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.
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.