In a statement emailed from Casiguran, Sorsogon, the farmers said that under Section 50 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657, the Department of Agrarian Reform has the "exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving agrarian reform."
"This proviso includes the controversial issues of land conversion," Peter Tuminhay, spokesperson of the Sumilao farmers, said, adding Pangandaman is using the case pending at the Office of the President as an excuse not to act on their demand.
"The DAR is duty-bound to issue a Notice of Coverage (NOC) on all agricultural lands in excess of the five-hectare limit. The 144-hectare Sumilao property should be immediately covered under CARP as the land remains agricultural and it has not been effectively converted into an agro-industrial property," lawyer Jan Eugenio, legal
counsel for the Sumilao farmers explained.
Eugenio added the pending petition before the Office of the President does not prevent the DAR Secretary from issuing a Notice of Coverage of the property under CARP.
In 1995, the DAR had awarded to the farmers a 144-hectare land in Sumilao owned by Norberto Quisumbing. In 1998, however, Malacanang, through then executive secretary Ruben Torres, reversed DAR's ruling and approved the land conversion application filed by Quisumbing.
The Sumilao farmers have filed a petition to revoke the conversion order of the said land on November 2004 with the failure of Quisumbing to develop the land into an agro-industrial site within five years as required by law.
They said Quisumbing committed another violation of the conversion order by selling the land to San Miguel Foods Inc. in 2002 which reportedly plans to set up a hog farm in the area.
"That property is a prime agricultural land with irrigation facilities, and should therefore be reverted back to its original classification," Eugenio said.
"The real issue here is the political will of this government to implement genuine agrarian reform. We dare Secretary Pangandaman, our brother from Mindanao, to put an end to this lingering arduous issue, and give us hope for a better future for our children," Tuminhay said.
Fifty-five Sumilao farmers went on a two-month journey on foot starting October 10, urging DAR and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to revoke the conversion order of the contested land.
As of Sunday, the Sumilao marchers were heading towards Sorsogon City. They are expected to arrive in Metro Manila in early December. (MindaNews)