Sumilao farmers mark simbang gabi before DAR office

Fr. Eduardo Apungan of the Claret Urban Poor Apostolate celebrated the mass with the farmers. In his homily the priest said that the message of the season of Advent and the first Simbang Gabi is hope for people who struggle for freedom.

Napoleon Merida Sr., chairman of the San Vicente Landless Farmers, seemed to be fighting depression.

"Ang pasko para man unta sa mga pamilya apan nia kami karon nahilayo sa among  mga anak. Bisan sakit para kanako ang mahilayo dili gyud nako buy-an kining pakigbisog para sa kaugmaon sa akong mga anak" (While Christmas is for families to be together, here we are far away from our families. Even if being away is painful for me, I will not give up on this struggle for my children's future), he said.

Four of Merida's children joined him in the march.

Linda Ligmon who is joined by her two daughters Graceful and Marlyn in the 1,700 kilometer walk said that she has remained undaunted by Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman's actuations. She said the support shown by the church has given them hope.

The farmers have walked from all the way from their hometown to dramatize their 10-year struggle to reclaim a 144-hectare land in San Vicente, Sumilao awarded to them by the government in 1995. The estate belonged to Norberto Quisumbing before it was purchased by San Miguel Foods Inc.

Pangandaman has issued a status quo order telling the farmers to respect the ownership of SMFI over the contested land to allow the company to continue with its ongoing development activities.

The protesting farmers will ask Arroyo to reverse the status quo order issued recently by Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.

They will be going to Malacañang Monday to deliver to President Arroyo a letter from Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who told them to personally hand it to the President.

In his sermon at the church of the Gesu in Ateneo, Cardinal Rosales said that he knew the Sumilao farmers as he was their bishop for 11 years. He urged President Arroyo to "give back the land to the Sumilao farmers." (MindaNews)