Thursday, August 19, 2010

Golf, a synecdoche of the land reform problematic

THAT tiny picture up there is a shot of the Hacienda Luisita Golf and Country Club, of course, but let's begin our story with a smaller symbol: Jun Lozada. Jun Lozada was hero of the year in 2008, hero qua symbol of penitence and reversed loyalty. He became the new Saint Paul the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines refused to champion during the Senate hearing on the NBN-ZTE scandal (which Gloria Arroyo's Department of Justice and appointed Ombudsman seemed to have wanted to turn into a hearing on Lozada's heresy in their turf instead). Luckily, the Jesuits of Ateneo de Manila University (or Ateneo de Manila, which is most likely its correct appellation) and the La Sallians of De La Salle University were there to protect Lozada's newfound saintliness.
     One thing we are forgetting, however, is the other Jun Lozada, the Jun Lozada who loved to play golf and live the high life. We saw in the bright camera lights Jun Lozada the truth-teller, the one who couldn't tell a lie, the dude who loved Jose Rizal. Today, we lay aside the fact that he was a penitent precisely because he used to be one of the privileged guys, raking in funds here and there for perks unbeknownst to you and me. He played golf and ate expensive "hamborjer" at that Wack Wack Golf and Country Club for the ones with wang-wanged SUVs. To dismiss this Lozadian facet is to dismiss Saint Paul's past and merely look at the saint as that brave expansionist for the Jesus club. To dismiss such facets is to forget to share Paul's and Lozada's repudiation of their respective pasts. To dismiss those is to dismiss that other significance.

NOW, I've seen great golfers and golf teachers talk on TV and I must say I have nothing but great admiration for their lot and the sport as a sport, especially for the men and women who've played those entertaining historic games on the sports cable channels. I've seen a Travel Channel take on the Scottish hills, on the origin of the sport, and can understand the game's relationship with the landscape (the Scottish landscape).
     However, there is something that Karl Marx taught everybody, and I mean everybody (in the same manner Che Guevara's One Latin-Am-ism or Guevarism taught everybody something, including the Interpol). I don't just mean the Marxist virtue of having a social security system or Government Service Insurance System or the Marxist entertainment to be derived from looking at the politics behind the production of an artwork. The Marxist lesson I'm talking about proclaims that in everything is politics, or, conversely stated, that there's politics in everything.
     And so, golf as a necessarily political presence in our pop culture must likewise be read as having a symbolic/semiotic value, and I mean a value within our polity (as against an intrinsic value independent of its surround which, in Marxist criticism, is a deny-er's cop-out). It is by this prompting that I must say golf as such, as a necessary semiotic signifier, deserves a second serious look beyond the analyses of ESPN. Never mind that Golf is often denigrated to mean "game off limits to females", since, apart from being untrue, there are today arguably more female golf athletes representing Asian women in the major circuit than there are men. Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin are familiar Filipina names in the LPGA, whereas a Filipino has yet to achieve a PGA championship.
     And never mind that in subcultural rock music society golf is frowned upon as a Republican game, nearly throwing eggs at Hootie and the Blowfish in the '90s and only forgiving the elderly Neil Young for being elderly.
     I'd like to encourage an independent assessment of the game's context today, in the Philippine setting, an assessment that is ideally non-partisan. And though I know there's been some opposition to golf in many countries including non-tropical ones like France and Japan and Scandinavia, I'd still be happy with having a look at how golf may represent a semiotic something, as it were, in the Philippine body politic worthy of our opposition to it as citizens living in the armpit regions.
     First, one of the basic complaints against the golfing sport derives from environmental activism, concerning water supply usage for the hectares of must-be-green-grass. And although this has always been promptly countered by many an articulate golf course owner by referring investigating reporters to a well or mini-reservoir built within the course for its own use, still the water table supply must be spread democratically, and so on and so forth, and that's not even mentioning yet---say the activists---the "organic" dye that goes into the already Strontium 80-laden grass that can't be meant for cows, with the elements in the mixture, too, going into the soil composition as well as the atmosphere, and so on and so forth, oh, I must stop.
     I must stop. I must stop, for I'd much rather have beef against the implication of land usage for golfing purposes per se. It is certainly an implication that completes itself vis a vis the contradictory policies of Philippine governance:

WE are a country rightly or wrongly running a land reform policy, for one, and a human settlements department in government, secondly, tasked to address the squatters and the migration-of-the-homeless problematique. And here we are, flaunting the idea that wide tracts of land, as long as their owners don't declare them as agricultural land, can either delay these properties' usefulness for some future industrial leasing, or otherwise use now for the golfing elite minority's pleasure under the guise of tourism or shoring up the real estate boom. Some will say that by this picture alone golf becomes a symbol of one side of a governance contradiction. For while land reform and the human settlement program are progressivist in intent, tourism and industrialization are a different set of priorities altogether. But I say, we must not stop there; we must move on, to conjecture upon the anatomy of that contradiction as a possible monster produce of sheer Hypocrisy.
     In the Marcos era, much government talk was disseminated against the presence of idle lands, a campaign of course which turned a blind eye to Marcos' fronts and Marcos' Kilusang Bagong Lipunan Party's members and their own teeming tracts of idle property. Hypocrisy in this country does not merely find symbolic amplification in sports, say, the golfing sport. No. For Hypocrisy is the sport.
     Farm estates in the United States are owned by private individuals or private companies instead of Hacienda Luisita-style "corporate" systems with former tenants for new incorporators, and maybe because hypocrisy is not a tradition in American agriculture. On the other hand, we've heard about the many problems posed against Philippine land reform, or Japanese land reform for that matter.
     For example, one claim has it that national agricultural objectives have not been achieved hand in hand with the Philippine land reform plan. The contending argument, on the other hand, goes that agricultural output was never the program's objective to begin with, the umbrella objective being political instead of economic. For surely, if the program is being moved by an economic thrust, then we'd have a problem with the alleged reality that many farmers are not necessarily guaranteed of a better life with land reform, which is a euphemistic way of expressing the dread of an opposite resultant. Unless perhaps the farmer converts his land to more profitable industrial leasing, in which case the land reform program qua agrarian reform would have to be deemed as having lost its purpose, success may yet prove to be elusive. Or would the program really lose its "redistributionary" objective this way? As long as one practices "charity" in his feudalistic heart, it shouldn't matter now what the recipient of one's goodness does with his new property.
     Others argue that land reform as a philosophical direction must be consistent and extend itself as a philosophy into factories and the services industry, for---after all---many families have had several of its generations serving under some same manufacturing dynasty, an ad agency's janitorial division for that matter under some same agency owner's family.
     Should the land reform philosophy extend stock options into this area of what could be a new labor-friendly national GDP?

BUT this is not a piece aiming to instigate a resurgence of debates on the land reform program and philosophy, lest I be mistaken for somebody sounding apologias for the landed. This is, rather (and I hope you'd believe me), a light examination of and/or rumination on the enveloping philosophy 1) of our republic itself and 2) around its regard for land ownership and that ownership's responsibilities, whether involving reformed land or not.
     An individual who owns a thousand hectares of farmland must subdivide it to tenants who have the option---helped by tax money---to buy the little pieces, so they can have their own little grape plantations. Well and good, at least for the utopia. But an individual who owns a thousand hectares of land not used for the production of pectin-rich vegetables can actually still exploit his area as he pleases before the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program catches up with him, and I am reminded of Lucio Tan's long-idle hectares in Quezon City beside homeless squatters.
     Agricultural farms up for land division/distribution. Golf courses. Agricultural production programs. Idle lands. Put two and two together and you have a picture of contradictions, perhaps deriving from a hypocritical lying elite culture, perhaps from a country's non-philosopher-kingship devoid of an integral wisdom that may serve as soul for the never-ending pornography of naked slogans. This non-philosophy has churned a religion of evasiveness, and its gods have been playing golf.

HOWEVER, I would like to say that perhaps the Filipino habit of throwing in the towel might someday swerve to more proactive attitudes of Davidian defiance, especially now that a purportedly social liberal government has been installed.

     Let me start with the "moderate" form of such a defiance. I could, for example, beyond wallowing in disgust, propose a sublimating potential for the golf sport in the tropical setting. I have in mind, for instance, a possible "progressivist" value for golf as a social item, one that will address instead of ignore its Philippine setting wherein a democracy is struggling to empower itself over a long-established plutocracy. I could start with the proposition, and perhaps a new millionaire can be created by my suggestion, that standards for golf course bunkers, roughs and other hazards can be upgraded to include forest trees, ponds containing edible fish, with the fairway areas occupying less acreage than the rocks and weeds, with even a fruit grove or corn area to be placed in, on, and around them. I'm talking about what modern parlance might dub as "extreme golf". Unacceptable, perhaps, to the traditionally conservative crowd that make up golf country club memberships, but then there are always industry companies like Virgin or Pixar or Apple willing to take up the slack of contentment and tried-and-tested business formulas. The new golf course of the future can now begin to look like this forest photo here.
     This new, one might say liberal or progressivist, type of golf might not mind venturing into earth-friendlier and necessarily people-friendlier redesigns of things we've come to accept, inclusive of pricing. Following the examples of Henry Sy, et al., and I don't mean their relationship-with-labor records, "extreme golf" investors can profit from membership volume instead of from a conservative neoliberal marketing of exclusivity. It's about time we cease to behave like fearful loyal subjects to a fearless royal class; let's liberate golf as though this were France in 1799!
     After all, the world has changed. And if we are to learn anything from this new phase---in the same manner that we've learned that centrist governments only tame, while fooling, a people, and that rightist governments that play conservative golf actually merely promote contesting communist and Muslim insurgencies---, it is that the latest world order demands a rehash of our concepts of a Promiseland, one less inspired by trickle-down economics perhaps, lest we wake up one day to find all our neighbors acting like terrorists with clubs, shouting defiance towards our golf clubs.
     But here's the disclaimer. Given our tame general populace's outlook which has long learned courage to fight only the little neighborly fights among themselves, the above grim down-with-Marie-Antoinette's-head picture is pretty unlikely. Golf courses will continue to blossom, agricultural tracts converted under our noses to industrial estates or resorts and subdivisions, and the hypocrisy will give way to a new comfortable utopia of Imeldific investing by the nouveau Imeldas. Fine utopia. Or should I say outbreak of rampant myopia?
     And the masses that will suffer will never know what hurt them, and they'll continue to murder themselves with petty bickerings, unable to protest against those beyond their education's comprehension. Even as many say we've always had a socialist tendency as a people, always expecting government to take care of us and blaming government for our ills, yet our magnificent elite shall continue, yet again, to flaunt a self-centeredness that recognizes the reality of the tamed "socialism" of our people that has been amply uneducated by our educational policies, unable therefore to find the art of war. But this is risky. How long will our children be safe from the surprises of sudden terrorist or criminal recruitment? Might we already have sown the seeds of such a subculture? Are we continuing to farm such a field of seeds? When wealthy Chinese-Filipinos and Spanish mestizos and new Malay-brown billionaires display their privileged delight in a golf course, dismissing Jun Lozada's example of repudiation, will a small-minded waiter who has had the all-too-common racist impression that Chinoys are an anti-labor Kuomintang lot, all millionaires myopic as East India Company, . . . will he plant the ire of a neo-Nazi in his spirit? Would his racism be checked by Chinoys' and mestizos' better presence in Rotary Club medical missions, say, for free breast cancer checkups on municipal grounds?
     Golf. It's going to be a game off limits to Filipinos. And by Filipinos I mean to include the homeless and the squatters and the communists. As well as the political opportunists/climbers. As well as the ordinary men and women of the village or town or city who drink the communal water, slosh in the global-rain puddles, try to understand the word "freedom" in an ever-decreasing ground space for their fenced-out habitation.

     Game off limits to Filipinos. That's what we're playing. And there are still 18 holes to play before trophy day, in case we reach it in this Philippine open.

SO, . . . yeah, well, one could say all the above simply amounts to inciting to rebellion instead of some simple semiotics and free political-cum-social-cum-cultural analysis, but I believe we all must address such issues as this regarding an exclusive sport one day, the same way we are addressing the exclusive private wangwang today, for it also somehow represents the latest glaring conflict of philosophies between today's two contending parties: the ruling Liberal with its supposed new Aquino social liberalism and the rest being one with their supposed conservatism or pseudo-liberalism or pseudo-progressivism. The new liberals' philosophy, it seems, is aimed at calling for a defeat of the things that sow the seeds of terrorism and rebellion and that plant such trees as Jose Maria Sison and Nur Misuari, and is aimed further at the thought that toppling rebellious trees is not enough (not enough, for given the rich soil for seeds, many similar trees will always be ready to replace toppled ones). Given our elite that has learned---from the time of our Spaniard conquerors on to the time of our turn-of-the-century American invaders, our Tojo masters, as well as the eras of the Aguinaldo and Marcos and Erap and Gloria movements---to test the limits of the average Filipino's patience, the new liberalism's order would be easier said than done in our "local geopolitical" reality.
     It behooves us, then, to play on with this game of g-o-l-f, which will eventually gloriously bring us to wherever it will when it does. Gloriously, I say, because it would be beyond the lip service of doomsayers like me.
     So, okay, then. Let's go back to business. What's your handicap? ♦


Author's note: This essay is adapted from a 2004 column I wrote for the now-defunct provincial e-zine Bananacue Republic.

Readings related to golf and the Philippines I'd recommend:


Photos borrowed from:

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