Sumilao farmers now nearing Luzon

Senator Gregorio Honasan, according to the Sumilao Updates by Balaod Mindanaw, said the farmers do not deserve this sacrifice. He asked the marchers to stop walking and proceed to his office for a dialogue with him. "I promise you that if this is a cause worth fighting for, as I have done for the last 20 years of my life, I will stake my reputation, my honor, my family.  If  I am convinced inside and outside the Senate, I will fight for them,” said Honasan.

The Sumilao farmers thanked the Senator but opted to continue with their protest walk.

The farmers  are now in Catbalogan, Samar in the Visayas and will be in Matnog, Sorsogon, in Southern Luzon, by November 9.

In a letter, Arlene J. Bag-ao, counsel of the Sumilao farmers and executive director of BALAOD Mindanaw and Jane D. Capacio, coordinator of the Visayas “Walk for Land, Walk for Justice” and executive director of KAISAHAN Inc., said the Visayas leg of the walk is “not easy.”

“The weather is either very hot and humid or rainy.  There are security risks as the marchers are prone to be used by groups that are in conflict with each other.  Almost everyday, two to four farmers faint and need to be lifted by fellow marchers in a makeshift carrier made of malong tied to bamboo poles.  There were occasions where an ambulance had to be requested to bring two marchers to the hospital.  They are physically tired and they need accommodation, medicines, water, and food on a daily basis,” Bag-ao and Capacio said.

But the farmers chose to walk from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila  “as their most peaceful and most painful form of struggle but more than such campaign form, their main issue remains: the converted 144-hectare land remains to be prime agricultural land and redistributing the land to the Sumilao farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program remains to this day an imperative.”

The farmers from Sumilao began on October 10 their two-month “march for land, march for justice” to Malacanang, to demand the return of the 144-hectare land they said was illegally converted for non-agricultural use.

But a few kilometers after they left Sumilao, their lawyers in Cagayan de Oro City, 56 kilometers away, received the October 3, 2007 decision from the Office of the President in Malacanang, denying the farmers’ appeal for the”cancellation and/or revocation of the conversion order” over the contested 144-hectare land in San Vicente, Sumilao.

The farmers appealed before the Office of the President the Department of Agrarian Reform’s October 27, 2006 ruling dismissing the farmers’ November 3, 2004 petition “for cancellation and/or revocation,” citing lack of  jurisdiction.

The Office of the President in a decision dated October 3, 2007 but received by the farmers’ lawyers in Cagayan de Oro only on October 10, dismissed the appeal “for lack of legal standing by the petitioners-appellants.”

The Mapalad farmers staged a 28-day hunger strike before the DAR central office in Quezon City ten years ago following a series of disappointments in their quest to get back their land which the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation wanted converted from agricultural to agro-industrial.

On November 7, 1997, the Office of the President allowed the conversion of approximately 44 hectares of the land adjacent to the highway, for agro-industrial and the distribution of  the remaining 100 hectares traversed by an irrigation canal and found suitable for agriculture to qualified beneficiaries.

Then President Fidel Ramos hailed the decision as a “win-win” solution.

The farmers, however, never got the land. 

As it turned out, the Quisumbings sold the 144-hectares of land to Eduardo Cojuangco’s San Miguel Foods in 2002, for the latter’s piggery project.

On November 3, 2004, Mapalad filed before the DAR a “petition for cancellation and/or revocation with prayer for the issuance of a Cease and Desist Order” against the NSQMDC and San Miguel Foods, Inc.

The DAR dismissed the petition on October 27, 2006 for lack of jurisdiction, saying the power is “lodged with the Office who issued the order of approval.”

The NSQRMDC had cited as reason for conversion of the agricultural land to agro-industrial, its plan to set up the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Development Association (BAIDA). The BAIDA was supposed to have included a Development Academy of Mindanao; Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park; Forest Development; Support facilities, including a 360-hotel room, restaurants, dormitories, housing; a Mindanao Sports Development Complex and a commercial mall.

But even the DAR regional office in Cagayan de Oro in a memorandum for Secretary Nasser Pangandaman last month had proposed that a “notice of coverage” be issued on the 144—hectare land for immediate distribution.

The period for distribution of lands under the agrarian reform law, ends next year.

Dated September 25 this year, the memorandum of DAR OIC regional director Jhn Maruhom, recommended that the DAR and the Office of the President should take note of the June 20, 2005 Memorandum from the regional office that “there has been no development in the NQSRMDC property that can be associated with the landowners’ conversion application; that San Miguel Foods, “assuming that it may be considered as successor-in-interest, be declared as to have violated the strict rules governing the approval and implementation of the Conversion Order by not limiting itself to the development proposal submitted by NQSRMDC;” and that a notice of coverage on the 144 hectare land “be immediately issued to place the said landholding for coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in pursuance of the DAR’s commitment to accelerate the completion of Land Acquisition and Distribution.”

A copy of Maruhom’s memorandum was furnished the Office of the President. The Office of the President dismissed the farmers’ appeal on October 3. (MindaNews)