Moving with the wind, floating with the tide

Since the beginning of the year, I feel like I was floating around, very much like a driftwood being tossed by the tide. I feel like being suspended in midair, floating with the breeze, falling and rising with every blow. Its like living in a constant state of autopilot, doing the things that I need to do as if I was programmed to do it, no volition just mere going through the motion. No decisions, no directions, just mere automation.

For how long will a let the tide push me, for how long will I let the wind lead me? When will I ever set my feet where I wish to be?

The last few days i have been thinking. I mean really really thinking. I am turning 40 in the next few months and I have been asking myself what do i have to show for the 4 decades I have spent living. Naku midlife crisis na ba ito? Hehehe. I am well past midlife kasi I don’t really think I’d past 60. But seriously, what have I accomplished? I ahve spent my life like a nomad – moving with the tide, shifting to where the currents take me. wala nga akong possession of value maliban nitong laptop na inutang ko pa sa nanay ko. Mahilig kasi ako magtravel light kaya ayan ang lahat ng mga gamit ko kakasya sa 2 backpacks.

I am not saying that I do not have anything to show, that I have not accomplished anything. In fact, i think i have done a lot of things, every where and all the time. But have I made a difference?

In the next few days, I may be called to do something that will really make a difference. Will I take it? Hanggang gaano ang kaya koong itaya sa isang bagay na talagang pinapaniwalaan ko? Sapat na ba ang gamitin ko ang aking mga kaalaman para makatulong sa aking kapwa? Paano kung kahit nagcontribute na ako ng mga kaya kong gawin pero di pa rin sasapat para magkaroon ng katuparan ang aking mga pinaniniwalaan? Hanggang saan ang kaya kong ibigay?

Sa totoo lang, di naman ako madramang tao talaga. Sanay ako sa puro halakhak at tawa. Di naman dahil di ko sineseryoso ang buhay. Diyos ko ano ba tong mga sinasabi ko hehehe. Basta, pag tinawag ako sa mga susunod na araw, sana handa ako. Whew 😀



 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.

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

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.


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.