to support postwar economic rehabilitation:

Public health and sanitation have retreated far from the level which existed before the war. Epidemic is a constant threat. The three great pests of our land—the rat, the mosquito, and the locust—have thrived on our misfortune and threaten us with both disease and hunger. Control measures against all of them must be taken.

Famine is a strong possibility; shortages of food are even now critical. We are immediately faced by a shortage, which will grow more critical within the next few months, in our staple food product—rice. In some sections of the country rice is not being planted because of the lack of carabaos and the threat of rats and locusts. In others, planting is diminished because of the absence of law and order and the fear that the harvest may be stolen. There is a world shortage of rice. Many nations of the earth are as unfortunate as we; in the case of our own shortage we can expect very little assistance from abroad. We are doing everything in our power to get as much assistance as we can. (Roxas 1946)

Given the scarcity of rice, Roxas mobilized the population to grow corn, root crops, and vegetables. He emphasized an all-out food campaign that encouraged the substitution of rice with corn. His administration also introduced the idea of anti-famine gardens.3) In addition to increasing the production of rice, Roxas identified symbolic capital in disease eradication (particularly malaria) as the means to resuscitate a strong and healthy population.

In January 1946, five months after the end of the Pacific War, the US—in mutual agreement with the Philippine Bureau of Health—developed a road map for preventing disease that had a negative bearing on economic recovery. The US Public Health Services (USPHS) appropriated a sum of US$1 billion to assist the Philippine Bureau of Health to rehabilitate the devastated Philippine quarantine service, the School of Hygiene at Alabang, and the Bacteriological Laboratory of the UP.4) The USPHS identified malaria as a rural disease that vitiated agricultural productivity and estimated that up to half the working population was afflicted with the disease.5) The Bureau of Health, with restricted allocation of funds, was unable to cope with malaria and its associated socioeconomic effects (see Fig. 1).

 

seas1001_neelakantan_fig1

Fig. 1 The Malaria Control Unit of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation Program (1946)

Source: National Library of Medicine, NLM Image ID 10395113.

 

After Philippine independence in July 1946, the USPHS was unable to cement cooperation with the Malaria Control Organization of the Philippine Department of Health as the latter suffered from a shortage of trained medical personnel. As a result, the USPHS implemented malaria control as a public health rehabilitation project. Its methods included house-to-house surveys of the disease among inhabitants of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental Provinces, entomological surveys, public health propaganda through lectures illustrating the importance of the disease, and control of the vector through insecticidal spraying. Malaria control was incorporated into the curricula of elementary and high schools, particularly in these two provinces. Not surprisingly, the Negros Islands recorded an 85 percent decrease in the incidence of malaria between 1946 and 1950 and a 65 percent decline in death rates attributed to the disease.6)

Despite successes in specific areas, the malaria control program in the Philippines prior to 1950 was beset with organizational bottlenecks. The national government had granted the measly sum of 180,000 pesos for malaria control work (Francisco 1950, 347). Insecticidal spraying was the weakest arm of the program. Most of the plantation owners had not taken malaria seriously, and there was a pervasive absence of preventive measures.

Until 1950 the Philippines suffered from economic instability primarily due to a budgetary deficit and an insufficient increase in the production of cash crops (particularly sugarcane and abaca); the latter could be partly attributed to malaria and schistosomiasis, which impeded the efficiency of the workforce. To compound the problem, the Huk rebellion gained momentum in March 1950.7) The US was determined to retain the Philippines within the orbit of democratic powers but was concerned that the latter’s inability to release peso savings for capital investment, stimulate industrialization, and raise people’s living standards would lead to internal unrest.8) The Bell Mission recommended that the US government provide financial assistance amounting to US$250 million to the Philippines so that the latter could carry out a five-year plan of economic development (Ravenholt 1951, 414).

After the sudden death of Roxas in 1948, Quirino, a political conservative and pro-American, drew support from the sugar barons for presidency. During his presidency, large-scale inequalities in the distribution of agricultural holdings provided a fertile breeding ground for the Huk rebellion (Merrill 1993, 137–159).

Quirino’s first State of the Nation Address exhorted Filipino citizens to work toward total economic mobilization and attacking poverty (Quirino 1949). In his quest for the nation’s economic self-sufficiency, the president devised measures to increase the acreage under rice, particularly in Mindanao:

We must turn our concentrated attention to the development of Mindanao. Something must be done without loss of time to convert that vast region into a real empire of wealth. I recommend a general program of road construction to encourage production and communication. The establishment of the planned hydro-electric and fertilizer plant in Maria Cristina Falls will give the proper agricultural and industrial incentives. Locust pest is hampering the agricultural development of Northern Mindanao and even as far as Bohol and Cebu. I also recommend that sufficient appropriation be set aside to eradicate this winged enemy to our increased production. (Quirino 1949)

The Philippine government’s proposal of opening Mindanao for economic development converged with the Economic Cooperation Administration’s (ECA) plan of containing the spread of the Huk rebellion to the island (Fifield 1951, 16).

Magsaysay—secretary of defense (1950–53) during Quirino’s presidency—had won military victories against the Huks. He contested the 1953 presidential election on a Nacionalista Party ticket against the Liberal candidate Carlos Romulo. After assuming office in 1953, Magsaysay promised to ameliorate people’s living conditions.

In his second State of the Nation Address, Magsaysay asserted that there was more to national security than simply maintaining territorial integrity and public order. As an independent nation, the Philippines had to assure its citizens freedom from disease, ignorance, and want (Magsaysay 1955). Magsaysay emphasized that the government could not do everything for the Filipinos and that people had to help themselves (Magsaysay 1956). To this effect, the Magsaysay administration reoriented health, education, and welfare programs with an emphasis on self-help.9) Magsaysay’s concern with the “common man” was the logical first step in imbuing the Filipino way of life with the substance of democracy. In the pursuit of democratic ideals, he urged Filipinos to work ground-up—from factories, barrios (rural areas), and towns (Magsaysay 1956). For the fulfillment of Filipinos’ basic needs, he identified the following requirements: (a) self-sufficiency in food (rice); (b) a strong administrative apparatus for the implementation of community development; (c) industrialization based on the utilization of locally available resources; (d) reorientation of the education system with an emphasis on science; and (e) scientific research (see Fig. 2).

 

seas1001_neelakantan_fig2

Fig. 2 Community Development through Self-Help (c. 1957)

Source: Series: Propaganda Posters Distributed in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, 1900–2003, Record Group 306: Records of the US Information Agency (1900–2003); US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Identifier 6949000.

 

Magsaysay exhorted that education reforms in the Philippines be oriented toward general, scientific, and vocational education. He expressed concern that diminishing interest in natural and physical sciences ran contrary to the rapidly developing requirements of the atomic age (Magsaysay 1955). At the heart of Magsaysay’s concern was how to refashion science such that it was at once open to international collaboration and relevant to national priorities. To this end, he created a Science Advisory Committee in 1955 composed of representatives from universities and research organizations. The committee did not explicitly mention medicine in its agenda.

Magsaysay’s vision of using public health as a pathway for economic development was congruent with the US objective of subverting Communism in newly independent countries. In 1955 US President Dwight Eisenhower pointed out that a strong program of international aid was urgent in order to prevent newly independent countries of Asia and Africa from deflecting to the Communist camp.10) To this end, the Eisenhower administration appropriated US$700 million to target toward technical and economic assistance to underdeveloped nations, particularly in the form of malaria eradication.11) Eisenhower observed that by 1954, malaria had attacked 200 million people and killed over two million and that the US had formulated a blueprint in cooperation with the World Health Organization to wipe out malaria globally. Eisenhower contended that malaria eradication was congruent with the American national interest of opening up new markets in underdeveloped countries. In the fiscal year 1954, the ECA loaned US$22 million to the Philippines to augment food production and ameliorate public health conditions in rural areas, especially to eradicate malaria.12) The apparent speed with which malaria could be brought under control using DDT made malaria control attractive for US planners, who saw the elimination of the disease as an instrument for winning “hearts and minds” in the war against Communist expansion (Packard 1997, 283).

By 1954 the Magsaysay administration had enacted the Rural Health Act, which provided for the establishment of rural health units for every municipal district. The Act instituted health officers for municipalities. The power of municipal health officers was centralized with the provincial health officers (Ford and Cruz 1957, 687–696). At the time, isolated disease eradication programs related to malaria, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases were implemented on a piecemeal basis. The district health officers had limited authority to implement health programs within their jurisdiction. Most activities of the rural health units were concentrated at the level of the poblacion (district headquarters), leaving outlying barrios underserved (Neelakantan 2015a). At the time, the major stumbling blocks to Philippine development were administrative and political.13) Governmental functions were dispersed among an excessive number of departments, which resulted in diffusion of responsibility and led to procedural delays in the implementation of public health programs.

Despite the administration’s legislative measures—such as the enactment of the Rural Health Act—that reaffirmed Magsaysay’s commitment to ensuring freedom from disease, the implementation of public health measures was contingent on the availability of American aid. The Eisenhower administration wanted Magsaysay to mount vigorous attacks on the Philippines’ socioeconomic problems and to become a symbol in the war against Communism (Cullather 1993, 332). But these hopes were not fulfilled. Within months of Magsaysay’s inauguration, the ruling Nacionalista Party coalition fragmented. Growing Filipino resentment against the US military bases in the Philippines threatened bilateral relations.

In a confidential letter to then US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Magsaysay expressed concern that the Philippines did not have the means to fully implement the rural development program.14) He requested US$10 million from the Eisenhower administration to implement the program and prevent disillusionment among the masses.15) In requesting increased funding for the rural development program, Magsaysay emphasized the centrality of the Philippines to the success of the US anti-Communist propaganda in Asia.

The Philippines’ strong cultural ties with the US placed the former’s scientific research on a strong footing vis-à-vis other ex-colonial nations in a similar economic position (Varela 1954, 363). At the time, it was widely held within scientific circles that pure research undertaken in US laboratories could serve as a stepping-stone for applied research undertaken by Filipino scientists. The institutional foundations of Philippine science in the postwar period appeared to be jeopardized by the bureaucracy. The governments under Roxas and Quirino were disappointing in their budgetary allocation to research (Gutierrez 2018, 44–45).

The Philippine Bureau of Science, established in 1905, undertook research in tropical medicine, botany, zoology, entomology, and geology. The research activities of the bureau were disrupted due to the Pacific War (1942–45). In 1947, after Philippine independence, the Bureau of Science was renamed the Institute of Science. The institute carried out research in various branches of science and drew personnel from state universities.16) It undertook quality control of vaccines produced locally at Alabang and established minimum standards for agricultural products. But research coordination was carried out by the National Research Council of the Philippines (Neelakantan 2019). The combined efforts of the National Research Council of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines resulted in the passage of Republic Act 1606 in August 1956, “An Act to Promote Scientific, Engineering and Technological Research, Invention and Development” (Valenzuela 1960, 515). This Act created the National Science Board, which provided financial incentives for a number of research projects, particularly pharmaceutical and pharmacological research on Philippine medicinal plants; nutrition surveys that assessed the nutritive value of Filipino foods; and biological research on antibiotics, tetanus toxoids, and human rabies (Valenzuela 1960, 515). Increased congressional interest in science during Carlos Garcia’s presidency (1957–61) resulted in the creation of a committee to revise Republic Act 1606 in order to mobilize private participation in research funding. The results of the congressional committee were spelled out in Republic Act 2067, a measure that was intended to integrate, coordinate, and intensify science and technology and foster innovation.

Republic Act 2067 paved the way for the Science Act of 1958. The Science Act established the National Science Development Board (NSDB) in place of the former National Science Board, although the changes were cosmetic. The NSDB supervised and partially funded the following projects: (1) the establishment of the Institute of Applied Research and Graduate Studies in Engineering in the UP; (2) scientific and industrial research under the jurisdiction of the National Institute of Science and Technology; (3) pharmaceutical and pharmacological research in the College of Pharmacy, UP; (4) the promotion of science consciousness under the leadership of the National Science Foundation of the Philippines; (5) agricultural research in the College of Agriculture, UP; and (6) nutrition research, undertaken by the Food and Nutrition Center, UP College of Medicine (Valenzuela 1960, 516–517). The Philippine Atomic Energy Commission’s radioactive iodine studies on treating various thyroid disorders attracted the attention of the International Atomic Energy Commission (Valenzuela 1960, 520).

The scientific landscape of the Philippines during the 1950s and 1960s could be characterized in terms of symbolic projects that signified the nation was increasing its visibility and respectability within the international community. An editorial in the Manila Times on November 4, 1963 proclaimed that the egg-shaped dome of the new atomic reactor, the PRR-1—built with US assistance under the Atoms for Peace program—symbolized the Philippines’ desire to keep pace with development along Western lines.17) The public hoped that the atomic reactor would serve as a training ground for local scientists, inspire a new generation to take up science, and halt the emigration of scientists overseas. During the 1960s and 1970s, the PRR-1 became the nucleus for research in the Philippines on radioisotope production, neutron spectrometry, and reactor physics before it was mothballed in 1988 due to technical reasons (Guillermo 2012).

Postcolonial science in the Philippines was largely statist in its orientation. The Philippine private sector’s need for research was less urgent than the adaptation of already available technology from abroad, especially in the textile, flour milling, steel, and pharmaceutical sectors. Philippine private industries’ gross expenditure on research and development accounted for a mere 0.04 percent of the gross national income (Ramirez 1962, 465). At the time, research was influenced by government priorities in national development such that when an area of science happened to be defined as relevant to national priorities, funding from the NSDB would be assured. Between 1958 and 1966, applied research attracted almost 90 percent of all research funding, whereas basic research did not receive more than 10 percent of available resources (Ramirez 1962, 465). Consequently, Philippine scientists had to work independently to obtain grants from the US.

Low salaries and lack of prestige accorded to scientists dissuaded Filipino students from pursuing a research career. For instance, Ralph Blanco, a former instructor of mathematics at De La Salle University, worked out a hypothesis on the symmetry of energy and matter (Marasigan 1955, 85). His hypothesis could be verified by bringing together electrons and positrons and producing gamma rays. But to verify the hypothesis, Blanco needed a Bevatron (particle accelerator). As Bevatrons were expensive, Blanco abandoned his field of research and instead joined the civilian defense forces. Blanco’s inability to continue his research is illustrative of the neglect of mathematics and physics in Philippine science, given their perceived inability to address the country’s developmental needs in contrast to agricultural or medical sciences. The underlining features of the Philippine research landscape of the 1950s included an excessive emphasis on teaching rather than research and the absorption of most productive scientists into administrative positions.

Amador Muriel, a former physics instructor from the UP, recounted that until 1956 the university did not have a single doctoral physicist. Between 1959 and 1967, of the 12 Filipino students who had left for the US to earn a doctoral degree in physics, only one returned home (Muriel 1970, 38–39). Similarly, of the 13,829 foreign-born physicians in the US in 1966, 25 percent were Filipinos (Van der Kroef 1968, 243). The lack of local facilities for proper training of professionals and the lack of incentives to stay in the Philippines were two factors responsible for the brain drain of Filipino professionals overseas.

Euro-American Empire, Scientific Nationalism, and the Cold War: The Bataan Rice Enrichment Project, 1946–49

In 1946 beriberi was the second leading cause of death in the Philippines, after tuberculosis. Between 1947 and 1949, a province-wide feeding experiment was undertaken in Bataan, as a collaborative venture between the American chemist Robert R. Williams, who synthesized thiamine, and Juan Salcedo, the Philippine secretary of health between 1950 and 1953. The experiment revealed that polished white rice enriched with thiamine reduced the incidence of beriberi in vulnerable populations. Yet, by willfully exposing 50 percent of Bataan’s population to polished rice—and, consequently, beriberi—Williams recreated the prisons and asylums that European and American researchers had used to induce beriberi in unwilling research subjects in colonial Philippines prior to World War II (Ventura 2020). The attainment of Philippine political independence in 1946 was concomitant with the onset of the Cold War, marked by political, ideological, and military rivalry between the US and the USSR. The US—in its attempts to stem the appeal of the Soviet planned economy and land reforms—designed technical solutions to hunger such as rice enrichment. Such technical fixes medicalized food scarcity.

A deep historical contextualization of the Bataan Rice Enrichment Project reveals that Euro-American biomedical practitioners discovered beriberi in carceral laboratories in colonial Philippines that included prisons, plantations, barracks, and leprosy colonies (Ventura 2020, 294). Unlike Williams, who narrowly associated beriberi with thiamine deficiency, Filipino physicians prior to World War II, particularly Manuel Zamora and Primo Arambulo, encountered beriberi as a problem of infant mortality and maternal health. These physicians introduced tiki-tiki (a thiamine-rich rice bran supplement) that could be produced at low cost (McElhinny 2009; Ventura 2020). Arambulo equated tiki-tiki with national self-sufficiency. Salcedo did not reject rice enrichment in favor of tiki-tiki, as the latter was associated with a children’s supplement during the late colonial period (Ventura 2020, 305). Post-World War II nutritional enrichment programs were meant to supplement adult diets.

The nutrition policy in postcolonial Philippines bore the imprint of Salcedo. He began his career between 1929 and 1936 at the UP as an instructor of physiology. In 1943, during the Pacific War, he took graduate courses at Columbia University. There he met Williams, who had synthesized vitamin B1 in 1935. Together, Salcedo and Williams worked out a plan to attack beriberi in the Philippines in 1943 (Baldwin 1975, 11). The plan became feasible after the defeat of Japan in 1945. In 1946 Hoffman-La Roche pioneered the rice enrichment premix consisting of thiamine, niacin, and iron that was subsequently used in the Bataan rice enrichment experiment, beginning in 1947. At the time, Salcedo was director of field operations of USPHS and was the founding father of the Philippine Association of Nutrition, a nongovernmental institution that agitated for the creation of a state entity dedicated solely to the problem of nutrition. In 1948 the Roxas administration appointed Salcedo as the chairperson of the state-created Institute of Nutrition (see Fig. 3).

 

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Fig. 3 Juan Salcedo, Health Secretary of the Philippines (1950–53) and Chairperson of the NSDB (1962–65, 1966–70)

Source: With permission from the Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines.

 

The Bataan experiment was made possible due to a grant from the Williams-Waterman Fund for the Combat of Dietary Diseases to the Philippine Department of Health. Seven municipalities on the east coast of the province with a population of 63,508 constituted the experimental area, whereas the remainder of the province—which included five municipalities with a population of 29,393—constituted the control area (Salcedo et al. 1950, 503). People from the experimental area consumed artificially enriched polished rice over the two-year period of the study, leading to a cataclysmic fall in mortality to near zero levels by 1949. The ratio of persons who displayed symptoms of beriberi dropped from 12.76 percent in 1947 to 1.55 percent in 1949 (Salcedo 1962, 573). In contrast, the death rate due to beriberi remained unchanged in the control area. By denying enriched rice to the control area, the Bataan experiment unknowingly exposed research participants to the risk of beriberi (Ventura 2020, 294).

In 1951 Salcedo extended the practice of rice enrichment to the provinces of North Luzon, particularly Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan, the rice bowl of the Philippines. Retail prices of rice increased by 1 percent as a consequence of rice enrichment costs borne by millers (National Research Council 1958, 9). Local ordinances were enacted that forbade the sale of unenriched rice, but these were poorly enforced. In August 1952, as health secretary (1950–53) under the Quirino administration, Salcedo spearheaded the enactment of National Rice Enrichment Act 832, which made rice enrichment mandatory.

First, rice millers protested against the legislation as millers who did not comply with the national law had a 1 percent cost advantage over the complying ones (National Research Council 1958, 9). Second, due to an extant legislation in the Philippines, rice millers and other producers were obligated to pay a 2 percent tax on the value of their output. Of the 8,000 rice millers in the Philippines during the early 1950s, 7,000 were very small millers who did not maintain account books. As a result, nearly 90 percent of rice millers did not pay tax. But with the introduction of the Act, traders were apprehensive that with the Department of Health’s supervision of the distribution of premix—which included thiamine used in rice enrichment—the government could readily calculate the tax evaded by the millers (National Research Council 1958, 9). Provincial millers formed a union to resist the Enrichment Act.

The chief factor slowing the expansion of rice enrichment in the Philippines was the underlying concern among Filipino state officials outside the Department of Health that the thiamine premix was possibly monopolized by Hoffman-La Roche. Williams’s role as patent holder for synthetic thiamine raised considerable suspicion in the Philippines that he was motivated by profit (Williams 1961, 171; Ventura 2020, 306).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) critiqued the findings of the Bataan study and the National Rice Enrichment Act in 1956. In its critique, the FAO noted that rice enrichment was introduced to Japan in 1950 (Mercado 1956, 1–10). The Japanese method of rice enrichment consisted of enlisting the support of housewives, who would voluntarily add thiamine to rice; this was in contrast to the Philippines, which mandated rice enrichment by the mills through state legislation. The FAO findings revealed that in contrast to Japan, the Philippines did not emphasize nutrition education, a critical pillar in ensuring the successful implementation of the National Rice Enrichment Act.

In his biography, Salcedo reminisces that Magsaysay assured him of presidential support for rice enrichment (Williams 1985, 52). But in reality, Magsaysay did not do so. In his address to millers in 1955, Magsaysay promised to seek the repeal of the Rice Enrichment Act (Williams 1985, 52). Salcedo was disappointed, as the law had not been implemented on a significant scale. A few days before his death on March 15, 1957, Magsaysay had planned to organize a national conference to identify organizational bottlenecks that impeded the implementation of the rice enrichment program (Editorial 1958). His successor, Garcia, created a committee to study the means to implement the Rice Enrichment Act. But the committee was unable to complete its task, and its activities were postponed due to the influential rice millers’ lobby.

The Garcia administration attempted to implement the Rice Enrichment Act through the Office of Nutrition in order to coordinate those working on nutrition-related issues at the regional or provincial level (Valencia 1960, 46–49). The Institute of Nutrition—which had been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health during the Roxas and Quirino presidencies—used to provide consultation to the government on nutrition-related matters. A rider in the budget prevented the Institute of Nutrition from releasing any of its funds for activities related to implementation of the National Rice Enrichment Act (Mercado 1956, 1–10). The implementation of the Act faltered due to organizational bottlenecks.

Instead of investigating the cause of beriberi, the Bataan Rice Enrichment Project sought to demonstrate to the Filipino government and citizens the benefits of fortifying polished rice with thiamine. Although rice enrichment raised post-World War II hopes of worldwide eradication of nutritional diseases through UN agencies such as the FAO, enrichment also medicalized food scarcities attributed to socioeconomic inequalities. Williams was deeply embittered by his inability to turn the Bataan project into an international model for rice enrichment. He attributed the FAO’s rejection of the results of the Bataan project to “hostility to Americans on the part of Europeans or hostility to Filipinos on the part of other Asians” (Williams 1961, 202). As US technical assistance became tethered to Cold War objectives, the Philippines became less free to reject US aid agreements which mandated that US companies supply commodities necessary for technocratic projects (Ventura 2020, 309). While beriberi’s decline in Manila might have apparently contributed to declining interest in rice enrichment, endemic hunger in rural areas of the Philippines—particularly in Mindanao in 1960—might have provided an impetus to the discovery of miracle rice at the IRRI in 1966.

All in a Grain of Rice: The Cold War Origins of the International Rice Research Institute

The prevailing political and intellectual climate in the US between 1945 and 1955 was shaped by the Cold War, a part of which included the Population-National Security Theory. This theory purported to causally link overpopulation, resource exhaustion, hunger, political instability, appeal to Communism, and danger to US national interests (Perkins 1998, 119–121). According to this theory, world hunger was a cause of resource extraction and further political instability. Plant breeding could be seen as a panacea for hunger because science could increase and stabilize yields. The apolitical nature of science in solving tractable problems related to food and population growth was instrumental in bringing together the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in the establishment of the IRRI.

In 1950 US President Harry Truman appointed Nelson Rockefeller as the chairperson of the International Development Advisory Board to expand the Point Four Program, intended to assist people of underdeveloped nations to increase their living standards. In 1951 Rockefeller published his report in Foreign Affairs. The report indicated that the security and prosperity of the US and industrialized nations could be maintained only if there was complementary progress of economically backward regions (Rockefeller 1951, 530). Rockefeller noted that the first priority of US foreign policy was to raise food production in underdeveloped nations by 25 percent, followed by the development and export of raw materials from those countries to the US and Europe, and to render technical assistance. He warned that any reckless handling of US technical assistance to underdeveloped countries would disrupt supplies of raw materials to the US as a result of the former countries being thrown into the close economic orbit of the USSR (Rockefeller 1951, 528). The report was illustrative of a dominant view in US political circles that saw the food problem in newly independent nations in relation to political and economic problems. In 1951—as Rockefeller was advising Truman on the implementation of the Point Four Program—his foundation was creating a new research and funding division to define the world food problem and its solutions (Anderson 1991, 62).

In 1950–51 the Rockefeller Foundation contemplated establishing a major agricultural science division which could draw on the foundation’s experiences in the Southern US, China, and Mexico. At the time, P. L. Mapa, secretary of agricultural and natural resources of the Philippines, in an informal correspondence with John D. Rockefeller III cited the achievements of the Mexican program of the foundation, which had raised people’s living standards (Anderson 1991, 67). In the view of Philippine agricultural scientists, increased production of rice and corn would contribute to the creation of economic stability—but the varieties of seeds available at the time did not yield as much as those planted in other countries. Mapa advocated raising people’s living standards in the Philippines, as the country was a good example of democracy in Asia and it was crucial for democracies to achieve economic stability (Anderson 1991, 71). The Rockefeller Foundation conceded that there was a special problem in the Philippines with respect to the correlation between the prevalence of hunger and the appeal of Communist ideology. The identification of health and agriculture as objects of attention of the Rockefeller Foundation occurred in conjunction with a belief in the universal application of science and technology (Anderson 1991, 63). Foundation officials referred to “tractable” problems, meaning those that would yield to the application of science and technology. Work on tractable problems helped the foundation in dealing with governments as these problems seemed free of political entanglements during the Cold War.

Ex-CIA official John Kerry King, in his 1953 article in Foreign Affairs, noted that in Cold War Asia—caught between two opposing ideological blocs—the supply of rice had major political implications. The major challenge in the struggle to keep South and Southeast Asia free of Communist domination was raising people’s living standards. In 1952, Communist China emerged as a net exporter of rice after several years of scarcity. China used rice in its propaganda to reinforce the productive superiority of the Communist system. At the time, a need was felt within US foreign policy circles to convince South and Southeast Asian nations that increased production and a higher standard of living were possible in their own countries without resort to totalitarian methods. King asserted that “the struggle of the East versus the West in Asia is, in part, a race for production and rice is the symbol and substance of it” (King 1953, 453–460). King’s statement was significant as it placed rice in the context of regional security and US relations with non-Communist Asia.

The establishment of the IRRI was the result of a joint venture between the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños, and Cornell University. The Ford Foundation funded the IRRI after its earlier investment in community development programs in India amounting to US$100 million (1951–53) failed to generate dramatic results (Anderson 1991, 81). The community development program was undertaken for geopolitical reasons. The foundation feared that a rapidly expanding population relative to food supplies in Southeast Asia would result in newly independent countries of the region falling into the Communist camp (Chandler 1992, 6). Disruptions in India’s Second Five-Year Plan around 1960–61, caused by declining agricultural yields, shifted the focus of American aid programs in the country from containing peasant unrest to increasing agricultural yields. The Central Intelligence Agency urged the Ford Foundation to take immediate action to avert a food crisis in Asia (Cullather 2010, 162). The new director of the Ford Foundation, Henry Heald, hired the Cornell agronomist Forrest Hill to reorganize the foundation’s international development program. Hill had visited the corn and wheat research stations of the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico and pushed to bring the Mexican model to the rice fields of Asia. In 1955, the Rockefeller Foundation enlisted the services of the Cornell agronomist Richard Bradfield. As the newly appointed assistant director of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1955, Robert Chandler accompanied Bradfield to identify requirements of agricultural colleges in the Philippines, Japan, Burma, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Pakistan and awarded grants for fellowships and specific research projects (Chandler 1992, 4). This was the beginning of the Rockefeller Foundation’s action program for agriculture in Asia.

The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations promoted project-oriented research—a US answer to totalitarian Soviet science—in the shadow of the Sputnik (Cullather 2010, 162). Given the Ford Foundation had an endowment four times larger than the Rockefeller Foundation and the latter’s experience in staffing international programs since 1913, the two foundations cemented collaboration by 1958. In January 1959, Bradfield—while in Asia for the Rockefeller Foundation—stopped in the Philippines to explore the proposal of setting up a rice institute. He noted that L. B. Uichano, then dean of the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños, expressed enthusiasm for the establishment of such an institute (Chandler 1992, 8). Between June and September 1959, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations reached an agreement for the establishment of the IRRI.18)

Three factors influenced the collaboration between Cornell and the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños. First, Cornell had some involvement with the Philippines dating back to the colonial period. Several students from the College of Agriculture had been trained in Cornell. Second, the College of Agriculture was devastated during World War II and was consequently isolated from international developments in agriculture. Third, the ECA became directly involved with the College of Agriculture in what was then known as the Los Baños Technical Assistance Project. Cornell became involved soon after. With the strengths of Cornell—known for its extensive research program in all branches of agriculture—and the needs of the college at Los Baños in mind, a contract was signed on July 1, 1952 that introduced the land-grant concept of university service, as adapted to the Philippine context. The land-grant concept emphasized experimentation toward finding solutions to common problems that beset Philippine agriculture (Turk 1974, 30).

Between 1955 and 1960, the UP College of Agriculture had already established a niche for itself in training undergraduate students from Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. At the time, the Faculty of Agriculture (affiliated with Universitas Indonesia) was in dire need of research staff.19) As a way out of the situation, Sukotjo, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Bogor, approached the Rockefeller Foundation with a proposal to train Indonesian undergraduate students overseas. The foundation brokered an agreement with Indonesian and Filipino officials for training Indonesian undergraduates from the College of Agriculture, Bogor, at Los Baños and pledged US$120,000.20) By 1957, the first cohort of 12 Indonesian students from the College of Agriculture at Bogor arrived in Los Baños for training, some of them funded by the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) of the US government.21) The Rockefeller–ICA joint initiative to train Indonesian agricultural science undergraduates in the Philippines was intended to deepen friendship among Asian nations.22) The most significant episode for the UP College of Agriculture at Los Baños was the founding of the IRRI.

In 1960, the island of Luzon was viewed as the most logical choice for the establishment of the IRRI (Chandler 1992, 188). The Philippines was a rice-producing country where demand for the crop far outstripped supply. Average production figures were low, and there was a dearth of indigenous agricultural research.23) Los Baños had been a pilgrim destination since pre-Christian times. The IRRI’s proximity to Mount Makiling—a sacred site since pre-Christian times—cast a spiritual aura on the institute that the discovery of miracle rice only confirmed (Cullather 2004, 237). Chandler never explicitly invoked Makiling’s legends, but an imprint of these legends may be echoed in the vernacular names the Filipino press attached to the IRRI’s first varieties, for example, IR8 or “miracle rice.”

The Rockefeller Foundation selected the world-renowned modernist architect Ralph Walker to design the IRRI buildings. Constructed completely out of imported materials, the sprawling one-story aluminum-and-glass structures featured modular walls to encourage an egalitarian office culture (Cullather 2010, 163). Facing the IRRI laboratory building was an experimental farm that replicated climatic conditions across Asia (see Fig. 4).

 

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Fig. 4 The IRRI Building in the Distant Background (1963). Scientists and trainees were expected to wade through the slush of the experimental farm. During the early years of the IRRI, before power tillers were developed, carabaos were used to prepare the experimental plots.

Source: IRRI Archives.

 

Given the historical context that led to the establishment of the IRRI, what was the focus of the institute? The focus included: (a) developing well-adapted high-yielding varieties of rice suited to tropical climates; (b) genetic study of mutation; (c) research on the physiology of growth, nutrition, and reproduction of rice; (d) studies on the physical composition, soil chemistry, and microbiology of paddy soils; and (e) observing the effects of water and temperature on plant growth. Chandler and his team collected 10,000 varieties of rice worldwide, recorded the characteristic features of each strain, and placed the varieties in cold storage for future use by scientists.24) During the early years (1960–64), research scientists affiliated with the IRRI undertook investigations on tropical varieties of rice which were unreasonably tall and leafy and susceptible to lodging (when plant stems are weak to the point that they can no longer support the grain, causing the plant to fall over). Tropical varieties were susceptible to rice stem borer attacks that reduced yields. Scientists at the institute attempted to identify rice strains resistant to borer attacks and use these strains in developing new high-yielding hybrid varieties.25) The IRRI maintained a program to evaluate the efficacy of insecticides used against stem borers.

During the 1960s, the IRRI established a regional research program and convened periodic conferences that focused on problems of international economic importance, including one that focused on rice blast disease, a leading cause of global food insecurity.26) Senior scientists from the institute trained agricultural educators from Thailand, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

Under the vision of Jacob George Harrar, who became president of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1961, the IRRI devoted its attention to developing high-yielding varieties of rice suitable for tropical climates. Southeast Asia in general suffered a serious deficit in rice production. The Asian farmer had a “rice complex” that was comparable to the “cotton complex” of the American South.27) The rural population of Asia depended excessively on rice not only as a source of income but also as the main source of food. The IRRI sought to discourage the excessive dependence on rice by undertaking research in leguminous crops such as mung, cowpeas, and soybean that could correct dietary deficiencies.28)

The first decade of the IRRI (1960–70) reflected the imprint of Chandler’s ideas. The IRRI defined the global food problem in Malthusian terms. The task for the institute was to determine how global food production would increase to keep pace with the ever-rising population (Oasa and Jennings 1982, 39). Between the two alternatives of either increasing the yield per unit area or addressing inequities in rural society, IRRI scientists opted for the former. Chandler was concerned about low rice yields and slow adoption of agricultural techniques. His concern alluded to the reluctance of farmers to adopt technological advances. At the same time, he dismissed farmers’ concerns about the costliness of technology as an “excuse” (Oasa and Jennings 1982, 39). In doing so, Chandler accepted inequality in rural society as a given. Research had to eliminate constraints imposed upon higher yields. From the inception of the IRRI, Chandler elected to avoid incremental agricultural improvements and instead go for the big jump strategy that emphasized technology as a catalyst to increase crop productivity (Cullather 2004, 239). Chandler wanted to take plant genetics to its frontiers to show the world that higher yields were possible (see Fig. 5).

 

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Fig. 5 Mechanized Paddy Threshers (1960s)

Source: IRRI Archives: Early Field Experiments and Machines.

 

Filipino agronomists critiqued the big jump strategy. Dioscoro Umali, dean of the College of Agriculture at UP, noted that high-yielding varieties of rice were contingent upon expensive inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides (Cullather 2004, 240). Shallow-rooted dwarf varieties of plants were dependent on precise hydraulic management that most farmers were unaware of. Farmers were forced to discard nearly all the traditional practices and adopt new techniques for planting, weeding, irrigation, harvesting, and threshing. New chemicals and irrigation would require access to credit networks that local farmers did not have. If adopted, high-yielding rice varieties would radically disrupt the social environment in which the crop was grown. Umali tried to rescue the straightforward objective of increasing rice production from the ballooning expectations that clustered around high-yielding varieties of the crop.

During the formative years of the IRRI (1960–70), crop yields did rise but slowly. The growth of agricultural production across Asia was marginal (less than 3 percent) and barely in line with population growth (Umali 1972). In organizing and institutionalizing the sharing of technology in rice production, the IRRI’s role was limited to assembly and dissemination of knowledge but did not take into account the adaptation of a given technology to suit the needs of specific countries. Despite these shortcomings, the achievements of the IRRI are significant. The institute placed increased emphasis on international scientific exchanges and cooperative research programs between the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations. Within the IRRI, a logic different from the stereotype of the Asian farmer as traditional was meant to operate: scientifically ordered spaces within the institute would be populated with an interdisciplinary phalanx of scholars who would work on global issues such as food insecurity. During the 1950s and 1960s, Filipino scientists such as Umali pursued their careers within the confines of national science. But by the 1970s—with the IRRI’s introduction of the Liaison Scientists Program—Umali officiated as the IRRI’s liaison scientist in the People’s Republic of China. He coordinated between international aid agencies such as the FAO—in his capacity as assistant director general and regional representative for Asia and the Far East—and the National Agricultural Research System of China in formulating a national rice production strategy.

“No Variety of Want Is More Individualized than Illness”: The Philippine Medical Association, Socialized Medicine, and Anti-Communist Propaganda

During the early years of the Cold War (1946–47), the American Medical Association (AMA) used socialized medicine as a political weapon to disparage President Truman’s proposal for compulsory national health insurance. The AMA suspected physicians who advocated universal health care of being Communists. At the time, opponents of national health insurance focused on maintaining the professional independence of doctors. Medicine became a blazing focal point in the fundamental struggle to determine whether the United States would become a free or a socialist state (Warner 2013, 1452–1453). The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) during its early years (1939–46) was an affiliate of the AMA.29) Affiliation with the AMA conditioned PMA physicians to be skeptics of the state-centered approach to public health. During the 1950s, the PMA was faced with the dilemma of meeting the goals of the Philippines’ rapidly expanding public health program without compromising on professional standards.

The year 1949 was significant for the working class in the Philippines as President Quirino recommended before Congress the passage of a legislation providing prepaid medical services to rural populations (Department of Health 2014, 3). At the time, a faction within the PMA expressed concern that Quirino’s proposal would lead to the growth of socialized medicine, defined as the total mobilization of medical care under government control (Torres 1949, 249–255). Luis Torres, a PMA physician also affiliated with the Philippine Federation of Private Medical Practitioners, contended that socialized medicine claimed to provide a panacea to the public health problem through the taxation system. But for every peso spent on health care, the proposal to extend prepaid health care to the rural population would entail additional administrative expenditure, for example, 190,000 government employees for a population of 18 million people (Torres 1949, 249–255). One of the weaknesses of socialized medicine, according to Torres, was that it promised too much. The taxpayer made undue demands on doctors’ time and disrupted the doctor-patient relationship. Furthermore, Torres noted that doctors would not be able to maintain confidentiality of patients’ records under a system of socialized medicine, given insurance claims. He warned that socialized medicine sounded the death knell for democracy in the Philippines. But PMA members—particularly Rodolfo Gonzalez, the incoming PMA president (1950)—did not subscribe to Torres’s views.

In 1950, Gonzalez noted that the Philippines suffered an acute shortage of hospital beds for poor patients, estimated at 8,500 for a population of 18 million people (Gonzalez 1950, 187–191). The government did not have enough funds to establish more hospitals, which in Gonzalez’s view led to a vicious cycle. He argued that the less the state took care of the health of the masses, the more difficult it would be for people to engage in productive work, especially agriculture and industry. The less the productivity of the people, the lower would be the state income and the harder it would be for the government to carry out its social amelioration program. Gonzalez appealed to PMA members to help the government by maintaining “charity beds” in private hospitals. Gonzalez’s views with respect to greater state intervention in public health were shared by then Health Secretary Salcedo (1950–53), who was also the president of the PMA between 1952 and 1953.

At the inaugural address of the First Southeast Asian Medical Conference in Manila on May 8, 1951, then incoming PMA President Eugenio Alonso criticized shortcomings of the Quirino administration’s proposal to provide prepaid medical services to rural areas. He pointed out that no variety of want was more individualized than illness. The illness of a wage earner from tuberculosis or the failing health of children due to malnutrition was a problem that needed treatment of individual patients (Alonso 1951, 455). Alonso shed light on the contradiction that although 700 million pesos had been spent by the government on public health by 1951, 90 percent of patients did not see a doctor. He contended that medical inadequacies could be remedied through amelioration of people’s living conditions. He questioned the feasibility of undertaking nutrition research in the Philippines, or educating people about the nutritive value of food, at a time when people did not have enough to eat. Given the lack of consensus within the PMA on the question of expanding rural health care, the association was faced with a dilemma. At the heart of the matter was how to hold the association together when there were so many private practitioners who were fearful of increased competition from the state. One way out of the dilemma was to benefit both private and government practitioners.

In 1951, as the president of the PMA, Alonso proposed major changes in the organization of health work, i.e., decentralization of health activities to rural areas (Stauffer 1966, 96). His underlying rationale was that with the decentralization of the government’s health activities, government physicians would be sent to rural areas. In the process, the scope of state medicine would be expanded, a prospect he hoped would appease government physicians. Alonso hoped that private physicians would like the proposal to dispatch government physicians to more rural areas and free the cities and towns for private practice. But neither of the two camps liked Alonso’s proposal. Government physicians were reluctant to get transferred to remote areas, whereas private physicians were apprehensive of increasing state presence in public health (Stauffer 1966, 96).

In 1952 the Quirino administration, despite opposition from sections of the PMA, succeeded in passing Republic Act 747, “An Act to Regulate the Fees to Be Charged against Patients in Government Hospitals and Charity Clinics Classifying Patients According to Their Financial Condition” (Republic Act 747, 1952). The Act established a classification system for individuals who would be eligible for free treatment in government hospitals. A year later, the Quirino administration liberalized the classification system such that Filipino families with a monthly income of less than 100 pesos qualified as indigents and were eligible for free hospitalization (Stauffer 1966, 127). Nearly 90 percent of Filipinos qualified as indigents under the Act. Subsequent to the passage of Republic Act 747, there was a rapid construction boom of public hospitals. Many small hospitals, acquired through pork-barrel funds, could not be staffed by government doctors (Stauffer 1966, 128).

Public spending on health acquired a new lease of life during the Magsaysay era (1953–57). During his election campaign, Magsaysay made many promises for a better quality of life in the barrios and repeatedly reminded the PMA about expanding medical care to rural areas. He appealed to the association to abandon its “mercenary” zeal and instead return to its “missionary” zeal of service (Stauffer 1966, 123). In line with its preelection promises, the Magsaysay administration had to increase public spending on health and, in turn, increase taxation. Physicians united under the umbrella of the PMA to resist what they interpreted as “socialized medicine” and the deterioration of professional standards, given that a majority of physicians recruited to the Rural Health Units were political appointees (Editorial 1959). The PMA bargained for a subsidy to be provided to Filipino physicians who elected to set up practice in rural areas (Icasiano 1955, 230–233). The then president of the association, M. C. Icasiano, warned the Magsaysay government that medical services in rural areas should not be disbursed as a matter of charity but must be extended on the basis of self-help such that barrios could independently support private practitioners.

During the Garcia presidency (1957–61), Rodolfo Guiang—a private practitioner from Pangasinan and a member of the PMA—proposed an Indigency Plan that was intended to meet the increasing demand for medical care in the Philippines and free densely populated urban areas for private practice (Stauffer 1966, 96). The plan would screen the population to identify those who could be given free medical treatment due to their inability to pay. While working out details of the PMA Indigency Plan with the Department of Health, private physicians realized that the Garcia administration was less cooperative than they had anticipated. The association subsequently began to use socialized medicine as a weapon to break the monopoly of state medicine in dealing with the indigent population of rural Philippines. In 1960, an editorial in the Journal of the Philippine Medical Association noted that “socialization of medicine” was one of the many insidious manifestations of the socialist-Communist monster that was a danger to Philippine democracy (Stauffer 1966, 129). Although the government gave assurances of cooperation with the Indigency Plan, it failed to support the plan financially. The association subsequently worked on the Indigency Plan as a voluntary project.

Until the early 1960s, socialized medicine was a recurring theme in the PMA annual meetings. In 1961, Diosdado Macapagal was elected president of the Philippines. He introduced a comprehensive Five-Year Integrated Plan for the country’s socioeconomic development, proposing improvement of various public services, including the delivery of health care (Department of Health 2014, 104). In 1962, then Health Secretary Francisco Duque designed a plan that would extend medical services to the needy at no additional cost. The PMA labeled the proposed scheme “socialized medicine” that stifled physicians’ individuality and removed incentives for professional advancement (Guiang 1962).

Between 1949 and 1962, the PMA focused on the type of medical care most suitable for the Philippines. In its early efforts to achieve satisfactory distribution of physicians across rural areas, the association advocated that government physicians be sent to rural areas while freeing urban areas for private practice. But the plan did not work, due to mutual distrust between private and government physicians. The association was successful in thwarting any plans for expanding the state’s role in Philippine public health. First, it launched a propaganda campaign through journal articles and newspapers that enlightened the Filipino public regarding the importance of treating diseases at the individual level. Second, the association preyed on the public’s worst fears regarding the loss of doctor-patient relationships and the erosion of professional standards associated with the expansion of public health services. At the same time, it tapped into the Philippine political leadership’s fear of Communism and portrayed socialized medicine as a threat to the nation’s democracy. In a rather demagogic manner, the association used socialized medicine to stifle any debate amongst physicians regarding nationalized health care.

Conclusion

This article does not chronicle the successes or failures of individual disease control programs as they were implemented in the Philippines. Rather, it seeks to understand the niche that applied sciences, particularly nutrition, agriculture, and medicine, occupied with respect to national reconstruction in the aftermath of Philippine independence in 1946.

The lingering question as to whether Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science more generally, or whether it was imbued with a distinctly national flavor, cannot be easily answered. It entails situating the “postcolonial” in Philippine science. Science was the raison d’être of the modern nation-state. In other words, the phenomenon called state building by modernization theorists was the identification of the state’s projects as uniquely modern: state building crucially depended on the principles of science and technology (Abraham 1997). In the Philippine context, institutions such as the PRR-1 atomic reactor and IRRI belonged to the postcolonial space.

This article highlights three discerning features of postcolonial Philippine science. First, science was packaged as a comprehensive program of delivery intended to address the basic needs of people. Second, Philippine presidents understood science in terms of balancing national needs and nurturing the country’s Cold War ambitions as the leader of the free world in Southeast Asia. But the Philippines’ aspirations as leader of the free world in Southeast Asia were contingent on the availability of US technical assistance. For instance, the Bataan rice enrichment experiment failed to turn into an international model of rice enrichment due to other Asians’ suspicion of Filipinos. As the Philippines was drawn into the US orbit during the Cold War, the Philippine government became less free to reject technical assistance agreements which mandated the involvement of private American corporations. Third, science in postcolonial Philippines was statist, i.e., conducted on behalf of the people but at the discretion of the state. The Philippines inherited colonial scientific bodies such as the Bureau of Science—which drew on the models of similar institutions extant in the US—although the emphasis during the 1950s shifted from basic to applied research.30)

Given the emphasis on packaging science as a comprehensive program of delivery, and the emphasis on applied over basic research, one may infer that Philippine science was a variant of postcolonial science in Southeast Asia and shared parallels with Nehruvian India and Soekarno-era Indonesia (Arnold 2013; Neelakantan 2015b). What distinguished postcolonial Philippine science from its Indian and Indonesian counterparts was its dovetailing with US objectives of subverting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. For instance, Magsaysay had to emphasize the geopolitical significance of the Philippines—as being in the frontline against Communism in Southeast Asia—while requesting US aid for malaria eradication during the 1950s. In contrast, India and Indonesia sought to achieve a delicate equilibrium between increased receptiveness to foreign aid and maintaining their respective political sovereignty (Arnold 2013, 361; Bu and Yip 2015, 6). A mobilization mentality suffused the practice of science in the Philippines during the 1950s such that the pursuit of knowledge led to new unresolved questions associated with the Cold War, such as socialized medicine—expanding health care access to the entire population—resulting in political deadlocks. These deadlocks, in addition to institutional bottlenecks that seemed almost insurmountable during the 1950s, have stymied the implementation of health legislation to the present.

Accepted: June 26, 2020

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1) After its efforts to implement communitarian strategies as part of the New Deal (1933–39) failed, the US bankrolled community development programs in the Global South, in the aftermath of World War II. Such measures were calculated to win political loyalties of local villages in the fight against Communism. The US included a community development program in its bilateral aid package to India in 1952. It invested great hopes in India’s community development program that focused on democratic decentralization. But the benefits of the Indian program were elusive. Local development plans were modest in their ambition and focused on the construction of wells, market roads, and community centers that benefited well-off members of the village communities. Conspicuously absent from the community development initiatives in India were issues associated with social inequality. In contrast, in the Philippines—where the Huk rebellion threatened to topple the government—the community development program was seen by the US government as a form of counterinsurgency. Through community development, Filipino politicians sought to create vertical bonds that linked peasants to landlords and crowd out the dangers of peasant solidarity. Around 1953, when the Huk rebellion subsided, the US exported the Philippine variant of the community development program to Vietnam.

2) The Huk rebellion—a peasant-based guerrilla insurrection—was directed originally against Japanese occupation (1942–45) and later against the failure of Roxas’s social welfare program as the legislation had several loopholes. The economic objectives of the Huks—developed between 1946 and 1950—reflected a strong Communist orientation by 1950. The Huks advocated real independence for the Philippines, “unsullied” and “unadulterated” by economic ties with the US, such as the Bell Act. Instead, they advocated a more equitable crop distribution between landlord and tenant, government purchase of large landed estates and their sale to tenants, and agricultural loans to aid small farmers. As the Huks were unable to get along with Quirino, they backed José Laurel. However, the Huk candidate lost the 1949 presidential election against the Liberal candidate, Quirino. Consequently, the Huks denounced electoral processes. The Huk Politburo declared the existence of a “revolutionary situation” in January 1950 and advocated an armed overthrow of the government. By March 1950 the Huks asserted their manifesto, “New Democracy,” which would erase the economic, political, and cultural domination of the US, feudal landlords, and the Liberal Party and instead place political control in the hands of the Filipino peasantry, proletariat, and intelligentsia. For details, see Fifield (1951).

3) In 1948, the republican government in Indonesia designed a three-year food production plan (christened the Kasimo Plan, after then Minister of Food Affairs I. J. Kasimo) aimed at achieving self-reliance in food. In order to guarantee a high quality of rice, Kasimo advocated the creation of seedling gardens. For a parallel with Indonesia, refer to Nawiyanto (2013).

4) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

5) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

6) US Public Health Report of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation: July 4, 1946 to June 30, 1950, Frank Waring Papers, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.

7) By 1950 Huk leadership had been taken over by the Communists, who alleged that the Philippine government was a “puppet” in the hands of the US. See, for example, Neal Peterson et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, East Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 6 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1976).

8) Paul Claussen et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, East Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 6, Part 2 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1977).

9) The notion of self-help was evolved by the Magsaysay administration to attack the root causes of rural poverty by stimulating community initiative and responsibility.

10) Draft of Eisenhower’s Speech, 1955, File White House Correspondence: General Files, John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

11) Draft of Eisenhower’s Speech, 1955, File White House Correspondence: General Files, John Foster Dulles Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

12) Policy toward Philippines, File NSC 5413/1, NSC Series: Policy Papers Subseries, White House Office of Special Assistant: NSC Records, 1952 to 1961, Box 10, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

13) Donald Stone, Common Administrative Obstacles to Development, Dated January to April 1961, Dennis Fitzgerald Papers, Box 5, Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.

14) Robert McMahon et al., Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957, Southeast Asia, Vol. 22 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1989).

15) Letter from President Magsaysay to US Secretary of State Dulles, March 15, 1956.

16) S. N. Dasgupta, Status of Research in the Philippines 1948 (I), UNESCO Report No. UNESCO NS/71, January 18, 1950.

17) Letter from C. H. G. Oldham to R. H. Nolte, Science in the Philippines: Problems and Opinions, January 6, 1964, Doc CHGO-22, Institute of Current World Affairs.

18) The Ford Foundation had allotted US$250,000 for land purchases and architectural fees, whereas the Rockefeller Foundation had advanced US$165,000 to meet the operational costs for 1960 (see Turk 1974, 187).

19) University of the Philippines: College of Agriculture, Indonesia Scholarships, Record Group (RG) 1.2, Finding Aid (FA) 387A, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 98, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC).

20) Letter from J. C. Harrar, Rockefeller Foundation, to Dr. Vidal Tan, President of UP, November 9, 1955, FA 387A, RG 1.2, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 98, RAC.

21) Correspondence between Robert Chandler and George Trduerger, May 13, 1957, FA 387A, RG 1.2, Series 242 D, Box 12, File 99, RAC.

22) Correspondence between Robert Chandler and George Trduerger, May 13, 1957.

23) NSDB Role in Science Progress in the Philippines, University of the Philippines [Undated], FA 387 A, RG 1.2, Series 242, Box 1, File 1, RAC.

24) IRRI: Brief Description of Training Program, November 2, 1962, FA 388, RG 1.3, Subseries 242 D, Box 17, File 168, RAC.

25) IRRI, Proposal to the US Agency for International Development [Undated], FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, Folder 171, RAC.

26) Draft of a Proposal to the Ford Foundation for Support of Certain Phases of the Training and Regional Program of the IRRI [Undated], FA 388, RG1.3, Series 242D, Box 17, File 164, RAC.

27) Letter from Norman Efferson, Louisiana State University Agricultural College, to the Rockefeller Foundation, August 27, 1963, FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, File 171, RAC.

28) The Improvement of Grain Legumes Production: Communication from the IRRI [Undated], FA 388, RG 1.3, Series 242 D, Box 17, File 170, RAC.

29) The Philippine Islands Medical Association, precursor of the PMA, was founded in 1903 as an affiliate of the AMA. By 1921, Filipino physicians had become members of the association. By 1932, private practitioners had splintered from the Philippine Islands Medical Association and founded the Philippine Federation of Private Medical Practitioners, although many members of the federation continued to hold membership of the former. In 1939, the Philippine Islands Medical Association was renamed the PMA to reflect its nationalist orientation.

30) For a comparison with Indonesia, see Messer (1994) and Goss (2011).

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Vol. 10, No. 1, Iwai Misaki

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

Care Relations and Custody of Return-Migrant Children in Rural Vietnam: Cases in the Mekong Delta

Iwai Misaki*

*岩井美佐紀, Department of Asian Languages, Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba 261-0016, Japan
e-mail: misakii[at]kanda.kuis.ac.jp

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_33

In the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, there are a number of multiethnic children who are foreign nationals and have lived apart from their mothers for a long time. They were born in East Asian countries such as Taiwan and Korea and raised by their maternal relatives. This paper aims to examine the diverse experiences of return-migrant children and analyze care relations and custody over the children between absent mothers and maternal relatives, by exploring three cases obtained through my fieldwork. Absent mothers are divided into three types according to their marital status: (1) married women, (2) remarried women living in foreign countries, and (3) divorced women living apart from their children in Vietnam. In many cases they are unable to fulfill their duties or make decisions regarding their children’s welfare and interests since they live far away and are not always in touch with the children. Consequently, they are heavily dependent on their relatives. In place of absent mothers, foster parents—mainly grandparents or aunts who live together and take care of the children—try to maintain a legal and educational environment to ensure custody of the children. It is important to understand the difference between physical and legal custody, as well as two types of mothers: practical and biological.

Keywords: transnational marriage/divorce, multiethnic children, return migration, absent mothers, maternal relatives, custody, Mekong Delta

I Introduction

Since the 1990s, when Vietnam entered thời kỳ hội nhập quốc tế (the era of global integration), the Mekong Delta has been a major source of marriage migrants to Taiwan and South Korea (Phan An et al. 2005; Hugo and Nguyen Thi Hong Xoan 2007; Nguyen Xoan and Tran Xuyen 2010; Iwai 2013; Phạm Văn Bích and Iwai 2014a; 2014b). Many Vietnamese-born women have sent their children back to Vietnam after giving birth in these other countries. There are various reasons for this, including divorce (Cửu Long 2016; Le Hien Anh 2016; Văn Vĩnh 2016).

This paper focuses on return-migrant children who were born in foreign countries and sent to their maternal home to be raised. Who raises these children who spend a long time away from their mothers in childhood, and how does the relationship between the children and their new caregivers affect the children’s relationship with their absent mothers? Why do the mothers ask their relatives to raise their children? This study examines the meanings of children’s cross-border migration and the formation of transnational families. By exploring the social roles of maternal relatives, I aim to clarify the various aspects of care relations involved in child-rearing in rural Vietnam.

Several studies have discussed children left behind in their homes due to increasing cross-border labor migration. For example, research has shown that in the Philippines and Indonesia, where women often go abroad to work as domestic workers or caregivers, the children left behind are raised by aunts, grandmothers, or other relatives (Nagasaka 1998; 2009; Parreñas 2001; 2005; Ogaya 2016; Lam and Yeoh 2019). Arlie Hochschild (2000) regarded this phenomenon as the formation of “global chains of care” for child-rearing between two transnational families. However, there are not many prior studies on the return migration of multiethnic children from transnational marriages. In Thailand and Vietnam, where several women marry foreign men and later divorce, the mothers frequently send their children back to their home villages, asking their relatives to raise them (Ishii 2016, 125–127; Le Hien Anh 2016, 183). Only a few studies refer to the everyday lives and experiences of these children and the care arrangements between the mothers and their relatives.

Essentially, children’s relatively flexible mobility is a common feature of family relations in Southeast Asia. For example, if parents die or divorce or migrate for work to big cities, their children typically move between different households and are taken care of by consanguineal kin such as grandparents or aunts in rural areas (Kiso 2012, 473–476; 2019, 371–374; Sato 2012, 345–358).

Gerald Hickey (1964, 110–111) made similar observations about child-rearing in a rural village in the Mekong Delta area of southern Vietnam: (1) many children received much of their caregiving from older siblings or cousins who lived nearby, and (2) children could wander into neighbors’ houses without fear of being punished and were welcomed as if they were family members. According to A. Terry Rambo (2005), these flexible and wider family relations and higher mobility in the Mekong Delta reflect the characteristics of an open peasant community.

As the above-mentioned sources have shown, in Southeast Asia flexible care relations are woven by social networks and multiple ties based on kinship, and this social function may support and promote women’s labor migration both within and across national borders (Hayami 2012, 12–18). Janet Carsten (2000) has highlighted the distinction between social and biological aspects of kinship in bilateral societies such as Malays and suggested that it is helpful to understand “local cultures of relatedness” (Carsten 2000, 25–29). According to Carsten, relatedness is created both by ties of procreation and through everyday practices of feeding and living together in the house (Carsten 2000, 18). In addition, “relatedness” is deeply connected with the ethics of care. Carol Gilligan (2003) suggests that women as practitioners of care always consider who needs help and what relations are most important.

An important point in this study is the absence of the mothers of transnational families. How have children with foreign roots grown up in the absence of their mothers? How are the absent mothers able to fulfill their role as guardians? Here we focus on varied aspects of custody in the context of everyday practice in rural Vietnamese society.

II Methodology and Research Site

This discussion is based on the results of non-consecutive fieldwork conducted in Vi Thang commune in Hau Giang Province, Vietnam, which as of August and December 2017 and February 2019 had the second-highest number in the country of married migrant women from the Mekong Delta. This study is based on data about return-migrant children who were living in the commune as of December 2017. The December 2017 and February 2019 fieldwork collected supplemental information on the children.

Vi Thang is an agricultural commune located 200 km southwest of Ho Chi Minh City and 50 km southwest of Can Tho city center. As of April 2017 the commune had a population of 9,559 people, with 2,351 households residing in seven hamlets. Vi Thang was chosen because Vietnamese newspaper articles reported that elementary schools in the commune had accepted children without birth certificates as part of a humanitarian effort. These children attended classes as “non-members” (học gửi), meaning that they were not included on student lists and did not enjoy the same rights as their classmates (Hoài Thanh 2016; Ngọc Tài 2016; Văn Vĩnh 2016).

This study is based on observations and in-depth interviews with various stakeholders—including some returning migrant mothers, their children, and their relatives (e.g., parents and siblings)—conducted in 16 households. The perspectives of 18 return-migrant children are represented in the discussion.

In terms of methodology, for carrying out fieldwork I identified and obtained access to participants with the assistance of local organizations as well as schools. Prior to field research, I contacted executives of the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU) in Hau Giang Province and obtained general information concerning return-migrant children. The VWU provides legal support for international marriage and divorce matters. Full-time social workers belonging to the VWU attended each family interview visit, as they had a good grasp of the individual cases and were in a position to provide advice on legal procedures. All interviews were conducted with their cooperation. In addition, the vice-president of Vi Thuy District (former president of Vi Thang) and the present president of Vi Thang commune, both of whom knew the local situation well, assisted with interviews and family visits.

Because most mothers were absent, I managed to conduct interviews with only three mothers. Many of the mothers had left home for the big city. Consequently, the interviews were conducted mainly with the children’s grandparents or aunts (mothers’ sisters). Therefore, any information about the mothers must be viewed with caution, since it was provided by a variety of people who were likely to have different interests and views about marriage migration and the resulting children.

Return-migrant children in Vi Thang commune who were foreign nationals may be classified as living in three types of household:

Type 1, Two-parent transnational households: The children were born in foreign countries and migrated to Vietnam temporarily while their parents resided abroad and faced economic difficulties.

Type 2, Remarried mother transnational households: The children returned to Vietnam, while their divorced mothers lived in foreign countries and remarried foreign men.

Type 3, Single mother proximate households: The children were born in foreign countries and returned to Vietnam accompanied by their mothers following the latters’ divorce (or separation). The mothers temporarily cared for their children in proximity but eventually remigrated to work in larger cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City.

In each household type, mothers and children do not live in proximity to one another, thus challenging traditional gender notions of the family according to which women are responsible for overall family life (đảm đang), especially childcare and household budgeting (Lê Thị Nhâm Tuyết 1975; Pham Van Bich 1999, 38–39). The mothers support the family via regular remittances, while the children are raised by maternal relatives.

III Background of Return-Migrant Children in Rural Vietnam

III-1 From Foreign Brides to Mothers of Multiethnic Children

According to the results of the interview survey of Vi Thang commune members, the women who entered into transnational marriages had all arranged to meet foreign men through brokers in Ho Chi Minh City. Fig. 1 shows the number of transnationally married women from the commune. As shown in the figure, there were 470 married migrant women in the commune between 1999 and the end of April 2017. Of them, 255 were married to Koreans, 206 to Taiwanese, 7 to mainland Chinese, and 2 to Americans. The characteristics of marriage migration from the commune to foreign countries are similar to those of Vietnam as a whole. In short, before 2006 Taiwan was the most common destination for marriage migration, and after 2006 Korea became the most common destination, due to changes in Taiwanese immigration policies (Iwai 2013, 143–145). The commune’s government did not know the number of divorced migrant women.

 

seas1001_iwai_fig1

Fig. 1 Women from Vi Thang Commune Married to Foreigners

Source: Created by author based on UBND xã Vị Thắng (2017).

 

The interviews revealed that three women had returned home during pregnancy and given birth there: one planned to return to Korea after childbirth, and two women who divorced after returning to Vietnam remigrated to Ho Chi Minh City after childbirth.

In what Nicole Constable (2005) calls the gendered geographies of power, poor and low-educated women who cannot achieve social or economic mobility in their own countries marry men from much more wealthy countries in order to fulfill two desires: to provide economic support for families back home and to change their own lives in their host countries (Constable 2005, 5–7; Lu and Yang 2010, 20–21). For example, Phung’s case is typical. Phung was born in 1989 and married a Korean man 16 years older than her through a group match party organized in Ho Chi Minh City in 2001. Phung decided to marry a foreign man because she wanted to help her parents economically, and her parents did not object. Phung’s mother explained, “My daughter told us that she wanted to help her poor parents who were facing difficulties. She intended to work and send remittances.” The image of the bride that came up in the interview with the parents was of a “daughter who has sacrificed for the family.”

Table 1 presents personal information on the 11 internationally married women who lived away from their children.1)

As shown in Table 1, most of the women had married at a young age, four of them while still teenagers. In general, their educational level was quite low. This image of Vietnamese marriage migrants is consistent with that described by other researchers (Phan An et al. 2005; Hugo and Nguyen Thi Hong Xoan 2007; Nguyen Xoan and Tran Xuyen 2010; Le Hien Anh 2016). As for household types, six of the women continued in a marital relationship (type 1), one woman remarried in a foreign country (type 2), and four women remigrated to big cities (type 3).

 

Table 1 Characteristics of Absent Mothers Whose Multiethnic Children Returned and Are Living in Vi Thang Commune

seas1001_iwai_table1

 

The daughters’ motivations were not always in line with their parents’ thoughts. The results of the interviews with married immigrant women revealed their positive emotions, such as longing and hope for the unknown world, as expressed in statements such as the following: “I wanted to change my life,” “I wanted to expand my possibilities,” and “I wanted to get on the plane to go abroad” (Phạm Văn Bích and Iwai 2014a). These individual aspirations were followed by economic reasons, such as helping poor parents in rural Vietnam. Such positive attitudes and efforts on the part of the women have not been sufficiently identified in previous research.

III-2 The Role of Maternal Grandparents in Childbirth Support

The women’s fiduciary relationship with their biological families—which is maintained through remittances to their home countries—and their desire to have children who would give them future stability in their host countries are extremely important motivations for the women’s migration. In most cases, foreign brides obtain a status of residence on their spouse’s visa when they marry Taiwanese or Korean men. Most of them get pregnant and give birth within one year. After the children are born, the mother’s nationality position shifts. In other words, a mother with a biological citizen child is guaranteed legal status in the country. Therefore, the women often apply for naturalization from Vietnamese nationality to Taiwanese or Korean nationality, with the help of their husbands. In East Asian societies, where the birthrate is declining and the population is aging, especially in rural areas, there is strong pressure to give birth to a son. This is the main task of foreign brides, and not only they, but also their parents, are well aware of this.

For example, a pair of grandparents who are currently raising a Korean multiethnic grandson, Huyn, recalled the time before their daughter Phung gave birth to him, which was 10 years after her marriage. Until that pregnancy, her 10 years of infertility had worried her parents. Phung’s father recalled:

I brought some medicine to help my daughter become pregnant. Thanks to the medicine, my daughter was able to get pregnant six months later. We took care of her in Korea so that she could give birth safely. Having a child was important so that my daughter could live there in a stable way.

During Phung’s pregnancy both her parents went to Korea, where her mother stayed for eight months and her father for three. After some time back in Vietnam, the mother returned to Korea and looked after Huyn while Phung started to work. Eleven months later the mother returned to Vietnam with Huyn. Phung’s remittances from Korea helped her parents build a new house. In addition, her mother was able to earn an income by working illegally while staying in Korea.2)

Thus, Phung’s cross-border marriage brought about two turning points for her family of origin. First, producing children for her Korean husband’s family was her most essential role, by which she fulfilled her obligation as a daughter-in-law and established a stable legal position in the family. This was important, as until she gave birth to a child she was not allowed to work and earn money, which would have enabled her to send remittances to her family of origin in Vietnam.

Second, Huyn’s Vietnamese maternal grandparents are fully responsible for broader childcare, including pregnancy, childbirth, and child raising. That was why they provided Phung with fertility medication. In their eyes, it was natural for them to travel to Korea and care for their grandson while both of Huyn’s parents worked full-time, as well as to accept Huyn in their home in Vietnam. Such a situation often occurs when the husband’s parents are old or have passed away. Since Huyn “returned home” with his grandparents to Vietnam, Phung has been sending regular remittances to cover his food and other expenses. Child migration is thus a major factor for both families (the woman’s family of marriage in Korea as well as her family of origin in Vietnam) to acquire mutual assistance in their daily lives.

III-3 Characteristics of Multiethnic Children Who Returned to Vietnam

According to Vi Thang commune’s statistics, there were 27 children with foreign nationality in the commune as of April 2017: 11 Koreans, 12 Taiwanese, 1 mainland Chinese, 2 Malaysians, and 1 Vietnamese (Fig. 2). Clearly, there were a large number of children who returned to Vietnam during the period 2011–15.

 

seas1001_iwai_fig2

Fig. 2 Return-Migrant Children with Temporary Resident Registration in Vi Thang Commune

Source: Created by author based on UBND xã Vị Thắng (2017).

 

However, this data does not reflect the actual number of multiethnic children living in the commune but indicates the time that return-migrant children were registered as temporary residents of the commune.3) According to the author’s fieldwork, with cooperation from the president of the VWU at the commune level, there were 18 multiethnic children living in the commune as of December 2017. The reason the numbers are different is that when some children left the commune, their maternal relatives did not notify the commune government. Of the 18 multiethnic children, 11 lived apart from their mothers. The other seven lived with their mothers in Vietnam.4)

Table 2 presents the situation of the 11 multiethnic children who lived apart from their mothers.

 

Table 2 Characteristics of Multiethnic Children of Absent Mothers

As of December 2017

seas1001_iwai_table2

 

First, by family type, five children lived apart from their two parents in foreign countries (type 1), two children’s mothers had remarried in foreign countries (type 2), and four children lived apart from their divorced/separated mothers after they returned to Vietnam (type 3).

Second, the majority of the children were students of elementary school age or younger. There was little difference in gender among the children: six boys and five girls.

Third, nearly all the children returned to Vietnam during their infancy—some while still lactating. Three of them returned to their mothers’ home before birth, and their mothers left for Korea or Ho Chi Minh City several months after giving birth. Indeed, the mothers discontinued breastfeeding after several months and lived apart from their children. In place of the mothers, the children’s maternal relatives—grandmothers and aunts—discharged the motherly duties.

Fourth, most of the 11 children were born and registered in their father’s country, thereby acquiring citizenship in that nation. Four of the children were Korean and three Taiwanese; among them, two were former Korean or Taiwanese nationals whose passports had expired long ago. Another child had dual nationality (Korean-Vietnamese). Of the two children with Vietnamese nationality, one returned from Korea to Vietnam in utero and was registered after her mother was divorced; the other was adopted by a maternal aunt in Ho Chi Minh City after returning from Korea at the age of 20 months.5) One girl was stateless: she was born in Vietnam, but her birth was not registered with the local authorities because the mother had not yet officially divorced her Korean husband.

Finally, all the children had been raised for many years by their maternal families (seven by grandparents and four by aunts). No children were raised by anybody else. Consequently, most of them attended school while in the care of their grandparents or aunts.

IV Child Raising and Maternal Family Relations in Rural Vietnam

As seen above, return-migrant children are raised by maternal relatives instead of absent mothers who are busy working and cannot afford to take care of their infants. Based on the interviews, the reasons for this situation are as follows:

1)Most of the mothers’ parents-in-law are quite old, so it is difficult for them to care for their grandchildren. Even when the parents-in-law agree to take care of their grandchildren, they require the couple to pay the high cost of childcare, which strains the couple’s family budget.

2)Childcare costs in Vietnam are much cheaper, and thus the financial burden on couples is reduced when maternal relatives care for the children. In southern Vietnamese society, there are many flexible arrangements for the raising of children by maternal relatives. This can be seen in Hickey’s description of the importance of consanguineal and non-kin groups who reside in proximate houses and share everyday practices of mutual aid (Hickey 1964, 93–96).

For these reasons, return-migrant children leave their parents, move across the border, and are raised by maternal relatives living in rural areas of Vietnam.

In the next subsections IV-1–IV-4, the child-rearing patterns around children whose mothers are absent and living separately will be examined in relation to the children’s intimate relationship with their maternal relatives.

IV-1 The Case of Ngoc Dinh: Type 1

Ngoc Dinh, born in Taiwan in 2010, had been living with her maternal grandparents for six years, ever since she was eight months old. Her parents, who work full-time and live in Taiwan, cannot take care of her, so they have entrusted her maternal grandparents with her upbringing (Fig. 3 ). Ngoc Dinh’s sister had the same experience in that she spent several years in her maternal grandparents’ home before returning to Taiwan for elementary school. According to Ngoc Dinh’s grandmother, her daughter intends to take Ngoc Dinh back to Taiwan after she graduates from elementary school.

 

seas1001_iwai_fig3

Fig. 3 Household Composition of Ngoc Dinh’s Family <Type 1>

Source: Based on author’s interview in 2017.

 

To the interview question “How are you in touch with your mother?” Ngoc Dinh answered, “I tell my mom what it was like today over the phone every night.” She looks forward to talking to her mother on a free VoIP phone call at 6 p.m. every day. Ngoc Dinh continued, “I don’t talk with my father because he cannot understand Vietnamese. My sister can speak Chinese, but she speaks Vietnamese well.”

Ngoc Dinh has visited Taiwan a couple of times during her six years living in Vietnam, but always with her grandmother. When her grandmother returned to Vietnam, she preferred to go with her rather than remain in Taiwan.

In response to the interview question “What do you want to do in the future?” Ngoc Dinh said, “I want to live in Vietnam forever. I can’t imagine living away from my grandparents. My grandma says that my mouth and nose look exactly like my mom’s.”

Having lived in Vietnam for six years, Ngoc Dinh is completely comfortable with her life there with her grandparents. She feels happy to be like her mother, but she has noticed a certain emotional distance from her father, who cannot communicate in Vietnamese.

With regard to the grandparents’ experience of this situation, the grandmother shared that Ngoc Dinh’s sister had also been entrusted to them from the age of 14 months to six years. In this way, through the experience of raising two granddaughters, the grandparents seemed to once again enjoy “parenting.” The grandmother commented:

My granddaughter likes Taiwan, but just to go sightseeing. When we returned to Vietnam, she didn’t want to stay in Taiwan but returned with us. She is very close to her friends, and nobody knows that she is a multiethnic child, between Vietnam and Taiwan.

Ngoc Dinh attends elementary school informally. Local schools allow children to enroll formally as long as a birth certificate is submitted before graduation. Ngoc Dinh’s grandparents want to get her birth certificate from Taiwan so that she can officially enroll at school, but her mother has not sent it. Ngoc Dinh showed us many award certificates given by the school and remarked that her favorite subject was Vietnamese and that she wanted to become a teacher.

IV-2 The Case of Bao: Type 2

Bao was born in 2013. His mother is Vietnamese and father Taiwanese. His mother returned to Vietnam eight months pregnant and gave birth to Bao there. Several months later his mother, who was already naturalized as a Taiwanese national, returned to Taiwan alone, without Bao.

As shown in Fig. 4 , Bao now lives with his maternal aunt’s family, which includes the aunt, her husband, two daughters, and the aunt’s parents-in-law. Aunt Dam is raising her nephew Bao along with her own two young daughters. According to Dam, her husband loves Bao deeply as his own son, and so do her parents-in-law. Dam’s parents-in-law take the responsibility of dropping and picking up Bao by bike every day from kindergarten. Bao, like his cousins, calls his aunt “mother,” his aunt’s husband “father,” and his aunt’s parents-in-law “grandpa” and “grandma.” Although the grandparents are not blood relatives but affinal kin, they do not distinguish Bao from their granddaughters.

 

seas1001_iwai_fig4

Fig. 4 Household Composition of Bao’s Family <Type 2>

Source: Based on author’s interview in 2017.

 

Bao’s mother resides in a small city in Taiwan. She has been married three times, and Bao is from her second husband, who died before she gave birth. She also has a child from her first marriage, and she now lives with that child. After her second husband died, she returned to Vietnam while pregnant and gave birth to Bao. After several months she returned to Taiwan, and Bao was left behind to live in his aunt’s home.

The reason Bao was entrusted to his aunt was that Bao’s maternal grandmother, who was also in Taiwan, was unable to look after him because she was working illegally. A few years ago, Bao’s mother remarried a Taiwanese man and had a child with him. Bao’s grandmother helps to take care of that child in Taiwan. According to Dam, the mother wants to take Bao back to Taiwan in a few years.

IV-3 The Case of Nhi: Type 3

In this subsection we examine the case of a child in a family with an absent single mother (type 3). Nhi was born in Vietnam in 2009 and was in the third grade at the time of the interview. Nhi has family registration in her maternal grandfather’s hamlet, although she lives in another hamlet with her maternal aunt’s family. Thus, her nationality is Vietnamese.

Nhi’s mother moved from Korea to Vietnam while six months pregnant and gave birth in Vietnam. She decided to separate from her husband because of his repeated domestic violence, his extremely sloppy behavior, and his disapproval of her work. About a year after their separation, she was officially divorced. The Korean father knew of Nhi’s birth and visited her one year later.

Nhi’s mother went to work in Ho Chi Minh City eight months after giving birth, and since then Aunt Muoi has taken care of Nhi on behalf of her mother (Fig. 5). Nhi calls both her aunt and birth mother “mother.” She distinguishes the two mothers as “má mập” (fat mom) (aunt) and “má ốm” (thin mom) (biological mother). Neighbors believe that Nhi is Muoi’s biological daughter, and Muoi has not attempted to clear up this misunderstanding. Her husband also loves Nhi as his own child. Muoi recently started taking Nhi to free Korean language lessons organized every weekend by the Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy (KOCUN).6) However, since it is a one-hour bike ride from the commune to Can Tho city, Nhi stopped going.

 

seas1001_iwai_fig5

Fig. 5 Household Composition of Nhi’s Family <Type 3>

Source: Based on author’s interview in 2017.

 

A couple of years ago Nhi’s mother remarried a Vietnamese man who worked in the same factory in Ho Chi Minh City, and they had a son. However, they are now divorced and Nhi’s mother is raising the boy on her own. Nhi sometimes visits her mother and younger half-brother in Ho Chi Minh City, but after a few days Muoi calls and urges Nhi to return home. Nhi’s Korean father says that he wants to take her to Korea when she is 18, and until then he wants Muoi to raise her. However, he has never paid any child support. In August 2017 I encountered the father while he was looking to remarry in the hamlet. Later, he stayed at Muoi’s house and ate meals there, but he said that he did not need to pay any money while there.

IV-4 Relatedness and Custody of Multiethnic Children Who Live Apart from Their Mothers

We will now consider the relations between multiethnic children with foreign roots and their guardians. In particular, we will examine the guardians’ strong attachment to the children in terms of custody.

In the case of Ngoc Dinh, the grandparents want to support their daughter by providing for their granddaughter what they did not give their own children when they were young and hardworking. They are very proud of their grandchild being awarded certificates at school and seem to be very happy with her growth. In the case of type 1 families, where the parents or remarried mothers regularly send remittances to the grandparents, it is sufficient for grandparents to focus their attention on their grandchildren’s education.

Meanwhile, in the relationship between the aunts and their nephews and nieces, without exception the children call their aunt “mum,” and it is clear that a deeply intimate relationship has been built between them (type 2 and type 3). In the case of Bao, his aunt did not hesitate to take her nephew home and raise him like her daughters. And Dam’s parents-in-law seem to be happy with Bao, probably because Dam and her husband have no son of their own. Nhi’s aunt Muoi loves her so much that sometimes her own children complain, “Mom loves Nhi most.” Muoi feels sorry for Nhi and feels that only she can protect her.

On the whole, the foster parents actively participate in the everyday care and education of their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Ngoc Dinh’s grandparents and Nhi’s aunt want to expose the children to greater opportunities and improve their prospects for the future. For example, Muoi took Nhi to KOCUN’s Korean classes every weekend after KOCUN staff visited Nhi, enthusiastically encouraged her to study Korean, and provided financial assistance. In rural situations, which are far removed from the foreign cultures of the parents, it seems that foster parents feel responsible for improving the children’s prospects, including linking them with their foreign roots (e.g., helping Nhi learn Korean). In addition, in place of the absent mothers, they visit the judicial branch of Hau Giang Province once every three or six months to renew the children’s residency status while renewing their visa. The foster parents also have the responsibility of securing the children’s right to reside by submitting “temporary registrations” to the local government.

The children say that they want to continue living with their grandmothers or aunts because they regard their homes as their own. Most of them moved to Vietnam during infancy (sometimes in the mother’s womb) and have grown up in their foster parents’ home. Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding them have sometimes changed dramatically, such as the remarriage of their mothers who are living separately. Because of these changing circumstances and an uncertain future, the children adopt the important survival strategy of strengthening their relationships with unmarried uncles, aunts, and cousins in their foster families.

Finally, how are the absent mothers involved? Generally, whether living in a foreign country or in a large city, they try to maintain an intimate relationship with their children by talking daily over the Internet. Most of the absent mothers assume that the separation from their children and care by their relatives are temporary and that they will live with their children again once conditions are favorable. Therefore, some mothers think they do not need to send the formal documents necessary for school enrollment, such as birth certificate. In addition, as in the cases of Nhi and Bao, the remarriage of the mothers can complicate the domestic environment and make it difficult to integrate return-migrant children into their new families. Therefore, the long-term stay of the children in rural Vietnam is due largely to the changing circumstances of the absent mothers.

V Conclusion

My investigation shows that Vietnamese families in the Mekong Delta are not rigid structures but flexible circles that openly extend their kin networks across the border. They are willing to be flexible in care relations. Common to the three types of household described above is the prevalence of “relatedness,” in which multiethnic children are growing up through the everyday practice of living with their maternal relatives away from their biological parents.

In this study I have sought to elucidate the life experiences of return-migrant children who live apart from their mothers, and their relationship with their absent mothers and maternal relatives. In particular, I have attempted to highlight the role of maternal relatives (mainly grandparents or aunts) taking the place of absent mothers in providing care to children experiencing cross-household migration.

I have identified the situation of the main members in transnational families as follows:

• Mothers live separately from their children mainly due to economic difficulties. Most of them are factory workers who are busy working all day and do not receive enough social welfare. They send regular remittances to their relatives whom they entrust with childcare.

• Children return to Vietnam when they are quite young, sometimes even while in their mother’s womb. They attend local schools when they reach school age, but the plan is for them to return eventually to their father’s countries.

• The foster parents, who are in their mid-40s to 60s, are more experienced socially and in parenting than the absent mothers. They seem to be trying to create the best conditions for their foster children and to be actively involved in their future education.

In summing up the plural care relations among the children, absent mothers, and maternal relatives, some features can be observed.

First, the relationship between the multiethnic children and their foster parents: The children are raised in a wide and flexible family circle as members of the maternal family. In the southern part of Vietnam, it is common for maternal grandparents to take care of their grandchildren in place of absent mothers, and this custom prevails even in the case of cross-border marriage and divorce. Basically, foster parents are awarded custody guardianship based on two domains: (1) practical domain: living together with the children and providing care and safety, and (2) legal domain: guaranteeing a temporary residence, enrolling the children in local schools, and applying for visa renewal at the Hau Giang Provincial Justice Bureau every three or six months. In these aspects they genuinely care about the well-being of the children and voluntarily contribute toward child custody although they have no legal obligation. Most foster parents have a strong attachment to the children and take responsibility for them so that they continuously guarantee custody.

Second, the relationship between foster parents and absent mothers: Grandparents and aunts stand in as a substitute for the children’s parents in exchange for financial support from the mothers. This exchange is not merely a payment for services but also a form of division of labor among family members (e.g., between parents and daughters or between sisters). In addition, maternal relatives are deeply involved in broader “childcare,” including pregnancy and childbirth, as seen in the case of Huyn’s grandparents. The purpose of the remittances is clearly not to provide mainstay support, but rather to affirm membership in a family circle and its continuity. In other words, the children’s return migration promotes the feeling of mutual aid and cooperation among transnational family members. In addition, there are cases in which the paternal grandparents in foreign countries are too old, are too ill, or live too far away to look after their grandchildren.

Third, the relationship between the children and their absent mothers: As shown through concrete cases, mothers who live apart from their children find it extremely difficult to take care of their children and educate them. However, they miss sharing directly in their children’s school experiences. They see their children only when they return to their home of origin, perhaps once a year. Otherwise, based on the mothers’ schedules, they set up a chat time with their children, such as “every day, 30 minutes after dinner,” via VoIP phone calls.

As de jure guardians, the biological parents or divorced mothers are obliged to advocate for the best interests of their children. Responsibility for legal proceedings rests with the mothers. However, the mothers are de facto not able to fulfill their duties and make all decisions regarding their child’s welfare and interests since they live far away and are not always in touch with the children. Consequently, they are heavily dependent on their relatives back home. Without a flexible family relationship that transnationally supports mutual aid, global care relations cannot be established. In other words, it is important to understand the difference between physical and legal custody, as well as the two types of mothers: practical and biological.

Accepted: June 4, 2020

Acknowledgment

This work was supported by Institute of Developing Economies IDE-JETRO under Grant # FY2016/2018 Research Topic C-06: Dynamics and Transformation of the Vietnamese Family in the Doi Moi Era.

References

Carsten, Janet. 2000. Introduction: Cultures of Relatedness. In Culture of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship, edited by Janet Carsten, pp. 1–36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Constable, Nicole, ed. 2005. Cross-border Marriages: Gender and Mobility in Transnational Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cửu Long. 2016. Nhiều cô dâu miền tây tháo chạy khỏi chồng ngoại [Many brides of Mekong delta origin run away from foreign husbands]. VN Express. October 4. https://vnexpress.net/nhieu-co-dau-mien-tay-thao-chay-khoi-chong-ngoai-3413294.html, accessed November 15, 2017.

Gilligan, Carol. 2003. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Hayami Yoko 速水洋子. 2019. Tonan Ajia ni okeru kea no senzairyoku: Sei no tsunagari no jissen 東南アジアにおけるケアの潜在力―生のつながりの実践 [Potentialities of care in Southeast Asia: Practice of life’s connectivities]. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.

―. 2012. Introduction: The Family in Flux in Southeast Asia. In The Family in Flux in Southeast Asia: Institution, Ideology, Practice, edited by Hayami Yoko, Koizumi Junko, Chalidaporn Songsamphan, and Ratana Tosakul, pp. 1–26. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Hickey, Gerald C. 1964. Village in Vietnam. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hoài Thanh. 2016. Chuyện ‘học gửi’ của những đứa con lai [Stories about “audit study” of some mixed-race children]. Vietnamnet. October 7. http://vietnamnet.vn/vn/giao-duc/goc-phu-huynh/chuyen-hoc-gui-cua-nhung-dua-con-lai-o-truong-lang-332614.html, accessed October 20, 2017.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2000. Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value. In On the Edge: Living with Global Capitalism, edited by Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens, pp. 130–146. London: Vintage.

Hugo, Graeme; and Nguyen Thi Hong Xoan. 2007. Marriage Migration between Vietnam and Taiwan: A View from Vietnam. In Watering the Neighbour’s Garden: The Growing Demographic Female Deficit in Asia, edited by Isabelle Attané and Christophe Z. Guilmoto, pp. 365–391. Paris: Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography.

Ishii Sari K. 2016. Child Return Migration from Japan to Thailand. In Marriage Migration in Asia: Emerging Minorities at the Frontiers of Nation-States, edited by Ishii Sari K., pp. 118–134. Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press.

Iwai Misaki. 2013. Global Householding between Rural Vietnam and Taiwan. In Dynamics of Marriage Migration in Asia, edited by Ishii Kayoko, pp. 139–162. Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Kiso Keiko 木曽恵子. 2019. Kea no ninaite no fukusuusei to sumatofon ni yoru oyakokankei no hokan: Syoushika jidai no Tohoku Tai nouson ni okeru kosodate ケアの担い手の複数性とスマートフォンによる親子関係の補完―少子化時代の東北タイ農村における子育て [Multiple caregivers and complementing parent-child relationship with smartphones: Child-rearing in northeastern rural Thailand in the era of declining birthrate]. In Tonan Ajia ni okeru kea no senzairyoku: Sei no tsunagari no jissen 東南アジアにおけるケアの潜在力―生のつながりの実践 [Potentialities of care in Southeast Asia: Practice of life’s connectivities], edited by Hayami Yoko 速水洋子, pp. 353–377. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.

―. 2012. Women’s Labor Migration and “Multiple Mothering” in Northeast Thailand. In The Family in Flux in Southeast Asia: Institution, Ideology, Practice, edited by Hayami Yoko, Koizumi Junko, Chalidaporn Songsamphan, and Ratana Tosakul, pp. 463–482. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

Lam, Theodora; and Yeoh, Brenda S. A. 2019. Parental Migration and Disruptions in Everyday Life: Reactions of Left-Behind Children in Southeast Asia. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 45(16): 3085–3104.

Le Hien Anh. 2016. Lives of Mixed Vietnamese-Korean Children in Vietnam. In Marriage Migration in Asia: Emerging Minorities at the Frontiers of Nation-States, edited by Ishii Sari K., pp. 175–186. Singapore: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press.

Lê Thị Nhâm Tuyết. 1975. Phụ Nữ Việt Nam qua các thời đại [Vietnamese women through the ages]. Hà Nội: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội.

Lu, Melody Chia-Wen; and Yang Wen-Shan. 2010. Introduction. In Asian Cross-border Marriage Migration: Demographic Patterns and Social Issues, edited by Yang Wen-Shan and Melody Chia-Wen Lu, pp. 15–29. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Nagasaka Itaru 長坂格. 2009. Kokkyo o koeru Fuiripin murabito no minzokushi: Toransunashonarizumu no jinruigaku 国境を越えるフィリピン村人の民族誌―トランスナショナリズムの人類学 [Ethnography of Filipino villagers crossing the borders: The anthropology of transnationalism]. Tokyo: Akashi Shoten.

―. 1998. Kinship Networks and Child Fostering in Labor Migration from Ilocos, Philippines to Italy. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 7(1): 67–92.

Ngô Thị Vân Phượng. 2018. Giới thiệu tình hình tư vấn và các trường hợp cụ thể tại KOCUN Cần Thơ [Introduction in consulting situation and particular cases in KOCUN, Can Tho city]. Paper presented at the conference “Hội thảo thực trạng và giải pháp hỗ trợ phụ nữ hồi hương và trẻ em Việt-Hàn cư trú tại Việt Nam” [Conference on the situation and solutions to support returning women and Vietnamese-Korean children who are living in Vietnam], January 25, Can Tho city, pp. 110–124. Cần Thơ: KOCUN.

Ngọc Tài. 2016. Chuyện học ‘gửi’ ở làng ngoại kiều [Stories of “audit learning” related to cross-border marriages in some villages]. Tuổi Trẻ. December 1. https://tuoitre.vn/chuyen-hoc-gui-o-lang-ngoai-kieu-1228285.htm, accessed October 10, 2017.

Nguyen Xoan; and Tran Xuyen. 2010. Vietnamese-Taiwanese Marriages. In Asian Cross-border Marriage Migration: Demographic Patterns and Social Issues, edited by Yang Wen-Shan and Melody Chia-Wen Lu, pp. 157–178. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Ogaya Chiho 小ヶ谷千穂. 2016. Ido o ikiru: Fuiripin ijyu jyosei to fukusu no mobiritei 移動を生きる―フィリピン移住女性と複数のモビリティ [Living in motion: Filipino migrant women and their multiple mobilities]. Tokyo: Yushindo.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2005. Children of Global Migration: Transnational Families and Gendered Woes. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

―. 2001. Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration and Domestic Work. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Pham Van Bich. 1999. The Vietnamese Family in Change: The Case of the Red River Delta. Surrey: Curzon.

Phạm Văn Bích; and Iwai Misaki. 2014a. Cô dâu Việt Nam thành công ở Đài Loan: Hai nghiên cứu trường hợp [Successful Vietnamese brides in Taiwan: Two case studies]. Nghiên cứu gia đình và giới [Journal of family and gender studies] 24(1): 43–53.

―. 2014b. Cô dâu Việt Nam thành công ở Đài Loan: Hai nghiên cứu trường hợp [Successful Vietnamese brides in Taiwan: Two case studies]. Nghiên cứu gia đình và giới [Journal of family and gender studies] 24(2): 28–43.

Phan An; Phan Quang Thịnh; and Nguyễn Quới. 2005. Hiện tượng phụ nữ Việt Nam lấy chồng Đài Loan [Phenomenon of Vietnamese women married to Taiwanese husbands]. Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh: Nhà xuất bản trẻ.

Rambo, A. Terry. 2005. Searching for Vietnam: Selected Writings on Vietnamese Culture and Society. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Sato Nao. 2012. Mutual Assistance through Children’s Interhousehold Mobility in Rural Cambodia. In The Family in Flux in Southeast Asia: Institution, Ideology, Practice, edited by Hayami Yoko, Koizumi Junko, Chalidaporn Songsamphan, and Ratana Tosakul, pp. 339–364. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

UBND xã Vị Thắng [People’s Committee of Vi Thang Commune]. 2017. Báo cáo tình hình thực hiện công tác bình đẳng giới và hôn nhân gia đình trên địa bàn xã Vị Thắng [Vi Thang commune people’s report on the implementation of gender equality and marital and family issues at Vi Thang commune]. Unpublished annual report.

Văn Vĩnh. 2016. Hỗ trợ cô dâu Việt và con lai hồi hương [Supporting Vietnamese brides and their mixed-race children who returned home]. Công An Việt Nam. October 28. http://cand.com.vn/doi-song/Ho-tro-co-dau-Viet-va-con-lai-hoi-huong-414358/, accessed October 10, 2017.


1) There were 16 internationally married women whose children returned to Vietnam. Of the 16 mothers, five lived with their children in a home commune, two were divorced or separated, and three women continued in a marital relationship but stayed in Vietnam (two of them stayed temporarily to give birth and returned to Korea with their children by December 2017).

2) The grandmother worked for a few months at an automobile factory, but she was caught by the police and deported. As her penalty, she would not be allowed into Korea again for five years.

3) The commune government totaled the number of children whose relatives applied for the children’s temporary resident registration status in accordance with the security rules.

4) Of the seven children who lived with their mothers, four cases involved two sisters married to Taiwanese and Korean men.

5) The survey revealed that the data collected by the commune government did not include one of the two Vietnamese-Korean children with Vietnamese nationality.

6) KOCUN is a South Korean NGO responsible for supporting divorced or separated women and their children. In Can Tho city, Korean and Vietnamese full-time staff advise divorced and separated women and provide support for their vocational training as well as their multiethnic children’s legal issues (Ngô Thị Vân Phượng 2018, 110–113).

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Vol. 10, No. 1, Jely A. Galang

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Contents>> Vol. 10, No. 1

Chinese Laborers on a Mining Frontier: The Case of Copper Miners in Northern Luzon, 1856–98

Jely A. Galang*

*Department of History, University of the Philippines Diliman, Pavilion 2, Palma Hall, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines
e-mail: jagalang[at]up.edu.ph

DOI: 10.20495/seas.10.1_3

This paper focuses on the lives and circumstances of Chinese laborers in the copper mines of Lepanto in Northern Luzon from 1856 until the American occupation of the Philippines in 1898. While Filipino laborers were also employed by the Spanish Cantabro-Filipina Company, Chinese laborers were preferred when it came to opening up and exploiting large areas in the “mineral belt” of Luzon. This preference was due mainly to Chinese workers’ mining skills and the availability of inexpensive Chinese labor contracted to open up resource frontiers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. In addition to these factors, the hazardous nature of mining and the Spaniards’ negative stereotypical view of Chinese as dangerous albeit “necessary outsiders” made the latter the most suitable labor force for mining. The conditions in the mines, and the abuses committed against the Chinese laborers, caused many workers to run away.

This paper has two parts. The first part discusses the importance of Chinese labor in Philippine mining prior to the nineteenth century. It demonstrates how the Spaniards preferred to employ Chinese labor as Filipinos were viewed to lack the skills and enterprise necessary to exploit the colony’s mineral resources. The second part focuses on Chinese laborers in the Lepanto copper mines in the midnineteenth century. It describes and analyzes the laborers’ working and living conditions in relation to the prevailing labor hierarchy and system of management implemented by the Cantabro-Filipina Company. It also describes the limited interactions between Chinese laborers and non-Chinese employees in the mines.

Keywords: Chinese laborers, Lepanto, copper mines, Philippine history, Northern Luzon, mining industry

Introduction

Tanso is the Tagalog word for copper.1) It is derived from the Hokkien word for “copper wire” (Ang See et al. 2005, 220). The “borrowing” of the term demonstrates an aspect of longtime cultural interactions and commercial exchanges between Filipinos and the Chinese of Southern China (Manuel 1948). The word tanso also serves as evidence of Chinese labor’s important role in the development of the Philippine mining industry, particularly copper mining. During the nineteenth century, Chinese laborers formed the backbone of the labor force that exploited the copper mines of Lepanto in northern Luzon.2) These laborers were instrumental in all the aboveground and subterranean works and activities involved in the extraction of the metal.

Despite the significant role that Chinese workers played in the colonial mining industry, written works about them are relatively scarce. Salvador Lopez’s (1992) “definitive history of mining in the Philippines,” for example, mentions how the Spanish colonial government and private businessmen deemed it necessary to hire Chinese miners from the 1780s to the 1890s. Lopez’s discussion on these laborers, however, is only tangential to his primary purpose, which is to highlight “the role of [the natives (i.e. Filipinos), and] native technology in the [mining] industry” (Lopez 1992, 8). Similarly, Onofre Corpuz’s (1997) classic work on Philippine economic history only briefly mentions Chinese miners, as the book’s main goal is to elaborate on the Bourbon economic reforms initiated in the late eighteenth century. Edgar Wickberg (2000) mentions mining as an industry that employed Chinese workers, but only in relation to his discussion on why and how the second half of the nineteenth century opened up new economic opportunities for Chinese in the colony.

There are a number of articles that mention Chinese miners, but like the abovementioned works, their discussions are peripheral to the authors’ main subject matter. Maria Lourdes Diaz-Trechuelo (1965) and Salvador Escoto (1998) provide details on Chinese laborers in the mining industry, but their focus is on the general economic condition of the islands in the 1780s and the economic projects spearheaded by some pioneer Spanish industrialists during the period. Lastly, in her articles on the history of gold mining in Benguet, Olivia Habana (2000; 2001) underlines the industry’s economic, social, and political effects on the lives of the Igorots in the Cordilleras. These works, therefore, expose a historiographical lacuna, which the present paper endeavors to fill in.

Using previously unexplored and underutilized primary materials from various Philippine and Spanish archives and libraries, this paper presents a narrative on the lives and circumstances of Chinese laborers in the copper mines of Lepanto from 1856 until the American occupation of the Philippines in 1898.3) While Filipino laborers, such as Ilocanos,4) Igorots,5) and Tinguians,6) were also employed by the Spanish company Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan (the Cantabro-Filipina Company), which was considered “the most successful of all other mining speculations undertaken on a large scale in [the] colony” (Foreman 1899, 386), Chinese laborers were preferred when it came to opening up and exploiting large areas in the “mineral belt” of Luzon (US Bureau of the Census 1905, 82).7) This preference was due mainly to Chinese workers’ mining skills, and the availability of inexpensive Chinese labor contracted to open up resource frontiers in Southeast Asia and elsewhere (McKeown 2011, 62–83). In addition to these factors, I argue that the hazardous nature of mining and the Spaniards’ negative stereotypical view of Chinese as “dangerous” albeit “necessary outsiders” made the latter the most suitable labor force for mining. The shocking conditions in the mines, and the abuses committed against the Chinese laborers, caused many workers to run away.

This paper has two main parts. The first part briefly discusses the importance of Chinese labor in Philippine mining prior to the nineteenth century. It demonstrates how the Spaniards, specifically private businessmen and adventurers, preferred to employ Chinese labor as Filipinos were viewed to lack the skills and enterprise necessary to exploit the colony’s mineral resources. The second part focuses on Chinese laborers in the Lepanto copper mines between 1856 and 1898. It describes and analyzes the laborers’ working and living conditions in relation to the prevailing labor hierarchy and system of management implemented by the Cantabro-Filipina Company. It also describes the limited interactions between Chinese laborers and non-Chinese employees (Spaniards and Filipinos) in the mines.

The Philippine Mining Frontier and Chinese Labor

The Philippines has abundant mineral resources. Since the beginning of Spanish rule in the sixteenth century, reports from the colony were sent to Madrid detailing the types of minerals and their locations on the islands (Letter from Andres de Mirandola [1574] 1903–7, 223–224; de Sande [1576] 1903–7, 54). The Spaniards soon learned that Filipinos had some knowledge of mining and refining metals but the amount they produced was small compared to what could actually be obtained (Filipinas 881).8) Notwithstanding this observation, and the desire of some Spanish officials to improve what they considered the miserable state of mining in the Philippines, the colony in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continued to depend on metal imports from China (Reid 2011, 21–22).9) Chinese traders brought into the islands large quantities of “metal basins, copper kettles and other copper and cast-iron pots; quantities of all sorts of nails, sheet-iron, tin and saltpetre, and gun-powder” (de Morga 1903–7, 179).

It was only in the middle of the eighteenth century, spurred by the Bourbon Reforms in Spain, that serious initiatives were undertaken to open up the Philippines’ mining frontier. With financial means and motivation, under the auspices of the colonial government, some Spanish industrialists initiated the exploration and extraction of natural resources such as timber and minerals in several mountainous regions of Luzon and Visayas (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 763–800). One of these pioneer industrialists in search of financial windfalls10) was Francisco Xavier Salgado, who invested in a number of mining ventures. Through Salgado’s unwavering efforts and adventurous spirit, three iron mines were opened during this period: Mambulao in Camarines, Santa Ines in Tondo, and Angat in Bulacan (Escoto 1998, 273–292).

Chinese skilled and unskilled laborers were absolutely crucial in the working of all these iron mines. The 1753 reopening of the Mambulao mines11) began when Salgado and the Augustinian Recollect Fray Sebastian de San Vicente went to Camarines with 16 Chinese: two master founders and 14 skilled carpenters, smiths, and colliers (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 766, 768). After clearing Angat’s forested area, the Chinese laborers carried out the mining and smelting of iron until 1781 (Centeno 1876, 39). Early in 1758, skilled artisans and more than three hundred unskilled laborers worked in the Santa Ines mines (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 771–772). By 1772 these mines still had about three hundred Chinese unskilled laborers in addition to 62 Chinese skilled artisans who worked as ironmasters, refinery experts, and ironsmiths (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 776).

The strong preference for Chinese labor was due primarily to their knowledge and skill in smelting and smithing (de Salazar [1590] 1903–7, 212–228). In addition, from the pragmatic standpoint of the colonial authorities, the Chinese laborers’ work ethic was commendable, particularly when compared to the Filipinos’. These qualities and attributes of the Chinese led Spanish industrialists to import labor directly from China. When occasional disruptions in the importation of Chinese labor occurred—for example, when Governor Pedro Manuel de Arandia expelled all pagan Chinese from the colony in December 1758 and temporarily restricted Chinese immigration—Spanish businessmen resorted to obtaining mine laborers from Parian in Manila, especially before the last Chinese expulsion in 1766 (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 774).12)

It is important to stress that despite their skills and work ethic, Chinese laborers were treated as a marginal group by the colonial authorities. Essentially, they were considered neither part of the colonizers nor part of the colonized (i.e., Filipinos). By virtue of their ethnic origins and affiliations and their socioeconomic status, Chinese laborers were situated at the bottom of the colonial social structure. In this case, in the mid-eighteenth century they could be compelled to work for whatever purpose their colonial masters deemed suitable. For example, some two hundred of them were coerced to labor in the Santa Ines mines in 1765. The government’s order to the soldiers was clear: “all the Sangley ironworkers should be seized and transported to the mines [italics added]” (de Viana 1903–7, 107). The risks involved in clearing forested areas and the hazards of actual mining were not considered seriously by the Spanish administrators as far as Chinese labor was concerned. In fact, it was the “unhealthy environment” in the Angat and Santa Ines mines that made Chinese laborers suitable for the difficult and dangerous job (Buzeta and Bravo 1850, Vol. 1, 22; Abella Casariego 1883, 7; Escoto 1998, 277).

Abuses were also committed against the Chinese miners, who had to work incessantly for long hours in order to obtain the amount of iron the Spanish capitalists expected. In the Santa Ines mines, workers in the foundries and refineries were forced to work day and night (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 776). Angat’s Chinese miners had to work without the benefit of machinery.13) The strenuous nature of mine work required sufficient food intake and nutrition. However, only a limited supply of food was provided for the laborers. In 1765 the Chinese laborers in Santa Ines were compelled to cultivate the area around the mines to augment the rations provided by the government (de Viana 1903–7, 107). The same directive was imposed also upon the Angat laborers (Centeno 1876, 39). The meager funds available to the colonial government were allocated primarily for the reconstruction of what was destroyed during the British invasion of Manila (1762–64) as well as to better equip the military force to cope with the increased Iranun raiding on the islands.

Due to the terrible labor conditions in the mines, it was common for Chinese laborers to flee. Hence, stricter controls were imposed on their movements and work. These stringent measures were deemed important when the act of running away was viewed within the context of the numerous Chinese revolts of the preceding period. While mine administrators were mostly civilians, managers on site had to be from the military. For example, a Spanish military official functioned as the manager of the mines and supervisor of the Chinese laborers at the Santa Ines mines. This official had at his disposal 25–30 soldiers who made sure the laborers followed the manager’s orders and carried out their work efficiently (de Viana 1903–7, 107–108).

Copper Mines in Northern Luzon

As in the earlier period, Chinese laborers were also employed in the copper mines of Lepanto in the nineteenth century. Copper as a “windfall” commodity (Webb 1964, 180, 182) in the mountainous frontier of Northern Luzon was first mentioned during Governor Simon de Anda’s administration (1770–76).14) However, no attempt was made to tap its potential until Governor Pascual Enrile (1830–35) tried to curb the circulation of counterfeit money called siping (US Bureau of the Census 1905, 84) by instructing Col. Guillermo Galvey to tackle the problem.15) Galvey was also tasked to be on the lookout for copper deposits (Scott 1974, 245). However, specific directives for exploring the mineral resources of the mountains between Cagayan and Ilocos were issued only on March 27, 1834. On January 1–18, 1835, assisted by Aide-de-Camp Jose Maria Peñaranda, Galvey undertook the search for copper (Centeno 1876, 41; Scott 1975a, 129)16) in the rancherías (Meyer 1975, 103)17) of Gambang, Lamagang, Ampan, and Apayao. These settlements were part of the 60 rancherías tributarias (tributary villages) under the jurisdiction of the Political and Military District of Lepanto (see Map 1) (Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 115).

 

seas1001_galang_map1

Map 1 District of Lepanto

 

Galvey and Peñaranda not only discovered a “copper region of unquestioned value” (Early Franciscan Missions [1649 (1895)] 1903–7, 301), they also learned that the Igorots of these rancherías had been mining copper even before the Spanish colonization of the islands (Santos 1862, 19, 21; Centeno 1876, 43; de Lacalle 1886, 201). The mining engineer Antonio Hernandez, who was sent to the Cordilleras in 1850, learned on the spot how the Igorots mined and smelted ores. According to his report, the Igorots were knowledgeable in extracting and refining minerals such as copper and gold. To open a new mine site, the Igorots constructed pools of water in order to obtain a head of pressure adequate to reveal the mineral deposits, which they split by building fires against the rock. The ores were then roasted with fuel piled up around them. These roasted ores were melted down twice in crude furnaces so that a finer grade of metal could be acquired (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4).

The Igorots sold the half-worked ores in the lowland Christian towns of La Union and Ilocos. Artisans in these towns used the copper to make utensils and ingots illicitly used as currency (the counterfeit sipings). In most cases, these copper objects were also sold in Manila (Santos 1862, 19). However, from the standpoint of the Spaniards, the Igorots’ “rudimentary” mining and smelting techniques produced low-quality ore and poor amounts of copper. This deplorable situation, the authorities asserted, could be improved with the help of mining experts and the use of machinery (Santos 1862, 19–20).

On March 9, 1837, two years after the Galvey-Peñaranda expedition, the Inspeccion General de Minas was established to promote the mining industry in the Philippines (Santos 1862, 19). The bureau was tasked to undertake mineral and resource explorations in the archipelago, conduct geological surveys in potential mining areas, collect rock samples for investigation, and create an empirical data base for the development of the industry (Santos 1862, 19–21; Abella Casariego 1883, 14–15). The bureau was composed of a corps of engineers under the chief inspector, who was also an engineer (Abella Casariego 1883, 14). It was through the efforts of the bureau’s corps of engineers that systematic studies on the copper mines in Lepanto were undertaken. For example, the bureau reported that an estimated 189.78 quintales metricos (metric quintals) of copper could be procured from the mines annually.18) This meant that over 15 years (1840–55) the mines could produce approximately 2,846.70 quintales metricos of copper, which was equivalent to 117,000 pesos fuertes when sold in Manila (Santos 1862, 19).

The first comprehensive regulations on mining (Reglamentos de Minas) were introduced in 1846 through a decree issued by Governor Narciso Claveria (1844–49) (Centeno 1876, 41). In these regulations, the fundamental goals, the agencies, and the overall processes involved in mining the colony’s mineral resources were outlined in detail. The Reglamentos also set out the rights and responsibilities of the colonial state, contractors, miners, and laborers (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 350–357). Twenty years later, a more detailed mining policy was announced through the Mining Decree of May 14, 1867. As will be elaborated in the following sections, the 1867 Decree clarified certain provisions of the 1846 Regulations, particularly articles specifically about Chinese contract laborers (chinos contratados) (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 375–378), who comprised the majority of workers employed in the Lepanto copper mines.

The Cantabro-Filipina Company

Proposals for the systematic exploitation of the Lepanto mines were submitted to Manila two years after Hernandez’s 1850 expedition. On September 5, 1852, Antonio Perea, the military commandant of Cayan, the capital of Lepanto, made a proposal to Governor Antonio de Urbiztondo (1850–53) to exploit the mines in Mancayan. He intended to employ “families of poor but honest laborers” from Christian towns in Cayan and the surrounding pacified areas. The government would assist with the laborers’ resettlement by providing the necessary funds for their transportation, building their houses, and procuring draft animals as well as agricultural and mining tools. The initial expenses would amount to 5,000 to 6,000 pesos, but the expected annual yield for each mine (beneficio) was 10,000 pesos (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4). In 1854 the project was approved, and the funds came from the community chest (caja de comunidad) (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4, No. 1; Ultramar 435, Expediente 33), which Filipinos had been paying as a direct tax (contribucion directo) since the beginning of Spanish rule (Plehn 1901, 688–689).

The project began on April 30, 1854, as soon as the Mining Decree to start operations was issued (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4). However, the lack of Igorot labor willing to stay for long periods of time in the mines, and the lack of additional funds required, brought the state-sponsored operations to a halt. It was then that the Cantabro-Filipina Company, a private Spanish company, stepped in, obtained the mine claims, and continued the work that the colonial government had started.

The system for granting such mine claims began in the middle of the eighteenth century: all interested individuals, groups, or companies could submit proposals to the authorities in Manila. These proposals invariably specified the length of time the proponents intended to operate the mine, provisions on the conduct of operations—including the amount they would pay the government—as well as how to procure workers. Once the government selected the best proposal, which would further the government’s interests, the lease was granted (Diaz-Trechuelo 1965, 785–786).19)

The Cantabro-Filipina Company began its operations on March 26, 1856, after Venancio Balbas was allowed, through an agreement between him and the Igorot chiefs of the area, to explore the Santa Barbara mine in Magamban, Mancayan (Santos 1862, 20; Scott 1975a, 129, 135). Despite Balbas’s pioneering efforts to exploit the mines, no copper was produced in the early years of operations. In order to find out what was wrong, a special commission, led by Jose Maria Santos, chief engineer of the Bureau of Mines, was sent to Lepanto in October 1859 (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4). After making his investigations, on November 30, 1861 Santos submitted his “Informe sobre las minas de cobre de las rancherías de Mancayan, Suyuk, Bumucun y Agbao en el Distrito de Lepanto, isla de Luzon de las Filipinas” (Report on the copper mines in the villages of Mancayan, Suyuk, Bumucun, and Agbao in Lepanto District, Luzon island) to the governor-general (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4). The report contained, among other things, important recommendations for salvaging the future of the mines. One of these recommendations was to create a well-structured administration to preside over every aspect of mining operations, from generating funds to employing labor and selling the ore yields (Santos 1862, 64–71). This new administration was created on April 1, 1862 (Minas de cobre del Distrito de Lepanto (Filipinas) 1862; Reglamento interior para la mejor administración de la sociedad Española, Minero-Metalúrgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan 1862).

Through the capable leadership of Santos and the efforts of the company officials, copper production in the 10 mines of Lepanto gradually increased after 1862 until the peak year of 1870 (Santos 1862, 3–7; see also Scott 1974, 247; 1975a, 104). Table 1 depicts the annual copper production of the Cantabro-Filipina Company in the decade between 1864 and 1874 as reported by Don Jose Centeno y Garcia, chief of the First Corps of Mining Engineers (Jefe de Primera [Administración] del Cuerpo de Ingenieros de Minas). It was only after 1867, more than a decade after full-scale operations began, that the company was able to extract fine copper (cobre fino) from the cruder yields of black copper (cobre negro).

 

Table 1 Copper Production in the Lepanto Mines, 1864–74

seas1001_galang_table1

 

Recruitment and Employment of Chinese Laborers

The increase in copper production was enabled also by employing more Chinese laborers in addition to those initially hired by Venancio Balbas. According to Santos, who later became the leader of the enterprise seconded to the company from the government (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4), it was advantageous to hire Chinese laborers as they proved “to be knowledgeable and worked well” (Santos 1862, 34). The Chinese miners were instrumental in improving the “imperfect and inefficient means employed by the savages” (Santos 1862, 19–20). These young and able-bodied men also consistently augmented the small number of Igorots who wanted to be employed in the mine works (US Bureau of the Census 1905, 83).

In July 1856, preparatory work at the Lepanto mines began with the arrival of 120 contracted Chinese laborers (Scott 1975a, 104). Ten months later, another 156 Chinese arrived and were sent straight to the mines (Ultramar 436, Expediente 4). In 1861 it was reported that the mines had only 140 Chinese laborers (Santos 1862, 60). This number had increased to more than 600 by 1869 (Scott 1975b, 27) and then dropped to 400 by 1870 (Scott 1975a, 104). During the 1875–76 registration (empadronamiento), there were only 87 Chinese registered in Lepanto, described as “mineros y agricultores” (miners and agriculturists) (de Gracia 1877, 89). The number of Chinese laborers in the mines was dependent upon fluctuations in the price of ore and the amounts of copper produced, the lack of Filipino laborers from the area, the availability of unemployed Chinese mine labor, and the amount of work required. For example, in 1870–71, when copper production was high, an additional 91 Chinese laborers were contracted to work in the mines (Cuentas, SDS 18500). After 1874 their number declined as the company faced serious financial challenges due to the plummeting world price of copper, the prohibitive transportation costs linked to the mines, and the increasing outlays for fuel (Perez 1902, 132; Scott 1975a, 105).

The dialect group affiliation of the Chinese laborers is difficult to ascertain. The archival sources do not indicate whether the laborers were Hokkien (from southern Fujian) or Cantonese (from Guangdong), the two principal Chinese communities in the Philippines. Chinos and sangleyes were the common Spanish terms used in official reports and correspondence. Despite this limitation, it can be inferred that while the majority of Chinese who came to the islands were Hokkien, it seems that Cantonese called macanistas were the preferred laborers for the Lepanto mines. For example, the 156 Chinese laborers imported in 1857 were all indentured in Macao (Ultramar 436, Expediente 4). Furthermore, the surnames of the 91 laborers employed in 1871 were all Cantonese (Cuentas, SDS 18500).20) One reason for this preference for Cantonese was that certain trades and occupations were dominated by particular speech-dialect groups. In addition to cooking, leatherwork, carpentry, and cabinetmaking, mining was also an industry where macanistas had a specialization (de Comenge 1894, 48; see also Wickberg 2000, 177). The arrival of these Cantonese miners began after 1852, when Macao became the redistributive center of the coolie trade in China (Yen 1985, 52–53).

The recruitment of Chinese labor for the Lepanto mines followed the general pattern of the global coolie traffic during the second half of the nineteenth century.21) Under the auspices of the “coolie agency system,” young men from South China were signed up for manual work overseas by unscrupulous agents or brokers (khetaus), who commonly employed debt trapping, opium drugging, and armed kidnapping to obtain laborers. The fresh Chinese laborers would then be held in barracoons while waiting for foreign agents to negotiate their contracts with the khetaus. After the negotiations, the indentured laborers would leave China on ships registered to Western nations (Yen 1985, 36–39, 55). Chinese laborers sent to work at the Lepanto mines were transported to the Philippines with batches of other Chinese bound for plantation work in Cuba, Peru, and other colonies in the Caribbean and Spanish America (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 11, 186; Meagher 2008; see also Hu-DeHart 1994, 38–54). In 1857, for example, the Spanish ship Asuncion commanded by Capt. Severo de Arritola brought Chinese mine laborers to the port of Santiago, Ilocos Sur, while bound for Cuba with more Chinese coolies who were being transported to Havana. The Cantonese laborers had been contracted in Macao by Don Tomas Balbas y Castro, the first company administrator of the Lepanto mines, through his agent Don Mariano del Pielago (Ultramar 436, Expediente 4).

It was also possible for company agents to negotiate with Chinese or Chinese mestizo cabecillas (employers) in Manila instead of going directly to China, as cabecillas also had labor gangs under their jurisdiction. However, if a cabecilla had only a limited number of laborers, the agent would seek help from the gobernadorcillo de sangleyes. The latter could provide additional labor from among newly arrived migrants who did not have a cabecilla to take them in, who were temporarily lodged at the Casa Tribunal de Sangleyes in Binondo (de Comenge 1894, 32, 35–36; de Viana 2001, 148–149).

The length of service and salary of laborers specified in the contract were negotiated between the company agent and the khetaus in China, or the cabecillas in Manila. Chinese laborers for the Lepanto mines, like the coolies destined for Cuba, were issued contracts before their embarkation from Macao or Amoy. The length of service was normally between one and three years, which could be renewed based on the company’s need and laborer’s performance (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4).22) The laborer’s salary was determined by the company. In 1861 a laborer received an annual salary of 36 pesos. In addition, he received 15.43 pesos yearly for his food supply (Santos 1862, 60). In 1871 the annual salary was 10 pesetas, which was given every four months (tercio): in January, May, and September (Cuentas, SDS 18500). The laborer’s entire salary for the first year of employment was transferred by the company agent to the khetau or the cabecilla, who would deduct all debts incurred by the laborer before going to the mines. A laborer’s debts normally included his travel expenses and entry taxes coming into the Philippines, food and lodging at the cabecilla’s house or shop-cum-dormitory, and other basic necessities while the laborer was still in Manila. The laborer also received a certain amount from his cabecilla before traveling to the mines, as he had to purchase his provisions (except food) from the company’s store (Santos 1862, 60; Wickberg 2000, 111–112).

If the contract was signed in China, it was the responsibility of the company agent to prepare all necessary documents for the coolie’s travel to the Philippines. The agent would submit these documents to Spain’s diplomatic legations in Amoy and Macao. The Spanish consul general would grant travel permits to the laborers and send a dispatch to the Philippines, informing the governor general about the impending arrival of the laborers and the vessel that was transporting them (Ultramar 436, Expediente 4; see also Chinos [Manila, 1893–1894], SDS 13048, S 124).

In the case of laborers coming from Manila, it was the gobernadorcillo de sangleyes that requested the governor of the city of Manila to issue the men’s licenses to travel and take up temporary residence in Lepanto. The gobernadorcillo, with an endorsement from the cabecilla, had to vouch that the laborers were law-abiding, paid their contributions on time, and had no criminal records (Ultramar 5203, Expediente 4, No. 13; see also Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376). For its part, the company had to pay each laborer’s capitacion (poll tax) for the entire year before travel and residence permits were granted. A general list of the laborers, including their respective travel and residence documents, was handed over by the company to the provincial governor, who in the case of Lepanto was the politico-military commander of the district. The list was absolutely necessary in order for the provincial government and treasury to track down the number of Chinese laborers required to pay their poll tax and falla (redemption fee) after one year of working in the mines (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376).

After all the necessary travel documents were obtained, the trip to the mines would begin. The trek to the mountains, which normally lasted two to three days, would begin in a southeasterly direction from Candon, Ilocos Sur. The travellers had to cross “several rivers and use some badly constructed and rugged roads” (Santos 1862, 25–26). Walking was considered the most suitable means of reaching the mines, as riding a horse or being carried on a hammock lifted by native porters was considered dangerous and annoying (Santos 1862, 25–26). Loads were carried by porters (cargadores) from Cayan to Mancayan for 2 reales and 10 cuartos per piece (de Gracia 1877, 59). Horses and buffalo were available, but these animals were used only for transporting machinery and carts loaded with rocks and copper ores (Santos 1862, 61). It was only in the latter part of the 1870s that road construction was undertaken through the efforts of the company. Caution had to be observed, especially when traversing unpacified territories, as “the mountains possessed a hostile and suspicious nature” (Centeno 1876, 41). This character portrayal of the mountains signified not only the geophysical events that could occur but, more important, the possibility of planned attacks by Igorots, who had resisted Spanish encroachment into their territories for more than three centuries.

Working Conditions

Mine work was generally determined by the locations where the Chinese laborers had to work. Exterior work (obras esteriores) referred to activities outside the tunnels. During the early months of opening up an area for mining, Chinese laborers (barreteros) had to clear the forests to make the area habitable. They used hand axes to cut down the sturdy oaks, pines, narra, cedar, molave, and camagong that abounded (Santos 1862, 20–21, 26–27, 34; Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 117; de Gracia 1877, 45–46; Scott 1975a, 104). As time was often of the essence, they cleared forests day and night (see de Comenge 1894, 41). After this initial phase, the Chinese had to build and maintain a number of structures, such as the company’s administrative offices, firewood stores, various shops, a powder magazine, a rice warehouse and bodega, and kilns for making bricks for the furnaces. They also had to construct their own barracks within the confines of the mining compound (Santos 1862, 20–21, 44, 61; Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376; Scott 1975a, 104).

But the Chinese were hired primarily for the actual mining or related underground works (trabajos subterraneos) from 1856 until the end of the company’s full-scale operations in 1875 (Santos 1862, 21; Scott 1975a, 138). In 1859 Don Tomas Balbas y Castro reported that more than 1,580 metros lineales (linear meters) of tunnels had been explored by the Chinese. This underground work resulted in a yield of 146,000 arrobas23) of copper (Santos 1862, 6). Using crowbars, hammers, and chisels, Chinese barreteros chiseled away at the ore face. They also drilled holes and set explosive charges to dislodge the ore (Santos 1862, 44, 60, 61). They would then bring the ore to the tunnel entrances. Igorot women would mill and wash the ore before their men sorted and classified it (Santos 1862, 60; Scott 1975a, 104). In the 1880s, 15–20 Igorot women and some Chinese were usually employed to classify the ores (Perez 1902, 129). Smelting using Mexican smelters was also done by Chinese fundidores (foundry workers) (Santos 1862, 60; Scott 1975a, 104).

During the nineteenth century, kongsi associations were important in settling and developing the mining frontiers of rural Malaya, southern Siam, and western Borneo. Kongsis were a “form of open government based on an enlarged partnership and brotherhood” (Wang 1994, 4). Their main purposes were to protect the rights of their members, promote economic productivity among them, and resist outside powers that would abuse or mistreat them (Wang 1994). These institutions, however, did not develop in the Philippines, due to the Spanish administration’s ban on the establishment of such autonomous “states within the state” (Wickberg 2000, 24). Consequently, management of Chinese labor at the Lepanto mines was in the hands of the company’s Spanish administrators and Christian Filipino workers (most probably Ilocanos). The first Spanish officials from the Bureau of Mines assigned to supervise the mines were sent to Lepanto in the latter part of 1859 (Santos 1862, 3). Table 2 lists the personnel employed in the Lepanto copper mines two years later.

 

Table 2 Personnel Employed by the Cantabro-Filipina Company in the Lepanto Copper Mines, 1861

seas1001_galang_table2

 

Taking into consideration the significant role of Chinese skilled labor in Philippine mining before the nineteenth century, as noted earlier, it is likely that most skilled labor (e.g., founders, blacksmiths) in Table 2 were Chinese even though only 140 underground workers and smelters were specifically identified as “Chinese.” Even Santos, who drafted the Informe (report) in 1861–62, including the table, categorically stated that Chinese skilled laborers were indispensable for operating the mines (Santos 1862, 21, 44). Whenever possible, therefore, Chinese skilled workers were employed. They were ranked higher in status in the labor hierarchy, and hence treated better, than the Chinese underground workers and smelters but were still considered lower down the scale than the Spanish administrators and Christian Filipino workers.

Chinese laborers worked in shifts, as mine labor—particularly in the foundries—had to be done around the clock. The copper mine zone was divided into two areas: the major mine site was located in Mancayan, and minor ones were in the area of Suyuc,24) Bumucun, Lupaac, and Agbao (Perez 1902, 132). More Chinese laborers worked in the Mancayan mines than in the latter mines. However, during the rainy season additional hands were deployed at the Suyuc mines as the neighboring Igorots of Suyuc had to tend their rice and camote crops (Perez 1902, 133, 138). Each group of laborers was supervised by a Spanish watchman (celador) during the day and two Filipino foremen (indios capataces de noche) at night. Both the laborers and foremen were under the supervision of a Spanish chief foreman who administered the underground works and the foundries (capataz mayor para minas y fundiciones).

A typical workday for laborers would start before daybreak with breakfast—mainly rice or root crops, a piece of meat, and vegetables—prepared in their assigned quarters. The rice usually came from the neighboring areas of Mancayan and Suyuc (Perez 1902, 124). However, rice was imported from Ilocos Sur when harvests were poor in the latter part of the nineteenth century due to unreliable weather and climate (Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 117). The Mining Decree of 1867 enjoined mine companies and administrators to establish a large chicken coop and slaughterhouse for reliable poultry and meat supplies, especially when the number of laborers exceeded one hundred, which was the case in the Lepanto copper mines. After breakfast the Chinese laborers, with their mining tools in hand, lined up in front of the administration office; there the foremen counted them, making note of any laborers who were sick or had absconded. Those who were ill were sent to the infirmary, where they were attended to by a surgical practitioner (practicante de cirugia) and given medicine. For minor accidents, first aid kits were readily available (Santos 1862, 60–61; Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376; Scott 1975a, 104). Those with more serious ailments and injuries were brought to either of the two infirmaries in Mancayan and Cayan (Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 116). However, if a sick person was found unfit for work, he would be sent back to Manila and a replacement would be sought at the company’s expense. On the other hand, laborers who fled were pursued by Igorot warriors assigned to capture these defiant absconders (Semper 1975, 27).

A brief mention of the salaries of Chinese laborers was made earlier. However, a more detailed discussion is necessary in order to compare what Chinese workers received in relation to non-Chinese workers. The heaviest, most physically demanding, and most dangerous work was assigned to non-Christian Chinese, Igorots, and Tinguians, who also received the lowest salaries among the company’s personnel. Commenting on their low salaries, Santos stated in 1861: “I do not think there is an establishment of the same kind with such modest wages” (Santos 1862, 34–35).25) In the same year, the 20 Tinguians hired as cart drivers and a shepherd each received 36 pesos annually, while every Igorot who worked as an ore classifier was paid an annual salary of 24 pesos. On the other hand, the Chinese and Igorot laborers received 36 pesos every year plus 15.43 pesos and 86.4 pesos respectively for their provisions (abastecer de viveres) (Santos 1862, 60). The laborers bought their food and other supplies from the company store, which was maintained by the warehouse keeper (encargado de tienda y raciones). As noted above, the food allowance was provided by the company but the laborers’ other living expenses had to come from their salaries. As was the case in other mining areas in Southeast Asia during the period under consideration, Chinese laborers were encouraged to buy staples from the company store on credit. Normally, their debts were deducted from their salaries before they received them.

By comparison, a Spanish watchman received 140 pesos annually while a Christian indio foreman received 96 pesos, which was more than double the salary of a Chinese or Igorot laborer (Santos 1862, 60). This difference in wages suggests that the company took religious affiliation and racial or ethnic identities and attributes into consideration when hiring employees. The crucial skills needed to operate the mines were obviously important, but the Spanish employees, who were at the top of the labor ladder, were not always as qualified as they were expected to be for the work. There were engineers who were hired despite their lack of training and experience. The agents of the Bureau of Mines, who conducted an inspection in the Lepanto mines, reported in 1863 that they saw “with sorrow great errors, which immediately [caught] the eye, committed by fraudulent [Spanish] engineers who, in intelligence and mining knowledge, lag behind those we unduly classify as savages” (Informe 1864, 12–13, cited in Scott 1974, 247).

Living Conditions

Chinese laborers built their own barracks adjacent to the mining area. They were not allowed to go outside their compound (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376). According to two Europeans who visited the mines in the 1870s, the company’s headquarters house (casa administración) was erected on a hill above the area where the Chinese barracks were located. Thus, it would be easier for the administrators to watch over and regulate the Chinese quarter (Reglamento interior . . . 1862, 30–31).26) Furthermore, two Spanish watchmen were specifically assigned to ensure that no Chinese violated the rule of remaining within their compound. Only those individuals who were sick and no longer capable of working were allowed to return to Manila. These indigent laborers, after getting an endorsement from their respective foremen and certification from the mine’s physician, had to also secure a permit from the administrator of the mine. Before the laborers went to work at dawn, roll call was taken by the foremen. Before returning to their barracks in the evening, they were accounted for again, to ascertain whether anyone had escaped or been injured in the mine. These numbers were included in the monthly report given to the provincial or district treasury (Reglamento interior . . . 1862, 23). This routine procedure was strictly enforced as the company had to pay a poll tax for every laborer on the list submitted to the treasury, although some laborers were no longer working in the mine due to illness or flight (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376).

Chinese laborers worked 25 days a month (Santos 1862, 35). The only break in their annual work routine was the celebration of Chinese New Year in January or February (Foreman 1899, 119). Sundays were reserved for religious observance of the Christian employees, and were deemed an opportune time to proselytize among the “heathen” Chinese, Igorots, and Tinguian laborers (Perez 1902, 134–135). The 1867 Mining Decree stipulated that when a mining site employed more than 250 families, a chaplain should be appointed in the area (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376). As early as 1861, the government had requested an Augustinian missionary for the mines—but it was only in October 1874, more than a decade later, that the Augustinian friar Marcelino Ceballos arrived on site. He stayed for just a few months (Scott 1974, 248). Aside from the Chinese, a small barrio of Ilocanos in the mining district also needed religious instruction (Perez 1902, 128). It was only in the late 1880s that the mission of Mancayan was established and permanently administered by the Agustinos Calzados (Font 1892, 105).

Sundays were also set aside for leisure activities, but since the Chinese laborers were confined to their compound, they were content to gamble and play cards and games of chance such as panguingue and monte, which was their favorite pastime (see de Comenge 1894, 169–170). They also drank a fermented wine called basi (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4),27) especially on occasions like Chinese New Year. They also smoked in order to cope with the cold of the mountainous areas, where the temperature could drop from 10 degrees Celsius to near freezing during the cold months between November and February (Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 116; Perez 1902, 68). Tobacco was readily available either through the contraband trade of the Igorots or supplied by the company (de Gracia 1877, 36). But it was opium that these laborers craved (see de Comenge 1894, 51; Bamero 2006, 63–64). Carl Trocki asserts that opium was an “ideal commodity” for Chinese laborers in colonial Southeast Asia:

Isolated in virtually all-male communities, they lacked most of the amenities of normal life: entertainment, families, women, and medicine. Opium filled these empty spaces, helping the laborers forget their loneliness and isolation, and easing the physical pain that accompanied long hours of heavy work in the tropical heat. In addition, it eliminated the symptoms of dysentery, malaria and other tropical fevers, which allowed them to keep working. . . . Thus, it was arguably in Southeast Asia, not in China itself, that opium use first took hold among lower-class Chinese, for as the British mass-produced opium in India, they found a mass consumer market among the Chinese laborers of Southeast Asia. (Trocki 2011, 89)

Dangerous Mines

Mine work was physically demanding, dangerous, and unhealthy. Chinese laborers had to utilize their brute strength to clear large tracts of forest in order for mining operations to be established and maintained. They had to cut down sturdy trees with axes and handsaws. In the process, they were exposed to the perennial problem of hostile attacks by tribal groups of the Cordilleras, who were described by Santos in stereotypical terms as “primitive,” “savages,” “cruel,” and “inhuman” (Santos 1862, 18, 20). The early Spanish explorers, and later the owners and administrators of the Cantabro-Filipina Company, were well aware of the headhunting expeditions of the Igorots, particularly the Ifugaos, between the 1830s and 1850s. In fact, when Governor Narciso Claveria went to assess the missionary work in the Cordilleras in April 1846, he found the conditions “grim indeed” (Scott 1974, 251, 248).

Below ground, inside the tunnels, Chinese laborers were also exposed to great dangers inhaling air lacking in oxygen and filled with metallic and non-metallic dust. A prolonged stay in the mines could damage the lungs and cause respiratory illnesses. Acrid smoke from candles and torches used inside the tunnels, as well as smoke from gunpowder used in blasting operations, added to the air pollution that affected the health of Chinese laborers (Santos 1862, 61). Mine cave-ins caused by earthquakes and the use of explosives regularly threatened the workers’ safety. Strong earthquakes occurred in Luzon in 1855 and again in 1866 (Sawyer 1900, 397–398). The violent and destructive earthquake of July 1880 hit Lepanto and Abra, leaving a trail of destruction (Los terremotos de Filipinas . . . 1880, 30; Centeno 1881, 16).

There were also deadly diseases that threatened the laborers, such as malaria and smallpox. For most Filipinos, the uplands were an avoidable place as the forests were considered to be full of fever, which was the main symptom of malaria (De Bevoise 1995, 142–143). The fevers normally became rampant “after the rains [in September and October], and in woody or marshy areas” (“An Englishman” 1903–7, 78). Giullaume Le Gentil in his travel account noted the impact of the weather on those engaged in mining in Luzon: “It is true that this sort of life shortens the days of these wretched people; as they are perpetually in water, they swell, and soon die” (quoted in “An Englishman” 1903–7, 78).

A smallpox epidemic broke out in Lepanto in 1875 (De Bevoise 1995, 118), and cholera was reported in Mancayan and Cayan in 1870 (Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 116). Illnesses and accidents were common in the mines, as evidenced by the company’s employment of a resident physician as well as personnel to administer the infirmaries in Mancayan and Cayan (Santos 1862, 60; Cavada y de Vigo 1876, 116).

Abuses

Difficult workplace conditions were partly the reason why Chinese laborers were hired by the Cantabro-Filipina Company in the first place. While it was clear that the Chinese laborers were preferred for their skills, work ethic, and relatively low wages (see Santos 1862, 34), they were still relegated to the lowest stratum of the labor hierarchy in the mines. The Spanish attitude toward Chinese miners did not change significantly in the nineteenth century. Coercion and abuses were committed against them both in the eighteenth-century iron mines and in the nineteenth-century copper mines. The 1867 Mining Decree, for example, clearly stated that the Chinese were to be hired to work in unpopulated and unhealthy (mal sano) areas of the Philippines in order to develop the country’s mining industry. Local inhabitants could be hired, but only those who were living within the boundaries of the prospective mining area as they were familiar with the site and had already adapted to local climatic conditions (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376). Ironically, unlike the Tinguian and Igorot laborers, the Chinese, who did the most physically taxing and dangerous mine work, still had to adjust to their new environment with all its geophysical and epidemic disease-related threats.

Abuses against Chinese workers were not noted even in the Bureau of Mines reports in the early 1860s. Inspections were conducted on a regular basis, but their main objective was to check the condition of the mines and see how to improve the rate of extraction of copper ore. Little attention or regard was paid to the well-being of the Chinese laborers. Furthermore, the geographic distance between Lepanto and the capital, and the near inaccessibility of the mines, presented serious obstacles to the central colonial government, as well as to the gobernadorcillo de sangleyes and the Chinese principalia, to act against the unfavorable conditions.

In order to discern the extent of the abuses committed against Chinese in the mines, one has to read between the lines of the investigation reports. For example, one distinct feature of the Chinese miners’ lives was that they were confined within the mining area. As they might “contaminate” the native laborers, especially the Igorot women, they were not allowed to leave the mining site. Even on weekends, when they put their tools down, they were confined to their quarters or around the mining compound. While the 1846 Mining Regulations stipulated that mine owners and administrators had to treat their laborers in a “suitable manner” (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 354), it was possible that the company had the Chinese laborers work in a relentless manner, particularly during the four-year period between 1856 and 1860, when the mines were still struggling to produce a substantial amount of copper (see Scott 1975a, 104). Because of the hard labor conditions that they had to endure, some Chinese miners resorted to absconding. Those who had spent an adequate period of time in the mines and gained some local knowledge of the area tended to form groups and escape. Individuals who managed to evade the police forces under the jurisdiction of the Political and Military District of Lepanto would flee to the Christian lowland towns of Ilocos and La Union (de Gracia 1877, 37; von Drasche 1975, 42). However, when the German traveler Carl Semper made a trip to the mines in 1861, he learned that the escapes did not always have a happy ending:

Some subject Igorots brought one of these unfortunate chaps [runaway Chinese laborers] back the other day. He had had to till the soil under some unconquered Igorots for several months. They had taken all his clothes and cut his hair according to their style. This had changed his appearance so much that I could only recognize him as Chinese after a close look. (Semper 1975, 27)

Captured Chinese laborers were subjected to disciplinary measures such as cultivating local farms for months without any recompense. The cutting of hair as a degrading punishment is also worth noting, as hair—especially in Chinese culture and tradition—has social and personal significance (see Cheng 1998, 123–142).28) Generally, for the Chinese, maintaining their hair in queue style was an important physical sign of their belonging to the Celestial Empire. For a Chinese fugitive whose hair was cut, the punishment did not only “alter his appearance” but also resulted in an extreme form of moral humiliation (de Salazar [1590] 1903–7, 232; Garcia Serrano [1621–22] 1903–7, 232).29)

Strict and unjust treatment compelled some “more robust Chinese” to challenge or disobey mine authorities, both Spanish and Filipino, who supervised their lives and work. This resistance was the main reason why Santos in 1862 recommended that Chinese laborers, especially those assigned to use explosives in the mines, be supervised in a “brusquely imperious way,” as they posed a serious danger (el peligroso manejo de la pólvora) to the mines and the other workers (Santos 1862, 18, 44). Abuses were so widespread in the mines where Chinese labor was used that the 1867 Mining Decree specifically ordered the provincial governor to conduct visits to the mines. The provincial governor had to investigate whether the Chinese laborers were doing the exact work stated in their contract with the company. In this way, the Chinese miners would be legally protected from any future abuse (la protección legal que necesiten por abusos de aquella) (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376).

“On Equity and Justice”

One interesting incident, highlighting the adverse conditions in the mines, involved a petition signed by Chinese in the Lepanto mines and submitted to Governor Jose de la Gandara by the subdelegado de hacienda (subdelegate of the treasury office) of Lepanto in March 1869. The petition was filed for two reasons. First, the annual salary of the Chinese miners was inadequate to cover their living expenses, which included their food and other basic necessities. On top of these expenses, they had to pay the capitacion and falla. Second, the Chinese miners felt that they were being treated unfairly compared to native labor, since they were the ones required to do the most difficult and dangerous jobs on site. The Chinese claimed that based on the “principle of equity and justice” (por un principio de equidad y justicia), they should also enjoy the exemption privilege with regard to the polo y servicio (corvee labor)30) granted to native laborers working in the Lepanto mines. In accordance with Article 61, Section 1 of the 1867 Mining Decree, native and mestizo mine laborers were required to render only half the number of days of the polo, or if they paid in cash, they received a one-third discount on the original amount. Hence, each native or mestizo polista was required to do forced labor for only 20 days or pay its equivalent, which was 4 escudos annually (Rodriguez Berriz 1887–88, Vol. 8, 376).

In response to the governor’s inquiry about the situation on the ground, the commandant of the district of Lepanto stated that native and Chinese labor in the mines undertook the same type of work. This claim was not entirely true, as demonstrated in the foregoing discussion. For example, natives (i.e., the two indio foremen, the Igorots, and the Tinguians) were also hired as mine laborers, but only the Chinese were required to do the actual mining and underground works. The commandant further added that the Chinese miners enjoyed the privilege of paying less capitacion than Chinese who were not engaged in the mining industry (Ultramar 5202, Expediente 31).31) The appeal in the petition was not granted by the Madrid government, on the grounds that the Chinese in the mines were not subjected to any greater hardships than those imposed on the natives (los chinos . . . no se hallan obligados a mayores cargas que las impuestas a los indigenas) (Ultramar 5202, Expediente 31).

Despite the rejection of the petition, it is important to note that the colonial government in Manila and the central administration in Madrid had ways to find out what was occurring on mine sites and to address matters pertaining to the miners’ welfare. However, one challenge to the implementation of these measures was the alleged connivance between colonial authorities and mine administrators to partly conceal what was happening in the mines. Another problem was irregular and oftentimes delayed inspections by the Bureau of Mines (Santos 1862, 3). Furthermore, even when these investigations were conducted, the sentiments of the Chinese laborers were not fully conveyed because of the lack of leadership among them.

The End of Operations

Copper production began to decline in 1871. There were two possible reasons for this unfortunate event. The first had to do with the increase in copper production in other parts of the world, which affected the demand for Philippine copper, extracted mainly in Lepanto. The discovery and exploitation of copper mines in Great Britain in the late 1850s contributed to the increase in world copper production. In fact, in 1860 Britain’s coastal city of Swansea became the world’s major copper center, producing 90 percent of the total global output (Alexander 1955). The second reason was that in 1871, the anti-Chinese Governor General Rafael de Izquierdo began his tenure in the Philippines. It was during his term that new restrictive policies on Chinese occupations and residence patterns were implemented. These measures affected the recruitment and deployment of Chinese miners to Lepanto (Ultramar 5217, Expediente 43).

In 1875 the Cantabro-Filipina Company withdrew from the Lepanto mines, leaving them in the hands of a few Spaniards, who continued small-scale mining operations until the American occupation of the islands. These Spaniards, who were original shareholders of the company, assisted by some Igorot and Chinese miners (Marche [1887] 1970, 124; Scott 1974, 247–248), continued to procure small amounts of copper. Between 1883 and 1887 only 3,200 quintales of copper were produced (Perez 1902, 131–132).

Some Chinese continued to work in the mines. Together with Igorots, they engaged in smithing and minting of counterfeit siping (US Bureau of the Census 1905, 84). Many Chinese who had been in the area for a long time married Igorot women who had helped them in their small-scale mining. A German traveler in 1882 reported that the Igorot and Chinese laborers

break up the fine ore in three or four tunnels, their wives sort it out and bring it to the foundries in baskets where it is first roasted with charcoal in an open fire and then melted in a broken-down furnace. The metal is poured into cakes with a ladle, and finally taken to the coast [italics added]. (Meyer 1975, 65)

With their Igorot wives, some Chinese laborers also opened retail businesses, while one even ventured into planting coffee in the area (Perez 1902, 125–126).

Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is clear that Chinese miners were crucial to the development of the Philippine mining industry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In particular, Chinese laborers hired by the Cantabro-Filipina Company for its copper mines in Lepanto between 1856 and 1898 were essential in all types of mine-related activities. Their technical and manual skills and work ethic were the reasons the company employed them. However, the marginality of the Chinese miners must also be noted, especially within the context of the prevailing colonial policy and practices as well as the difficult working conditions in the mines. These adverse conditions and circumstances provided opportunities for both Spanish and native employees of the company to abuse Chinese miners, who were unable to take advantage of the legal mechanisms established by the colonial government for their protection. Their lack of effective representation (e.g., kongsi associations) in the mines administration prevented Chinese laborers from reporting their unjust treatment to the authorities. It is thus not surprising that flight was common among Chinese laborers. However, there were also some miners who, because of their long residence in the area and their local knowledge, were able to assimilate with the local population. These men married Igorot women and put down roots in Lepanto and neighboring areas.

Accepted: March 18, 2020

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1) In accordance with Philippine President Manuel Quezon’s Executive Order No. 134, issued in 1937, Tagalog became the basis of the country’s “national language,” which is Filipino (Speech of President Quezon on Filipino National Language, December 30, 1937).

2) “Luzon,” the name of the largest Philippine island, was derived from early Chinese merchants (called sangleyes by the Spaniards) referring to it as Luzon, “Island of Gold” (Lopez 1992).

3) The main sources of information for this paper came from archives and libraries in the Philippines and Spain. I used official Spanish documents from the National Archives of the Philippines (Manila), the Archivo Historico Nacional (Madrid), and the Archivo General de Indias (Seville). Books published during the nineteenth century as well as reports by the Inspeccion General de Minas (General Inspection of Mines) were taken from the University of the Philippines—Main Library (Quezon City) and the Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid).

4) Christianized groups from the lowland towns of the Ilocos region.

5) The term “Igorots” generally refers to Filipinos born on the Central Cordillera in Northern Luzon. More accurately, the Igorots are divided into six ethno-linguistic groups—Isneg (Apayao), Kalinga, Bontoc, Ifugao, Kankanay, and Ibaloy—who for three centuries resisted assimilation into the Spanish Empire (Scott 1974, 2).

6) Tinguians are the indigenous peoples of Abra Province, in northwestern Luzon (Cole 1915, 3).

7) The term “mineral belt” was coined by American mining prospectors to refer to the Lepanto-Bontoc area, where gold and copper abounded.

8) In this context, the term “Filipino” refers to the Visayans in the central part of the Philippines. The Visayans were the first inhabitants of the islands with whom the Spanish conquistadores had initial contacts before the Spanish colonial city of Manila was established in 1571 (Scott 1994, 55).

9) Iron and copper were the two most imported metals from China during that period.

10) I use the concept of “windfalls” as formulated by Walter Prescott Webb (1964, 1–28, 180–202). According to Webb, a windfall is a resource “that comes free and unexpected and of good import.” Windfalls can be categorized into (1) primary, or “those quickly come at, things that could be had with a minimum of investment and little preliminary work”; and (2) secondary, or those which require “a long time element of waiting, and often great expense, too great for the endurance of a distant and impatient investor.”

11) The Mambulao mines had been explored in the 1660s–1690s but had not produced enough iron to cover the expenses incurred in their operations.

12) Parian was the Chinese enclave in Manila, established in 1581.

13) After 1795 the mines were taken over by the businessman Don Domingo Rojas and engineer Don Jose Barco. The two partners expanded the geographic scope of the mines. They also imported machines from Europe to be used in the mines. Unfortunately, due to nearly impassable dirt roads leading to the mines, the machines were not installed and thereby became useless.

14) Webb classified mineral resources such as gold and silver under primary windfalls. However, while Lepanto copper was a mineral resource, it took a long time (about six years) and a huge amount of capital investment before the mines produced ample ores to cover expenses and make a profit.

15) The manufacture of sipings was part of the Igorot copper industry. Extremely rude counterfeits of Spanish copper coins, which were much thicker, sipings were made because of the virtual lack of small change in Lepanto and other parts of northern Luzon. Sipings were valued at a cent and a quarter Mexican, with 4 sipings being equal to 5 centavos. Spanish efforts to curb the manufacture of sipings met with limited success. When American mining prospectors went to Lepanto in the 1900s, they found some Igorots and Chinese engaged in producing the coins, albeit in smaller quantities than what was produced in the nineteenth century.

16) According to Jose Centeno y Garcia, the order for the exploration was issued from Madrid in 1833.

17) A ranchería was a small settlement or village of indios who had not yet been converted to Christianity. A ranchería consisted of not more than 60 houses and not more than 250 inhabitants.

18) One metric quintal is equivalent to about 100 pounds or 46 kilograms.

19) An example of this process was how Doña Maria Isabel Careaga, a contractor in the wine industry, was able to get the lease of the Santa Ines iron mines in Morong in 1781.

20) For a list of Hokkien and Cantonese surnames represented by Chinese clan associations in the Philippines between the 1880s and 1980s, see See (1992, 108–114).

21) It must be noted that from the middle of the eighteenth century until the 1850s, coolie labor was practically non-existent in the Philippines, as a result of Chinese massacres and expulsions as well as the Spaniards’ restrictive immigration policies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

22) Three-year contracts were made also between the company and buyers of copper yields from Mancayan.

23) As a measure of dry weight, one arroba is equivalent to 11.506 kilograms; when used as a liquid measure, it is 16.1 liters.

24) Suyuc, the largest of the minor mines, was situated 8 kilometers from Mancayan.

25)No creo exista establecimiento de igual especie con jornales tan modicos.”

26) The Augustinian friar Angel Perez gave only the surnames of these individuals: Señores Prat and Ruiz (Perez 1902, 127). He must have been referring to two shareholders in the Cantabro-Filipina Company: Joaquin Prat and Victor Ruiz Lanzarote.

27) These wines were fermented by the Igorots of Suyuc (see Perez 1902, 139). When Antonio Hernandez explored the area, he noted how the Igorots made and drank basi, which he described as “bebida espirituosa de arroz [rice wine]” (Ultramar 443, Expediente 4).

28) When the Manchus came to power in 1611, they decreed that all Chinese (i.e., Han Chinese) had to wear their hair in queue style, which symbolized the Manchus’ success in subjecting the vast population to their control.

29) Before the nineteenth century, the cutting of Chinese queues in the Philippines was an important issue as far as the Catholic fathers were concerned. For Catholics, such an activity was an important manifestation of the Chinese converts’ severing of ties with their “pagan” religions and embracing Christianity. Many Chinese, however, continued to resist (Ultramar 5203, Expediente 4, No. 13).

30) After the successful Spanish conquest of the Philippines in the late sixteenth century, all able-bodied male inhabitants of the islands aged 16 to 60 years were required to render 40 days of forced labor (called polo y servicio or polo) to the colonial state. The 1867 Mining Decree extended this policy to the Chinese. However, instead of rendering service, the Chinese were required to pay the falla of 3 pesos. This was in addition to the capitacion they had to pay every year.

31) In accordance with the Royal Decree of December 22, 1850, Chinese who were engaged in mining, fisheries, forestry, and shipbuilding would pay only 5 reales. On the other hand, those who were not in these industries would have to pay more depending on their tax classification.

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