Bukidnon bishop says GMA order re Sumilao land “practicaly useless;” farmers return home

In his letter to President Arroyo, Pacana said that while he is thankful for her positive response to the petition of the Sumilao farmers to revoke the conversion order issued by then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres over the 144-hectare land, the order “does not include an explicit cease-and-desist instruction for San Miguel Foods, Inc. to stop further activities in the area.”

“What I also find worrisome is the fact that the Office of the President agrees with the conclusion of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); namely, that the five-year period given by the law to fully implement the development projects stipulated in the conversion order has not yet elapsed. According to DAR, the computation of said period started only upon the issuance of the development permit.   Hence, there are still two more years remaining to complete the development,” Pacana said.

“This interpretation, I believe, defeats the very purpose of the Agrarian Reform Program, which is to maximize the full potential of our land for the benefit of our farmers,” he said.

The farmers are returning to Bukidnon on Sunday, on board an Air Force cargo plane offered by President Arroyo, after walking nearly 2,000 kilometers from San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon.

Fifty-three Sumilao farmers walked towards Malacanang, starting October  10 to demand the return of the 144-hectare land they claimed was illegally converted for non-agricultural use.

Ten years earlier, the farmers staged a 28-day hunger strike before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City following a series of disappointments in their quest to get back their land.

The DAR, on November 14, 1994, put under compulsory coverage of the Comperehensive Agrarian Reform Law the 144-hectare property.

The Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC) applied for conversion of the land from agricultural to agro-industrial. but its application was denied by the DAR. On appeal before the Office of the President, then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres set aside DAR’s decision and approved the conversion on March 29, 1996.

As a result of the farmer’s hunger strike, the OP modified the March 1996 decision on November 7, 1997, allowing the conversion of approximately 44 hectares of the land adjacent to the highway and distributing the remaining approximately 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.

But farmer-leader Rene Penas said the “win-win”  for Ramos was not “daug” (victory) for them. Instead, he said,  “gi-daugdaug mi” (we were exploited).

“We never got the land,” he told MindaNews.

On November 17, 1998, the Supreme Court set aside the  November 7, 1997 “win-win” order of the OP and denied the motions for reconsideration “with finality.”

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. which purchased the land from NSQMDC.

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.”

Penas said there was a violation of the land conversion because the law provides that development must take place within one year on the land converted for non-agricultural use and must be completed within five years. In the case of the NSQRMDC, no such development was made on the land.

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.

The DAR regional office in Cagayan de Oro in a memorandum for Secretary Nasser Pangandaman in September this year, proposed that a “notice of coverage” be issued on the 144—hectare land for immediate distribution to beneficiaries.

“There appears to be no legal obstacle should the Office of the President or DAR immediately issue a Notice of Coverage without waiting for the order to become final and executory,” Pacana said.

Pacana furnished a copy of his letter to the President to Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, DAR regional director John Maruhom, Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Julio Celestiano, and Jesus Edrolin, municipal agrarian reform officer of Sumilao.

In their manifesto issued December 21, the farmers said their long march to Metro Manila carried a simple message, “the injustice committed against us must be corrected.

“The conversion order should be revoked and a cease and desist order should be issued to prevent SMFI from developing the area further rendering it useless as agricultural land. CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program)  as a centerpiece program of the government, must be radically reformed and extended to prevent landlords like Quisumbing from manipulating its flaws and to fulfill its promise of social justice and equity. We marched, covering 1,700 kilometers for more than sixty days, enduring fatigue, and braving torturous weather, to demand dignity for us and our fellow farmers,” the farmers’ manifesto said.
“Today we end this journey of 1,700 kilometers, but the journey towards achieving our 144-hectare land continues. Should the government fail to live up and make good its promises, we are willing to retrace our steps from Sumilao back to Malacañang, we are even ready to make sacrifices beyond that,” the farmers said. (MindaNews)