Land titles for 68.25 hectares handed over to Sumilao farmers

SAN VICENTE, Sumilao, Bukidnon (MindaNews/05 June) — Farmers observed the first death anniversary of slain farmer-leader Renato Penas with the turnover of additional land titles over 68.25 hectares of land today, leaving only 10.11 hectares more from the 94-hectare balance promised by San Miguel Corporation in a March 2008 memorandum of agreement.

The Sumilao farmers are best known for their long struggle to have their 144-hectare ancestral land in Barangay San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, returned to them.

They fasted for 28 days in 1997 and a decade later, walked 1,700 kilometers for 69 days from Sumilao in Bukidnon to Malacanang.

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-hectare 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.

But acquiring the remaining 94 hectares has proven to be yet another long struggle
On June 5, Felix Aguhob, regional director of the Department of Agrarian Reform in Northern Mindanao, announced the distribution of 14 additional Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) covering a total of 68.25 hectares.

The land titles were awarded to the Panaw Sumilao Multi-purpose Cooperative.

Aguhob said this brings the total hectares awarded to the farmers at 83.89, leaving only 10.11 to complete the 94-hectare balance.

Napoleon Merida, Jr., chair of the Panaw Sumilao Multi-purpose Cooperative, reminded the audience in a short program that June 5 is the 1st anniversary of Peńas’ death. “But this is also the day we have asked DAR to turn over the remaining (land titles),” he stressed.

Aguhob said only 10.11 hectares are pending acquisition but he stressed that they have already “technically completed” the transfer of the 94 hectares as the remaining hectares refer to land parcels identified for acquisition but could not be bought such as roads.

DAR sources said lots have been identified for the remaining area.

Merida, among the young farmer leaders who walked from Sumilao to Manila in 2007, said DAR should award the 10 hectares before October 10, 2010, the anniversary of the farmers’ Day 1 of their 69-day “Walk for Justice, Walk for Land.”

Randy Dominguez, San Miguel Foods, Inc. representative told MindaNews they are ready to complete the transfer of the total 144 hectares before October 10, 2010. Merida saod they will hold a “grand distribution” of titles to all farmer-beneficiaries on that day.

In March, the farmers said they felt cheated when they found an area supposedly awarded to them planted to pineapple. The land was leased to Del Monte Philippines, Inc. They uprooted some of the plants, triggering complaints from DMPI.

DMPI, “in concurrence” with SMC as stated in a June 4 letter by the firm’s counsel Winefredo Peńaflor, asked that they be allowed to use the 33 hectare-land in Dinogon which now supposedly belongs to the farmers, until they harvest the pineapples in October 2010.

Merida told MindaNews the board of directors of the farmers’ group is yet to meet to discuss the proposal.

But he announced in the program that in the same letter, SMC offered to donate a P500,000-corn mill and promised to uproot fruit-bearing pineapples in the 12-hectare plantation supposedly awarded earlier to the farmers.

An audience of mostly families of the farmers, staff members of Balaod Mindanao, and other groups cheered the announcement.

But it was a different mood when Balaod Mindanao lawyer Jan Eugenio announced that the case against farmer-leader Rene Penas’ killers has not moved beyond the Provincial Prosecutors’ Office.

He said the prosecutor has called for a reinvestigation of the case following the retraction of a witness against a suspect earlier arrested but was believed to be a fall guy. He told MindaNews the complaint against the suspect still holds but the prosecution has opened the case for reinvestigation with new leads in the case.

Among the audience in the program was Bukidnon bishop-emeritus Honesto Pacana, seated next to farmers. In his homily in the mass said earlier and offered for Penas, Pacana said the farmers are far from success.

“But you should look at the life of Ka Rene as a symbol of perseverance, one thing you need in this situation,” he said.

Peñas, leader of the Sumilao farmers and paralegal worker for other farmers’ groups, was ambushed in Barangay San Vicente, Sumilao midnight on June 5, 2009, around 200 meters away from the house of Alipio Tumangday, one of three suspects. His two companions survived.

Local police have arrested and detained Tumangday but two other suspects have remained at large.

Pacana told MindaNews he meant to encourage the farmers to continue persevering even if they see some of their dreams coming true.

Sumilao farmers marked Penas’ first death anniversary in the farmers’ Salvador Karlos Freedom Hall, where they sang songs of thanksgiving and the men and women discussed their fate throughout the years.

After all the speeches and the breaking of both good and bad news, the women served simple snacks of boiled cassava and native coffee, crops planted to the 50-hectare land that lies next to the hall. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)