But more than their physical pain and their need for basic needs like food, medicine and a place to sleep, the Sumilao farmers are in dire need for justice. The Office of the President, in its 10 October 2007 decision to the petition filed by the farmers for the revocation of the conversion order and the immediate coverage of the landholding in Sumilao, Bukidnon, simply said that the farmers have no legal standing to sue for being “merely recommendee beneficiaries” considering that there is already jurisprudence in the case of Fortitch vs. Corona. The Sumilao farmers clearly are indispensable parties for they shall directly benefit or suffer from any decision on this case. More importantly, the Sumilao farmers are saying, precisely, that the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the application for conversion was not implemented. The 144-hectare converted land in effect remained agricultural in use a decade after the assailed decision. Norberto Quisumbing’s promises of industrialization and development were not implemented and worse, he sold his land ownership to San Miguel Corporation, which intended to put up a piggery in the richly irrigated land.
The Visayas leg of the “Walk for Sumilao Land, Walk for Justice” 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 needed 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. They choose 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.
They are only asking for the laws to be properly and truthfully implemented. Even the local offices of the Department of Agrarian Reform in the Region where the land is located, who has the competency to determine compliance with the strict rules on conversion, have already expressed that there was no development in the area and the only option left for the government is to immediately revoke the conversion order granted to Quisumbing who sold the property to San Miguel Foods, Incorporated and to subject the land for coverage under CARP with the issuance of Notices of Coverage.
More than their physical hunger is their hunger for land and their hunger for justice. This is what they justly deserve and this is how center piece laws like agrarian reform should be implemented.
Arlene J. Bag-ao, counsel of the Sumilao farmers and executive director of BALAOD Mindanaw
Jane D. Capacio, coordinator of the Visayas “Walk for Land, Walk for Justice” and executive director of KAISAHAN Inc. C/o KAISAHAN office, 3 Mahabagin St., Teacher’s Village, Diliman, Quezon City.