On the road again

In a couple of hours I will be going to Calatagan again (for the nth time). This time archbishop Pabillo will be visiting the Calatagan farmers in their homes and in their farms. Aside from the archbishop’s visit, my mission there is to look into the preparations of the Caltagan Farmers’ walk to Manila. Yes, the farmers will walk from Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan to Manila again.

This is the third time that farmers from Calatagan will walk to Manila. The first time they walked was last December when they joined the  Sumilao farmers who all all the 1,700 kilometers from Bukidnon to Manila. The Calatagan farmers walked side by side with the Sumilao farmers from Laguna to Manila just to show their solidarity. The second time they walked was last April. This time it was to campaign for their own land problem in Calatagan. Their sacrifices between April and June this year seem not sufficient enough for the calloused hearts of those in government.so they will walk again but thiis time it will be the original Emancipation Patent holders who will do the walking.

When they first suggested that they will walk again, I was a bit skeptical. Why walk again when they have already done it before? What’s new? the old farmers will do the walking they replied. when they asked for one week to consult the other farmers I did not expect more than 10 takers. The walk to Manila which is around 300 kilometers, though very short compared to the 1,700 kms of the Sumilao farmers, will be very difficult and risky for the old farmers. The next time we met they told us 42 farmers between the ages 50-70 years old agreed to participate in the walk.  They said they will walk in a pace that the slowest of them can go and as far as the weakest of them can take each day. They wont mind if it will take them a month to reach Manila. What is importan to them is that they will show how much the oldest among them can endure and sacrifice for the piece of land that is theirs and to fight the greedy who are intent on turning their farmlands into a mining area.

i do not know where they get their courage and strength to even think of walking that far. Maybe it is the threat of losing the farms which they have developed with their own hands. Maybe it is the desperation and frustration with the DENR and the DAR who seem to be blinded at their woes and their rights as agrarian reform beneficiaries. Maybe it is the seeming hopelessness in the fight against the destruction of their community and the environment around them.

I feel so small in the face these farmers who desperately seek to find hope through their own sacrifices. I feel so small in the face of these farmers who are willing to squeeze every  ounce of strength from their bodies to fight for their rights, defend their farms and their community. Maybe they are right, maybe the best way to fight corporate greed is through their selfless sacrifice.

They will walk again. May they find the hope that they seek and the victory that they deserve.

Postscript to an Exodus

Exactly a week ago today, the Sumilao farmers made a final push from their camp in Caritas in Pandacan to San Carlos Seminary in Guadalupe, Makati. They brought with them not banners that proclaimed the calls the bore for the last 12 years but calls for other landless farmers who remain struggling for their land. In their final walk in Manila to sign the Memorandum of Agreement with San Miguel Corporation, the Sumilao farmers echoed the cries of their fellow farmers calling for justice.

The walk to San Carlos Seminary was a walk of triumph, the triumph of sacrifice and perseverance, the triumph of solidarity, the triumph of Daviid over the giant Goliath. This walk was the culmination of tens if not hundreds of thousands of steps the Sumilao farmers took to make their plight too scandalous to be ignored. In the end they were triumphant.

San Miguel Corporation said it was their commitment to “corporate social responsibility” that made March 29 possible. Malakanyang claimed that it the Arroyo administration’s commitment to social justice that made March 29 possible. We all know that both SMC anD GMA were pushed to a corner and the MOA signing last March 29 was but a fait accompli for both. The sacrifices of the Sumilao farmers and the rightness and justness of their cause that awakened the hearts of thousands including church people and ordinary citizens left SMC and GMA with no choice but to go for a settlement.

Last Sunday, the Sumilao farmers went home. They made a final walk into the land that they can now call their own. They broke the barb wires that for decades kept them away from their land. The rubicon was crossed. Shouts and tears of joy erupted. Families were reunited. The Sumilao farmers were finally HOME.

I am blessed to have shared their journey.

Fokker 27

cutting the wirescutting the wires


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.


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

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.

The Sumilao farmers are here

The Sumilao Farmers quest for land and justice has brought them to the nation’s capital. Their 1,700 kilometer walk from their homes in Sumilao, Bukidnon to Manila is about to end but will their quest for land finally end? Mahaba ang kanilang naging paglalakbay, mahaba at puno ng paghihirap. Ito ay kagaya rin ng kanilang naging karanasan sa pakikibaka para sa lupa – mahirap at mahaba. Before they endured the 1,70-kilometer walk, they have already endured a 28-day hunger strike in 1997 and more than a decade of injustices and betrayals from the government.


I am often asked why these farmers had to make this long and difficult journey. Pwede naman daw maghintay sa DAR, pwede naman daw mag petition. Pwede naman daw mag file ng kaso at magpicket sa DAR. Bakit kinakailangan pang magpakahirap na lumakad ng ganung kalayo?

In the last 15 years or so they have done all of that and more. They have petitioned the DAR, the Office of the President, the Supreme Court and several others. They have also filed cases supporting their claim over the land. In fact they have already become owners of that land. They have waited and not only waited passively but they have shown their interest and they have shown their will to be productive farmers. All throughout their struggle they came at loggerheads with the very system that keeps many of the farmers poor – a government that pays lip service to agrarian reform and lacks the political will to pursue social justice, a judiciary that becomes a stickler for technicalities in defense of the interests of the propertied elite but who turns blind when it is the rich and the government that violates the rules and its own laws.

What choice is left to these ordinary poor farmers? Where do they turn to? What more can they do to finally earn a just resolution to their plight?

Faced with the same circumstances, many will lose heart and lose hope. Some will take up arms against the government. But the Sumilao farmers are different – they seek what they can do in meaningful and peaceful ways. Ten years ago they deprived themselves of food to make their plight so scandalous to be ignored. Today, they trust their feet to take them through this long and difficult walk to Manila.

What have they accomplished with their walk? Hmmm well plenty. They have created enough public sentiment to force the Office of the President to overturn its decision and remand the case to the Department of Agrarian Reform. They have gained the support of the public – the parishioners of the churches that hosted them along the way, the support of many groups and institutions, they ordinary motorists who honked their horns in support, the ordinary farmers who gave them rice and other foodstuff along the way.

With this sacrifice, the Sumilao farmers once again proved that they have moral and legal rights to the land. Now it is up to the government to recognize these rights. Does the government have what it takes to go against the interests of one of the richest companies in the Philippines – San Miguel Corp. – to uphold these rights? This remains to be seen.

How can people support them? There are several ways.

  1. Visit them and extend your support. They will be staying overnight at the following places in the next few days: Ateneo de Manila, Loyola Hts., Quezon City (Dec. 5) and in front of the Dept. of Agrarian Reform, Elliptical Road, Quezon City (Dec. 6). Join us in our solidarity walk / torch parade around the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Dec. 6 (Thursday) at around 6pm and the solidarity night that will follow.
  2. Sign this online petition for their cause : Online Petition for the Sumilao Farmers
  3. Post the picture below on your sidebar



The Sumilao farmers have travelled far and now they are knocking at our doors. Can we do these simple things for them? For those who wish to visit the farmers and join them for a few kilometers you can reach me at this number: +639276409726 for details. Maraming salamat.

P.S. Finally they have hit the front page despite the media attention over the Manila Pen stand-off. Mabuhay kayo mga kasama!

Inquirer frontpage


Caught in the Claws of the Rich

****Today I am posting an article I co-wrote for the Carnegie Council Ethics in International Affairs 7 years ago about the plight of the Mapalad Farmers . I wrote this article after the Supreme Court decided with finality to uphold the conversion of the 144-hectare land that was awarded to the Mapalad farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon under the Conrehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The conversion of the land classification from agricultural to industrial effectively exempted the land from agrarian reform and therefore taken away from the Mapalad farmers. Eight years have passed, the land remained undeveloped and in fact was sold by the Quisumbing’s to San Miguel Foods, Inc. I am posting this article because the Mapalad farmers are presently walking all the way from Sumilao to Manila, some 1,700 kms., to reiterate their claim over the land that was unjustly taken from them. They have endured 28-day hunger strike in 1999 and they will endure this long trek for justice, for land and for life. Mabuhay po kayo!”

Caught in the Claws of the Rich: The Struggle of the Mapalad Farmers

Josel Gonzales, Kaka Bag-ao and Azon Gaite-Llanderal
April 6, 2000


Most of the members of the Mapalad farming cooperative in San Vicente, Bukidnon, belong to the indigenous Higaonon tribe of the Philippines. They are poor, seasonal laborers who make brooms during the summer months to augment their income. They dream of their own piece of land to ensure food on their tables, education for their children, a roof over their heads, and clothing to wear.


Their dream was nearly realized when the government named the 137 Mapalad farmers beneficiaries to the 144-hectare Quisumbing family farm. This was determined by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, which distributes to the landless poor vast amounts of the country’s agricultural land that has historically been concentrated in the hands of a few influential landlord families. The Mapalad members participate in the paralegal assistance program we started in order to help the poor to access their rights under this law.


When the Quisumbings were due to relinquish their farm to the Mapalad cooperative in 1994, they instead sought to hold onto their land by gaining permission to convert it to industrial and commercial use, which would render it ineligible for redistribution. To the surprise of the prolandlord municipal and provincial governments, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) rejected the Quisumbing’s application.


In response, Governor Carlos Fortich of Bukidnon, a landlord himself, went straight to the top and wrote a letter to the Office of the President. Upon receiving this letter in March 1996, Executive-Secretary Ruben Torres promptly reversed the DAR decision in the name of the president. Just when the Quisumbings thought they had won, to their surprise they discovered that they no longer owned the farm. DAR had transferred the ownership of the land to the Mapalad farmers back in October 1995. The Quisumbings filed a case in the Regional Trial Court of Bukidnon in April 1997, claiming ownership on the basis of the executive-secretary’s pronouncement. It was upon receiving the court petition that the cooperative members learned that the land had been legally theirs. The Mapalad paralegals we had trained discussed the case with their leaders and others in their cooperative. Together with us, their lawyers, they decided to mount a legal defense against the Quisumbings.


So began the battle in the courts. However, as part of their legal education, we trained the Mapalad farmers not to rely on litigation alone in their struggle. They decided to enter their property and start cultivation, and in July 1997, with the support of the local church and neighboring farmers, they occupied the land. Three days later, armed goons descended upon them, firing shots in the air, letting farm animals loose, burning tents, and confiscating farm implements. Escorted by thugs, Norberto Quisumbing Jr. accosted Peter Tuminhay, the Mapalad leader, and threatened to kill the farmers if they did not vacate the premises. Although they would have gladly shed blood for their land, the farmers decided to leave and try other strategies.


The farmers’ next step was to make known the injustice through a peaceful yet powerful act: they decided to go on a hunger strike. Nineteen of the farmers picketed the DAR office in Manila, refusing to eat or drink anything but water until the president reversed the executive-secretary’s decision. Their plight made headlines in the national and local media, capturing the imagination of the Filipino public, which is unaccustomed to such measures. The groundswell of public support forced then-president Ramos to take action on their case after 28 days of hunger. He announced a compromise: 100 hectares for the Mapalad farmers and 44 hectares for the Quisumbings.


But the Quisumbings would not accept this. Drawing from their inexhaustible sources of influence, they brought a case to the Supreme Court. When the attention of the Filipino public was focused on elections in May 1998, the court quietly voted 5-0 in favor of the Quisumbings, voiding the Ramos compromise and converting the land to industrial and commercial use. The justices, large landowners themselves, did not address the fact that the land was designated for redistribution as per agrarian reform laws, and that it is illegal for the government to reclassify it. Moreover, according to a 1992 Presidential Administrative Order, prime agricultural land with irrigation facilities, such as the property in question, may not be converted to commercial and industrial use.


Together with the Mapalad paralegals, we filed a motion for reconsideration, timing this with demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court as well as signature and letter-writing campaigns. Sadly, not only did the court maintain its position, it also issued a ban on gatherings in its vicinity and took an even harder line against the farmers. In violation of the Agrarian Reform Law, the court added that the farmers do not have the right to own the land because they are merely seasonal workers.


Today, the Mapalad farmers are tired, angry, and disappointed with the legal system, but their spirit is not defeated. They remain convinced that the land is legally theirs and resolve to make the government accountable to deliver social justice.


Armed with knowledge of the law and given the opportunity to use their paralegal skills, the farmers developed a powerful voice in their own campaign. Because they clearly understand their rights and are able to articulate them, they are emboldened to face various government agencies and demand what is due them. The farmers also learned that legal action can open avenues for the state to respond to extralegal modes of struggle: Having their case in the Office of the President set the stage for Ramos to act, but it was their hunger strike and the public outcry it produced that forced him to rule in their favor.


But the Mapalad case shows that it is not enough to have laws on your side, even with the possession of legal knowledge and support combined with successful mobilization and public-relations strategies. The law is a double-edged sword: It protects and advances the interests of the poor and implements reforms, but it also preserves the status quo and perpetuates the interests of the elite. How can the interests of the poor be advanced if the legal system is caught in the claws of the rich?


The Mapalad farmers’ struggle reveals the corruption and bias of the entire Philippines justice system. The Supreme Court bent over backwards to accommodate the interests of rich landowners such as the Bukidnon governor and the Quisumbings but, in an obvious cover-up, became a stickler for rules and technicalities when deciding against the farmers. In the Philippines, it is more expedient to sacrifice the rights of the poor than to trample on the claims of the powerful. Traditional and elite politics permeate every corner of the government and legal system, threatening social justice measures like agrarian reform. The struggles of the Mapalad farmers and other marginalized groups cannot be separated from the larger effort to reform the legal system to better safeguard the delivery of justice in the Phillipines.


* PAKISAMA-Northern Mindnao is a national peasent federation to which the Malapad cooperative belongs. Attorneys Kaka Bag-ao and Azon Gaite-Llanderal are both counsels of the Malapad farmers.