Sumilao farmers dare Pres. Arroyo to visit them

"Sila na pud atong ipaanhi diri. Dili napud kita pirmi moadto sa Manila (Let them come here. It should not be us who should always go to Manila), she said.
 
Ligmon’s exasperation appeared to mirror the sentiment of many other participants of the assembly, held a day after President Arroyo admitted she still could not issue a cease and desist order for San Miguel Foods Inc. to stop its piggery construction project at the contested 144-hectare property.
 
The meeting was also timed with the visit to the controversial farm here of Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) who also expressed disappointment over President Arroyo's refusal to issue the CDO despite her revocation order.

The President met with the two bishops in Koresco Hotel in Cagayan de Oro Thursday.
 
Pabillo told the general assembly that the President’s update was “disappointing” in that the revocation order she announced “was not delivered personally by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye to San Miguel Foods, Inc. on December 18 as Bunye promised, and instead sent it via registered mail”.
 
SMFI reportedly received the order only on January 2, instead of December 18 as reportedly promised by Bunye.  
 
Task Force Sumilao, headed by Pabillo, has to wait up to January 17 or after 15 days if SMFI would file a motion for reconsideration.
 
Pabillo told the farmers the company “is open for negotiation” saying that the task force had proposed a January 21 meeting with SMFI representative Ramon Ang in Manila.

Pabillo concelebrated the mass with Ledesma and Sumilao parish priest Dan Paciente.

He told farmers in a separate forum late Friday morning that the bishops will continue their support but that it would await the farmers' decision over a possibility of a win-win solution as a response to SMFI's openness to negotiate.
 
“If SMFI does not seek reconsideration and opens the table for negotiations, then that could be welcomed,” said Father Dan Paciente, Sumilao parish priest.
 
But Samuel Merida, Mapalad Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative chair, said they will stick to staking their claim over the whole 144 hectares.
 
Merida presided over the general assembly where the farmers mapped out strategies, including a situation where the SMFI may buy an adjacent 200-hectare property to be given them instead of of the 144-hectare land. The property SMFI dangled to them is adjacent to the controversial farm.
 
"Kayo ang mag decide ano ang mga plano ninyo (You decide what your response will be),” he said during an ocular inspection of the property with other officials.
 
The two bishops, Bukidnon Governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri, Jr. and Sumilao town mayor Mary Ann Baula entered the contested property Friday morning, accompanied by Father Paciente.

Bishops Pabillo and Ledesma and Bukidnon Bishop Honesto Pacana met with Zubiri a day earlier in Malaybalay City to arrange the entry and to get the governor's support. Zubiri, as quoted by Bishop Ledesma, said the farmers have to get their land “as it was unjustly taken from them.”

The visit of the bishops triggered tension in the area as around a hundred supporters of the SMFI project gathered at the property's gate, displaying banners of support for SMFI.

Nestor Honongan, Higaonon tribal chieftain in Sumilao, who led SMFI supporters told MindaNews the bishops made a mistake over their alleged lack of verification of the legitimacy of the farmers. "Many of them are not even from here, they are not from Sumilao," he said.
 
Pabillo clarified they know the issues and maintained that the church, in supporting the farmers, “did not make a mistake.”

Fathe. Paciente said tribal origin “is not the issue as the appeal is not for an ancestral domain but for a property subjected to agrarian reform.”
 
Many of the SMFI supporters booed the eight Mapalad farmers who were allowed to enter the property with the bishops and the government officials. Reporters were barred entry.

Pabillo told MindaNews they would meet with the Task Force Sumilao in Manila on Saturday to assess their plans based on what transpired in the visit.
 
 “It appears that SMFI is serious in pursuing the project as they already started construction of 29 of the proposed 51 buildings on the property,” he said.

The proposed construction would cover about 70 hectares in the initial phase of the so-called agro-industrial complex.
 
"From the briefing given us inside, they seem to be ready to spread the benefits to the people," Pabillo told MindaNews. "But how will they do that? It should involve land and other benefits such as education," he said.

Ledesma said the plight of the Sumilao farmers has become a test case for other communities around the country.  (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)

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