Martial Law and Agrarian Reform

Thirty four years have passed  but I still vividly remember the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos on 21 September 1972.  I was five and a half years old.  It was mid-afternoon and my “yaya” [ a maid charged with a child in these parts; in fancier worlds and words, a “governess” ] and the driver had brought me from my grandmother’s house to our own house some blocks away.

Happily eating some candy when I entered our house, I saw my father and mother in the living room [ a comfortable area furnished by Mommy’s paternal first cousin, pioneer interior designer Ched Berenguer-Topacio ] listening to the radio [ this was Manila in 1972:  no color TV, no cable, no Internet, no ym, no wi-fi ] with serious, alarmed faces.  Daddy was standing, wearing a gray shirt and brown pants.  Mommy was sitting, wearing a navy blue sleeveless dress.

“What happened?” I asked them.  “Martial Law…”  my Daddy replied.  I did not know what it was.  My Mommy shook her head.

The declaration of martial law was accompanied by the implementation of the agrarian reform law.  That law mandated the distribution of the landowners’ agricultural lands — rice lands in Central Luzon were the first target — to their tenant farmers.  My uncle, Brother Andrew Gonzalez F.S.C., recalled that all the landowners were summoned to a meeting at the Central Bank.  He clearly remembered that the heiress lawyer, Atty. Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes-Phillips, vehemently protested the implementation of the law, but to no avail.  My second cousin Elsie Gonzalez Franco-Diaz recalled that the landowners were not given a choice at all, and that the retention provision of 5 hectares per family member, supposedly mandated by law, was not even disclosed.

Our family had lost several thousand hectares of rice lands in just one signature of Ferdinand Marcos.

One week after the implementation of agrarian reform, my dear, 69 year-old grandmother “Lola Charing” [ Rosario Arnedo-Gonzalez ] suffered her first heart attack.  She was terribly heartbroken because she and my late grandfather, Augusto D. Sioco Gonzalez Sr., had lived austerely their whole married life just to be able to purchase those rice lands!  They were NOT inherited from their parents as was usually the case.  She sank into depression and never really recovered until her death in May 1977…

That fateful morning,  I was hurriedly brought up the stairs to Lola Charing’s elegant bedroom [ furnished with an award-winning 1929 Art Deco-style “narra” bedroom suite by Gonzalo Puyat ].  There was a flurry of people around her bed.  I was told that she was very ill and could die.  I knelt in front of an image of Our Lady of the Rosary [ a beautiful ivory image that was a present from her friend Rosario Adap-Escudero in 1964  ] and prayed that my Lola Charing be made well.  She miraculously survived that attack and lived quietly for almost five more years.

Many years later, I learned from friends with similar backgrounds that their own grandparents also had heart attacks [ with some passing away ] weeks after the implementation of agrarian reform in late 1972.  A dear friend, Eric Pineda, related that his grandfather had, in his youth prewar, personally cleared a thousand hectares at the border of Tarlac, from Paniqui to Moncada, and that its 1972 seizure caused the old man’s instant demise.  In the 1990s, a Gonzalez-Escaler cousin, who had remained immensely rich even after agrarian reform because of prior strategic and astute investments in Manila, Hong Kong, and New York real estate, declared that Ferdinand Marcos was not really the “father of agrarian reform.”  He virulently spat:  “It was that goddamn peasant Diosdado Macapagal!  He should be blamed!  Don Honorio Ventura should have never paid for the education of that ingrate!  We Pampangos should have never supported him!”  It was an aristocratic rant from a still very rich man, and I, whose family had lost all their rice lands, could not relate to it.

Oddly enough, our family life continued very much the way it always had…  My parents had simple tastes and so there was never anything luxurious at our own house.  Life at my Lola Charing’s house was always correct, patrician, even elegant, but never swank.  Her main concern was the Catholic church, and there were always several priests and nuns coming and going everyday. There were none of the excesses that characterized the “aristocracy” of those days.

Once in a while, you do think: What would you feel if you spent your lifetime building a business only for it to be taken forcibly by the government later?  Would that be fair?

So funny… as of now, we are still forced to sell some [ ancestral ] Bulacan land to tenant farmers for Php 11,000.00/xx per hectare.  The tenant farmers are so assiduous and helpful in the transfer process because they are eager to sell that same land for much more.  One farmer immediately sold his hectare for Php 1,000,000.00/xx.  That’s a Php 989,000.00/xx profit for him.  Not bad!!!  But where’s the much-trumpeted “social justice” there???

But as for me, I’ll simply go “techie” and “wi-fi”!!!  On with the show!!!   🙂   🙂   🙂



  1. bing_a_abad said,

    February 23, 2009 at 4:34 am

    the Maria Luisa realty company in Cebu is really making a killing these days. On top of the firm is Ann*e Osme*a-Ab*itiz, the only sister of the long-feuding brothers (who recently made peace with each other DAW).

    Her daughter married a scion of the Eliz*lde family of Manila.

  2. November 3, 2007 at 7:43 am

    I don’t understand why so many women go crazy for Manolos.

  3. March 10, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Garganta Inflamada:

    Oh, I didn’t know that there was already Color TV in Manila in 1972. I was probably too small to know…


    Gosh, you really should proceed with that book you’ve planned — what with all the insider information you have!!! It will be a sure bestseller even just in the United States [ with all those Filipinos!!! ]!!!

    You should know that there are things you’re telling me that I’m hearing for the first time… Of course, I have several unimpeachable sources I can go to for further information, but I can only ask about what I already know about!!!


    Toto Gonzalez

  4. March 10, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    Hi To,

    Came across this thread today and had a little more time to digest it. (BTW, how interesting that you had Borat visit in your “Faggots’ thread!! You are quite a blog celebrity, you know.)

    Anywho, we too lost lands in Zambales. But you know, I personally never counted on those. I just knew that my lola and my dad were just too slow-reacting to anticipate the change of the winds in September 1972; as were a lot of the other landed families.

    (Oddly enough, I had left for the States some 4 weeks before that — just by chance. Of course, the fallout from the Agrarian Reform was pretty much our only loss due to the declaration of martial law and the unlawful extension of the autocratic rule of those parvenu pendejos of Malacanang; since for the most part, our family was really apolitical. Except my folks were rather close socially to the late Billy and Remy Aq. — whom you probably knew or knew of. But all that’s another story for another day.)

    I know you were a mere 5 years old in 1972; but there was already color TV in the Philippines then. That happened around 1968-69.

    Let me share with you a little story about the advent of colored TV in the Philippines. Color TV came to the US in the early 60s. Japan followed w/ their own version of color TV technology in time for the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. (It was a little greenish to begin with.) The Philippines (when the peso to the $ exchange then (1970s) was a mere PhP7 to $1, was not too far behind because it was around 1969 that the Lop*zes’ A*S-C*N had invested heavily in bringing color TV to the Philippines.

    Like anything new, color TV sets were exorbitantly expensive at the outset. My younger brother and I devised our own little remedy. We cut up squares pieces of colored cellophane; pasted them together; and slapped the whole thing in front of our old b&w TV set. It worked for a few seconds — but it was like viewing an image through a stained glass window, but each little square had its own color! LOL!! We thought it was innovative at the very least!!

    Anyway, I know that color TV became more and more prevalent then, because right after college, I worked for A*S-C*N at their then brand-new spanking faciliites in QC; and as I said, they had purchased the very best availalbe color technology of the time.

    It was also around that time that the McCronies were beginning to ramp up their stations, specifically R*berto Ben*dicto. He was setting up the K*nlaon Broadcasting Corp.; and they had bought the old A*S-C*N facilities on Roxas Blvd. in Pasay to begin with. Also, Ben*dicto’s daughter, K*tchie, was a classmate of mine at UP; and of course she was the prima donna at the new facility.

    BTW, I’ve always suspected it — and she made no bones about being an adopted daughter of RB, but was K*tchie one of M*coy’s children by his common-law, wife, the pretty and quieter mestiza, Carmen *rtega? K*tchie did use the name *rtega, and it seemed so conveniently coincidental that a close confidante of the Palace then (RB), was getting a lot of favors and lucrative deals from the Palace by the Pasig — and that his only progeny was an adopted gal, using the name ‘*rtega.’ And of course, the younger Ms. Ben*dicto was far fairer than the morenong Ben*dicto? I’d be interested on your take on this story.


  5. September 24, 2006 at 4:22 pm


    Yes, the Go Kim Pah / Go Pai Lan family made an immense banking fortune in Binondo, Manila. In the early 1990s, Go Kim Pah’s daughter Carmen Go told me of the early days, of her father’s simple ways, and of how everything was done in the simplest, most cost-effective manner. She said that her father would not have approved of her current preferences for Chanel suits, Hermes bags, and Manolo Blahnik shoes.

    Toto Gonzalez

  6. September 24, 2006 at 4:13 pm


    Really, what rich family anywhere did not make its money off from blood??? Remember Honore de Balzac’s allusion to the French Rothschilds: “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.”

    Toto Gonzalez

  7. sdcjsdpe said,

    September 23, 2006 at 7:16 am

    The Rothschilds and Thurn und Taxis made money from blood. They’re the ones european bluebloods run to when they need money to go to war, when they need to pawn their linens and chargers and collections. they’re like the Go family of Equitable bank during their heydey as every Chinese man’s preferred bank from binondo to the north pier to makati to greenhills.

  8. September 21, 2006 at 5:22 pm


    True <economies of scale>.

    Yes, despite agrarian reform, we still have lands in Pampanga [ also in Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan ] that we didn’t even know we owned. But they are all burdened with the same blasted problems: tenants, squatters, landgrabbers, politicians, TCT problems, multiple heirs, family squabbles, legal actions, etc.. Honestly, what a burden.

    Well, grand old families like the Zobel, Roxas, Cojuangco, Osmena, and Aboitiz seem to have got the science of wealth perpetuation down to an art. But more interesting, I think, are the new emergent families, some of which have risen from completely unprepossessing beginnings… like the Rothschilds and the Thurn und Taxis.

    Toto Gonzalez

  9. x said,

    September 21, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    That is true. Agriculture and land ownership should reach economies of scale for it to be profitable and efficient.

    Although if you still have Pampanga real estate, I’d hold on to that. I hear Macapagal will build major thoroughfares into Pampanga and the surrounding provinces…that would make the area what Quezon City was during the fifties and sixties and in no time it will be urbanized.

    How lucky are those Jose Cojuangcos and the Pedro Roxases and the Zobels of Calatagan and the Aboitiz-Osmenas of Cebu. Their Hacienda Luisita and Hacienda Bigaa and Maria Luisa lands’ fast becoming new versions of the Hacienda Makati.

  10. September 19, 2006 at 1:32 pm


    Yes, I absolutely adore the work of Tita Ched Berenguer-Topacio, even if I am viscerally a Francophile, “tout le Louis” and all that.

    Unlike so many of the younger interior designers, she has her basics absolutely right: a chair is a chair, a table is a table, and a room is a room. Her rooms are resolutely livable and comfortable.

    I really have no opinion about agrarian reform. Decades after turning over our rice lands to our tenants, many of them [ those who did not have the luck to own land that became residential ] are now back knocking on our doors asking for the “old arrangement” [ pre-1972 ] because their lives have not improved since and they claim that they had a better life when “Senor” and “Senora” owned the lands. So where is the progress there??? And what do we do with these people now???

    I certainly cannot get our Prada- and Hugo Boss-clad-and-shod next generation to set foot on those lands.

    It’s a good thing that your family made those US investments. That’s the way to survive it all.

    Toto Gonzalez

  11. X said,

    September 19, 2006 at 6:05 am

    I remember pictures of studies of Ched Berenguer Topacio. She’s very good. Very linear. and I love her Azoteas. She designed Geny and Chita’s house in Makati, prior to their separation. All the kids rooms face an azotea.

    And as far as the agrarian reform back in the seventies…I don’t thinkt here was any genuine reform at all.

    My family is a testament to that. Prior to Marcos, my father’s forebears were campesinos. After 1972….we got hold of huge parcels of land…which we assiduously sold to other people connected to the Palace by the late 70s. We thought it wise to let the money and metals sleep in Boston and in San Francisco. The fight for land in Pampanga and Tarlac and Nueva Ecija will never stop, even before or after Marcos.

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