Sumilao farmers’ struggle far from over

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 May) – They fasted for 28 days in 1997 and a decade later, walked 1,700 kilometers for 69 days from Barangay San Vicente in Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang, demanding the same; the return of their 144-hectare ancestral land in Sumilao.

And they were promised again they would get it. And they did, partially.

On March 29, 2008, the Sumilao Farmers, San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Office of the President, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Church signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) giving the farmers their 144-hecgtare property – 50 hectares of which would be part of the contested land while the remaining 94 hectares will be within Sumilao town, “preferably within Barangay San Vicente.”

The next day, they occupied and tilled the 50-hectare land within the San Miguel Foods Incorporated (SMFI) property.

Acquiring the remaining 94 hectares has proven to be yet another long struggle

It took two years since the MOA signing — on April 16, 2010—for the Sumilao farmers to receive the first batch of titles. Francis Alejo, SMFI president, turned over the title covering 50 hectares. while DAR Regional Director Felix Aguhob awarded two Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) covering a total of 15 hectares outside the contested land.

The 15-hectare land turned out to be 12 kilometers away from their 50-hectare land and worse, “we saw that the land was already planted with pineapples by the Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI),” said Napoleon “Yoyong” Merida, Jr., chair of PANAW Sumilao Multipurpose Cooperative.

The 15-hectare land, according to a document prepared by support groups of the Sumilao farmers, “ was originally owned by the family of Sumilao Mayor Baula and is currently leased to DMPI. The Baula family then sold the land to SMC, which in turn gave the properties to DAR for awarding and distribution to the farmers.”

Merida, in their position paper, said the CLOA over the 15-hectare property was registered on October 8, 2009 but “according to a DMPI representative the pineapple was planted only on January 2010.”

“ During our ocular inspection together with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in November 2009, there were no pineapples planted on the subject property. We have no knowledge if the remaining 79 hectares to be distributed to the farmers are also planted with pineapples,” Merida said.

He said they were made to understand from the 2008 MOA that “the remaining 94 hectares of land to be distributed to the farmers outside the 144-hectare property is clean of any encumbrances. We were dismayed of what we discovered during the awarding of the titles. “

“We appeal to our Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales to help us to find solution to our problem and fast track the distribution of the remaining 79 hectares which should be clean of any encumbrances,” he said.

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc. (BALAOD-Mindanaw), Kaisahan tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan (KAISAHAN), and the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) which have been assisting the Sumilao farmers said the DAR in September 2008 offered 94 hectares of land to the farmers, allegedly warning the area would be forfeited if proposal is not accepted.

“Faced with the possibility of further delaying their struggle to own their land, the farmers decided to accept the offer, even if the properties were located a considerable distance, 10 to 15 kilometers away, from their homes in Brgy. San Vicente,” the support groups said in a joint statement.

In November 2009, they said, the farmers were dismayed when they discovered that, although DAR had already prepared a CLOA for 15 of the 94 hectares to be awarded, the CLOA covering the remaining 79 hectares ‘could not be processed yet because the department was waiting for a certification from the Land Registration Authority (LRA) in Manila.”

“According to DAR, some of the lands also did not have titles yet or were still classified as timberland instead of agricultural. A land survey also found that some of the properties mentioned were missing a few hectares,” the groups said.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the MOA implementation, the farmers decided to camp out in front of the San Miguel Hog Farm on February 8, 2010, to protest the delays in the awarding and distribution of the lands.

On the same day, DAR Regional Director Aguhob promised the farmers, in the presence of SMC legal counsel Fred Penaflor, that they would be installed in their lands on or before March 29, 2010, the second anniversary of the MOA signing.

No installation was done on March 29. On April 16, they got the first batch of titles.

“The farmers travelled more than 12 kilometers to reach the 15-hectare land in Sitio Larok, Brgy. Kisolon, Sumilao,” which is around 12 kilometers from San Vicente, Sumilao.

“They were, however, shocked to learn that their land was not only leased to another corporation, Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI), but was also planted with the latter’s pineapples. Feeling angry and cheated, the farmers uprooted the pineapples with the help of a tractor. They later tilled the land and planted cassava,” the support groups said.

But DMPI, thru its legal counse, the groups said, “ threatened to file a case against the farmers for destroying Del Monte’s crops.”

Merida Jr., also paralegal for the Sumilao farmers, welcomed any legal action from DMPI and reiterated the farmers’ position that they had the right to occupy and cultivate the land as the new owners.

Merida, the implementation of the MOA is marred not only by delays, but also by violations by SMC and DAR of the terms of the agreement.

The lands offered by SMC to the farmers have pending legal disputes.

“This arrangement constitutes a gross violation of the MOA by SMC, which expressly guaranteed that all of the 144 hectares to be awarded to the farmers would be clean and free from any encumbrance. SMC is responsible and it cannot hide behind the excuse that it lacked knowledge of the subsisting lease contract.

Knowing that the land is being leased and is part of the Del Monte plantation, SMC should not have offered the property to DAR for distribution to the farmers,” the support groups said. (MindaNews)