Supporters of Sumilao farmers picket DAR, press for Pangandaman’s intervention

The farmers said they see Pangandaman as the only person, aside from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who can prevent San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) from illegally implementing a lapsed plan to convert the 144-hectare former Quisumbing property into a hog farm.

Peter Tuminhay, spokesperson of the farmers who are either pure Higaonon or of Higaonon descent, said Pangandaman is vested under Republic Act 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), to issue a cease-and-desist order against SMFI and to eventually resume coverage of the 144-hectare agricultural land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Pangandaman had earlier said the case is no longer under his jurisdiction since it is pending at the Office of the President, but Tuminhay said the least Pangandaman could do at the moment is to compel SMFI to hold construction of a hog farm in abeyance of the pending land case.

Atty. Jan Eugenio, legal counsel for the Sumilao farmers, said the farmers have strong justification to reclaim the 144-hectare Quisumbing property under CARP since the Quisumbing family failed to comply with the provisions of the conversion.

“Former President Ramos’ Executive Secretary Ruben Torres approved the land conversion in 1996 on the basis of the Quisumbing family’s proposed five-year agro-industrial development plan,” Eugenio said.

The plan included establishment of the Development Academy of Mindanao, a cultural center, the Institute for Livelihood Science, a museum, library, golf course, the Mindanao Sports Development Complex, Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park, forest development and support facilities, and the construction of a 360-room hotel, restaurant, housing projects, and others.

“Not one of these projects materialized. To escape responsibility for violation of the conditions of land conversion, the Quisumbings sold the property to SMFI in 2002,” Eugenio said. Eugenio further explained that that the SMFI Hog Farm project is again in violation of provisions of the DAR Administrative order No. 1 series of 2002 which clearly states that “the landowner and future landowner(s) of the property approved for conversion shall not change its use to another use not authorized under the Conversion Order without prior consent from the DAR.  The same A.O. also provides in unequivocal terms that non-compliance with the conditions of the conversion order and conversion to a use other than that authorized in the conversion order are grounds that warrant the revocation now being painstakingly sought by the Sumilao farmers.

As of press time, the higaonon farmers are walking through several towns in the Bicol region and will be reaching Quezon province on the 21st. They are expected to reach Manila on 03 December(2007) to convince President Arroyo to revoke the lapsed conversion order on the contested land. (Lakaw Sumilao!Walk for Justice)