Walking with the Sumilao Farmers

 

This morning I woke up at around 4:30 and my body felt like it is made of lead. Di ko halos magalaw ang aling bahagi ng katawan ko na walang sakit na naramdaman. Bakit? Dahil kahapon nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataon lumakad kasama ng mga Sumilao farmers mula sa Tiaong, Quezon hanggang sa Los Banos, Laguna.

 

Ang mga Sumilao farmers ay ang isang grupo ng mga magsasaka na naglalakad patungong Manila para iparating ang kanilang karaingan tungkol sa lupa. Nagsimula silang maglakad sa Sumilao, Bukidnon noong Oct. 10 at nasa Tiaong, Quezon na sila kahapon noong ako’y ay sumama sa kanila. Nalakad na nila ang mahigtt 1,500 kilometers sa loob ng 50 araw.

 

Tuwang tuwa ako noong inimbita ako ni Atty. Kaka Bag-ao na samahan sya. Si Kaka ay ang matalik kong kaibigan na abogada na katulong ng Sumilao farmers. Magkasama kami noong 1997 noong naghunger strike ng 28 na araw ang mga magsasakang ito.

Dumating kami sa Tiaong ng bandang 12:30 ng hatinggabi. Nasa isang gymnasium sila nakisilong noong gabing yun. Di ako nakatulog dahil na-excite akong makitang muli ang mga magsasakang kaibigan na di ko na nakita sa loob ng 7 taon. Bandang 2:30am nagsimula na silang magising. Nakakatawa nga dahil di na nila ako nakilala. Di hamak na mas mataba na ako kesa nung huli kaming nagkita. Matagal muna akong titigan bago maalala ang pangalan ko — Josel!!! sigaw nung isa. Yung karamihan ay naalala ang mukha ko. Natawa ako kasi ang pagka-alala nila sa akin ay yung lalaking malaki ang boses na naglelead ng chanting sa mga rallies nila nung araw at ang lalaking sumayaw sa ibabaw ng jeep noong napalaya namin ang mga dinakip na leaders nila nung May 2000.

 

Sinalubong nila ako ang mahigpit na yakap. Nangingilid ang akin luha noong magsimula na kaming maglakad. Mahaba ang nilakad namin kahapon – mula Tiaong dumaan kami ng San Pablo City, Calauan, Bay at Los Banos. Lahat-lahat 41 kilometers ang nilakad nila. Nakisabay ako sa 12 kilometers mula Tiaong hanggang San Pablo. Halos di ko na maiangat ang akin mga paa pagdating ng San Pablo at para na akong nakaapak ng sandamukal na pako. Kaya mula San Pablo ay lakad-sakay ang aking ginawa. Talagang surrender ang mga paa ko sa lakad na iyon.

Di ko lubos ma-imagine ang ginagawa nilang paghihirap. Araw-araw nilang ginagawa ito sa loob ng halos 2 buwan. Marami na rin sa kanila ang natumba – babae, lalaki, matanda at bata. Si Joel ang natumba kahapon. Sa mga ganitong mga pagkakataon, pinipilit ng natumba ang bumangon at lumakad muli pero kapag hindi talaga kinakaya, mas pinipili nilang buhatin ang kanilang kasama kesa ipasakay sa jeep. Natumba si Joel pagkatapos naming mag-almusal, nilabas ang lahat ng kinain nya nun pang pang hapunan at almusal. Pinilit nyang bumangon subalit 2 hakbang pa lang ay natumba ulit. Pinasya naming ipadala sya sa ospital ng San Pablo at tumuloy na kami sa paglalakad. Bumalik si Joel lulan ang isang ambulansya sa San Pablo. Sabi ng doktor ay sasabay na lang ang ambulansya sa paglalakad para di mahiwalay si Joel sa mga kasama. Pinilit ni Joel maglakad uli, di nya daw matiis ang makitang naglalakad ang mga kasama nya habang sya ay nakasakay sa ambulansya. Ayaw talagang pumayag na sumakay kaya ayon lumakad sya hanggang Los Banos na parang walang nangyari. Kapag nanghihina ay kumakapit na lang sa mga kasama nya at inakay sya ng mga ito hanggang makarating sa stop sa Los Banos.

Sa totoo lang I am humbled by them, by their determination and will power. Ni katiting di ko maikumpara ang aking sarili sa kanila. Lahat sila halos nasasaktan na sa paglakad pero ayaw nilang tumigil. Palagay ko, yun ang kalakasan nila. Kahit mahigit na 10 taon na silang nagtitiis at nakikibaka para mabawi ang lupang inagaw sa kanila at kahit anong pang mga talo nila sa kaso at iba pang kahirapan na dinanas nila sa kamay ng pamahalaan, patuloy silang nakikibaka, patuloy silang kumikilos. Kaya ganun din sila sa paglalakad. Bawat sakit na nararamdaman ay mas lalong ibayong lakas ang binubuhos sa bawat hakbang ng kanilang mga paa.

Their journey to from Bukidnon to Manila is almost near its end but their struggle for their land remains. They will not stop until they get what is rightfully theirs. During the walk yesterday, I wept several times not out of pity but out of pride that I have shared my tiny piece in their struggles, in their pains and in their hopes. Para sa mga tulad kong aktibista, ang mga ganitong karanasan ay bitamina para sa puso, sa utak at sa pangarap.

One day their struggles will come to an end… one day their will to struggle and sacrifice will overcome the barricades that our system imposes upon them. On day they will get what is rightfully theirs – a piece of land that will make their dreams and hopes come true. My share in their struggle, however small, will be a badge of pride for me.

Here is a piece of their journey. The video below are snippets of their journey to the place where my parents lived and made their dreams come true – Mainit, Surigao del Norte. May this video give you a glimpse of these wonderful people and make you share their dreams as well.

 

Il Postino

Poetry doesn't belong to those who write it, but those who need it.

These aren’t my words, its a line from the script of Il Postino – an Italian language movie that was released in 1994. One of the first gifts Fay gave me was a book of poems by Pablo Neruda – Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair. I wasn’t much of a lover of poetry and I still do not consider myself one now. But I do not know why Pablo Neruda’s poems touch a sensitive part of my heart.

il postino soundtrack

I cannot count how many nights the poems in Il Postino’s soundtrack accompanied me in my moments of solitude and melancholy. Kapag madrama ang gabi ko, I would just listen to the soundtrack which includes Neruda poems being read by personalities like Sting, Madonna, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts and others.

il postino

Last Friday, Fay and I watched the movie in UP. Honestly, my taste for movies is not really that sophisticated. Inaantok ako sa mga films na kahit award-winning at critically acclaimed pero walang action at putukan. Usually di pa kalahati ng film ay natutulog na ako. But Il Postino was an exception, it did not only keep awake, the movie overwhelmed me. It was light as it was deep, funny, happy and sad.

The plot was quite simple. It was a fictional story about the friendship between Mario Ruoppolo, a fisherman’s son turned postman and Pablo Neruda who was exiled in Mario’s home island in Sicily. It was a story of a friendship of a very humble person and a besieged popular icon. For me it was a story of how a humble and lowly person can do great things for a friend and how a great and popular person can be humbled by such a friend.

Here is a poem from the Il Postino Sountrack:

Tonight I can Write the Saddest Lines
by Pablo Neruda / Read by Andy Garcia

And finally here is an excerpt of a tribute to Pablo Neruda and his poetry:

 

The Price of Impunity

Over the past three years, we have witnessed how this administration imposed its will and its self-serving designs without regard for the law, morals and simple delicadeza. We have witnessed how it used its sheer number to drown and silence witnesses that would discredit the administration in any investigation that its co-equal branch of government – the legislature – throws its way. When pinned down in a corner, this administration impose its silence behind the cloak of executive privilege. Whoever do not bend with bribes are silences with threats and bullets. Protests are met with truncheons, teargas and guns. Oppositions are met with counter charges. We have seen how despite international condemnation, political activists continue to mysteriously disappear and murdered. We have experienced how this administration use to the max the coercive arm of the State – the military and police.

Shameless disregard of what is lawful and morally acceptable projected the air of invulnerability and invincibility. BUT it developed among the people the belief that this administration will not spare anything, will not cringe at using any method to ensure its survival. Do you wonder why every time a scandal erupts we somehow doubt that we will get near the truth, or even if we do hit the heart of the scandal, the administration will somehow get away with it?

Today calls for an independent investigation on the Batasan bombing were aired despite the claim of the police that they have solved the bombing and are holding the suspects in custody. The PNP’s announcement that the bombing was solved was met not with applause at the speed and efficiency of their response, it was met with raised eyebrows and questions about the credibility and integrity of their investigation.

Many people wonder how come the police were so swift this time around. Announcing that the bombing was an assassination a few hours after the incident, raiding and killing and arresting suspects and getting all the evidence they need in solving the bombing in record time.

Do you you wonder why Malakanyang wasted no time in clearing former Basilan representative and erstwhile Malakanyang ally Rep. Salapudin despite the PNP’s conclusion that Wahab Akbar was the sole target of the bombing and the perpetrators were most likely his political rivals?

While people wonder in disbelief, the subtle message has again been delivered in the strongest possible terms. Take a good look at the picture below.

foto op

Do you see a WHITE FLAG waving?

Am I paranoid?

I was surfing the online news sites the other night when I came across this breaking news report at http://www.inquirer.net which tells the story of a shootout between the police and a group of suspected Abu Sayyaf members (3 Suspected Abu Sayyaf Killed). The news article reports about the raid that the PNP conducted in a house in Payatas where they recovered “physical evidence” linked to the Batasan bombing early this week.

 

The police claims that thanks to the P5M reward that the government promised to anyone who will give them information that will lead to the solving of the Batasan bombing, they received a tip which was the basis of their raid.

 

The police killed 3 Abu Sayyaf members (suspects as they call them) including a woman. The fatalities were Pakir Said alias Abu Jandal, Redwan Idaman and his wife Saing. They arrested 3 other suspects namely Ikram Indana, Khaidar Awnal and Adham Kusain. These people – the fatalities and the arrested suspects – were linked to former Basilan Representative Jerry Salapudin.

 

They recovered from the house the deed of sale of the motorcycle the police believed to be the one bearing the bomb and several other items: nine cellular phones, a shirt and jacket bearing the House logo; several identification and ATM cards, photographs and notebooks; and the calling cards of Salapuddin. The police also claim to have recovered various components of an improvised explosive device.

 

Based on their investigation the PNP declared the House blast ‘solved but not closed’ yesterday.

 

Do you find anything wrong with the picture?

 

On what basis did the police brand those who were killed and those arrested members of the Abu Sayyaf? Because they bear Muslim names? Because they were Muslims? Because Pakir Said is being accused of kidnapping and serious illegal detention? How I wish the three can personally confirm or deny that they are Abu Sayyaf members. Well, they can’t, they are conveniently dead.

 

What about the deed of sale of the motorcycle the police say has been used in the bombing which they recovered from the residence? Hmmm, the police have painted a picture of the suspected bombers as professionals – the kind of explosive device that was used, the location of the bomb which they say really indicated that Wahab Akbar was the target. But if these are professionals, why would they use a documented motorcycle? Is it a common practice among the professional bombers to execute a deed of sale for a vehicle that they would use in a bombing mission? And granting that they were stupid enough to execute one, is it the practice of professional bombers to keep these documents in their possession? Can these suspects please explain why the police recovered such documents in their residence? I wish they can, but uhmmm, they can’t. They are conveniently dead.

 

The police say that the “case is solved but not closed.” Is it just me? Am i just paranoid? Do you have the feeling that something is wrong with the picture?

 

Just asking po.

Senseless

Last night’s bombing of the House of Representatives really made me feel numb and desperate. As I watched the news coverage of ANC, I drifted from a state of shock, anger, desperation and frustration. Actually ang hirap ilarawan ang aking naramdaman. I know the South wing very well, I walked its halls everyday a couple of years back. Dun ako laging dumadaan sa entrance na binomba. Hindi ko halos makilala ang entrance ng south wing sa footages kagabi.

 

Siyempre ang una kong reaction nung mabalitaan ko ang insidente ay ang magtanong kung kumusta ang aming mga kasama na nasa congress – our representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, mga kaibigan kong mga staff nya, ang aming presidente na nandun at kitang-kita sa TV na palakad-lakad sa pinagsabugan (natamaan ang kanyang kotse at lasog na lasog). i was relieved a bit upon learning na wala namang nasaktan sa aming mga kasama dun pero talagang para akong dinagukan knowing maraming mga tinamaan at nasugatan, at may mga namatay. These were innocent people who were on their way home after a long day in congress.

 

Kagaya ng reaction ko sa Glorietta explosion (which up to now di ko pa talaga pinapaniwalaang aksidente), ang napakalaking tanong ko ay BAKIT? Why would someone plant a bomb with the intention to kill and maim, not just a particular target but also those who were unfortunate to be within the range of the bomb?

 

Sabi ng mga pulis a couple of hours after the explosion, it was an assassination and the most likely was Rep. Akbar. Well, it is a possibility, many are aware of his reputation and his life as a warlord in Basilan. His being a target of an assassination is not hard to believe.

 

Yet, the assassination theory leaves more questions than it has answers. For instance, if it is an assassination of a particular target, why would the perpetrator(s) use a bomb which was strong enough to blast the ceiling into smithereens and several cars into pieces of junk? Mukhang eksperto sa bomba ang gumawa nito, alam nya/nila ang kanyang/kanilang ginagawa at alam nya na sa klase ng bomba at sa lugar kung saan nya ito itinanim ay marami ang madadamay at malaki ang collateral damage. Kung si Akbar ang target bakit kinakailangan ng bomba at bakit kinakailangang idamay ang mga inosente?

 

Isa pa, bakit sa Batasan nya/nila ito papasabugin kung si Akbar lang ang target? Di ba nya alam na kung tutugisin talaga sya ng buong kapangyarihan ng estado at di ito titigil hangga’t di nahuhuli? Di ba nya alam na ang pagpapasabog ng bomba sa loob ng Batasan ay ituturing na threat sa national security? Kung si Akbar lang ang target, di ba mas madaling tirahin syang mag-isa para pag inimbestiga ay ay sasabibihin laman ng pulis na malamang ito ay gawain ng kanyang mga kalaban sa pulitika at malamang ang imbestigasyon ay di na itutulak pa?

 

Medyo nakakaintriga din ang statement ni JDV, tinatakot daw ang kongreso, at di daw sila natatakot katunayan ay business as usual daw sila kinabukasan pagkatapos ng isang security sweep sa buong Batasan? Huh? Kung si Akbar lamang ang target, bakit parang naramdaman ni JDV na tinatakot ang buong institusyon ng House of Representatives? Sino kaya ang pinaparinggan nyang di sila natatakot?

 

Speculations may not be very helpful at this time but asking questions about the theories of the police is another thing. They were very quick to theorize that most likely it is an assassination of Akbar and that that there are no political motivation against the institution of the House of

 

Mahaba pa ang tatakbuhin nito, pero ang lakas ng kutob ko na despite all the investigations the police will conduct, the truth will not surface in the end. Maybe they are looking in the wrong places and the wrong angles , maybe they are looking at the wrong suspects… maybe they are not looking at all.

 

Senseless…

Caught in the Claws of the Rich

****Today I am posting an article I co-wrote for the Carnegie Council Ethics in International Affairs 7 years ago about the plight of the Mapalad Farmers . I wrote this article after the Supreme Court decided with finality to uphold the conversion of the 144-hectare land that was awarded to the Mapalad farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon under the Conrehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The conversion of the land classification from agricultural to industrial effectively exempted the land from agrarian reform and therefore taken away from the Mapalad farmers. Eight years have passed, the land remained undeveloped and in fact was sold by the Quisumbing’s to San Miguel Foods, Inc. I am posting this article because the Mapalad farmers are presently walking all the way from Sumilao to Manila, some 1,700 kms., to reiterate their claim over the land that was unjustly taken from them. They have endured 28-day hunger strike in 1999 and they will endure this long trek for justice, for land and for life. Mabuhay po kayo!”

Caught in the Claws of the Rich: The Struggle of the Mapalad Farmers

Josel Gonzales, Kaka Bag-ao and Azon Gaite-Llanderal
April 6, 2000

Mapalad

Most of the members of the Mapalad farming cooperative in San Vicente, Bukidnon, belong to the indigenous Higaonon tribe of the Philippines. They are poor, seasonal laborers who make brooms during the summer months to augment their income. They dream of their own piece of land to ensure food on their tables, education for their children, a roof over their heads, and clothing to wear.

 

Their dream was nearly realized when the government named the 137 Mapalad farmers beneficiaries to the 144-hectare Quisumbing family farm. This was determined by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, which distributes to the landless poor vast amounts of the country’s agricultural land that has historically been concentrated in the hands of a few influential landlord families. The Mapalad members participate in the paralegal assistance program we started in order to help the poor to access their rights under this law.

 

When the Quisumbings were due to relinquish their farm to the Mapalad cooperative in 1994, they instead sought to hold onto their land by gaining permission to convert it to industrial and commercial use, which would render it ineligible for redistribution. To the surprise of the prolandlord municipal and provincial governments, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) rejected the Quisumbing’s application.

 

In response, Governor Carlos Fortich of Bukidnon, a landlord himself, went straight to the top and wrote a letter to the Office of the President. Upon receiving this letter in March 1996, Executive-Secretary Ruben Torres promptly reversed the DAR decision in the name of the president. Just when the Quisumbings thought they had won, to their surprise they discovered that they no longer owned the farm. DAR had transferred the ownership of the land to the Mapalad farmers back in October 1995. The Quisumbings filed a case in the Regional Trial Court of Bukidnon in April 1997, claiming ownership on the basis of the executive-secretary’s pronouncement. It was upon receiving the court petition that the cooperative members learned that the land had been legally theirs. The Mapalad paralegals we had trained discussed the case with their leaders and others in their cooperative. Together with us, their lawyers, they decided to mount a legal defense against the Quisumbings.

 

So began the battle in the courts. However, as part of their legal education, we trained the Mapalad farmers not to rely on litigation alone in their struggle. They decided to enter their property and start cultivation, and in July 1997, with the support of the local church and neighboring farmers, they occupied the land. Three days later, armed goons descended upon them, firing shots in the air, letting farm animals loose, burning tents, and confiscating farm implements. Escorted by thugs, Norberto Quisumbing Jr. accosted Peter Tuminhay, the Mapalad leader, and threatened to kill the farmers if they did not vacate the premises. Although they would have gladly shed blood for their land, the farmers decided to leave and try other strategies.

 

The farmers’ next step was to make known the injustice through a peaceful yet powerful act: they decided to go on a hunger strike. Nineteen of the farmers picketed the DAR office in Manila, refusing to eat or drink anything but water until the president reversed the executive-secretary’s decision. Their plight made headlines in the national and local media, capturing the imagination of the Filipino public, which is unaccustomed to such measures. The groundswell of public support forced then-president Ramos to take action on their case after 28 days of hunger. He announced a compromise: 100 hectares for the Mapalad farmers and 44 hectares for the Quisumbings.

 

But the Quisumbings would not accept this. Drawing from their inexhaustible sources of influence, they brought a case to the Supreme Court. When the attention of the Filipino public was focused on elections in May 1998, the court quietly voted 5-0 in favor of the Quisumbings, voiding the Ramos compromise and converting the land to industrial and commercial use. The justices, large landowners themselves, did not address the fact that the land was designated for redistribution as per agrarian reform laws, and that it is illegal for the government to reclassify it. Moreover, according to a 1992 Presidential Administrative Order, prime agricultural land with irrigation facilities, such as the property in question, may not be converted to commercial and industrial use.

 

Together with the Mapalad paralegals, we filed a motion for reconsideration, timing this with demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court as well as signature and letter-writing campaigns. Sadly, not only did the court maintain its position, it also issued a ban on gatherings in its vicinity and took an even harder line against the farmers. In violation of the Agrarian Reform Law, the court added that the farmers do not have the right to own the land because they are merely seasonal workers.

 

Today, the Mapalad farmers are tired, angry, and disappointed with the legal system, but their spirit is not defeated. They remain convinced that the land is legally theirs and resolve to make the government accountable to deliver social justice.

 

Armed with knowledge of the law and given the opportunity to use their paralegal skills, the farmers developed a powerful voice in their own campaign. Because they clearly understand their rights and are able to articulate them, they are emboldened to face various government agencies and demand what is due them. The farmers also learned that legal action can open avenues for the state to respond to extralegal modes of struggle: Having their case in the Office of the President set the stage for Ramos to act, but it was their hunger strike and the public outcry it produced that forced him to rule in their favor.

 

But the Mapalad case shows that it is not enough to have laws on your side, even with the possession of legal knowledge and support combined with successful mobilization and public-relations strategies. The law is a double-edged sword: It protects and advances the interests of the poor and implements reforms, but it also preserves the status quo and perpetuates the interests of the elite. How can the interests of the poor be advanced if the legal system is caught in the claws of the rich?

 

The Mapalad farmers’ struggle reveals the corruption and bias of the entire Philippines justice system. The Supreme Court bent over backwards to accommodate the interests of rich landowners such as the Bukidnon governor and the Quisumbings but, in an obvious cover-up, became a stickler for rules and technicalities when deciding against the farmers. In the Philippines, it is more expedient to sacrifice the rights of the poor than to trample on the claims of the powerful. Traditional and elite politics permeate every corner of the government and legal system, threatening social justice measures like agrarian reform. The struggles of the Mapalad farmers and other marginalized groups cannot be separated from the larger effort to reform the legal system to better safeguard the delivery of justice in the Phillipines.

 

* PAKISAMA-Northern Mindnao is a national peasent federation to which the Malapad cooperative belongs. Attorneys Kaka Bag-ao and Azon Gaite-Llanderal are both counsels of the Malapad farmers.

The rope that hanged Mariannet

What pushes an 11-year old girl to commit suicide? What squeezed the last drop of hope from a Grade 6 pupil that she despaired so much and hanged herself? Mariannet Amper said poverty did.

mariannet amper

At the very center of today’s Inquirer front page is the story of Mariannet Amper, an 11 year old girl from Maa, Davao City. The story is screaming. It is heartbreaking.

While all of us were busy remembering our dead loved ones last November 2, Mariannet took a length of rope, tied it around her neck and hanged herself. Her father father, Isabelo said that Mariannet asked him for P100 that she needed for a school project that needed to be submitted last November 5. He asked her to ask her mother as he did not have money. He later went to borrow P1,000 but when he came home Mariannet was already dead.

Under her pillow they found her diary and an unsent letter to Vicky Morales of Wish Ko Lang. Mariannet did not ask for much, all she asked were a bike, a school bag and work for her parents. she wrote:

Gusto ko na makatapos ako sa pag-aaral at gustong-gusto ko na makabili ng bagong bike

In her diary Mariannet wrote that she stopped counting her absences in school. Her father said that Mariannet and her younger brother Reynald skipped school for 3 days because they do not have money for “baon” and he did not want them to walk to school. Three days for Mariannet seemed a long time as she wrote in her diary –

Parang isang buwan na kaming absent. Hindi na kasi namin binibilang ang absent ko. Hindi ko namalayan na malapit na pala ang Pasko..

Another entry in her diary says:

Hindi kami nakapagsimba dahil wala kaming pamasahe at nilalagnat pa ang aking tatay kaya naglaba na lang kami ng aking nanay

Isabelo Amper is jobless most of the time. Her mother works as a laundry woman and a repacker in a noodles factory. They live in a house that do not have electricity nor running water.

What do you call a society that drives an 11 year old to commit suicide out of desperation and hopelessness? The Gloria’s henchmen say its an isolated case. In a separate article on the same newspaper, Gloria was boasting of a decrease in the number of families that say they are poor and ordered the additional allocation of P1B for poverty reduction programs. Where were you Ate Glo when Mariannet needed P100 that could have possibly given her a glimmer of hope? Where were your billions of pesos when she needed only P100?

The International Policy Research Institute of the United Nation says that 11 Million Filipinos live on less that $1 a day. How many Mariannet’s are still around us waiting for the last glimmer of hope to fade?

How many Mariannets does this government need to accept that abject poverty is real and it kills. How many times does Mariannet need to hang herself out of desperation before government will stop calling her death an isolated case?