DAY 28: Sumilao farmers’ journey in Visayas

As they marched from San Jorge to Calbayog, the farmers wondered when will be the end of their struggle. They keep on saying that they do not deserve these sacrifices. As much as they want to avoid the question, the same keeps on flashing on their minds – why are they being deprived of their basic and legal rights? It is during this time when they feel that their feet start to become heavier for each step. They feel tired and somehow demoralized.   


They have been walking for 26 days, and they have not yet received any serious attention nor favorable response from the present administration.   Nevertheless, the Department of Agrarian Reform Regional Offices here in Visayas have been supportive to them by assisting them in their logistical and other needs. But the DAR National Office never bothered to hear their cries and sufferings.  


The Sumilao Farmers likewise encountered other forms of challenges. Almost everyday, there were marchers who fainted, got sick, and felt physically weak. Yesterday, they brought Toto Anlicao to the Our Lady of Porzuincola Hospital. Toto is suffering from his foot blisters and he needed further medical attention. The marchers have to admit that these kind of situations made them think twice whether they really can make it to Malacanang.

…but the stars are out tonight, and they're bound to guide my (their) way…  

When the Sumilao Farmers started to walk, they were not certain as to where they will spend their nights, eat their meals and get financial support. To sustain this kind of campaign, big amount of money is required – and they do not have it. But who would have guessed that despite the limitations and difficult challenges, they triumphantly survived their walk since 10 October.    

At times, they also wonder how they survived their almost 30 days of walk.   They cannot help but believe that 'Magbabaya' must have been on their side to help them endure their daily excruciating pain of walking. They are hopeful that, with divine providence, ' Magbabaya' will ultimately give them justice. 


Indeed, divine providence is mysteriously at work, because they receive overflowing grace.   Hence, they always had a place to stay for each night. They were able to eat at least 4 times a day.  And on some occasions, due to the donations from different groups and individuals, even from by-standers and motorists, they were able to eat donated snacks while walking. 


Last night, the marchers proceeded to the church, where they were welcomed by the Diocese of Calbayog, Bishop Isabelo Abarquez. They sought refuge in the said church and the locals prepared food for the marchers.


Probably, the reason why the Sumilao Farmers elicit deep sympathies from several supporters is because of their shared sentiment and disgust with the governance of the present state leadership. Concretely, they share the same advocacy on access to justice of everyone especially of the poor and marginalized. 


The Sumilao Farmers faced and will always face challenges along their way. But their cause: Restore the Dignity of the Sumilao Farmers!; Revoke the Conversion Order!; Reclaim the Land!; Reform and Extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)!; and Recognize the need for a National Land Use Law!, will always prevail. These demands always keep them to continue what they have started and the hope that they will be successful in claiming these demands will truly guide their way.


Reminiscing what had happened 10 years ago


Left with no more recourse, the Sumilao Farmers decided to do they only non-violent and peaceful means their forefather taught them during unpeaceful times – a Hunger Strike. Beginning 9 October 1997, the Sumilao Farmers subsisted on nothing but water in front of the DAR Central Office in Quezon City which lasted for 28  days. 

Simultaneous mobilizations were also conducted in Cagayan de Oro City. Their peaceful protest caught the interest of the public, both local and international. Then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, and presidential aspirants Joseph Estrada, Renato De Villa, and several senatoriables, frequented the hunger strike. Even the local government units of Cagayan de Oro and the House of Representatives passed resolutions for the immediate resolution of the case.

At this time, several peasant organizations who were facing similar problems came out and joined the campaign. Policies regarding the implementation of agrarian reform in the country were also brought in the open. The Sumilao Farmers became the symbol of hope for the whole peasantry.


Due to huge public pressure, President Ramos through Deputy Executive Secretary Renato Corono, issue the so-called "Win-Win Solution" wherein 100 hectares were to be given to the farmers while 44 hectares remained with Quisumbing. It was a pleasant victory for the Sumilao Farmers and the whole peasant sector. The Sumilao Farmers finally regained their ancestral land.


However, their victory was shortlived. Quisumbing was infuriated with the decision and brought the same before the Supreme Court. The Sumilao Farmers, as farmer beneficiaries of the 144-hectare land, intervened in the case and raised novel questions regarding the validity of Resolution No. 24 converting prime agricultural lands, the power of relassification of LGUs vis-à-vis authority to approve conversions, and the constitutionality of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law itself.


They Are Not Tenants, So What?


The Sumilao Farmers were and still are not tenants of whoever. How can they be tenants if, by historic right, they are the owners of the land? 


As to the question on their rights over the 144-hectare landholding as CARP beneficiaries, RA 6657, explicitly enumerated those who are qualified to become beneficiaries. To enumerate its order of priorities are the following: a) agricultural lessees and share tenants; b) regular farmworker; c) seasonal farmworkers; d) other farmworkers; e) actual tiller or occupants of public lands; f) collectives or cooperatives of the above beneficiaries; and g) other directly working in the land.


The first four above enumerated are not present in Sumilao land. The Sumilao Farmers can be placed under the letter e classification. Therefore, since there are no lessees, tenants and farmworkers, logically actual tillers or occupants of the land are without any doubt the priority over the subject land. Even a grade six student would conclude this.


Today and Tomorrow 


They are having a reflection session for the whole morning. Later, there will be a medical mission, a dialogue with Bishop Abarquez and a mass to be celebrated by the Bishop for the Sumilao Farmers. Tomorrow they will head off to San Isidro where they will ride a boat going to the Municipality of Matnog, their first destination to Luzon.  Malacanang should wait for the Sumilao Farmers soon…



Note: We would like to correct an error from yesterday's update.  Under the topic on Sumilao farmers as CARP beneficiaries, the first sentence on the fifth paragraph should have read: " Based on the foregoing, the Sumilao Farmers are without doubt qualified CARP beneficiaries."Special Announcements: If you want to see the Sumilao Farmers in action, you may visit the following YouTube sites:

Please catch the Sumilao Farmers at ABS-CBN's The Correspondents program tomorrow, 6 November 2007 right after Bandila, Channel 2.