Sumilao farmers allow Del Monte to harvest pineapples; accept SMC’s corn mill offer

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/28 June) —  The Sumilao farmers who have fasted and walked thousands of kilometers to get back their 144-hectare land have agreed to allow  Del Monte Philippines Inc. (DMPI) to continue using a 33-hectare portion of  the land already awarded to the farmers, until harvest time in October 2010, Napoleon Merida, Jr., chair of the Panaw Sumilao Multipurpose Cooperative said.

Merida told MindaNews  in a telephone interview Sunday that they communicated their decision on June 17 in a meeting with officials from the Department of Agrarian Reform and San Miguel Corporation in Cagayan de Oro.

He said this will give DMPI full access to the 33-hectare land planted to pineapples until October 2010.

In March, the farmers said they felt cheated when they found an area supposedly awarded to them planted to pineapples. The land, it turned out, was earlier leased to DMPI.  They uprooted some of the plants, triggering complaints from DMPI.

DMPI, “in concurrence” with SMC as stated in a June 4 letter by the firm’s counsel Winefredo Peńaflor, asked that they be allowed to use the 33 hectare-land in Dinogon which now supposedly belongs to the farmers, until they harvest the pineapples in October 2010.

In the same letter, SMC offered to donate a P500,000-corn mill and promised to uproot fruit-bearing pineapples in the 12-hectare plantation awarded earlier to the farmers.

Merida said the group’s board of directors also decided to accept the offer of a corn mill for the farmers in exchange for using the 33-hectare farm from June to October.

But Merida said they have asked technicians to study the actual cost of the corn mill.

The group, he said, is proposing that SMC fund the building of a P4.25 million-mill, including the cost of the building.

Merida said they will present their proposal to SMC in a meeting on July 6.

“We can’t stick to their P500,000 budget for the mill. We prefer that it will be a functional facility,” he added.

Merida said they learned a lesson from a previous SMC offer of an Elf cargo vehicle. He said they have many complaints about it.

But Merida clarified that the farmers are happy with the outcome of their struggle. He said after three years they are finally looking at a brighter future.

“We are sad that someone had to die, but overall we are happy that our efforts are paying,” he added.

The farmers observed the first death anniversary of slain farmer-leader Renato Penas with the turnover of additional land titles over 68.25 hectares of land on June 5, leaving only 10.11 hectares more from the 94-hectare balance promised by San Miguel Corporation in a March 2008 memorandum of agreement.

The Sumilao farmers are best known for their long struggle to have their 144-hectare ancestral land in Barangay San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, returned to them.

They fasted for 28 days in 1997 and a decade later, walked 1,700 kilometers for 69 days from Sumilao in Bukidnon to Malacanang.

On March 29, 2008, the Sumilao Farmers, San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Office of the President, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Church signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) giving the farmers their 144-hectare property – 50 hectares of which would be part of the contested land while the remaining 94 hectares will be within Sumilao town, “preferably within Barangay San Vicente.”

On March 30, the morning after, the farmers started tilling the 50-hectare land within the San Miguel Foods Incorporated (SMFI) property.

But acquiring the remaining 94 hectares has proven to be yet another long struggle, something that they wish to end in October.

Merida said DAR should award the 10 hectares before October 10, 2010, the anniversary of the farmers’ Day 1 of their 69-day “Walk for Justice, Walk for Land.” (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)