Sumilao farmers on the road to Manila again

But Nanay Gilda, who is turning 60 in six months, isn’t resting. Not yet, she tells MindaNews at the Demo Farm of the Sustainable Agriculture Resource Center of the Diocese of Butuan in Pigdaulan. Not until they finally get the “katibayan” (proof) that the 144-hectare land they fought for is theirs.

Gilda San-ajan and her 15-year old grandson, Jeffrey. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

“While I’m still alive,” she says in Cebuano, “I  have to fight. I do not want my grandchildren to say I did not fight for them. This is for them, for their generation, and those who will come after them.”

Forty eight farmers from Mindanao – 44 of them from Sumilao, including Nanay Gilda and her 15-year old grandson Jeffrey; two from Don Carlos also in Bukidnon and two others from a farmers’ group in Digos City, Davao del Sur – spent the night at the Demo Farm before proceeding to Surigao City for yet another forum. They were scheduled to spend Saturday night there before proceeding to Leyte by boat on Sunday.

Of the 48, seven are women. The farmers from Sumilao are predominantly young — teeners and in their 20s. The youngest is Irish Anlicao, aged 14, and the eldest, Napoleon Merida, Sr., aged 61.

The group began the “pilgrimage” to Manila from Sumilao, Bukidnon, dubbed “Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Hinarang: A Farmer’s Pilgrimage for CARPER” on February 12 and has since participated in various fora on the issue in Malaybalay, Cagayan de Oro and Butuan cities.

CARPER stands for Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms.

BALAOD (Law) Mindanaw,  a Cagayan de Oro-based alternative law group that has been helping the Sumilao farmers in their quest for justice, said in a press statement that the primary aim of the farmers’ pilgrimage is “to contribute to the wider agrarian reform struggle to pressure Congress to pass CARPER before June 30, 2009.  The strategy is to raise the consciousness of the public to take concrete actions and as well as for the farmers to lead the cause by taking the pilgrimage for CARPER.”

No, the farmers will not walk all the way to Manila as they did in 2007.  But they will walk to Manila from Batangas, along with farmers from Calatagan and Banasi in Bicol, Napoleon “Yoyong” Merida, Jr., the farmers’ leader, said.

Lawyer Jan Eugenio says those who walked to Malcanang in 2007 are busy attending to the 50-hectare land in Sumilao that has been segregated from San Miguel Foods.

Documents for the additional 94 hectares nearby are still being processed by Land Bank, he said.  

The younger Merida, the pilgrims’ team leader, said they have yet to acquire the title over the 50-hectare land. The land was earlier converted into agro-industrial, from agricultural but the conversion was revoked by President Arroyo in December 2007.

Preparing to leave the Demo Farm in Butuan for Surigao on Saturday morning. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

The DAR in 1995 gave the collective certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) to the farmer-beneficiaries but in 1996, then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres iss
ued a resolution approving the conversion of the land to agro-industrial, as  requested by the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corp. (NQSMDC),  then the land title holder.

The Supreme Court upheld Torres’ decision in 1999, resulting in the cancellation of the CLOA of the 165 farmer-beneficiaries under Task Force Mapalad.

The Quisumbings intended to build a hotel, commercial centers, school, etc.. but the plans did not materialize. Instead, they sold the land to San Miguel Foods, Inc. in 2002.

Merida told MindaNews they sought reclassification over the 50-hectare land or they would be required to pay nearly P8,000 per hectare in real estate taxes for agro-industrial land compared with the less than P300 per hectare for agricultural land.

Merida said they are fighting “not only for ourselves but also for the rest,” as he spoke about 1.5 million hectares of land still awaiting distribution to farmer-beneficiaries, under the agrarian reform law.

Merida said they hope to be in Congress by mid-March to lobby their demand for an extension of the agrarian reform program “with reforms.”

In a press statement, BALAOD Mindanaw quoted Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos as having cited during the forum on Friday the message of Pope Benedict XVI that “Fighting Poverty is a means of Building Peace.” Pueblos was quoted as saying one reason why people join and participate in armed struggle, is due to unequal access to resources, especially land.

“He added that everyone should act to address and resolve this unequal distribution of resources. Since the pilgrim-farmers have started it already, Bishop De Dios challenged and invited everyone to join the pilgrimage, or at least signify their support.  The Diocese of Butuan on its part is giving its full support to the pilgrimage. He likewise challenged the district representatives to fight poverty and build peace by supporting the call of the farmers,” BALAOD Mindanaw reported.

“CARP had reached its 20 years of implementation on 15 June 2008, but congress seemed indifferent to the calls of peasant groups to extend and reform CARP.  It even disregarded the resounding call of the 79 Bishops for the passage of CARPER.  The only thing it did was to issue Joint Resolution No. 19, which only paralyzed CARP, short of killing it,” it said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)