GMA says she can’t issue cease and desist order; has to consult lawyer re Sumilao land

"I am disappointed that the Office of the President did not issue a CDO and did not personally deliver its Order despite the promise of (Press) Secretary (Ignacio) Bunye that he will personally deliver the copy of the order to SMFI," said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA).

A press statement from Balaod Mindanaw said Bishop Pabillo and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro City met with President Arroyo at breakfast at the Koresco Hotel.  

The lawyers and support groups of the Sumilao farmers also expressed their disappointment, Balaod said.

"President Arroyo's pronouncement is very disheartening.   It seems to me that she failed to appreciate the urgency of resolving the case of the Sumilao farmers," Balaod quoted Atty. Arlene Bag-ao, lawyer of the farmers, as saying.

President Arroyo on December 18 issued an order that reversed the earlier conversion of the controversial 144-hectare land in Sumilao as agro-industrial. As agricultural land, the farmers had hoped the land would be distributed to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform law. Distribution under the law ends this year.

The President, however, did not issue a cease and desist order against SMFI. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) did not also issue a notice of coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform law, for the land to be distributed to the farmers.

Bag-ao said the President should have immediately issued a cease and desist order because the ongoing construction of SMFI “defies the conversion order of the Office of the President.”   She also said that the SMFI's hog farm is not an agricultural undertaking, contrary to what it says, and that its presence in the 144 hectare area has no legal basis.

Local police prevented the Sumilao farmers from entering the Koresco Hotel so they lined up along the national highway to wait for President Arroyo to come out of the hotel, Balaod said, adding that even the farmers’ streamers were confiscated.

"I do not understand why members of the police confiscated our streamers when our purpose is only to express our sentiment to the President for her to issue a cease and desist order, and   for the DAR to issue a notice of coverage," said Rene Penas, paralegal officer of the Sumilao farmers.

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

The Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (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.

The farmers, however, never got the land.

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

Before their talk with President Arroyo, Bishops Pabillo and Ledesma conferred with the Sumilao farmers at the Archbishop’s House in Cagayan de Oro City.
Bishop Pabillo arrived in the city January 10 to visit the farmers who are camping outside the regional office of the DAR. The farmers have camped out  to protest DAR’s refusal to issue a notice of coverage and cease and desist order.

After their conference with President Arroyo, Bishops Pabillo and Ledesma proceeded to the DAR regional office here to celebrate mass with the farmers. Bishop Honesto Pacana, SJ, bishop of Malaybalay, came to Cagayan de Oro to concelebrate the mass.

The mass was attended by nuns, students, representatives of civil society organizations, and DAR employees.

After the mass, Bishop Pabillo explained to the farmers that President Arroyo told them she still has to refer the case to Secretary Apostol and study the case further before she will issue the cease and desist order.

Bishop Pabillo vowed to personally follow-up the results of Apostol’s study.
Sumilao farmers vowed to continue their camp-out at the DAR regional office. (MindaNews)