The most important peace document submitted by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines contains seven parts and is 82 pages long.
Here’s a summary of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER:
The preamble links the country’s economic backwardness to its colonial history. But it also highlights the potential to solve underdevelopment by tapping the country’s vast resources;
Part 1 underscores the necessity of developing the economy while focusing on the upliftment of citizens and marginalized sectors in society;
Part 2 proposes the creation of a political authority that will implement CASER even if a new government is elected into power;
Part 3 identifies the essentials of building a strong domestic economy: agrarian reform, national industrialization, and environment protection and rehabilitation.
Part 4 enumerates the people’s rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples. It also discussed the program to promote nationalist culture and literature.
Part 5 explains the meaning of economic sovereignty, independent foreign trade policy, and the urgency of reversing the three-decade doctrine of denationalization.
Final provisions tackles the technical aspects on the implementation of CASER.
Curiously, the New People’s Army is only mentioned four times in the document. What will be its new role once the peace process is finalized? The NPA will be mobilized to implement the land distribution program aside from tapping their labor skill in building an industrial future.
The draft is actually not a listing of concessions demanded by the NDF, but a new blueprint for national and/or nationalist economic development. It is a comprehensive primer about the situation of the grassroots, an alternative history of the local economy, and a program of action to overhaul the political economy.
As a social reform measure, it seeks to provide the following pro-poor services for FREE: land distribution, irrigation, support services to farmers, legal assistance and titling services to single mothers and widows in rural areas, comprehensive child care, education in all levels, continuing training for teachers and health personnel, and health care up to tertiary level.
The regressive Value Added Tax will be abolished. In terms of budget priorities, six percent of the national spending will be allocated to education, five percent to health, and 15 percent to social protection.
But how will the state finance these programs? With regard to fiscal matters, how will it pursue the ambitious goal of building a self-reliant economy?
The funds will be derived from the assets confiscated from despotic big landlords, oppressive foreign plantation owners and cartels, savings from the repudiation of anomalous foreign loans, reduced budget for the military, scrapping of all forms of pork barrel, raising of taxes on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and luxury goods, review of tax incentives given to big business, and strict regulation of financial activities of transnational corporations.
The term ‘inclusive growth’ is not cited in the document but the means of achieving it are specified through the explicit advocacy of making the economy responsive to the concrete needs of farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and other sectors in the peripheries.
As an economic treatise, it offers a refreshing perspective on economic growth: that it should be based on real production, that it should develop the rural resources and produce an industrial base, that it should enhance sustainability, that the state and not big business which should manage and direct economic planning, that it should strive for an independent foreign trade policy, and that the rights of the people are prioritized.
Let us examine in detail the essentials of developing the local economy: land reform, national industrialization, and environment protection and rehabilitation.
‘La La Land Reform’
Confiscated lands will be distributed for free to small farmers. Aside from haciendas and foreign plantations, abandoned lands owned by churches and schools will be under the land reform program. Even golf courses are targeted for distribution.
The policy of compensation is encouraged so that landlords will be motivated to invest in industrial production. A better compensation package is reserved for professionals, migrant workers, and retirees.
Landowners will be allowed to retain five hectares to be used exclusively for food production and boost rural productivity. Owner-operated fisheries not exceeding three hectares are not subject for distribution. Rich peasants can have surplus lands but they must raise wages of farm workers. Corporate farms will not be dismantled but they can be turned over to a cooperative or rural association.
Land conversion is prohibited to ensure that the country’s food self-sufficiency is not undermined.
Philippine-style Industrial Revolution
Once the rural potential is unleashed, the raw materials will be utilized to revive old industrial centers and build new manufacturing hubs. Instead of merely exporting minerals and other precious finite resources, which is the practice today, these can be used to stimulate local production.
Admittedly, this basic economic principle is no longer popular. The current dogma consigns the Philippines as an exporter of cheap raw materials and labor. Through trade liberalization imposed by rich countries, the country imports food, consumer goods, high value machines; apparently almost everything including trash from Canada.
The preferred employment option is provided by the outsourcing sector. But can this generate enough jobs, raise production, and build a strong economy in the long run? Most mainstream thinkers and policymakers believe the expansion of the service sector is good for the economy. Indeed, outsourcing is booming but real production is declining, especially in the agricultural sector.
CASER rejects this economic model and proposes instead to adopt what rich countries did in the past: protect local producers, build local industries, create stable jobs, and nationalize strategic and vital assets.
What CASER is envisioning is not really a socialist utopia dominated by collectivization and mechanization schemes but a very basic capitalist principle of large-scale production of consumer necessities, intermediate industries, and capital goods.
Below are further clarifications about the CASER reforms related to the business sector:
Is CASER anti-business? Cartels will be dismantled but legitimate businesses have nothing to fear. The state shall continue to support big and small local producers, MSMEs and startups.
Is CASER anti-foreigner? Foreign investments will not be curtailed. Surprisingly, CASER adopts the constitutional provision of limiting foreign equity to 40 percent. However, the retail trade industry will be 100 percent Filipino-owned to prevent foreigners from controlling the distribution of goods in the country.
Similar to what many countries are doing, vital and strategic industries will be nationalized. Foreign-owned investments in these industries will be expropriated except those with good record of treatment of workers and contribution to the domestic economy. These vital industries include but not limited to power generation, water, sanitation, mass transport, telecoms, and mining.
Foreign experts will be hired for five years and foreign technology will be used to develop the country’s scientific capabilities and innovate local industries.
Will CASER end private sector investment in the economy? State economic planning is the general principle but the private sector will continue to perform a big part in developing the economy. According to CASER, investments will be done mainly by the public sector, joint public-private ventures, cooperatives, and individual entrepreneurs.
But private industrial enterprises should have workers’ councils, banks will be reoriented to serve the needs of farmers and the poor, the ‘no union, no strike’ policy in export processing zones will be revoked, and salaries of workers should be indexed to the rising cost of living.
The third essential component of building a strong economy involves the protection and rehabilitation of the country’s natural resources. CASER wants to end open pit mining, large-scale reclamation, export monocrop production, and logging for export. No mining activities will be allowed in small islands, coastal ecosystems, primary forests, watersheds, and prime agricultural lands.
Growth is meaningless if the welfare of the people is ignored. CASER devotes several sections enumerating the rights of the poor and powerless in society. It lists several draconian laws and repressive agencies that have to be removed in order to uphold democracy and civil liberties.
And finally, CASER promotes the teaching of nationalism among the youth. This last point is not only symbolic but politically significant because one requirement in developing a strong national economy is the emergence of a nationalist sentiment among the population. It isn’t enough that a nationalist economic program exists, the people have to embrace it. The youth must have confidence in the capacity of Filipinos to build a new economy, produce our own needs, enrich the countryside, and create innovative industries.
Is CASER feasible?
Except for the legalization of same-sex marriage, majority of the proposed reforms in the CASER have been implemented already in many rich countries. Land reform and industrialization are political-economic strategies that transformed even small societies into global powers in the 20th century. CASER will not turn the Philippines into a socialist society. CASER is an opportunity to veer away from the tried and tested failure of blindly following the dictates of rich countries which do not want the Philippines to develop its productive base and become a potential competitor in the global market.
Those familiar with Philippine laws and the programs of various public agencies will find it easy to support the progressive framework of CASER. Despite its revolutionary intent, CASER was packaged as a program that both the government and NDF forces can implement in their respective territories. Deliberate or not, CASER echoed many programs, laws, and principles that are already being discussed in the bureaucracy. CASER adopted the progressive advocacies of civil society groups and people’s organizations.
Only the rabid defenders of landlordism and foreign cartels will outrightly reject the proposed reforms in the CASER. Those who fear that the NDF is sinisterly trying to impose its communist outlook should better read the CASER document and be prepared to be disappointed that there’s no reference to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.
But CASER does have bias for the poor and oppressed. For some, this is sufficient proof that it is a ‘communist manifesto’ disguised as a peace document.
The challenge for the Philippine government is to come up with a better CASER proposal or debunk the social reform measures proposed by the NDF. In the meantime, let’s continue talking about CASER and present it as a viable approach to address the roots of underdevelopment and injustice in the country.