Sumilao farmers “march for land” from Bukidnon to Malaybalay

The Sumilao farmers will march  October 10 from Impasug-ong municipality to Cagayan de Oro, 56 kilometers away, then walk across Northern Mindanao to Surigao City, take the ferry across Visayas and hike towards Manila, according to Raul Socrates Banzuela, national coordinator of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA).

Banzuela said other militant farmers and supporters will join the Sumilao farmers in their long march. The farmers are expected to reach Manila by December 10, International Human Rights Day.

He said the Sumilao farmers will bring their plight to the national leadership in Manila and will also campaign for an extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program which is scheduled to expire in 2008.

"The story of the lumad-farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon is a reflection of the state of agrarian reform in our country. It demonstrates how little our commitment is to agrarian reform justice," Banzuela said.

Ten years ago, Sumilao farmers rose to national prominence after they staged a 28-day hunger strike in Quezon and Cagayan de Oro cities to dramatize their demand to get back 144 hectares of their ancestral land.

The ancestral land, around 243 hectares of flat agricultural land, used to be the seat of the Higaonon tribal leadership until a big landowner came in the 1930s and drove them away.

Ownership of the land which is bound by Mt. Sayawan and Mt. Palaopao, changed several times through the years until it was divided into two lots. One lot, around 99 hectares, went to Salvador Carlos, a Manila businessman and Norberto Quisumbing, owner of the Cebu-based Yamaha Norkis manufacturing.

Carlos took pity on the Sumilao farmers and before he died, declared in his will that 66 hectares be given back to them through the Department of Agrarian Reform.

There, on that 66-hectare land, the farmers set up houses and solar dryers for their corn.

Quisumbing, on the other hand, took another course. The businessman leased the land to Del Monte Philippines for ten years until 1988 when DAR awarded the 144 hectares to the Sumilao farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

This pitted the Sumilao farmers with Quisumbing who opposed the DAR initiative by converting the agricultural land into industrial use.

Quisumbing proposed the establishment of a school , a cultural center, museum, golf course, a sports complex, a hotel and industrial park across the 144-hectare land.

Banzuela said this was "highly irregular" and violated the law on conversion.

He said Quisumbing was able to convert the land after the local governments of Sumilao and Bukidnon passed resolutions allowing the conversion. It was approved by then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres.

" LGUs have no power of conversion under the law as the same belongs to the DAR Secretary," Banzuela said.

As public sympathy grew for the farmers, former President Fidel Ramos issued the "win-win Resolution" giving 100 hectares to the Sumilao farmers and the remaining 44 hectares to Quisumbing.

Quisumbing questioned the presidential order and won the case before the Supreme Court.

In 2002, Quisumbing sold the land to San Miguel Foods Inc. owned by businessman and former Marcos ally Danding Cojuangco who is planning to construct a piggery farm.

Banzuela said Sumilao farmers are questioning the sale.