What does it take to get justice in the Philippines?: The Struggle for Land, Life, and Rights of Filipino Farmers

By: Sumilao Solidarity Group*
Thursday 15 November 2007 by LRAN

* Composed of Akbayan! Citizens’ Party List, AR! Now, AFA, AsiaDHRRA,
Balaod Mindnaw, KAISAHAN, CARET, Focus on the Global South-Philippines,
NCICSI, PAKISAMA, SALIGAN, etc.

TEN YEARS AGO, on October 9, 1997, the Mapadayunong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MAPALAD-MPC), a group of
farmers composed of 137 families staged a 28-day lugol, an indigenous form
of hunger strike to express their demand to redistribute the 144 hectares
of land traditionally part of the seat of government of their ancestors.
The historic hunger strike gathered critical public and media support that
pressured former President Fidel Ramos to declare a ’win-win’ solution
giving the farmers 100 hectares, and the remaining 44 to the former
landowners, Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC). However, their victory was short-lived when the Philippine
Supreme Court on appeal by the NQSRMDC, reversed the Presidential ruling
and approved the land use conversion application from agricultural to agro-
industrial use.

Under the guise of community welfare and development and with the support
of the local government, NQSRMDC presented its conversion plan that
promised to bring in investors and potential revenues through the
construction of hotels, commercial centers, recreational parks, processing
plants, etc.

TEN YEARS AFTER THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT, the disputed land
remains idle. None of the projects upon which the conversion was
conditioned were implemented. Then in 2002, the Quisumbings illegally sold
the 144-hectare land to the San Miguel Foods, Inc. (SMFI). SMFI plans to
put up a 144-hectare piggery farm in violation of the conditions of the
approved conversion order.

In 2004, the Sumilao farmers filed a Petition for the Cancellation of the
Conversion Order against Quisumbing and/or SMFI before the Department of
Agrarian Reform (DAR) on the basis that more than 5 years have passed since
the Conversion Order and yet the Quisumbings have failed to initiate any
development work on the land. Further, the SMFI grossly violated the
conditions of the Conversion Order by completely changing its use to hog
farm. Both actions are, in fact, in violation of DAR Administrative Orders
1 and 2, Series of 1990 and other pertinent laws on land conversion.

However, the DAR ruled, albeit mistakenly, that it has no jurisdiction over
the case as the same belongs to the Office of the President (OP). The
Sumilao Farmers appealed to the OP where the case is currently pending.

AND NOW, the Sumilao farmers, again risking their lives, health, and
safety, are currently marching from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang in the
hope of generating public awareness and support for their plight.

Their demands are: the immediate revocation by President Gloria Macapagal-
Arroyo of the conversion order for the said 144-hectare estate; immediate
issuance by the DAR of the "notice of coverage" and redistribution of the
said property; and the enactment of a law extending and reforming the
Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

In doing so, the people are given a sliver of hope in the governance and
justice system of this country.

By not doing so, the notion that the law is only for the rich and powerful
is further reinforced.

If a convicted plunderer like former President Joseph Estrada could be
"pardoned" for his crimes by Arroyo, shouldn’t the Sumilao farmers be
entitled to more "justice" as they have not violated any law but are merely
trying to claim the right given to them by the law itself.

If staging a hunger strike and walking all the way from Mindanao to Manila
will not be enough to get justice from this government, what else then can
the people do?

- For more information about the campaign, pls. visit
http://sumilaomarch.multiply.com/.

- To sign the online petition, please visit
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/sumilaofarmers/index.html.

- To send your solidarity messages to the Sumilao farmers, pls. email
arnow.inc@gmail.com.


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