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.
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.
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.