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What Was the Masagana 99 Program and Why Do Some People Want it Back?

The Marcos-era agricultural scheme is back in the spotlight.
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An exchange between Senator Imee Marcos and Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez during a hearing at the Senate earlier this week brought back into the limelight a once dormant term: Masagana 99.

It was Marcos who brought up the phrase, an agricultural project launched in 1973 when her father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was in power. After a line of questioning regarding the government’s plans to assist businesses and other sectors affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the senator suggested bringing the scheme back.

“During Masagana 99 in the early 70s, there was a very effective use of commercial banks, rural banks, and even cooperative banks,” Marcos said. “And I believe that scheme will truly work. However, perhaps we can consider enlarging the national government stake even in that regard.”

But Dominguez, who was the agriculture secretary during the time of President Marcos’ successor Corazon Aquino, quickly set the record straight about the alleged success of Masagana 99.

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“I was Secretary of Agriculture that cleaned up the mess of Masagana 99,” Dominguez said. “There were 800 rural banks that were bankrupted by that program. We had to rescue them. Whether it was a total success or not, it has to be measured against them."

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What exactly was Masagana 99?

In an article published in the Philippine Sociological Review in 1980, author Emmanuel Esguerra defined the Masagana 99 program thus: “[It] is an annual crash program for palay production that aims to raise the yield per hectare of palay crop land from a national average of about 40 hectares to 99 cavans per hectare.

“To achieve this goal, the program offers a package of technology to the farmers in the form of high-yielding varity (HYV) seeds, subsidized fertilizer, low-priced pesticides, herbicides, and others.

“In addition, a supervised credit scheme offering non-collateral loans extension services, mass media coverage, marketing schemes, and a general management coordination have been drawn, supportive of the program.”

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According to Esguerra, Masagana 99 was essentially a credit program whose goal was to boost rice production in the country. It acknowledged that the availability of agricultural credit to farmers on easy terms was a crucial factor in the farmers’ decision to increase production by “adopting HYVs and other modern agricultural inputs.”

Ultimately though, Masagana 99 failed.

“Sadly, Masagana 99 proved to be short-lived and unsustainable mainly due to the costly subsidies and failure of many farmers-borrowers to repay the loans,” Dr. Emil Javier said in a column in the Manila Bulletin in 2016. “At the peak of the program, in May 1974, Masagana 99 enrolled 531,000 borrowers (36 percent of 1.13 million small rice farmers). Repayment was at a respectable rate of 93 percent.

“By crop year 1980, after 14 cycles, the farmers-borrowers dwindled down to 54,000 as many ran into arrears and were declared ineligible. Repayment went down to 46 percent. And as a consequence, many rural banks through which the loans were coursed folded up. By this period Masagana 99 ceased to be of consequence as only 3.7 percent of the small rice farmers were able to borrow.”

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However, the program had at least one high-profile fan. President Rodrigo Duterte had, at one time, expressed interest in reviving the program. Soon after he assumed office in 2016, the President said he looked to Masagana 99 and another Marcos-era program, Biyayang Dagat for fishermen, as models for his own food security initiatives. He even instructed then-Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol to oversee the implementation of the programs.

Some farmers’ groups, however, opposed the revival of Masagana 99. One of these groups called Masipag, composed of farmers and scientists, told ANC that bringing the program back would also bring back issues such as debt, replacement of traditional rice varieties by modern grains, and the use of pesticides that can harm farmers, animals and crops.

Both programs though ultimately did not get off the ground.

Today, however, there are groups that would like to see the return of Masagana 99. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that an organization called the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) has asked the government for a rice production program just like the Marcos initiative.

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“In fact, many farmers are clamoring for the Masagana 99 program to support the agriculture industry,” the Inquirer quoted Sinag Chair Rosendo So as saying. “It could be a program that would stop the country from being dependent on rice importation.”

Whether the government will take a second look at controversial scheme now that it’s back in the spotlight is still up in the air.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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