A feather on her bonnet…

Today, at the Henry Lee Irwin theatre of the Ateneo de Manila University, a Special Academic Convocation will be held by the Ateneo community to confer 5 Traditional University Awards to people of distinction. I shall be a guest to this afternoon’s affair. I will not only be an ordinary guest… I will be a PROUD guest for among today’s honorees of the Ateneo are special people who I hold dear. This year’s Ozanam Award will be conferred to the Sumilao farmers and their lawyer, Atty. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao. I have written so much about the Sumilao farmers and what they have accomplished both in this blog and in the press releases I have written for their campaign in the last 9 months or so. So today I will not write about the Sumilao farmers.

All throughout the long 13 years that the Sumilao farmers struggled for their land, one person have always been their constant companion. She rarely shared the limelight with the farmers, but she shared their miseries, their worries, their fears and their sacrifices. For most of the last 13 years, she was invisible to the eyes of the public, a silent co-traveler of the Sumilao farmers.

I met Atty. Kaka Bag-ao, one rainy day in 1995 at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Barangay Consolacion, Sariaya, Quezon. I was organizing a group of agrarian reform farmers there as part of my training in community organizing. She was our resource person in one of our paralegal clinics with the farmers. Little did I know that one that rainy day in August 1995 i will come to know a friend who will touch my life immensely. We met a couple of times more for paralegal sessions. I ended my stint in Quezon a couple of months later and returned to my work in Mindanao. A year later, I learned that she has moved to Cagayan de Oro City to work for an NGO working with agrarian reform farmers. We rarely met then until I got drawn into the hunger strike of the Sumilao farmers in October 1997. By then she was already in the center of the Sumilao campaign as their lawyer, tactician, sister, daughter and friend to the farmers.

I rarely meet someone who can both challenge and question my ideas and opinions and build on them as she does. I challenge and build on hers too. Our arguments during tactics sessions are animated (and at times heated). She inspires me like very few people do. I have worked with Kaka in several other cases in Bukidnon but the Sumilao has always been a special one. Working with Kaka, Jun g., Nenen and several others on the Sumilao case and other cases in Bukidnon made me choose to work as an agrarian reform advocate.

In the Sumilao case alone, I have witnessed Kaka’s agonies and heartaches – losing 2 beloved friends Attys. Bob Gana and Caloy Ollado to the Cebu Pacific Flt 387 crash while they were on their way to Sumilao; losing a the Sumilao case in the Supreme Court on a mere technicality and thus experiencing the worst of our pro-rich judicial system.

Kaka was also instrumental in making me decide to join Akbayan, a decision that made significant changes in my life. Somme of these changes made us drift away from each other for a number of years.

The 1,700 kilometer walk of the Sumilao farmers late last year reunited me to the rest of the Sumilao campaign team. Parang di kami nagkahiwalay ng mahahabang taon. I got reunited with Kaka and Jun G. and got to know people who have since become my friends – Jane, Marlon, PI, Jemro, Bro. Javi, Bro. IJ, Tinx, JanJan, Aison, Soc and the people from Ateneo-OSCI.

If only San Miguel Corporation knew how our campaign plans were developed and evolved, they would not have taken this collection of jologs seriously. Our huntahans and Starbucks sessions spewed tactics that shook San Miguel and brought it to the negotiation table. The support of heavyweights like Cardinal Rosales, Bishop Pabillo, Christian Monsod, Fr. Danny Huang made the settlement with the Sumilao farmers compelling for the Asian brewery giant.

By hindsight, our ragtag team of jologs was a dream team of sorts. Our humor and laughter melt tiredness and weariness away. Our warm friendship made our daily pamorningan sessions not only tolerable, but most of all, something to enjoy and look forward to. We were never a bunch of grim and determined cadres, we were just a collection of friends who can find something humorous in the most serious of things. Kaka Bag-ao, co-honoree of the Sumilao farmers in this year’s Ozanam Award was the spirit that held us together (i.e. she was the jologest of us all).

Kaka kong mahal, sana’y wag kang mapapagal, Sana’y wag kang magsawa. Sana’y di ka mauubusan ng tawa. Always remember that the stars are brightest in nights that are darkest, that the pangs of labor give birth to new life. You taught me those things dear friend, and i am just reminding you of the lessons you so lovingly (and funnily) taught me.

The Sumilao victory, the Ozanam award are just a few feathers on your bonnet, and by God you have enough feathers to make a good feather duster.

Congratulations my dear.

Postscript to an Exodus

Exactly a week ago today, the Sumilao farmers made a final push from their camp in Caritas in Pandacan to San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati. They brought with them not banners that proclaimed the calls the bore for the last 12 years but calls for other landless farmers who remain struggling for their land. In their final walk in Manila to sign the Memorandum of Agreement with San Miguel Corporation, the Sumilao farmers echoed the cries of their fellow farmers calling for justice.

The walk to San Carlos Seminary was a walk of triumph, the triumph of sacrifice and perseverance, the triumph of solidarity, the triumph of Daviid over the giant Goliath. This walk was the culmination of tens if not hundreds of thousands of steps the Sumilao farmers took to make their plight too scandalous to be ignored. In the end they were triumphant.

San Miguel Corporation said it was their commitment to “corporate social responsibility” that made March 29 possible. Malakanyang claimed that it the Arroyo administration’s commitment to social justice that made March 29 possible. We all know that both SMC anD GMA were pushed to a corner and the MOA signing last March 29 was but a fait accompli for both. The sacrifices of the Sumilao farmers and the rightness and justness of their cause that awakened the hearts of thousands including church people and ordinary citizens left SMC and GMA with no choice but to go for a settlement.

Last Sunday, the Sumilao farmers went home. They made a final walk into the land that they can now call their own. They broke the barb wires that for decades kept them away from their land. The rubicon was crossed. Shouts and tears of joy erupted. Families were reunited. The Sumilao farmers were finally HOME.

I am blessed to have shared their journey.

Fokker 27

cutting the wirescutting the wires

Victory

The end of an exodus

No Filipino farmer deserves to be slave in his own country. No Filipino farmer should be landless. No Filipino farmer should be robbed of the land he/she rightfully and justly deserves to own, cultivate and make a decent living from. The fertile and rich lands of our country is the heritage of the Filipino farmers. No farmer should be deprived of land in our own country. This is what the Sumilao farmers’ Exodus is all about, the quest for justice and claiming what is rightfully theirs.
The story of injustices endured by the farmers and their struggle for justice and their land have spanned more than 12 years.

The Exodus of the Sumilao farmers is about to come to an end. I have not written anything thepast few days because I have wanted to write about this, I have patiently waited to write about this. Naghahanap lang ako ng timing anf besides di ko pwede ma-out dahil sa media embargo.

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victory

Editorial
Easter settlement

MANILA, Philippines – The news that began filtering out late last week—the first text messages circulated on Holy Thursday—immediately gave rise to hopes of the Easter Sunday variety. The Sumilao farmers, it was reported, were close to a settlement with San Miguel Foods, the company that had bought the 144-hectare property in Bukidnon in the center of the long-running and high-profile land dispute. Perhaps the farmers could reclaim their old life, and finally begin a new one, right during the Easter season?We hope so. The details of the settlement are still sketchy. Indeed, the settlement itself has not yet hardened into fact. Many things can still go wrong in today’s negotiations. But we are heartened by the seeming success of the process—of the consultation and creative problem-solving that marked it and the spirit of compromise that animated it.

The first reports indicate that the Sumilao farmers will reclaim ownership of 50 hectares of the original property plus 94 hectares from an adjacent property, in an arrangement that San Miguel Foods will help make possible. If these early signs prove accurate, then the Sumilao farmers will regain a 144-hectare property in the same area (just not the same 144 hectares), while San Miguel Foods gets to protect its billion-peso investment. And both parties do so without loosening their commitment to absolute albeit different principles. A true Easter settlement, then, if the parties come to terms.

The president of San Miguel Corp., the parent company of San Miguel Foods, has given credit to the Archbishop of Manila, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, for his role in the breakthrough-in-the-making; by all accounts, Rosales, the former bishop of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, has been a moving force in both the farmers’ extraordinary protest action (involving, most dramatically, a 1,700-kilometer march “from Mindanao to Malacañang”) and in the negotiations. (To be sure, much of the work of protest was borne by the farmers themselves, and by civil society organizations assisting them.)

In the public mind, especially in the turbulent months since the Hello, Garci tapes first surfaced, Rosales pales in comparison with his fire-and-brimstone predecessor, the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. But in the Sumilao case it must be acknowledged that the soft-spoken Rosales has used Sin’s weapons of choice—private diplomacy and public pressure, applied at the same time—to good effect.

The farmers too must be recognized for adopting an attitude open to compromise. Last December, after President Macapagal-Arroyo issued an order reclassifying the disputed property as agricultural, we praised the breakthrough but worried about the “politically untenable position” the farmers seemed about to adopt: “Despite the President’s order, they refuse to go back to Bukidnon until they are ‘finally installed’ in their land. But the order has to work its way through the legal and bureaucratic processes …”

The looming settlement with San Miguel Foods effectively makes those processes irrelevant—but there would be no settlement if the farmers were not ready to accept a “50 + 94” proposal, or variations thereof.

But we must also point out that, unlike the Quisumbing company that gamed the legal system and eventually hoodwinked the Supreme Court with an elaborate fantasy of development for the disputed property (a fantasy it did nothing to translate to gritty reality once it had won the case in the Supreme Court), San Miguel Foods has by and large conducted itself honorably. Last January, in siding with the farmers’ rejection of a complete swap (another property altogether, for the 144 hectares in Sumilao), we noted “San Miguel’s impressive track record and traditional commitment to the communities in which it operates.”

Indeed, it bears pointing out that in social justice issues like the Sumilao saga of frustrated land reform, the advantage always lies with the moneyed, in this case San Miguel Foods. The meek may ultimately inherit the earth, but in the meantime the rich get richer. An immensely rich company that could have opted to play the legal and bureaucratic game for as long as necessary but instead chose not to—thus allowing the Sumilao farmers to continue living the life they chose for themselves—surely deserves a nation’s gratitude too.

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The walk of the Sumilao farmers will finally bring them back to the land they rightly and justly own. Their Exodus is about to end. Freed from the clutches of landlessness, they will be going home as TILLERS OF THE LAND THEY OWN. They are coming home to reap the fruits of their sacrifices in the last 12 years. They are coming home to plant the seeds of a better future for their children.

This is indeed a happy Easter. Hallelujah!

cardinal

In Memory of Attys. Bob Gana & Caloy Ollado

The Sumilao farmers are waiting for the final resolution of their case. Their journey to this point in their struggle was not a rosy and glorious one, it was a journey full of frustrations, fears, hardships and pain. The 144-hectare land that they are claiming would have long been lost had it not for their perseverance and their sacrifices. They did not venture on that journey alone. The were others who shared in their journey. As the Sumilao farmers stand staring at the horizon waiting for the sun of victory to rise, they remember two of their companions in the struggle – Attys. Bob Gana and Caloy Ollado.

Ten years ago, on February 2, 1998, Cebu Pacific Flt. 5J-387 flew from Manila to Cagayan de Oro with 99 passengers and 5 crew members on board. The plane did not reach its destination.

missing

plane crash

Among the 99 passengers on were 2 lawyers from the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN). They were on their way to Sumilao, Bukidnon to discuss with the farmers their case which was then lodged at the Supreme Court. Atty. Bob and Caloy did not make it to the meeting.

Bob was simple man with a big heart. He was a consistent and aggressive defender of the rights of the poor especially the landless farmers. Caloy was known for his critical role in the repeal of Presidential Decree 772 (Anti-Squatting Law) which criminalized millions of urban poor who settled in lands they did not own. Both lawyers turned their backs on more financially rewarding practice to offer their expertise in the struggle of the poor and the defenseless.

Last February 2, 2008, on the 10th anniversary of their deaths, the Sumilao farmers walked more than 10 kilometers to the Cagayan de Oro Gardens where the unidentified remains of the victims of Cebu Pacific Flt. 5J-387 were interred. This walk was dedicated in memory of these two modern heroes. Written in the banner at the head of the march was -Atty Bobby & Caloy nagpabilin kamong buhi sa aming kasing-kasing ug sa among pakigbisog… – Sumilao Farmers (Atty. Bobby & Caloy you live in our hearts and in our struggle).”

While the dawn of victory in the struggle of the Sumilao farmers is about to break, Bob and Caloy lives in their victory. other lawyers have taken on the struggle but the inspiration of the lives of Bob and Caloy remain burning in our hearts.

144

137 Sumilao farmers arrived at around 11pm last Saturday. Their arrival brought the total number of Sumilao farmers in Manila to 144. They came down the boat in their disciplines lines chanting, . All dressed in their uniform white shirts and they were a sight to see.

I can’t wait to see them marching around Malakanyang, chanting their hearts out, shouting to their hearts content to the high heavens praying for justice, truth and their own land to till. I cant wait to see them in double file walking the streets around the palace. But I will have to wait a little longer.

The news of their arrival shook their adversaries. The lady in Malakanyang got nervous, the businessman in Ortigas panicked. They made a full turn around, suddenly became interested in the negotiations, too afraid to see the 144 farmers take their first step in the walk around Malakanyang. Maybe we are in the verge of winning. Maybe not. I am sure of one thing though, they wont like it when we begin our charge.

The Sumilao farmers will win. We will make sure we will win. They deserve their land. They deserve justice.

gary sumilao farmer

Broken Promise?

Will this be another one of government’s broken promises?

Nobody believes that government will be true to its word. Government, especially Gloria’s government, has broken too many promises, uttered too many lies for people to believe any word government says. If government reneges on its promise to the Sumilao farmer, would this be the end of their dream of owning a piece of land?

I DO NOT BELIEVE SO. Not because I believe that Gloria is true to her word. On the contrary I believe Gloria just wanted a way out of a very sensitive situation. I do not believe that the dreams and hopes of the Sumilao farmers solely lie in the hands of government.

I DO NOT BELIEVE IT IS GOING TO BE THE END OF THEIR DREAM. Dreams don’t die too easily on a people who have shown the nation they can weather any storm, survive any hardship, withstand betrayals and bad faith. Every blow thrown against them only makes their will and resolve to fight and struggle on stronger.

I share their dream. I will share in their struggle. I will struggle beside them.

The waiting ends today. We have waited for a month. The government did nothing for a month. How many hectares have we lost to the illegal construction after a month? How much longer do we wait. Today we stop waiting. Today, we begin our walk anew.

Last time, we walked from our homes to the halls of power in Malacañang to knock at the hearts and conscience of the powerful. It appears they will not use even an ounce of their power to make good their promise of returning us to our land. Today, we begin walking the opposite direction. We will walk to the homes of the people beginning with the young in their schools, then to the faithful in their Churches. We will knock at the hearts and conscience of the ordinary people as we continue to knock on those of the powerful. We will walk on and on until our steps will lead us back to our homes to till the land that is rightly and justly ours.

We will walk with our faith intact. We will continue to walk the way of peace with the Church, its leaders, clergy and the faithful beside us. We continue to walk to soften the hearts of the rich and powerful, we will walk to strengthen the will of the just and the faithful.

Today we resume the Walk for Land, and Walk for Justice. We will not stop until our land is returned to us. We will continue walking until justice is ours.

SUMILAO FARMERS’ MANIFESTO
17 January 2008 / Arzobispado de Manila, Intramuros

video from: balatucan615

12 Sumilao farmers back in Manila

Pasensya na at hindi ako nakakapagsulat lately dahil sa work sa Akbayan at sa pagsama ko rin sa kampanya ng Sumilao farmers. Ginagawa ko na minsang araw ang gabi samantalang ang araw ay araw pa rin hehehe. I’m posting the news item in today’s Inquirer. Ako rin naman ang nagsulat ng press release on which the news is based and the draft of the Sumilao farmers’ Manifesto.

By the way, nasa news rin today that the former owner of the 144-hectare property, Norberto Quisumbing Sr., filed a petition in the Supreme Court yesterday questioning the validity of the December 18 Office of the President Order revoking the conversion order granted byformer Executive Sec. Ruben Torres in 1995.

Hindi pa tapos ang laban ng mga Sumilao farmers. They need our continued support and prayers. Salamat po.

JOSEL :)

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Disappointed Sumilao farmers back in Manila

By Jerome Aning, Beverly T. Natividad
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:04:00 01/17/2008
MANILA, Philippines — Declaring they couldn’t wait another minute for Malacañang to make good on its promise to hand over a piece of farmland they claim, the Sumilao farmers are back in Manila to retrace their “walk for justice” to recover a 144-hectare property in Bukidnon.

Twelve of the 55 Sumilao farmers who marched 1,700-kilometers to the capital late last year have returned, dismayed by the government’s failure to stop the construction activities of San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) on the disputed property despite an order from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to revert the land to agricultural use.

The Sumilao farmers, who are being supported by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, said the one-month wait for the Palace to act was “way too long” and they cannot wait any more.

“The waiting ends today. We have waited for a month. The government did nothing for a month. How many hectares have we lost to the illegal construction after a month? How much longer do we wait?” they said in a statement.

They said they have not seen any indication that the government intended to hasten the return of the land. They said the SMFI was expanding its construction activities and authorities did not lift a finger to stop it.

The farmers said they will resume their walk, not to Malacañang but to the people. They will walk to the homes of the people, beginning with the young in the schools, and then to the faithful in the churches.

“We will knock at the hearts and conscience of the ordinary people as we continue to knock at those of the powerful. We will walk on and on until our steps will lead us back to our homes to till the land that is rightly and justly ours,” they said in their manifesto.

Linda San-ahan, one of the farmers, said they have returned because they did not want a repeat of what happened 10 years ago when the farmers opted to trust the government to distribute to them the promised 100 hectares after they staged a hunger strike.

However, they lost the land instead when government allowed the landowner to convert the property into an agro-industrial park, which the owner never did, selling the land to SMFI instead.

Rene Peñas, another member of the group, said that after the President’s December 18 revocation order, they waited for government to proceed with the next step and subject the land to agrarian reform.

“We watched painfully as SMFI continued to build their hog farm as if there was no revocation order. We asked the DAR and the Office of the President to stop the construction because it has been rendered illegal by the order but nothing happened. We can no longer take this sitting down. Today we stop waiting,” Peñas said.

Amid criticism that the Sumilao farmers stood in the way of a much sounder development model being undertaken by SMFI, Rosales said the basic and most important issue in the Sumilao case was justice.

“The basic issue is justice on top of a business that promises profits to hundreds of potential workers. The real issue is: Could you be just to farmers who have prior right to the land?” said Rosales.

Rosales said that while it may be true that SMFI could develop the property far better than the farmers could, it will be a development built on injustice.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo clarified on Thursday that the group has turned down an offer of alternative property from SMFI.

Pabillo, who heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines social action arm, the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), said he received an offer by phone from SMFI which he considered vague.

“The offer was not clear. It was not even a formal offer since we only talked about it over the phone. We cannot negotiate without any details,” said Pabillo.

But Peñas told reporters the Sumilao farmers will not agree to any land exchange deal with SMFI.

For one thing, he cannot imagine where SMFI would get an alternative piece of land as all the farmland in the area is already owned by various farmer-beneficiaries under the land reform program.

“Are we going to fight with fellow landless farmers for another piece of land?” Peñas said in Filipino.

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