Instant noodles para sa SONA ni Gloria

“Instant noodles – flavorful, cheap, but nutrition-wise empty – have become the staple food for millions of Filipinos. This summarizes the economic achievement of the Arroyo administration. This also symbolizes the failure of the government’s anti-poverty programs,” Hontiveros said.

According to the that is how AKBAYAN Representative Risa Hontiveros – Baraquel describes what she expects of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver today at the joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. If I remember right, this is Gloria’s 8th SONA since she was catapulted into power after EDSA II and her fourth SONA since being declared winner of the 2004 Presidential Elections with the help of the great mathematician Mr. Virgilio “Hello Garci” Garcillano and his ilk in the COMELEC.

I do not think Risa was referring to the lifeless delivery of Gloria’s SONA (or any other speech for that matter) when she likened the SONA to “instant noodles” but the lack of substance. When we listen to Gloria deliver her SONA and all the claims she makes one cannot help but wonder if she is talking about the state of the Philippines and not some fictional country.

There are a few things I remember from the last year’s SONA – her mentioning of the opening of Jollibee in Basilan as proof of economic growth in the province; the litany of successes and many of them personal successes of individual Filipinos (si ganun nanalo sa ganitong award sa ganitong bansa, si ganito nanalo sa ganung contest sa ganireng bansa etc.) as proof that the country is doing well. But these are the least of her SONA’s faults.

What I find alarming is that she can be very blatant and shameless in her SONA. I remember her thanking General Palparan for his defense of democracy and human rights. I remember too, that she made special mention of the significance of the CYBER CORRIDOR which we later on learned meant the ZTE deal.

I do not know what boasts Gloria will make in this afternoon’s SONA but I am sure she will boast. She will find a way to devalue the crises our country is facing and inflate the value of her government’s “subsidies” for the poor. She will find a way to put the blame on the skyrocketing of the oil prices and exalt her government’s remedies for the poor. She will find a way to deflate the gravity of the food crisis and extol her dole-outs for the poor. She will find a way to hide the billions that she and her cabal are stealing from the country’s coffers and magnify the significance of the EVAT which is wringing the people dry.

Expect Gloria to scrape every scrap of good news to cover the rottenness of her administration. Expect Gloria bring every props she can carry to Congress to extol her performance… but in the end it will be very difficult to convince the hungry… yes expect her SONA to be flavorful and colorful but bereft of substance and bankrupt in the truth… YAKISONA nga eh.

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.

AKBAYAN sues ABALOS on the ZTE Scam

Intent on pursuing former COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos and exacting accountability from him for his involvement in the ZTE Scam, AKBAYAN Partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel filed sued Abalos before the Ombudsman this morning. Abalos was charged for violating the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Law, Revised Penal Code, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees.

Akbayan sues Abalos over NBN deal, asks Ombudsman to inhibit (link)
10/09/2007 | 02:11 PM

Partylist Akbayan filed on Tuesday charges against resigned Commission on Elections (Comelec) Benjamin Abalos before the Ombudsman over his alleged involvement in the controversial $329.48 million national broadband network (NBN) project.

GMA’s Flash Report said Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros charged Abalos for violating the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Law, Revised Penal Code, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees.

The opposition lawmaker said the filing of charges against Abalos was delayed as the Ombudsman failed to immediately issue Abalos’s statement of assets and liabilities, as requested by the group. The group was supposed to file the case on Monday.

The group also formally asked Ombudsman Merciditas Gutierrez to inhibit from the case.

Earlier, Hontiveros cast doubts on the impartiality of Gutierrez on complaints filed against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s allies. She said the Ombudsman is seen to be close to Mrs Arroyo, whose husband had been implicated in the NBN controversy.

Hontiveros also noted that Gutierrez dismissed an earlier case against Abalos and other Comelec commissioners on the Mega-Pacific deal despite a Supreme Court ruling on the accountability of Abalos and other Comelec officials on the anomalous project.

To recall, Hontiveros is one of the four lawmakers that endorsed the impeachment complaint against Abalos which was filed last month. The complaint was later deemed moot and academic by Abalos’s resignation on October 1.

Click these links for the GMA news flash:

Charges Filed vs Abalos before Ombudsman

Akbayan files case vs Abalos before Ombudsman

To view and download the complaint click on the links below:

Complaint vs Abalos

Annex of compalint vs Abalos


Abalos thought that by resigning from COMELEC, his involvement in the ZTE Scam will go away. Akala nya pag umalis sya sa COMELEC pagkatapos syang ituro bilang broker sa ZTE deal at nag-offer ng bribe kina Joey de Venecia at Sec. Romy Neri ay mawawala na ang init sa kanya. Ang ginawang ito ng Akbayan ay isang magandang ehemplo ng pagtugis at pagsingil sa isang dapat managot sa mga charges laban sa kanya.

Sana di na hayaan ng mga mamamayan na makawala na naman ang isang tiwaling mataas na opisyal ng gobiyerno. Dapat din wag hayaan na makawala ang mga kakontsaba ni Abalos sa scam na ito.