Sumilao Farmers Win; but the Struggle continues

Arroyo revokes land-use conversion of Sumilao estate

By Jerome Aning, Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last updated 01:38am (Mla time) 12/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines — A day after twice meeting with the Sumilao farmers, President Macapagal-Arroyo took what her officials described as “the first step toward the return” of the land they are claiming.

The President, through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, authorized the issuance of an order revoking the land-use conversion of the disputed 144-hectare property in Sumilao, Bukidnon.

What was reclassified as agro-industrial land—and now being developed by San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI)—has been reverted to agricultural land covered by the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), according to Ms Arroyo’s spokesperson, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.

But Marlon Manuel, the farmers’ chief lawyer, said the order had no clear directive on what the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) should do next.

“It will be the start of another long battle to return the land to the farmers,” Manuel said.

Along with Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo, Bunye delivered the news and a copy of the executive order to the farmers, who had stayed overnight at the College of the Holy Spirit just outside Malacañang to await Ms Arroyo’s decision.

“I believe this revocation order is a significant first step and gives teeth to the intention of the President to really help the farmers,” Bunye told reporters after the dialogue with the farmers that lasted nearly two hours.

Grateful but wary

But Bunye and Saludo were peppered with questions by the farmers, some of whom said they would not return to Bukidnon until the property was actually transferred to them.

“We want assurance from the government that the land will truly be ours. Although we’re grateful, we’re also wary of the decision because in the past, many decisions favorable to us were reversed,” Napoleon Merida Jr., chair of the San Vicente Landless Farmers’ Association, told reporters.

His uncle, Samuel Merida, said that when he and the other farmers left Sumilao in October to march all the way to Manila, “we vowed that when we return, it would be to land that is rightfully ours.”

“It would be a great Christmas gift for us and our families if our case is acted on quickly by the government. We could begin planting immediately for the livelihood of our families and the colleagues we left behind,” Samuel Merida told the Inquirer.

Lawyer Manuel said the farmers were adamant that the construction of the SMFI hog farm on the disputed property be stopped at once.

“They’re a bit sad because many points in the order were not clear. They have reservations,” said Manuel, a member of the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal.

Weight for the petition

Manuel said the farmers were also dissatisfied because SMFI could still contest the order all the way to the Supreme Court, thus prolonging the dispute.

At the dialogue, Bunye reminded the farmers that they went to the Palace on Monday to seek the revocation of the conversion order, and that Ms Arroyo granted their request after considering the DAR findings and recommendations.

He said the construction of a hog farm on the property was the main reason the land-use conversion order was revoked.

Asked at one point by Napoleon Merida whether the revocation order meant that SMFI operations on the property would be stopped, Bunye said the order would be “the legal basis for the DAR to give in to the other things that you are asking for.”

“In other words,” he said, “it is your lawyer who will submit the petition to the DAR, and this order would give weight to your petition.”

The farmers asked Bunye whether a cease-and-desist order to SMFI from the DAR was forthcoming, and why it was not included in Ms Arroyo’s executive order. They told him that they went to Malacañang to also seek a cease-and-desist order.

Bunye said he had no ready answer. But he added that he and the farmers’ lawyer both understood that the issuance of a cease-and-desist order “could be the second step.”

Asked whether Ms Arroyo would give Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman a deadline to act on the requested order, Bunye said her “message” should be very clear to Pangandaman, who was present at her two meetings with the farmers—that the case was “a top priority of the President.”

The farmers also told Bunye of their fear that the process would take time, as shown, they said, by their past experience with Pangandaman.

No tears of joy

Bunye said he could only speak for Ms Arroyo: “The action of the President speaks louder. The fact that the President met with the farmers, with the clergy … She really spent time [on the case] and followed it up until this morning with Executive Secretary Ermita … So the President’s interest is there.”

Ermita signed the order at 12:10 p.m. “by authority of the President.”

Josel Gonzales, the farmers’ media coordinator, said their reaction was “subdued” when they first heard news of the cancellation of the land-use conversion order via text message at past noon.

“They welcomed the decision and are thankful because this is a big step for them to realize their goals, but there was no jumping, hugs and tears of joy. They said they’ve been traumatized because they still remember victories in the past that were later taken away,” he said.

Gonzales was referring to the certificates of land ownership award distributed to the farmers in 1994, which were revoked two years later when Malacañang, through then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, approved the conversion of the property into an agro-industrial park.

In a statement, the Sumilao farmers described Ms Arroyo’s executive order as “a big milestone in our quest to reclaim our land.”

But the farmers said they remained “disturbed.”

“While we rejoice at this victory, we are aware that this revocation is but a partial redress of the grave injustice that was committed against us that led to the dispossession of our land 10 years ago. This redress is already long overdue,” they said.

The farmers reiterated that they would not return to Bukidnon despite Ms Arroyo’s order:

“We will make our presence felt at the [DAR] and we will not leave until we are finally installed in our land. We reiterate our solemn vow that the first ground that we will step on in Bukidnon will be the land that we will call our own. We shall continue to walk until the day when we will walk freely on the land that we own.”

The farmers expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to the civil society organizations, parishes, religious groups, schools and the Catholic Church that “took our cause as their own.”

‘That’s the procedure’

In Malacañang, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol told reporters that the land would eventually be handed to the “old tenants,” the Sumilao farmers, and SMFI would be paid accordingly.

“That’s the procedure. The one who will pay immediately will be Land Bank [of the Philippines],” Apostol said.

Asked if this was a Christmas gift to the farmers, Bunye said: “All the actions of the President are being done as a matter of justice.”

The farmers said they would return this morning to their encampment in front of the DAR central office in Quezon City.

Samuel Merida—the president of the Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag, which organized the farmers in Sumilao and set up a cooperative to give them livelihood assistance—said he and his colleagues “continue to believe in due process and in the CARP process.”

He added: “We want to be prioritized because it has been a long wait for us. We want the process of implementation [of the President’s order] sped up.”

Napoleon Merida said they would seek an audience with Pangandaman to ask him to immediately issue the revocation of the land-use conversion order and notice of CARP coverage.

He said the farmers were wary of Pangandaman because the latter had earlier recognized SMFI’s ownership of the property and did not halt its development projects on the disputed land.

‘Land is life’

Samuel Merida dismissed comments that the farmers might not be able to administer the land if it were returned to them.

“Comments that we will not be able to till our land are unfair and belittle the farmers’ abilities. A farmer will do all he can so that his land will be productive. Land is the farmer’s life,” he said. With a report from Michael Lim Ubac


Salamat  kay Taroogs for updating others on the Sumilao farmers

The Sumilao farmers have achieved their first goal in their campaign. The struggle goes on. The road to reclaiming their land remain long and treacherous. I am very proud playing a small part in this unparalleled campaign.

This might be my last post before Christmas. I will be flying to Cagayan de Oro at lunchtime tomorrow. Merry Christmas to all my blog friends. Thank you for all the support you have lent.


Walking with the Sumilao Farmers 2

I have been absent for a while in the blogosphere and this is because for the last 10 days I have been walking, eating, talking and simply being with the Sumilao farmers. Much has already been said about their cause and I have been fortunate enough to be with them and know them beyond their quest for land. I have come to know them as the persons they are and share their hopes, their pains, worries, frustrations and heartaches.

While their 1,700 kilometer walk from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila is an extraordinary feat for the most of us, they are infact, just ordinary people, ordinary farmers. They limp at the gruesome walk that they undertook, from time to time they ask for a time out on the roadside to take jingle breaks, they go hungry, they get tired (although I got hungry and tired faster and more often than them).

Most of them have seen Manila for the first time. Nagkakantyawan nga sila kasi may mga sumakit ang leeg kakatingala sa mga nagtataasang buildings sa Makati at Ortigas, at mga natitigil sa pag chant everytime dumadaan ang ‘tren” (MRT). Marami ang nagkakaubo dahil di sanay sa alikabok at smog ng Manila.

Nung isang gabi nga nagkaroon ng mini-concert hatid ng Rock Ed kasama ang ilang mga artists. Naloka sila kay Rico Blanco na kumanta at nagpahayag ng suporta para sa kanila. Kumanta din ang ilang mga batang magsasaka at napamangha nila ang mga professional singers sa boses at galing nila. Memoryado na nila ang mga kantang araw-araw na tinutugtog sa trompa habang sila ay naglalakad.

Ordinaryo silang tao. Natatakot sila makakita ng napakadaming pulis. Marami sa kanila first time ding nakakita ng sandamakmak na pulis na humarang sa kanila papuntang Malakanyang last week. Di nila lubos maisip bakit kailangan silang harangin. Sabi noong isa, bakit tayo hinarang ng napakadaming pulis? Wala naman tayong nilabag na batas, sa 2 buwan nating paglakakad kahit minsan hindi tayo nanggulo. Para sa akin napaka ordnaryo ng ganung sitwadyon. Magtataka pa ako kung walang sasalubong na sangkaterbang pulis kung may pagkilos. Di nila naiintindihan yun, wala sa karanasan nila yun.At nasasaktan sila sa ganoon. They are not naive, they have faced armed goons before, they have been shot at before, but they are just ordinary farmers coming face to face with a government that is insecure, a government that is guilty, a government that has so much to explain to these farmers. Faced with the force of the farmers non-violent action, the State showed its coercive force. Perhaps its the government who does not understand these farmers. Perhaps they do but can’t care less.

On Monday they will walk again. This time their former shepherd for 11 years, Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, will walk with them to Malakanyang. I doubt if the Palace and the residents of the Palace will have an ear and a heart for these farmers, but who know knows. Miracles do happen. I am not very religious myself but this is a miracle that I will pray will happen. Padayon Sumilao farmers!

Sign this online petition for their cause : Online Petition for the Sumilao Farmers

Sumilao Farmers hit the Headline

Today’s Philippine Daily Inquirer headline says: Church backs the farmers


Their story deserves to be heard. Let the nation know of their plight, their perseverance, their journey and the injustice that they seek to redress. Their story needs to be told so that the people will know what made them make this very long journey on foot. They have arrived and let their story by heard.

Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, in his homily said that in any conflict between the rich and the poor, the rich always has the advantage. It is about time that the LAW SHOULD BE BENT IN FAVOR OF THE POOR the good Cardinal said. He requested the Sumilao farmers to take his letter addressed to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. I personally think that this is a brilliant tactic from the Cardinal who had been the Archbishop of Malayabalay, Bukidnon for 11 years. By making them take his letter to the President, the ball is now in the hands of Malakanyang – stop the Sumilao farmers then they are stopping the messengers of the good Cardinal. Snob the Sumilao farmers and Gloria will be turning her back on the good Cardinal.

I have not been to church for a long time now. Last night’s Mass was very meaningful. At last, the church is taking the side of the poor. I find the Cardinal’s “bend the law in favor of the poor” message strong and clear. I don’t think government needs to bend the law… it only needs to IMPLEMENT the law and surely it will be in favor of the Sumilao farmers.

The Sumilao farmers are here

The Sumilao Farmers quest for land and justice has brought them to the nation’s capital. Their 1,700 kilometer walk from their homes in Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila is about to end but will their quest for land finally end? Mahaba ang kanilang naging paglalakbay, mahaba at puno ng paghihirap. Ito ay kagaya rin ng kanilang naging karanasan sa pakikibaka para sa lupa – mahirap at mahaba. Before they endured the 1,70-kilometer walk, they have already endured a 28-day hunger strike in 1997 and more than a decade of injustices and betrayals from the government.


I am often asked why these farmers had to make this long and difficult journey. Pwede naman daw maghintay sa DAR, pwede naman daw mag petition. Pwede naman daw mag file ng kaso at magpicket sa DAR. Bakit kinakailangan pang magpakahirap na lumakad ng ganung kalayo?

In the last 15 years or so they have done all of that and more. They have petitioned the DAR, the Office of the President, the Supreme Court and several others. They have also filed cases supporting their claim over the land. In fact they have already become owners of that land. They have waited and not only waited passively but they have shown their interest and they have shown their will to be productive farmers. All throughout their struggle they came at loggerheads with the very system that keeps many of the farmers poor – a government that pays lip service to agrarian reform and lacks the political will to pursue social justice, a judiciary that becomes a stickler for technicalities in defense of the interests of the propertied elite but who turns blind when it is the rich and the government that violates the rules and its own laws.

What choice is left to these ordinary poor farmers? Where do they turn to? What more can they do to finally earn a just resolution to their plight?

Faced with the same circumstances, many will lose heart and lose hope. Some will take up arms against the government. But the Sumilao farmers are different – they seek what they can do in meaningful and peaceful ways. Ten years ago they deprived themselves of food to make their plight so scandalous to be ignored. Today, they trust their feet to take them through this long and difficult walk to Manila.

What have they accomplished with their walk? Hmmm well plenty. They have created enough public sentiment to force the Office of the President to overturn its decision and remand the case to the Department of Agrarian Reform. They have gained the support of the public – the parishioners of the churches that hosted them along the way, the support of many groups and institutions, they ordinary motorists who honked their horns in support, the ordinary farmers who gave them rice and other foodstuff along the way.

With this sacrifice, the Sumilao farmers once again proved that they have moral and legal rights to the land. Now it is up to the government to recognize these rights. Does the government have what it takes to go against the interests of one of the richest companies in the Philippines – San Miguel Corp. – to uphold these rights? This remains to be seen.

How can people support them? There are several ways.

  1. Visit them and extend your support. They will be staying overnight at the following places in the next few days: Ateneo de Manila, Loyola Hts., Quezon City (Dec. 5) and in front of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform, Elliptical Road, Quezon City (Dec. 6). Join us in our solidarity walk / torch parade around the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Dec. 6 (Thursday) at around 6pm and the solidarity night that will follow.
  2. Sign this online petition for their cause : Online Petition for the Sumilao Farmers
  3. Post the picture below on your sidebar



The Sumilao farmers have travelled far and now they are knocking at our doors. Can we do these simple things for them? For those who wish to visit the farmers and join them for a few kilometers you can reach me at this number: +639276409726 for details. Maraming salamat.

P.S. Finally they have hit the front page despite the media attention over the Manila Pen stand-off. Mabuhay kayo mga kasama!

Inquirer frontpage


Bonifacio’s Love Song

A humble working man founded the revolutionary movement that resisted and fought against the Spanish Colonial rule – the Katipunan. He was born on November 30, 1863. The Supremo wrote a poem – Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa, which remains meaningful and apt to all of us today as the struggle he started more the a century ago for a genuinely independent nation remains unfinished. Listen to the Supremo’s words and may his idealism and patriotism inspire our generation to carry on the struggle in our time. May his words echo through the more 100 years that separate his generation from ours and infect us with the same spirit of patriotism that made them sacrifice their lives for the Filipino nation to be free from the shackles of colonial rule. May his spirit embrace all of us and inspire our generation to resist the shackles that binds us today.

Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa

Andres Bonifacio

Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa,
Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga wala.
Walang mahalagang hindi inihandog
Ng may pusong wagas sa bayang nagkupkop.
Dugo, yaman, dunong, katiisa’t pagod:
Buhay ma’y abuting magkalagot-lagot

Ang nakaraang panahon ng aliw
Ang inaasahang araw na darating
Ng pagkatimawa ng mga alipin
Liban pa sa bayan saan tatanghalin?
Sa aba ng abang mawalay sa bayan

Gunita ma’y laging sakbibi ng lumbay

Walang alaalang inaasam-asam
Kundi ang makita lupang tinubuan.

Kayong nalagasan ng bunga’t bulaklak
Kahoy niyaring buhay na nilanta’t sukat
Ng bala-balaki’t makapal na hirap
Muling manariwa’t sa baya’y lumiyag

Ipakahandog-handog ang buong pag-ibig
Hanggang sa may dugo’y ubusing itigis
Kung sa pagtatanggol buhay ang kapalit
Ito’y kapalaran at tunay na langit

Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa
Aling pag-ibig pa wala na nga wala
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa
Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga wala

~~ O ~ O ~ O ~~

As we commemorate and remember Gat Andres Bonifacio, let us not forget that he died not in the hands of the colonial enemy but by the bullets of his supposedly comrades who stole the revolution from the masses and the working class. These same people later sold the revolution and our independence to the Americans, thus, the Katipunan’s Revolution remains unfinished to this day.

Andres Bonifacio was executed along with with brother Procopio in Mt. Buntis in Maragondon, Cavite by men of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo on May 10, 1897 after a kangaroo court found them guilty of “treason and sedition.”