We sought remedies under the existing law to reclaim our land. Some of us had to go on hunger strike a decade ago to pressure the government to resolve the issue. In an uneven battle where the land owner, Norberto Quisumbing, had the resources, the influence, and the impunity to mangle the law and thwart the distribution of the contested land, we only had passion and enduring sense of what is right and what is wrong to demand justice. Quisumbing eventually triumphed in a contest where money and influence won over justice and the rule of law. In a series of unlawful acts, Quisumbing used the loopholes of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to obtain a land conversion order, thus evading the agrarian reform program. After violating the same conversion order, he sold the property to San Miguel Food Inc. (SMFI), which started constructing a hog farm in the area.
Amid the injustice, we abided by the law and respected the Supreme Court ruling, which upheld Quisumbing’s Conversion Order. But more than ten years have passed and Quisumbing failed to implement his conversion plan, a clear violation of the strict rules on conversion. As such, his Order should be revoked and the 144-hectare land must be covered under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and be distributed to us, Sumilao farmers.
Our long march to Metro Manila carried a simple message: the injustice committed against us must be corrected. The conversion order should be revoked and a cease and desist order should be issued to prevent SMFI from developing the area further rendering it useless as agricultural land. CARP, as a centerpiece program of the government, must be radically reformed and extended to prevent landlords like Quisumbing from manipulating its flaws and to fulfill its promise of social justice and equity. We marched, covering 1,700 kilometers for more than sixty days, enduring fatigue, and braving torturous weather, to demand dignity for us and our fellow farmers.
In our walk for land and justice, it wasn’t just our endurance that prevailed. It has been said that we, the Sumilao farmers, symbolized the refusal of the Filipino people to take injustice sitting down. Our voices represent a collective rejection of a status quo where those who till the land are in bondage to an oppressive system and where wealth is in the hands of a few. We were told that we have rekindled the youth’s sense of empathy toward the oppressed, and, equally important, their resolve to become active agents of change. Along the way, we have experienced, felt and witnessed solidarity, as manifested by the parishes, local communities, and ordinary citizens who
marched with us in different parts of the country. That the Catholic Church decided to take on our cause is a triumph of solidarity, and for their support, we are deeply grateful. Our walk sent across our message to people all over the country – in the communities that we passed through, in the churches and chapels and schools that sheltered us for a night. We are awed at the show of support that we have witnessed.
If there is one person that we have failed to reach, it is DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman. While the local offices and personnel of the DAR had shown their solidarity with us, their Secretary seems to be oblivious of us, our case, our arguments and our plight.
Led by the pastors of the Church and with our brothers and sisters walking by our side, we went back to Malacañang, which refused us audience the first time we went there. The President, upon the request of the leaders of the church, finally gave in and agreed to meet our representatives. The day after, the Office of the President revoked the Conversion Order.
We do not know what made the President decide to revoke the conversion order. Maybe it was the collective and individual prayers of the faithful who believed in us. Perhaps it was the opinions printed in the major news papers and the simple opinions of the people in every street corner that we passed through. Maybe it was the expert opinions of former DAR secretaries and officials as well as other legal luminaries like Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J. and Atty. Christian Monsod who told the public about the correctness of our case and the simplicity of the issues involved. Maybe it was the power of our feet whose hundreds of thousands of painful steps brought us to the corridors of power. Maybe President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was touched by our stories.
Maybe it was our sacrifices, our faith in the active yet peaceful means to make our voice heard. Perhaps it was the combination of all these that created an imperative for government to issue the Revocation Order. The Office of the President’s Revocation Order is a milestone in our case and for that we are grateful.
However, milestones do not make the journey complete. They are just markers of the distance that we have covered. And our journey towards reclaiming our land remains distant. We may have made a giant step, a thousand more remains ahead. SMFI can still continue to destroy our land by filling every inch of it with concrete. Secretary Pangandaman continues to drag his feet (and everything tied to it) in resolving our case. Yes, this government has made a crucial move, it has to do a thousand more.
We have decided to continue our struggle in the place where we have started this long journey. We are going back to Sumilao, Bukidnon to make our big steps from there. By so doing, we are giving our government the space to fulfill their public pronouncements – that the 144 hectares in Sumilao will be covered by agrarian reform and that we will be reinstated in the land that is rightfully ours. Our 1,700 kilometer walk has created ripples beyond what we have originally envisioned, it created opportunities for major stakeholders in society and in the agrarian reform community to come together and share their commitments.
Our case is far from over. The roads ahead remain dangerous and treacherous. In the last few days, the Church, led by Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, had expressed its commitment to struggle with us. Our experience with them has developed in us a profound faith towards them. They will remain beside us as we continue to push for more giant steps in our struggle. To the church we entrust the softening of hearts of stone and healing of deaf ears of those in government and big business like SMFI.
Today we end this journey of 1,700 kilometers, but the journey towards achieving our 144-hectare land continues. Should the government fail to live up and make good its promises, we are willing to retrace our steps from Sumilao back to Malacañang, we are even ready to make sacrifices beyond that.
(Posted by: Lakaw Sumilao!Walk for Justice!
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