No deal yet with SMC but farmers might sign this week – counsel

Lawyer Arlene Bag-ao, told MindaNews Friday via telephone that the counsels for the farmers and the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) have set a new target for a signing of an agreement on what to do with the property after the debates appeared to have cooled down a bit.

Bag-ao talked with Mindanews at a break in their meeting, and said that the new target would be either on Saturday or Sunday. She said she could not reveal the details of the deal yet.

"We are still discussing the details, including the mode of transfer," she said.

Bag-ao confirmed that even the land-sharing scheme was not yet finalized.

Priests assisting the farmers in Bukidnon cited a possible apportioning of 50 hectares of the 144 hectares to the farmers from the original contested site. The remaining 94 hectares would be reportedly taken from an adjacent property, as has been proposed before.

Bag-ao refused to confirm the information citing pending negotiations.

She said the major achievement in the negotiations so far was the recognition by SMC of the farmers' right to the ownership of the 144-hectare property.

SMC President and CEO Ramon Ang, head of the SMC panel, cited the role of Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, in brokering the deal saying it was the prelate's wish.  

SMC was quoted in reports in national media earlier this week that it had reached an agreement with the farmers over the land dispute.

The statement came as the Task Force Sumilao, a body led by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, sits in the negotiating table with SMC for a possible win-win deal.

Farmers stressed earlier they wanted the whole 144-hectare property now developed by SMC, which in turn has asserted ownership of the real estate property.   

Fr. Jonathan Tianero of the Diocese of Malaybalay told MindaNews the 144-hectare property was reported to be irrigated "so there is also a call that the replacement property, if agreed should also be irrigated".

The farmers staged a two-month march last year from Sumilao to Manila to dramatize their demand. Their action led to the revocation of the conversion order declaring the contested land as an agro-industrial site.

The farmers lamented, however, that the revocation order has not been implemented.

They then staged another march in Manila starting March 3, around Malacañang, in a bid to force President Arroyo to finally grant their demand for the distribution of a 144-hectare land now being developed by San Miguel Foods Inc. into an agro-industrial estate. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)