HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG, the Worldwide Church of God and the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) have enjoyed over the past two decades a special relationship with the Philippines. Mr. Armstrong and I have met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his energetic and beautiful wife Imelda on many occasions.
The first congregation of the Worldwide Church of God to be established in a Third World country was in the Philippines. Mr. Armstrong holds his doctorate from a Philippine university. The AICF is now working with the Philippine Ministry of Labor on a manpower institute project to help reduce the country's unemployment. The AICF is also working to help bring some of the world's best talent in the performing arts to the Philippines.
Given this special relationship, we take a special interest in the state of President Marcos' New Society. In fact, in 1977, a member of the Worldwide Church of God in the Philippines wrote a book entitled How to Win Success Under the New Society.
The New Society is the name that President Marcos gave to the set of long-term changes he hoped to bring about in Philippine life after declaring martial law in 1972. One feature in particular of the New Society holds special interest. It is the land-reform program. It is perhaps the most promising in the Third World.
Respects Biblical Principles First, why is land reform important at all? In the Philippines, as in many other societies in the Third World, the main source of wealth is land and most of the land is owned by a very few people. Naturally this causes much resentment.
The usual response elsewhere on the part of poor countries is for the human government to seize the land — basically steal it — and give the land not to the individual tenant farmers who were tilling it all along for the great landowner, but to "cooperatives."
But the tenant farmers have even less incentive then to use efficient farming methods or work hard. Before they could keep at least some of their crops for themselves (usually half), but under cooperatives, they find someone else now owns all the fruit of their labors.
Result? Food production typically falls. A poor and hungry people become poorer and hungrier. But this should not be surprising. The laws of God operate in this present evil world just as much as they will operate in God's World Tomorrow. Human governments cannot violate God's laws against stealing (Deuteronomy 5:19) or against the use of the power of human rulership to confiscate land without paying for it (I Kings 21:1-21) and still hope to create a prosperous society.
What is interesting about the Philippine land-reform program, however, is that it respects these biblical principles. The old landowners are being paid for their land. And instead of being herded onto "collective farms," the farmers eventually come to own their own land.
This is as it will be under God's law in the World Tomorrow. Each family will own its own piece of land after God apportions it out to all the families of the earth. These essential principles of God's system of land reform are found in Numbers 33:54: "And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give' the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit."
A Measure of Dignity The actual mechanics of the Philippine land-reform program, of course, differ somewhat from what they will be when God redistributes the world's land at the beginning of the World Tomorrow. The Philippine program is limited in scope, covering around a third of the country's agricultural land, basically devoted to rice and corn (maize). Of that third, about half is to be, in effect, "sold" to about 400,000 tenant farmers, the other half acquired by around 500,000 farmers who will hold their land under permanent leasehold arrangements. The leasehold part of the program is to accommodate smaller landlords — those old landowners who held less than a certain amount of land can retain ownership over their land but have to give their tenant farmers firm leases.
The system is distinctive in its respect for the rights of previous landowners. Basically, the government Land Bank pays the old landowners for their land, and gives it to tenant farmers who have, as the plan was originally set up, 15 years to "earn" the land by making payments to the Land Bank.
The land reform program has been a major success. Unlike other programs which have caused food production to decline, the Philippine program has boosted food production — the rice harvest has doubled in the past decade. Previously, the Philippines had to import rice from abroad; today the Philippines exports rice to its hungry neighbors.
Even Marcos' critics acknowledge the soundness of the program: "Most impartial experts agree that more progress has been made in the past 3 1/2 years than during the past 30," said the New Yorker magazine, referring to the program in an otherwise critical article about the Marcos government (May 3, 1976). And Newsweek has said the "program has restored a measure of dignity to thousands of farmers who were previously no better off than serfs" (International edition, April 10, 1978).
The program, of course, has also been the focal point for some criticism: It is too slow. It covers too little land. It includes too few tenant farmers. The price the farmer pays for his new land is too high. And a farmer, after making payments for his land for a number of years, builds up no "equity" in his land until he finishes paying for it. If he goes out of business early, he has nothing to show for his efforts.
The lesson to be learned from these criticisms, however, is not that the program is "all show, no go," but that the good that can be done in this world by any of man's governments is profoundly limited.
The Bible does acknowledge that even in this present evil world, it makes a difference whether a human government adopts good or evil policies. Proverbs 29:2 says, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." Two other verses in the same chapter also clearly say that when human governors adopt policies in conformity with God's law and principles, it can make a real difference: "The king [ruler] by judgment establisheth the land" (verse 4), and "the king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever" (verse 14).
But human rulers cannot establish the Millennium now. Man cannot bring about a truly peaceful, prosperous and healthy world through his own efforts.
Hearts and Minds President Marcos, who is one of the more intellectual leaders on the world scene, has high hopes. He sees as the most lasting achievement of the New Society, as he told one interviewer, "a change of heart among the people... the most lasting changes and reforms are in the area of changing the character of our people, their minds, their hearts."
But changing the heart of man is so much easier said than done!
"O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and their children for ever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). The point of this verse is that human nature — formed by the constant influence of Satan on the individual — is a great deal harder to change than one might think. As long as Satan the devil remains the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), human nature will continue to be the product of his negative influence.
Yet there is coming a New Society that will change human nature. In God's New Society, Satan will be banished (Revelation 20:2), and the positive influence of God and His Spirit will be allowed to affect the basic outlook of human beings: "Then [during God's World Tomorrow] will I [God] sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you..." (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
President Marcos is a remarkable leader. How many of his Western critics realize that he is a survivor of the Bataan death march? Or that the Japanese secret service tortured him in Manila's Fort Santiago Prison during World War II, trying to force him to tell the location of Filipino guerrilla groups? (One of the tortures was filling his belly with water and jumping on it. Ferdinand Marcos still didn't talk.) He also scored the highest grade ever on the Philippine bar exam,
President Marcos, gifted individual that he is, cannot bring the Millennium now. If his land-reform program works, and it seems to be, it can make a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, largely because it respects principles revealed by God. But the really good news is that an even better program is coming — one that won't be subject to all the limitations that Mr. Marcos' critics charge are part of his program. God's future land-reform program is good news to the farmers in the Philippines — and all peoples everywhere.