The decision was formally received by the counsels of the Sumilao farmers last November 29. The decision in part said that the Office of the President is precluded from deciding the case, on its factual matters, since "it is not a trier of facts" and therefore "the case is best left for DAR to review and resolve."
In view of the OP decision, and the pressure received by DAR from the Sumilao farmers' peaceful protest and the overwhelming clamor of support from various sectors across the country, DAR Secretary Pangandaman is scheduled to visit barangay San Vicente, Sumilao in Bukidnon on November 3, 2007.
Sumilao Farmers continue their walk.
The Sumilao are now on their 52 nd day of march. They are happy and excited because they very near to Manila. After going through a lot of pain and suffering, the farmers are hopeful that upon they will be victorious in their struggle.
The Sumilao Farmers with their support groups traversed a distance of 36 kilometers for the last two days from Los Banos to San Pedro having a night stop over in Cabuyao, Laguna.
On 30 November 2007, they originally planned to walk at 4:00AM but they woke up late because the previous night they had a meeting which lasted until 1:00AM. They discussed the activities happened in Manila Peninsula and the over-kill response of Arroyo, not to mention the curfew. They started their walk at 5:00AM.
While walking, the farmers with the use of megaphone, continuously inform the public of their struggle. The messages delved on their call for the DAR to issue Cease and Desist Order against San Miguel Foods, Inc. and to immediately distribute the disputed land to them.
When they reached Brgy. Sala, Cabuyao, Laguna, they met some 80 labor union leaders from Nestle Workers' Union. They got to know the people and started to learn their plight. Likewise, these people learned the struggle of the Sumilao Farmers. On the course of their discussion, the two groups learned that though they have different issues, they still share the same sentiments and frustrations on the apathy of the current administration on their issues and problems. The issues of both groups have been running for years and still they are shouting and fighting for the same struggle.
They arrived in Poblacion, San Pedro Laguna at 10:10 AM after walking 26 kilometers. They settled for a while then ate their lunch and started to have a small group discussion to strategize their call for the Department of Agrarian Reform to issue Cease and Desist Order on the conversion order filed by Quisumbing and SMFI.
The following day, they head off to San Pedro, Laguna walking from Cabuyao with a very light mood because of the idea that they will reach Manila soon. They left Cabuyao at around 6:00AM. They negotiated a distance of 12 kilometers reaching San Pedro at around 10:00AM.
Nanay Gilda was asked to deliver a speech while they were walking. In her native language, she asked DAR Sec. Pangandaman to give preferential attention and urgent response on their issue. By standers and motorists were attentively listening to every word of Nanay Gilda.
Though the message was said in Visayan language, people seemed to feel the core of her message. Thanks to the leaflets and other reading materials being distributed, locals were able to validate and really know the plight of the Sumilao Farmers.
For the last 2 days, the Sumilao Farmers were again overwhelmed with the number of support groups that visited and joined them. They were: PAKISAMA leaders and staff; PASCRES, KAISAHAN, Ateneo de Manila students; LGU of Poblacion, San Pedro, Laguna; Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Bay, Laguna (SMBL); Alyansa ng Laguna at batangas para sa Bundok Makiling (ALAB Makiling); Akabayan Laguna; San Pablo City Government; INDAK; Diocese of San Pablo City; Kalipunan ng mga Mamamayan para sa Ikauunlad ng Calauan (KAMPI Calauan); KASAMA-TK; Ugnayan Tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Victoria; PCCARD; PNP and Traffic Management Group of San Pablo, Calauan, Bay and Los Banos; LGU of Tiaong, Quezon; DAR Bay; SAMMBA; SAMALLA; and SIKHAY.
Yesterday was the Sumilao Farmers' last leg for the provinces of Luzon. They are currently having their Reflection/Learning Session in San Pedro Laguna and will reach Muntinlupa tomorrow, their first destination in Manila.
Indeed, the Sumilao Farmers were true to their word that they will walk on foot from Bukidnon to Manila. They just hope that the present administration will likewise be true to her word of giving justice to the Filipino people particularly of the poor and marginalized.
Why the Sumilao Farmers decided to walk
Ten years ago, on October 9, 1997, the Mapadayunong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag Multi Purpose Cooperative (MAPALAD-MPC), a group of farmers composed of 137 families decided to go through a lugol, an indigenous form of hunger strike to express their sentiment and their claim for the 144 hectares of land traditionally a part of the seat of government of their ancestors.
For 28 days, they refused to eat hoping that the government will hear their plea and distribute the land which according to the law is rightfully theirs. Eventually, the president then, President Fidel Ramos declared a win-win solution giving the farmers 100 hectares. Their victory was short-lived because the Supreme Court on appeal by Norberto Quisumbing decided to reverse the order of the President and approved instead the conversion application of Quisumbing.
In its conversion application, Quisumbing presented a development proposal containing the construction of hotels, commercial centers, recreational parks, processing plants, schools, etc. This project was supported by the local governments of Bukidnon saying it will contribute greatly to the "development" in the province. The farmers continued to object saying development should involve people and their desire is to cultivate the land and make it productive.
This even caused the lives of two lawyers from SALIGAN (Bobby and Caloy) who died in a plane crash when they were on their way to Sumilao to meet the farmers and other lawyers working on the case after the Supreme Court reversed the win-win resolution of President Ramos.
Ten years later, nothing happened. No "development" was introduced in the area showing Quisumbing's disregard for agrarian reform law and social justice. Worse, in 2002, Quisumbing sold the land to San Miguel Foods Incorporated who did not only violate the law by limiting itself to the development proposal of Quisumbing, it is now beginning to construct structures to operate a "world-class" piggery.
In the meantime, the farmers continued to strengthen their organization and studied their case. They also organized other landless farmers in the area and currently, the MAPALAD-MPC is pushing for the coverage of the land under the agrarian reform program with another farmer's group, the San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA). They know they have the right to the land and they are convinced that they can make it productive to contribute to the improvement of the lives of their families.
The municipal, provincial and regional offices of the Department of Agrarian Reform expressed its position that violations were committed and that the land remained to be agricultural and therefore should be immediately subjected under CARP with the issuance of a Notice of Coverage and for the land to be distributed to the farmers.
However, despite the local DAR's position, the central office of the DAR decided to avoid the issue and referred the case to the Office of the President when the MAPALAD farmers filed a petition in 2004. They have done everything they could to conduct dialogues and follow-ups with government offices and until now, nothing has happened to their case.
They have waited long enough and they cannot wait no more. It has been more than 10 years.
After so much reflection, the Sumilao farmers composed of MAPALAD and SALFA decided to walk on foot from Sumilao to Manila to express their frustration and their resolve to once again claim the 144 hectares that is rightfully theirs.
They plan to walk for 60 days hoping to reach Manila on 10 December 2007, which is also the International Human Rights Day. They will walk for an average of 40 kilometers per day. The Archdiocese and parishes have committed to support them by providing them space to sleep and food for the night. The parishes will also join the farmers in their prayers as they walk from one municipality to another. They will also meet with other farmer's groups to dialogue with them to work together to push government to accelerate and extend the agrarian reform program.
For others, this may not be a new idea and could take a long time. What makes it extraordinary, however, is that leaving their families behind, the farmers will walk on foot until Manila stopping only to take some rest and to talk with other groups to explain their cause. The farmers also know that the walk may take a while since they hope to march for 60 days, but for them, 60 days is not a long time compared to more than 10 years of waiting.
They have gone through a hunger strike 10 years ago. Although painful and difficult, walking on foot for approximately 1,500 kilometers under the rain and the heat of the sun may be a fitting sacrifice to make the government understand that the only way to equity, development and to peace is to immediately distribute the 144 hectares of the agricultural land in San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon that is legally and rightfully theirs.
The Sumilao farmers call the attention of the DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, and demand the following:
1. Restore the Dignity of the Sumilao Farmers!
2. Revoke the Conversion Order!
3. Reclaim the 144 hectares of land in San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon!
4. Reform and Extend CARP!
5. Recognize the need for a National Land Use Law!
Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD Mindanaw)
Door 3 Balay Mindanaw SIAD Peace Center
53A 12th St., zone II, Upper Bulua
9000 Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
+63 8822 738794
+63 8822 738794 (telefax)