DAR eyes “win-win” for Sumilao farmers and SMFI; Bukidnon’s Bishop says case also a “moral one”

This, as Bukidnon’s Bishop Honesto Pacana issued a pastoral letter Sunday (January 13), saying that “over and above legalities, the Sumilao concern is a moral one.”

“It is about the dignity of the human person. It is about justice and human rights. It is about their right to be heard. It is about a people fighting for freedom, refusing to be controlled by external dictates,  struggling to stand up,  for the right to determine his own future,” Pacana said.

Pangandaman told reporters Saturday night that SMFI had written to say they received the revocation order only on January 2 and that they would file a motion for reconsideration within the 15-day period the law allows them.

Based on the findings and recommendations of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR),  the President, through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita issued on December 18, 2007 an order revoking the conversion order.

At least 50 farmers had walked thousands of kilometers from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang from October 10 to December last year, demanding justice and the distribution of the 144-hectare land to them. Ten years earlier, they staged a 28-day hunger strike in front of the DAR office in Quezon City to protest the 1996 conversion of the 144-hectare agricultural land for agro-industrial use even as the land had already been under compulsory coverage in 1994 and distributed to them under the comprehensive agrarian reform law. A “win-win solution” was agreed upon in 1997 with the farmers getting 100 hectares and the Quisumbing family getting 44. The farmers, however, did not get the land. The Quisumbings  elevated the matter to the Supreme Court which set aside the “win-win” order of the OP and denied the motions for reconsideration “with finality” on November 17, 1998. In 2002, the Quisumbings sold the land to SMFI.

The President’s revocation order, however, did not include an order for SMFI to “cease and desist” from proceeding with its hog shelter construction. The Sumilao farmers complained that Pangandaman has not issued a notice of coverage of the land.

Pangandaman said the case is still with the OP and that the DAR can issue a notice of coverage only if the revocation order is final and executory.

“It is not yet final and executory because we have to observe due process,” he said, referring to the 15-day period from receipt of order given to SMFI, within which it may file a motion for reconsideration.

Pangandaman said the President has issued a directive to “resolve this immediately” but added that if SMFI files a motion for reconsideration, “then the case will drag, definitely.”

“That is why there’s got to be a win-win solution on this,” he said, adding that through the alternative dispute resolution created by an executive order, the DAR can mediate if the two parties express their manifestation to go through the ADR.

President Arroyo and Pangandaman met with Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) in Cagayan de Oro City morning of January 10, where they, according to Pangandaman,  “discussed the possibility of a win-win solution on this.”

He said SMFI is offering the farmers “land adjacent to the 144-hectare land.”

Bishop Pabillo had earlier said that Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye had vowed to deliver the President’s revocation order to SMFI on December 18. As it turned out, the order was mailed and received by SMFI only on January 2.

SMFI has until January 17 to file its motion for reconsideration. Pangandaman said SMFI had expressed in writing its intention to file for a motion for reconsideration.

He said he was informed by Presidential counsel Sergio Apostol that “right after they (SMFI) will file the MR, they will act on it immediately.”

He estimates the OP will act on the motion for reconsideration “within three days.”

But Pangandaman said the problem is that when SMFI files a motion for reconsideration, “definitely they (OP) will not reverse their previous decision. Definitely it will be denied by the OP.”

“That is how I look at it.  Sa tingin ko naman (As I see it), the OP will deny it. Now pag dineny naman nila, ang nababasa ko kasi, ang nakikita ko (Now if they deny it, my reading is, what am seeing is) this will really drag eh. Pagdineny nila (If the OP denies this), they (SMFI) can raise this to the Court of Appeals, .. magdradrag ito eh (this will really drag on), that is why maganda sana kung magkaroon ng (it would be nice if we can have a) win-win solution or else,” Pangandaman told reporters after attending a meeting on the DAR national office’s transfer to Davao City.
But Pangandaman said they will “re-screen” the beneficiary-farmers to ensure the landless farmers get priority. He said as DAR Undersecretary in 2004, he distributed 66 hectares of agrarian reform land adjacent to the disputed area, to farmers, including 21 of the Sumilao farmers who walked to Malacanang. He said the department gave the farmer-beneficiaries a tractor and P3 million start-up capital as part of the support service.

The 66-hectare land under the former Carlos Estate was distributed to 78 farmers, among them the 21 who walked from Sumilao. The farmers got less than a hectare each. But Pangandaman himself noted that “under the law, if you have less than three hectares, you are considered landless.”

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Pacana said that in the Sumilao farmers, “we witness once again an exemplar of the indomitable Filipino spirit.”

“Perhaps insignificant to society in terms of status and number. They were  even  unpopular  in their own district  (“No prophet is acceptable in his hometown” {Lk.4:24}), yet these people walked 1,700 kilometers, through mud and dust, cold rain and scorching concrete, plagued with disease, fever and fatigue.  They have awakened our conscience and made us aware that there is something very wrong in our society,” he said in his Pastoral letter.

“For us, however, the issue is far more significant. When we see these people unfazed by a colossal corporation, standing up to claim what is theirs- legally, and morally, it becomes for us a question of our spiritual standing: whether we are truly children of God, source of all that is life-giving in this seemingly hopeless world. Dare we remain in the background, deaf and mute?” Pacana asked. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)