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A return to the 'state of nature'.

Byline: Joseph Jadway D. Marasigan

In his major work "The Leviathan," Thomas Hobbes argued that nothing could be worse than a life without the protection of the state. Since man is in perpetual motion, he seeks nothing less than self-preservation and the fulfillment of his insatiable desire for material gain. He is all-powerful in his individual capacity and, hence, he devotes his entire life fighting for survival even if it means achieving it at the expense of others, resulting in the natural condition of homo homini lupus (man is wolf to his fellow man).

Thus, Hobbes described the "state of nature" as the time when "men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man." But that is not good. Without government to enforce laws there can be no peace and no culture. Society will never exist. "People will live in continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," the German philosopher wrote.

In his desire to institute a common power that seeks to bind everyone, man surrenders a portion of his individual power, paving the way for the establishment of the relationship between men and governments-one that is similar to a social contract. Governments exist precisely to subjugate men's brutish tendencies to allow its laws to operate as the society's mechanism to achieve integration. This is the only basis for claiming that we are a government of laws, not of men.

These thoughts came rushing to me as I pondered on the murder the other week of Elisa "Lisa" Tulid Lacona, a member of a farmers' organization in the town of San Andres in Quezon province, the seat of one of the most hotly contested agrarian reform claims in the Bondoc Peninsula. Lisa, 33, left behind her husband, Danny, and their four children.

According to eyewitness accounts, Lisa and Danny were heading to their house on foot when a lone gunman fired at Danny. The first bullets jammed, giving Danny the chance to run for cover upon Lisa's prodding, the latter believing that the gunman would spare her. But the gunman turned on Lisa, shot her in the leg and in the head, and finally stabbed her, making sure she was lifeless.

This cold-blooded murder can only be motivated by the decades-long "public land" struggle involving Lisa's family and influential landlords in San Andres. Just last year, Lisa's father, who is 75, was charged with "qualified theft" and jailed for more than a month after harvesting copra from the coconut trees that he planted. The case of Lisa's father is only one among countless others resulting from the criminalization of agrarian-reform-related disputes. Since then, and because of the family members' continuing resistance to vacate the 7-hectare farm lot that they cultivate, they have been at the receiving end of all forms of harassment and death threats. To protect Lisa and her family, members of the Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Barangay (village) Tala at Camflora had been assisting them in harvesting copra.

Lisa's family is among the more than 200 families occupying thousands of hectares of public lands in the municipalities of San Andres and San Narciso, which are classified mostly as timberlands. These huge landholdings have long been claimed by influential groups in the area. After the families' decades-long struggle, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the implementing agency of Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM), has yet to resolve issues of conflicting claims.

A CBFM agreement is a production-sharing agreement between the DENR and a people's organization for a period of 25 years, renewable for another 25 years. It provides tenurial security and incentives to develop, utilize and manage specific portions of forest lands (DENR Administrative Order No. 96-29).

The political, social, and economic relationships among peoples living in public forest zones cripple the DENR and prevent it from advancing social justice, which is the objective of public land reform. While it is clear that the primary goal of CBFM is to contribute to uplifting the community's socioeconomic condition and restoring forest cover on a sustainable basis, the grabbing of public lands remains prevalent. The uninspired DENR leadership continues to prevent our people from enjoying the benefits of an otherwise propoor and proenvironment program. This kind of disenchantment prevailing across all levels of the bureaucracy makes of the goal of CBFM mere lip service and inutility.

Lisa is a victim of this complacency of the state to resolve the issue of public-land grabbing.

The government simply lacks the backbone to protect its people from the bestial drive of accumulation at all costs-a clear breach of the social contract. The absence of a common power to suppress individual power results in "every man for himself" scenarios marked by impunity and the existence of strong feudal groups and weak state institutions. Fear, danger of violent death, poor, brutish and nasty. This is the "state of nature." This is the price of an uninspired bureaucracy.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 10, 2013
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