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
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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.

Rescinding EO 464

While I was walking with the Sumilao farmers yesterday in what the media has labeled as the “Jericho March” one of the hottest issues of the day is Executive Order 464. This order was issued by Gloria in 2005 to prevent cabinet members and top officials not only of the civil government but also of the military to be dragged into congressional and senate investigations without the expressed authorization of the Thief Chief Executive. Since the “Hello Garci” scandal, EO 464 gave Gloria’s cohorts a safe haven from the inquisitive eyes of the public. EO 464 became Malakanyang’s shield that silences not only the crooks in the cabinet but the decent ones as well (I used to believe Romy Neri was decent). It became a carrot as well as a stick to ensure silence among top government officials accountable to the President. Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan of the Philippine Marines who were court martialled because he testified before the senate during the “Hello Garci” investigations in violation of EO 464.

Yesterday, in her efforts to appease the Catholic Bishops, Gloria gave in and rescinded EO 464. Was it a victory? Will this bring us nearer to the truth in the ZTE-NBN scam and other scandals like the “Hello Garci” and the fertilizer scam (remember Jokjok Bolante?)?

Do you think Gloria will give in just like that? Ain’t this just another calculated move designed to project an image of introducing changes because she has her back on the wall?

For the most part, EO 464 was already declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Rescinding an order declared unconstitutional by the highest court of the land is not an act of goodwill. In fact, faking goodwill by rescinding EO 464 make it an act of deception.

Without EO 464, high government officials can now be summoned by congress and the senate to their investigations even without the consent of the president. This will just ensure their appearance but can they be forced to talk much less tell the truth? They still have Executive Privilege to hide behind. The scope of executive privilege is still being debate on. In the case of Romy Neri, the senate can force him to appear before the senate but he will just invoke executive privilege every time they will delve into his communications with the president. We may end up going to the Supreme Court with every question asked to which he will invoke executive privilege, making our search for the truth a constant and slow legal struggle.

We cannot legislate honesty. We cannot abolish dishonesty nor the conspiracy of deception and silence of the Arroyo administration. Honesty is a personal virtue, a virtue abandoned by even the most decent in the Arroyo cabinet. They can even lie under oath and lie in front of millions o Filipinos watching the live coverage of the proceedings (remember Abalos, Manny Gaite, Gen. Razon, Sec. Atienza and the airport gang?).

Gloria and her cohorts have calculated the risks of rescinding EO 464 to fake goodwill to the Catholic bishops. They concluded that taking out EO 464 will not damage their concealment of the truth.

EO 464 has been abolished. Will it bring out the TRUTH?

I still believe the abolition of EO 464 is a hollow and meaningless act. Like the declaration of a state or emergency, it is just a disposable barrier that Gloria created to derail the search for the truth just like the rusty container vans that she uses to block the entrance to the palace.

The Arroyo administration should be taken to task for imposing EO 464 in the first place. Rescinding it after it has been declared unconstitutional to appease the Church and to project an image as is the Arroyo administration is seeking for the truth makes it an act of deceit and a ploy for survival.

Gloria and her highly paid and richly commissioned gang of a$$lickers can shove EO 464 up each other’s A$$ES and consider that their Executive Privilege.

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