Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Sumilao farmers ready to meet with SMFI over land row

Farmers claiming a 144-hectare property in Bukidnon are willing to meet with officials of San Miguel Foods, Inc, which is developing the land into a hog farm, to discuss a win-win solution to the dispute, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

According to their lawyer, Arlene Bag-Ao, the farmers were encouraged to enter into the talks after Catholic bishops attending a seminar on rural poverty and agrarian reform in Manila early this week assured them that the churchmen will attend the talks as peasant negotiators.“The bishops said that the Church will not be acting as the mediator but the representative of the farmers during the negotiation,”

Among the bishops who gave the assurance were Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillio, who have been vocal supporters of the farmers, she added.Rosales, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, has been trying to set a meeting with SMFI. The Cardinal had earlier written President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo begging her to give the land back to the Sumilao farmers.Bag-Ao said the farmers recognized that a “win-win” solution to the case was better that waiting for years for the courts to decide on the case. She said the “win-win” solution must be acceptable to all parties. The original owners of the land, the family of businessman Norberto Quisumbing, have filed a suit with the Supreme Court, while SMFI has appealed President Arroyo’s ruling that the property in question be returned to the government’s land reform program.

The land had been awarded to farmers during the Ramos presidency but was taken back shortly afterwards when MalacaƱang, in a move upheld by the Supreme Court, reclassified the land at Quisumbing’s instance from agriculture to agro-industrial on a pledge by Quisumbing to build an agro-industrial complex on the property.

The plan never materialized, however, and the Quisumbings instead sold the property to SMFI, triggering the current dispute. Fifty-five of the 160 farmer-claimants endured a two-month, 1,700-kilometer march from Sumilao, Bukidnon, to Manila late last year to highlight their plight.
As the would-be beneficiaries of land reform, the farmers demanded that SMFI stop constructing the hog farm not only because the original conversion plan had no provision for such but also because the development of the property, as pledged by the previous, owners, was not completed within a five-year period specified under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Twelve of the Sumilao farmers have returned to Manila to press for the resolution of the case following the non-implementation of a MalacaƱang December 18 order revoking the Ramos-approved conversion and returning the property back to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

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