Dr. Mahar Mangahas writes on the IPC’s 50th anniversary


September 19, 2010


The Institute of Philippine Culture, at 50 by Mahar Mangahas
Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 September 2010

This week’s memorable social science event was the golden anniversary of the venerable Institute of Philippine Culture of the Ateneo de Manila University, founded in 1960 by the eminent sociologist Fr. Frank X. Lynch, SJ.

Fr. Lynch also founded the Social Science Research Unit of the Ateneo de Naga University, and co-founded the Philippine Social Science Council, a national network of social science associations and institutes.  There now is a Frank Lynch Hall at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Loyola campus, and a Frank Lynch Library at the PSSC building on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

From Frank Lynch’s research titles, what immediately comes to my mind is “Let my people lead,” based on his surveys in the Bicol region.

Like an earlier book “The farmer said No” by Fr. Francis Madigan, SJ, its main message, still relevant today, is that development projects are more likely to succeed when they have a good understanding—based on scientific survey research —of what intended beneficiaries really want.

(Sadly, Frank died suddenly in 1978, of a heart attack I think, when only in his mid-fifties. I’m old enough to have addressed him by his first name in the 1970s, and use it for him now out of deep affection for a great friend. Frank once shepherded me into a movie house in Naga, and when I protested that I hadn’t bought my ticket yet, said not to worry, since Jesuits entered for free, and the theater would suppose me to be a Jesuit too.)

The month-long IPC celebration has included a lecture series, public fora, a book launch, a research exhibit, and a grand homecoming last Wednesday.  I attended a meeting of prospective authors of a book showcasing IPC achievements in a great many fields of study, and a story-telling session.  Most of today’s column is based on my own story, which was just a small part of IPC?s research in the past 50 years.

My first engagement with IPC was in 1972, when Frank asked me (at that time, the UP economics faculty’s “rice economist”) to be a consultant on a study of rice farmers of different tenures in Nueva Ecija.  The study, supported by USAID, was for the purpose of evaluating land reform policy.  I readily accepted, seeing it as an opportunity to shift my focus away from matters of rice productivity and importation, and towards the more interesting issue of farmer welfare.

In those days the conventional wisdom was that share tenancy was inferior to leasehold tenancy, making legal abolition of share tenancy, which had been done under Diosdado Macapagal in 1963, a significant reform per se.  But Ferdinand Marcos went further when, immediately after declaring martial law in September 1972, he decreed that tenanted landholdings in rice and corn (but not any other crop, notably not sugar) be purchased by the state, and that the tenants be converted into amortizing owners. Thus Marcos’ Operation Land Transfer became the policy context of the IPC project, even though it had started prior to martial law.

The Nueva Ecija study was my first participation in a project where researchers gathered their own primary data, by designing and implementing an appropriate survey, rather than simply analyzed secondary data originally generated for other purposes.  Little did I realize how fundamental this learning experience would be for my work on social indicators afterwards, all the way up to the present!

The project ultimately applied a questionnaire of 221 items to interview 91 share tenants, 194 lessees, 48 owner-operators, and 4 amortizing owners, or a total sample of 337 farmers.  By statistically comparing the tenure groups, it concluded that tenure change, by itself, does not raise farm productivity; what it does is to improve equity, when tenants are able to become owners themselves.  (The claim by some hacienderos that land transfer harms productivity is mere rhetoric, and is not scientifically based.) The reason why owners are better off than tenants is basically because they do not have to pay land rent.  Whether the rent is a proportion or a fixed amount of the harvest is immaterial.

This general conclusion, that land transfer is pro-equity and at the same time productivity-neutral, figured extensively in my advocacy of genuine land reform for many years.  The agrarian reform mandate in the 1987 Constitution, giving both landless farmers and regular farm workers (i.e., including plantation workers) the right to own, directly or collectively, the lands they till, regardless of the crop (i.e., including sugar or bananas), is quite consistent with it.

My second engagement with IPC, not so much personal as institutional, was during the partnership of Social Weather Stations with Ateneo in public opinion polling in 1986 and 1987, early in the Cory Aquino period.  By mutual agreement, the fieldwork in 1987 was done by IPC. After the SWS-Ateneo project expired, the two institutions conducted separate and independent opinion polls.  Thus the Ateneo, through IPC, did eight national opinion polls from 1988 to 1992.  In those times, many in the media were confused about which was Ateneo and which was SWS; but that’s another story.

Congratulations to IPC on its golden anniversary!

*  * *

The 1972-73 Nueva Ecija study became a book, Tenants, Lessees, Owners:

Welfare Implications of Tenure Change, by myself, Virginia A. Miralao and Romana P. de los Reyes, published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press in 1976. The study?s project director was initially Ms. De los Reyes, anthropologist, and later Ms. Miralao, sociologist, of the IPC regular staff.

Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.