DAY 29: Sumilao farmers walk to Malacanang

From the answers, it can be observed that they seem to read the minds of their fellow marchers.  For the first question, there were three common answers.  They said that they will always remember their sufferings while walking;  The hardships, until some of their fellow marchers became weak, while some fainted and had to be rushed to the hospitals. Others expressed the consolation that at least, they were able to reach places they never thought they can visit in their lifetime.  The rest said that they will always vividly remember the faces of by-standers and motorists, and the support these people extended to the farmers.  

For the second question, there was only one answer: They expect to reclaim their land.  They hope that the challenges and struggles they encountered will bring success and bring back their dashed hopes.  

Right after they feasted with a simple lunch prepared by the Diocese of Calbayog, The City Health Officer, together with other medical practitioners in the City visited the marchers and conducted a Medical Mission.  Dr. Grace Bag-ao, the lone volunteer medic accompanying the marchers, felt relieved.  

After the Medical Mission, Bishop Abarquez facilitated a community-building activity.  He taught the marchers some action songs where everyone participated with gusto.  Thereafter, he celebrated mass together with Father Cezar Aculan. The homily moved the marchers to tears, but it them more determined to continue with their cause, as well.

The sermon focused on their peaceful campaign. The Walk for Sumilao Land, Walk for Justice Campaign may not be famous, but the impact of this campaign will ripple through several years, if not through eternity.  Indeed, the pilgrimage is not only for the cause of the Sumilao farmers but importantly for all the farmers in the country.

The two priests kept repeatedly expressed their solidarity with the farmers and advised them to write a letter to the President of the CBCP.

The Correspondents

Last night, the 54 Sumilao Farmers and their support groups gathered at around 11:30PM to watch ABS-CBN program, The Correspondents.  They were all excited to see themselves on national television. But they were more excited to see on TV, the families they left in Sumilao, Bukidnon. It has been 26 days since they left.   

It was a one-hour program, and the farmers were all attentively watching.  They smiled every time they see themselves on TV.  Others alternately teased their fellow marchers as telegenic and ugly. They had a grand time ribbing one another.

They validated the facts presented by the correspondents reporter, Adrian Ayalin.  The farmers even managed to engage in discussion among themselves while watching.  

When the show featured the marchers' families in Sumilao, the marchers were no longer able to contain the tears in their eyes.  After 26 days, they again saw the faces of their families.  They were saddened because their families were left to work in their farm.  Yoyong, one of the marchers commented that her mother was too old to do the farming.  She should have stayed at home instead. But since they are involved in the campaign, they had no option. While they have to fight to reclaim their lands, their families have to eat too.  

Message to Ruben Torres 

The then Executive Secretary who issued the conversion order in favor of the Quisumbings was interviewed in the program.  According to him, he pitied the Sumilao Farmers; They had to resort to a long walk just to get publicity.  Not contented with his first indictment, he further said that he did not understand the real intention of the leaders of the Sumilao Farmers when these leaders allowed their members to take the ardous walk from Bukidnon to Manila.  

The statement given by Torres angered the Sumilao Farmers.  They said, they don't need his or anyone's pity.  What they need is the 144-hectare land that is legally theirs.  But they pity Torres.  Unlike him, they know the difference between right and wrong.  Though they did not earn college and law degrees, they know RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) by heart.  

The campaign to take the 1700-kilometer walk in 60 days was reached  through a consensus decision by all members of San Vicente Landless Farmers' Association (SALFA) and Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag (MAPALAD) Farmers.   

The Sumilao Farmers would like to send this message to Ruben Torres: 

He can say anything he wants to say, try to bring the Sumilao Farmers down.  But they won't face the ground, they will rise steadily, sailing out of their reach.  He can try hard to make them feel that they don't matter at all.  But they refuse to falter in what they believe or lose faith in their dreams. Because there's a light in them that shines brightly – their DIGNITY.  Torres can try, but he can't take that away from the Sumilao Farmers.

Revisiting the Sumilao Land:

Supreme Court Ruled on Technicalities 

Unexpectedly, the Supreme Court evaded the resolution of the substantial issues of the case and found one perfect excuse: reglementary period.  The Supreme Court refused to answer the constitutional issues and asserted that the DAR failed to question the Torres Conversion Order on time.  The Supreme Court invalidated President Ramos' "Win-Win Solution" while it reinstated the Torres Conversion Order approving the conversion of the 144-hectare land to agro-industrial.  The conversion of the land to agro-industrial was affirmed, despite the fact that its conversion was contrary to existing laws and administrative orders, simply because the Conversion Order issued by Executive Secretary Torres already became final when President Ramos issued the "Win-Win Solution".  In effect, the Supreme Court skirted merits and yielded to technicalities.  

Worst, the Supreme Court denied the Sumilao Farmers standing in the case by equivocally saying they were merely "recomendee farmer beneficiaries, hence, have no real interest over the land.  It further stated that the Sumilao Farmers were never tenants, not even tillers of the land.  The court's declaration was a huge injustice to the Sumilao Farmers considerting that they were already the owners of the land by virtue of the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) previously given to them under the agrarian reform law.  It was an offensive attach on their dignity as peasants and an insult to the Higaonons.  

The iniquitous decision compelled Robin Lession, one of the MAPALAD hunger strikers, to take his own life days after the decision came out.  He only dreamt of cultivating a piece of agricultural land and providing a decent living for his family and children.  His basic desire of owning a land for his family vanished in an instant.  His frustration and disappointment were shared by the Sumilao Farmers and the rest of the peasantry.  

The Supreme Court pronouncements have a chilling effect on the state of agrarian reform in the country.  The decision created a confusion on the existing policies on conversions of agricultural lands, power of LGUs to reclassify agricultural lands and legal standing of farmer-beneficiaries.  In many instances, the confusion on policies is being utilized by landowners to evade the implementation of the CARP.  

The Fellowship of the 144-hectare land in Sumilao 

As they leave their footprints in Visayas, the Sumilao Farmers will always cherish the overwhelming support they received from individuals and like-minded groups.  The Sumilao Farmers in their entire walk never felt alone.  And though they still could not find enough and appropriate words to thank these people, from the bottom of their heart, they would like to express their gratitude to the following: 

  • KAISAHAN for coordinating the Visayas leg;
  • Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Region, province and municipalities;
  • Regional Director Homer, PARO Toto and the provincial offices, and MARO of the DAR;
  • Dioceses, SACs, BECs, Parishes and other church personnel and institutions for providing the food, accommodation and spiritual needs of the Sumilao Farmers;
  • PNP, Military and other Law Enforcement Agents; and
  • By-standers and motorists.
  • (and those who were not included in the above enumeration)

The Sumilao Farmers are leaving Visayas with brimming with memories in their heart that will keep on saying: Forward always forward, onward, always up.  Catching every drop of hope, in my (their) empty cup.  Indeed, what a journey it has been…  

Today and Tomorrow 

They are now in Brgy. Pinya, Calbayog City. Tomorrow, they will walk to Tinambakan and will be just a municipality away from Allen where they take the boat to start their Luzon leg.  Malacanang may still continue to turn their deaf on the issue and the suffering of the Sumilao Farmers, but soon, when farmers will be approaching the gates of Malacanang, Gloria Arroyo is left with no other choice, but to deal with the Sumilao Farmers. SOON.

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD Mindanaw)
Door 3 Balay Mindanaw SIAD Peace Cente
53A 12th St., zone II, Upper Bulua
9000 Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
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