DAY 6: Walk for Sumilao Land and Justice

Earlier during the day, the marchers left Medina, Misamis Oriental, after spending the night at the San Isidro de Labrador parish. The marchers started their walk at four in the morning.  With an average speed of about four kilometers per hour, the farmers quickly made headway and reached the nearest center of human social activity-Gingoog City. This is the second time that the Sumilao farmers embarked on a crusade to protest the encroachment upon their lands in Bukidnon. The first protest was launched ten years earlier-October 9, 1997. The farmers launched a hunger strike in Manila and in Cagayan de Oro, forcing the government to yield to their demands.  However after the filing of several petitions by the claimant to the land of the farmers- Norberto Quisumbing, the Office of the President, through Secretary Ruben Torres,  reversed its earlier decision and gave the land to Quisumbing. Eventually, Quisumbing sold the land to San Miguel Foods Incorporated, part of a huge conglomerate owned by Eduardo Cojuangco. In ensuring that the land be freed from the coverage of the agrarian reform law, the land was converted from agricultural land to agro-industrial land despite the fact that the government had developed the land for agricultural purposes due the presence of irrigation work in the area. As of late, the corporation which is exercising its right to claim the land has planned to put up a piggery on the land on which the Sumilao farmers’ houses stand. The Sumilao farmers’ walk for land came into being after the farmers decided to launch a new campaign to reclaim their land. Prior to the launching of the campaign, the farmers and their families had to stack rice, fruits, vegetables and other foodstuff to ensure the welfare of their families while they are marching on the road to Manila. The farmers then commemorated the anniversary of the hunger strike by performing a Higaonon ritual on October 9, 2007, where they asked for guidance and blessings from the spirits of their forebears and the spirits. The Sumilao farmers then started their march on October 10 from San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, with reaching Barangay Bugo (50 km from Sumilao) of Cagayan de Oro as the goal on the first day. The contingent left Sumilao at six in the morning and reached Barangay Bugo at 11 in the evening. There were meals in between-mostly donations from the parishes and barangays that they passed along the route.  Aside from the farmers, there is a support group of five people, including one paramedic in two jeepneys with medicines, foodstuff, and lots of water.   On the second day, the farmers marched from Barangay Bugo, Cagayan de Oro, to the Provincial Capitol of Misamis Oriental in downtown Cagayan de Oro (20 km). The marchers left the Sacred Heart Parish in Bugo at six in the morning. The group then moved along the national highway which by then was already heavy with vehicular traffic.  Considering the urban setting, the marchers arrived at the Capitol at 1230 noon. Before they arrived at the Capitol, marcher Rene Penas, nearly collapsed at the Licuan junction, Velez St. Cagayan de Oro,  only several meters away from the Capitol. From Cagayan de Oro, the group moved on to the municipalities of Tagoloan, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental where they were given a warm song and dance reception by the parishioners, and Jasaan on the third day.  After covering almost a hundred kilometers, the pace of the marchers was already set at forty kilometers per day, with more or less ten hours of marching and three hours of rest. From the municipality of Jasaan, the marchers also moved to Balingasag, where they reached their one hundred kilometer mark. It was also in Balingasag that the marchers experienced being welcomed into households and given coffee and hard-boiled eggs by families out of their own volition. From Balingasag, the marchers then proceeded to the municipalities of Lagonglong and Salay. At the municipality of Binuangan, the contingent was met and joined by a group of Burmese lawyers and students who were visiting Cagayan de Oro.  The marchers, joined by the Burmese, marched on after having a snack at Binuangan.  They arrived at the municipal hall of Sugbongcogon where they were given cold fruit juice and some local delicacies. The marchers then went on to the next town-Kinoguitan, where they planned to spend the night. The Burmese, wanting to at least experience the difficulty of the march, joined them on the road to Kinoguitan. Police escort for the contingent was also given by the Philippine National Police Station of Sugbongcogon. From Kinoguitan, the group moved on to the municipality of Balingoan. On the next town, Talisayan, the group was hit by a light rain. But that did not impede them from pursuing their goal for the day-the municipality of Medina where they proceeded to Poblacion church.  The group then spent the night in the church. Though the six days have cost the marchers and the support group excruciating blisters, sunburnt skin and thigh sores, the marchers remain incorruptible, persistent and jovial. The mood remains good and the marchers never fail to flash a smile at the jokes that they share among themselves as they continue on their march to Manila. (Kim Quilinquing/Special to MindaNews)