Finally, 144 hectares for Sumilao farmers

A press statement issued by the farmers’ counsel, Arlene Bag-ao at 7:51 a.m. today, said that under the MOA, the Sumilao farmers “will gain 50 hectares within the contested 144-hectare property through a deed of donation by San Miguel Corporation” while the remaining 94 hectares “will be taken from properties outside but within the vicinity of the contested area.”

The 94 hectares will be distributed to the Sumilao through the Voluntary Offer for Sale (VOS) scheme under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the lawyer from BALAOD Mindanaw said.

Tomorrow, Sunday, the Sumilao farmers who are presently in Manila to follow-up on their demand, will board a C-130 Air Force cargo plane to bring them to Cagayan de Oro and from there will proceed to enter the 50-hectare portion of the contested land and celebrate mass there with Bukidnon Bishop Honesto Pacana and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Bag-ao said.

Bag-ao did not say what time and where the signing will be but Jan Eugenio, another lawyer from Balaod Mindanaw said it will be "after lunch with the Cardinal."

Eugenio said the signing would be around 1:30 pm at the San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati.

Bag-ao said the Sumilao farmers will receive the 144-hectare land through a newly-organized cooperative – Panaghiusa sa mga Mag-uumang Nakigbisog alang sa Yuta sa Sumilao (PANAW-SUMILAO) which brings together members of MAPALAD and SALFA.

“The initial beneficiaries of the 50 hectares covered by the deed of donation of SMC will be 19 landless Sumilao farmers,” she said, adding the other members of Mapalad and SALFA “will be included in the beneficiary list in a screening process after their return to Bukidnon.”
Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, who once served the Diocese of Malaybalay, and Auxilliary Archbishop Broderick Pabillo will sign the agreement as witnesses.
According to the press statement, the MOA is “a product of the negotiation that was started by His Eminence Gaundencio Cardinal Rosales after he expressed his firm support to the cause of the Sumilao farmers last December during the final stretch of their 1,700 kilometer walk from Sumilao to Manila.”

Rene Peñas, a Sumilao farmer leader said that the signing of the MOA is a “significant breakthrough for the Sumilao farmers who have been victims of injustice for more than 12 years.”

“We have suffered all sorts of injustices in our claim over the land. We had chosen non-violent action to press for our legal claim and rights under the law. Ten years ago we had to go on a protracted hunger strike that lasted almost a month that resulted in the ‘win-win formula’ decided by then-President Ramos. We thought that was the end of it but we lost the land when the Supreme Court decided against us on the basis of a technicality in 1997. We hope that our 1,700-kilometer walk will not be put to a waste. We hope this agreement will finally give us peaceful possession and cultivation of our land” the press statement quoted Peñas as saying.
Under Ramos’ supposed “win-win” solution, the Sumilao farmers were to be given 100 hectares and the Norberto Quisumbing Corporation, 44 hectares of prime land.  But the farmers never got the land. The Quisumbings then sold the l44-hectare land to San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

Bag-ao said the MOA was a “triumph of the persevering spirit of the farmers.”

“They have faced all kinds of odds in their quest to reclaim the land, they have confronted a system that is stacked against them but they did not give up and continued to struggle for what is justly their even if it meant making big sacrifices. With the signing of the agreement, they will be able to fulfill their vow that the first ground they will step on upon their return will be the land they will call their own” she said. (MindaNews)]