Today’s Inquirer editorial succinctly and aptly summarizes  and describes the situation and the questions that surround the case of the Sumilao farmers. It articulates very clearly what has happened, what is happening and raises the important questions towards the direction the case is going. I am posting this editorial article because it strikes at the very heart of the Sumilao issue.


Original sin

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:49:00 01/23/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, are back, and they are calling on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to keep her word. Will she hear them, above the cocktail chatter and the rattle of speeches in Davos, Switzerland? In large part, the answer depends on the country’s Catholic bishops, currently meeting in Manila.

The issue, as Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales has said, is justice. Do the Sumilao farmers have the legal right to the land they claim as their own? The Supreme Court, led at the time by Chief Justice Hilario Davide, had ruled otherwise, but also laid down an essential condition for the landowner to meet: development of the property, according to the landowner’s own grandiose plans, within five years. That condition was not met; in fact, it is possible to argue that the landowner had no intention to meet it, that the plans were merely a legal tactic, to exclude the disputed land from the ambit of agrarian reform. The property has since been sold to San Miguel Foods, a subsidiary of one of the country’s oldest and largest companies.

In a just world, the failure to meet the court-imposed condition should have led to the return of the 144-hectare property in San Vicente to agrarian reform coverage — and thus to the farmers who had tilled the land. That, in brief, was the expectation the President herself raised, when she met with the farmers last month. Her decision to revoke the controversial 1996 conversion order and put the land back under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program offered the farmers real hope, for the first time in a decade.

But the issue is also about development. Or, rather, the moral foundations of development. Do we pursue progress even when it is built or based on a crime?

San Miguel Foods Inc. has apparently offered the farmers an alternative plan, that will protect its investment in San Vicente while at the same time allowing them to own their own land, but in another, adjacent property. We say apparently, because aside from unofficial statements, the most specific form of the offer, according to Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, was decidedly vague. “The offer was not clear,” he said. “It was not even a formal offer, since we talked about it only over the phone. We cannot negotiate without any details.”

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there is such an offer, and that the offer, considering San Miguel’s impressive track record and traditional commitment to the communities in which it operates, is materially advantageous to the farmers. Let us even assume that it is much more advantageous than any farmer-led development of the Sumilao property we can contemplate. Is that sufficient reason to look the other way, when the law on agrarian reform has been violated?

To ask that question is to realize that the Sumilao case is ultimately about something even more basic than land. It is about our dignity as men and women who are free to choose, a dignity rooted, the bishops may well say now and as “Gaudium et Spes” reminded us then, in the very image of God. If the farmers choose what a materialistic world may consider the lesser portion, what of it? Is their choice necessarily invalid because it nets them less money? Development cannot be sustainable if it is founded on the original sin of injustice.

Unofficial statements suggest that San Miguel will consider a pullout of its investments in Sumilao grossly uneconomical. All the more reason then for it to stop construction of new infrastructure.

As a necessary next step to her revocation order, the President is morally obligated to issue a cease-and-desist order to San Miguel Foods — if, that is, she holds herself morally responsible not only for what she does but also for what she says. On this matter, the bishops, speaking as one, can give her the benefit of their experience: They know what it means to work through the written and spoken word.

Already, much of the goodwill the President’s revocation order generated has dissipated, especially after the farmers learned that Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye failed to keep his dramatic promise to hand-deliver the order to San Miguel Foods. In a case where the system itself is at issue, the country’s poor only have the sincerity of their officials to rely on. Perhaps the bishops can issue a firm pastoral reminder about our duty not only to keep the faith, but to keep our word.

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.

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.



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.

Life’s Passion

Honestly, I find it very difficult to get back to my blogging. Maybe it is because I had written so much since last month and my mind ran dry. Parang pigang-piga na ang utak kong may kaliitan. Maybe its because hirap na rin akong humabol sa mga backlogs sa work kasabay ng pagsusulat ng mga press releases para sa pagpapatuloy na kampanya ng Sumilao. Pag Decemberf and January kasi, nag ooverheat ang aking ulo sa kakasulat ng mga annual reports sa mga projects at pagsusulat ng mga project proposals para sa mga panibagong proyekto. MAYBE, it is because my mind is full of ideas about something I am really PASSIONATE about at present.

Medoy matagal na rin akong hindi nagkarron ng isang bagay na binuhusan ko ng aking passion. Hindi rin lang isa ang nagsabi sa akin na parang di na ako passionate sa mga ginagawa ko at napapansin nila yun. Yes, maaring maging very strong ako sa mga positions ko about different issues at maaring naging masipag ako sa pagtrabaho para sa mga bagay-bagay, pero totoong matagal nang wala akong ginawa na I am really passionate about.

That was true until I got myself involved in the Sumilao campaign – Walk for Land, Walk for Justice. Hindi na ito first time nakasama ko sila. Naging involved din ako sa kanila nung unang nakilala sila noong 1997 nang nag-hunger strike sila para rin sa lupang ito. Noon din ay nagising nila ang natutulog na passionate kong puso.

Noong January 4-5, nagsama-sama kaming mga nasa core group ng mga sumuporta sa Sumilao farmers at nagsharing ng aming mga karanasan at nagplano ng mga susunod na hakbang. Noon ko naranasang tumigil at mag-isip, magreflect sa mga nangyari nitong nakaraang Disyembre at namnamin ang mga damdaming dala ng mga pangyayari. Noon kasing kasagsagan ng kampanya ang hirap huminto para mag emote kasi bawat pangyayari kailangang makaisip ng mabilisan kung ano ang dapat gawin.

I told my companions in this struggle that for me, the experience felt like coming home. I felt that I have been away for a long time and my experiences in shring with the struggle of the Sumilao farmers gave me a feeling of being “home.” I mean home in many ways. I feel at home because I once again worked with the campaign team that I worked with a decade ago – sina Atty. Kaka na idol kong abugada at personal close friend, si JunG na kamukha kong rapist pero sobrang galing sa pag-oorganisa at pagkampanya at ang mga kaibigan kong mga magsasaka ng Sumilao. Nandun pa din ang mga matatanda at tumanda na rin ang mga dating mga bata (narealize kong pati ako tumanda na rin).

At home din ako in the sense na andito na naman ako kumikilos sa issue na naging daan para ako mamulat. Namulat kasi ako nung estudyante pa ako sa problema pang-aagaw ng lupa ng mga mayayamang korporasyon sa mga magsasaka ng Bukidnon. That was the very reason why I chose to work and live the life that I have right now. Walking with and working for the Sumilao farmers revived the sleeping passion inside me.

Wala akong sariling camera kaya di ko nacapture ang mga moments ko with them Eto ang iilang mga larawan ng kampanyang ito na nagpapa-alala sa akin sa mga damdamin na nagpuno sa aking puso sa mga panahong kasama ko sila nung Disyembre.

dec 18
December 18. Yakapan blues sa College of the Holy Spirit sa labas ng Malakanyang bandang alas 3 ng madaling araw. Kakabalik lang ng mga pumunta sa 2nd dialog with GMA at binalitang irerevoke na ang conversion order. Panalo! pero alam na alam kong mahaba pa ang laban na ‘to at ito ay unang hakbang pa lamang. Pero ang panalo ay panalo pa rin at kailangang magcelebrate kasama ang mga naghirap para sa panalong ito. (Please wag na pansinin ang laki ng tiyan ko okey? Di na yan mahalaga, okey?)

km 0

December 21. Tanghali noong umabot kami sa Kilometer 0 sa Luneta. Bawat kilometrong nilakad ng mga magsasaka ay nalalaman nila dahil sa mga markers ng kilometrahe. Dalawang buwan din nilang tinitignan ang mga markers na yan hanggang umabot sila sa pinaka-unang marker – ang Kilometer 0. Lahat ng mga sukat ng kilometrahe sa buong Pilipinas sa marker na ito nagmumula. Naghabulan silang maunang humawak sa marker na yan. The same day we declared the 1,700-km walk over.


December 21. Ako at ang SLIPPAROL. Ang parol na ito ay gawa ng mga napudpod na tsinelas ng mga magsasaka sa kanulang mahabang lakad. Bawat isa sa kanila ay nakapudpod ng 4 na tsinelas. Ang lettering sa parol ay di ink o pintura, ito ay dinikit na mga buhok ng mga magsasaka nung sila ay nagpakalbo sa harap ng main office ng San Miguel Corp. sa Ortigas. Kasama kong humahawak ng parol si Gary ang pinakabatang Sumilao Marcher. Binigay nila ang parol sa Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, ang pinaka-unang institusyon ng simbahan na sumuporta sa kanila at naging daan para masuportahan sila ni Cardinal Rosales.



Flying Home First Class

I was set to fly to Cagayan de Oro last December 20 for the Christmas break. I was booked on the 11:30am Cebu Pacific flight. I woke up around 4am as usual, packed my bags got myself ready early to evade the heavy traffic going to the airport. Alam ko kasing magdagsaan na ang mga tao pauwi at may karanasan na ako dati na muntik na akomg maiwan ng plane dahil tumagal ako sa pila sa labas dahil sa security check.

Habang ako’y nagkakape at naghihintay ng oras, napag-isipan ko kung kaya ko bang iwanan ang kampanya ng Sumilao na basta ganun na lang. Noong umagang yun sila ay naglakad papuntang Paco para kausapin si Cardinal Rosales. Because I had time to kill, I really thought hard about my options. On the one hand, I have to make sure that I will be in Cagayan de Oro for Christmas kasi 1 year na kaming di nagkikita ng anak ko at may usapan na rin kamii ng Mom ko na magkasama kaming magkakapatid sa pasko. Alam ko if I missed my flight, it would be almost impossible to get another flight and I will be pushing my luck too far kung magchance passenger ako. Di ko pa nga alam kung talagang uuwi ang mga Sumilao farmers and how.

On the otherhand naman, medyo uneasy ako sa idea na mang-iiwan ako ng mga kasama sa gitna ng laban. Alam kong they will understand if I fly ahead of them pero napaka-uneasy talaga ng pakiramdam ko. To make the long story short, I decided to forego my flight that day and try my luck with the Sumilao farmers. Humabol ako sa kanila sa Paco. Di ko talaga alam kung pagsisisihan ko ang desisyong yun pero sumugod na lang ako doon. Nagtawanan ang aking mga kasama sa kampanya, di ko daw talaga matiis ang mauna. Sagot ko lang ay: Bahala na si Batman! hehehe

It took 2 more days before it became definite that they will be going home to Bukidnon. Medyo kinabahan ako ng konti kasi ang mga options were to take a Sulpicio Lines boat (which offered a very big discount and later offered to take all of us for free) or take Malakanyang’s offer to fly to Cagayan de Oro on-board as military C130 plane. Pag nagdecide na magbarko, magpapasko kami sa laot as December 25 pa ang arrival sa CDO. Kapag mag C130 dadating kami ng December 23. Medfyo mabigat ang naging pag-uusap sa mode ng pag-uwi kasi there were political considerations. December 22 na ng hapon nafinalize na we will take the C130 plane as a goodwill gesture.

Naka-schedule ang flight namin ng December 23 at 5:30am from Villamor Airbase. Di na ako nakatulog ng gabing yun kasi mahaba ang paalalaman sa mga naging kasama sa kampanya. Hanggang hatinggabi ay patuloy ang dating ng mga tao para magdala ng mga kung anu-anong pabaon sa mga magsasaka. Pati mga madre ay napuyat sa kakahakot ng mga pabaon nila sa kanila. Bandang 1am dumating ang bus ng isang Catholic school na pinahiram ng mga madre. Di kami kakasya doon kasi napakarami namin – exactly 80 people, at napakadami ang mga gamit – mga de-lata, mga sako ng bigas at kung anu-ano pang pabaon. Bandang 2am dumating ang 2 army trucks na magdadala ng mga kargamento at mga tao.

Dumating kami sa Villamor Airbase around 4am. Maraming mga taong nakapila para sumakay ng mga military flights. Dahil yata nagmamadali ang Malakanyang na pauwiin na ang mga Sumilao farmers ay pinaderetso na kami sa pre-departure. Pina-hilera ang lahat ng aming mga kargamento at pinasinghot sa aso (Nag-isip pa silang magdala kami ng bomba hayz… para ano? Pasabugin ang aming mga sarili? hehehe). Mahaba ang proseso ng pagload ng mga kargamento kasama ang multi-cap at jeep na nag-escort sa mga magsasaka sa 1.700-km nilang lakad. Bandang 5am ay pinasakay na kami sa eroplano. Joskopo Para kaming mga sardinas. Sana gitna ang 2 sasakyan at nasa harap at likod ang mga karga. Kami ay nakatayo sa 2 sides. Kanya-kanya na kami ng hanap ng pwesto, ang mga maswerte ay nakatapat sa upuan samantalang karamihan ay walang maupuan kundi ang sahig at ang iba ay nakatayo.


Kahit medyo masama ang panahon napakasmooth ng amiing flight siguro dahil sa laki ng dambuhalang C130. Medyo bago ang eroplano kaya malakas ang aircon, maya-maya pa ay giniginaw na ang mga magsasaka. We arrived in Cagayan de Oro at around 7:30am. Sinalubong kami sa airport ng mga support groups. After 2 months of walking, the Sumilao farmers have stepped on Mindanao soil.


It was not the most comfortable plane ride home that I have ever experienced, in fact, mas comfortable pa ang karamihan kong bus rides. However, it remains to be the best of my trips, it was an honor to have shared a part of the journey of the Sumilao farmers. I shall continue my journey with them until the day they will come home to the land that they will call their own.


The struggle continues…

***Photos from sumilaomarch.multiply.com


Matagal akong nawala. Di na ako halos active online pagpasok pa lang ng December. Di ko inaasahang maging super sikip ang December ko. I was looking forward to a very ordinary end to a very ordinary year. I was drawn into the Sumilao campaign nang di ko inaasahan. The end of  my otherwise uneventful year was lit up like the evening sky on new years eve. I was drawn into the campaign from the very time I met them in Ateneo last December 5 until we flew to Cagayan de Oro on board an Air Force C130 plane. My reflections about my journey with the Sumilao farmers will be a subject of a separate post.

Gusto ko lang isarado ang aking taon. Di ko ito nagawa dahil hindi na ako nagkaroon ng panahon bago lumipad papuntang Cagayan de Oro. Matagal kong pinag-isipan paano ko isasara ang taon at medyo nahirapan akong mag-isip. Siguro dahil na rin malapit na isang buwan since last akong nagpost dito. Naisipan kong maganda kung isasara ko ang 2007 by thanking the people I met along the way and who had been very much a part of my year.

First, gusto kong pasalamatan ang aking mga kasama sa trabaho at paniniwala sa Akbayan. We had a very challenging year and we continue to brave the challenges even into 2008. Maraming hirap ang sama-sama naming hinarap at patuloy na hinaharap. Malaking bagay ang pagkakaibigan namin sa aming pagharap ng mga hamong ito. Malaking bagay ang sense of humor na nag-uumapaw sa opisina sa pagpapagaan ng mga bagay-bagay na aming hinarap. Para sa mga kasama ko sa Akbayan HQ maraming maraming salamat sa tawanan, sa pagtutulungan, sa pag-alalay sa isa’t-isa at sa patuloy napagtitiwala at pagtataya.

Pangalawa, naging malungkot sana ang akin mga araw kung hindi ko kasalo si Fay. Marami akong mga naging pagkukulang sa taong ito, pasensya na Bubi. Salamat sa pagmamahal, sa pag-aaruga, sa mga pa-alala, sa pagtawa sa mga korni kong jokes  at sa palaging pagpapa-alala sa akin to always count my blessings. Thank you for being beside me always.

Maraming salamat din sa mga nakilala ko at mga naging kaibigan online. Kay Katherine nakilala ko lang nung January 2007 at naging inaanak ko sa a few months after. Sa pagtitiwala at patuloy na pagiging kaibigan, salamat Bunso.

Para kay Miney na lubos ko lang nakilala nung January 2007 din at naging isa sa mga pinakamaaasahan kong kaibigan maraming salamat. Sana patuloy na maging masaya ang iyong taon – busog ang puso sa pagmamahal, busog ang tiyan sa walang humpay na chibog, busog ang isip sa mga karanasan at mga aral ng araw-araw na buhay.

Sa mga nagbigay ng inspirasyon at tumulong sa akin sa pagbloblog maraming salamat din. Unang-una kay Ate Maru na walang sawa sa pagtulong at pagsuporta sa aking career sa blogosphere, kay Jojitah na di ko inasahang maging katropa ko at kachismismisan, Kay Ate Kengkay na naging inspirasyon kong maging mabait at maalalahanin, kina Nika at Jean na naging kasalo ko sa tawanan at kalokohan, kay Annie na walang sawa sa pakikipagkulitan – Maraming Salamat. Kay Taroogs na lagi kong katabi at kasama sa trabaho sa pagbloblog maraming salamat din, Panyero sana sa taon ito magiging mas marami ang Thursdays hehehe. Syempre maraming salamat sa mga nakilala ko at naging kaibigan sa WordPress Pinoys na patuloy na dumadami.  Hindi ko matawaran ang suportang aking natanggap mula sa mga kasama ko sa WPP.

Sa huli maraming sa mga nakasama ko (at patuloy na kasama ko) Sumilao campaign. Salamat sa inspirasyon, sa tuwa at saya, sa mga luha at uhog na sama-sama nating pinatulo. Maraming salamat sa 59 Sumilao marchers, di ko lubusang maipahayag kung gaano ninyo ako na-inspire at naturuan. At siyempre sa aking kaibigan cute at loving na abugadang si Kaka – salamat sa pagtitiwala at sa walang kamatayang pambobola mo sa akin (i-fefeature kita dito soon).

Daghang Salamat. Maraming Salamat. Muchas Gracias. Thank You.