Sumilao farmers to push for meet with GMA Monday

In their second attempt to have an audience with the President, the farmers will be accompanied by church people from parishes all over the national capital, led by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.

Rosales was Bishop of Bukidnon before he was named Bishop of Lipa, the post he served before becoming Archbishop of Manila.

The farmers, who are claiming a 144-hectare farmland in San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, are hopeful that they will not only meet the President but also convince her to act decisively on their case, said Napoleon Merida Jr., chair of San Vicente Landless Farmers Association.

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

Pangandaman's order told the farmers to respect the ownership of San Miguel Foods, Inc.  (SMFI) over the land to allow the corporation to continue with its ongoing
development activities. SMFI, a subsidiary of the San Miguel Corporation, purchased the land from the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC) in 2002.

"Pangandaman has issued an order that is completely unacceptable to us. We are just asking DAR to issue a relief measure through a cease order for SMFI to halt all activities in the property while DAR could not yet decide on the merits of the case," lawyer Arlene Bag-ao, the farmers' counsel, said.

The secretary’s order is “tantamount to ordering the farmers to stop exercising
their constitutionally-ordained rights,” Bag-ao said in a statement.

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

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

The NQSRMDC had applied for conversion of the land from agricultural to agro-industrial. This was denied by the DAR but appealed before the Office of the President (OP). Then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres set aside DAR’s decision and approved the conversion on March 29, 1996.

The DAR moved for reconsideration which was denied on June 23, 1997. The OP also said the March 1996 decision had become final and executory.

The DAR filed a second motion for reconsideration. On November 7, 1997, the OP modified the March 1996 decision by 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 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.

The NQSRMDC sold the 144-hectares of land to Eduardo Cojuangco’s San Miguel Foods in 2002, for the latter’s piggery project.

As it turned out, after the so-called “win-win” decision, the NQSRMDC filed a petition for “certiorari, prohibition and injunction with urgent prayer for a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction” before the Supreme Court which the Court granted on April 27, 1998.

The high court set aside the  November 7, 1997 “win-win” order of the Office of the President and denied the motions for reconsideration “with finality” on November 17, 1998.

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.

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 and Merida 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.

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

Dated September 25, the memorandum of DAR OIC regional director John Maruhom recommended that the DAR and the Office of the President should take note of the June 20, 2005 Memorandum from the regional office that “there has been no development in the NQSRMDC property that can be associated with the landowners’ conversion application; that San Miguel Foods, “assuming that it may be considered as successor-in-interest, be declared as to have violated the strict rules governing the approval and implementation of the Conversion Order by not limiting itself to the development proposal submitted by NQSRMDC;” and that a notice of coverage on the 144 hectare land “be immediately issued to place the said landholding for coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in pursuance of the DAR’s commitment to accelerate the completion of Land Acquisition and Distribution.”

A copy of Maruhom’s memorandum was furnished the Office of the President. The Office of the President dismissed the farmers’ appeal on October 3. (MindaNews)