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.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Finally, It's Ours," - Sumilao Farmers

SUMILAO, Bukidnon, Philippines. On April 1, a group of farmers was busy walking in the 50-hectare property in San Vicente village here that became theirs under a compromise settlement with food and beverage giant San Miguel Corporation.

It was the day after they first set foot inside the property, which was once restricted to them, but it was as if they were making sure they were not dreaming.

For more than 10 years, the farmers, collectively known as the Sumilao farmers, fought to reclaim their land—spanning 144 hectares—from the powerful Quisumbing family.

When SMC, which has been building a piggery project on the land they were claiming, agreed to give back portions of it, the farmers were so overjoyed.

Many of them could not utter a word but their emotions were visible in their eyes.

Tearing down symbols

“Even if we get only two hectares (of the 144 hectares), it was just fine with us. We were more contented at exposing the irregularities being committed to protect the interests of a few over the land,” said Arlene Bag-ao, one of those who provided legal assistance to the farmers.

The first thing they did when they entered the property on March 30 was to gather their strength and to tear down part of the barbed wire fence that had, for years, symbolized the loss of their land to a capitalist.

Scooping a fistful of soil, farmer-leader Rene PeƱas wept and cried out as he stood on the land that they could only dream of for the past years: “Mao ning yuta nga atong gibarogan. Ato na gyud (This is the land that we have fought for. Finally, it’s ours.)”

They then worked on a path that would give them easy access from their new land to the Freedom Hall, their meeting place built on the adjoining land, which they also use as solar dryer for their crops.

On Saturday, the farmers paid tribute to their village’s patron saint whose feast they observed.

Formidable foe

There is much they have to thank for. While they were not able to get the entire 144-hectare, they have won juicy concessions from a perceived “formidable foe” upon the intercession of leaders of the Catholic Church.

Bag-ao said the farmers never dreamed they would be able to get a considerable concession from SMC when they started their renewed claim for the land in October last year.

She admitted that the image of SMC as a “formidable foe” became a serious consideration when they set their expectations. Back in October last year, Bag-ao characterized SMC as “far more powerful than the Quisumbings.”

“Of course, we considered the business and political clout of (SMC board chair) Danding Cojuangco in our calculations of the expected outcomes,” Bag-ao said.

When the Office of the President appeared to be delaying the resolution of the land claim, Bag-ao said they felt that SMC was trying to bring the matter into a prolonged legal fight.


But a ray of hope emerged when they were told by leaders of the Catholic Church that SMC sent feelers it was willing to directly talk with the farmers to settle the problem, according to Bag-ao.

Bag-ao said the feelers were sent in the aftermath of the informal discussions in December about the case. It involved SMC president Ramon Ang, Manila archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, Manila auxiliary bishop Broderick Pabillo and Conrado Limcaoco, presidential adviser on ecclesiastical affairs.

On March 2, SMC formalized its offer for the 50 hectares.

“(It) made me clap my hands in joy upon hearing it,” Bag-ao said.

Then the formal negotiations for the terms of the offer began.

Bag-ao acknowledged that SMC sacrificed a lot when it made the deal, like redoing its original land development plan for the piggery project.

(Reprinted from Inq.net)

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