Sumilao farmers get support of 3 former DAR chiefs

Former agrarian reform secretaries Ernesto Garilao (1993-1998), Florencio Abad (1990), and Jose Marie Ponce (1994) made their announcement in a press conference in front of the DAR central office at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, said a statement from the secretariat of the “Lakaw Sumilao!Walk for Justice!” campaign.

The farmers of Barangay San Vicente in Sumilao, Bukidnon are now in Metro Manila after a 1,700-kilometer walk over a span of two months from their hometown all the way to Manila in an attempt to reclaim the 144-hectare land previously awarded them under the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The three former DAR secretaries – together with former Undersecretaries Gerry Bulatao and Hector Soliman, former Assistant Secretary Clifford Burkley, and former Legal Affairs Director Ferdinand Casis — called on “colleagues in the Department of Agrarian Reform to uphold the letter and spirit of the rules on conversion, and in the process strengthen the institution and increase its legitimacy.”
 
Bulatao had worked with Secretaries Garilao and Abad, Soliman with Abad, and Burkley and Casis with Garilao.
 
The former DAR executives called for the immediate issuance of a cease-and-desist order against San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI), which is currently constructing a hog farm in the property formerly owned by Norberto Quisumbing.
 
They said, too, that the immediate revocation of the 1996 conversion order issued by former Executive Secretary Ruben Torres “is based very clearly in the rules of the DAR.”
 
“A conversion order is given to an applicant as an exception to the general rule that agricultural lands should be covered under agrarian reform. And therefore if the specifics of the conversion order are not complied with within the time frame of five years, then the property reverts back to the coverage of agrarian reform. It is also very clear that non-compliance with the strict rules on conversion requires its immediate revocation and distribution to the farmer-beneficiaries,” they said in a statement emailed to media outlets.

SMFI, they said, could not have acted din good faith when it bought the contested property in 2002, or two years before the five-year time frame of conversion expired.
 
“SMFI’s argument that they bought the property in good faith contradicts the claims of its owner that they do good business and good corporate citizenship. They should know that they bought an agricultural land conditioned upon the compliance with the conversion order granted to its previous owner. They should also know that a piggery farm is very inconsistent with the ‘Mindanao Center’ envisioned by the BAIDA (Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Development) project,” they said.

The grandiose BAIDA is the five-year development plan proposed by the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Resource Management and Development Center (NQSRMDC) when it applied for the land conversion. It included the establishment of a development academy, a cultural center, an institute for livelihood science, a museum, library, golf course, a sports development complex, an agro-industrial park, forest development and support facilities, and construction of a 360-room hotel, restaurant, housing projects, and others.

Sumilao farmers said none of the projects in the plan was ever implemented.
 
While the farmers expressed gratitude for the support extended by the DAR executives, they said they were becoming more confused by the way the government is responding to their case.
 
“We can’t understand why this government is having difficulty deciding on our case,” lamented Napoleon Merida Jr., chair of San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA). “We don’t understand why Secretary Pangandaman had to make us submit a position paper before he decides to issue a cease-and-desist order against the ongoing construction of a hog farm on the land that was awarded to us 12 years ago,” he added.
 
He said walking 1,700 kilometers over two months was nothing compared to days of waiting for DAR’s decision on their case. “The two-month walk was only physically tiring, but waiting for Pangandaman’s action is emotionally tiring,” Merida stressed. (MindaNews)

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