Sumilao Articles

Mahar Mangahas article for Sumilao

Walking 1,600 km for social justice
By Mahar Mangahas
Last updated 03:15am (Mla time) 12/01/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Next week, some 55 farmers -- 15 of them women -- will reach Manila in a quest for social justice, after walking more than 1,600 kilometers from the town of Sumilao in the southern province of Bukidnon, starting last Oct. 10. They regularly walked about 30 km a day, but on Nov. 23 did 52 km to avoid being stranded in flooded areas. They aim to be at Malacañang on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.

The walkers are asserting their right as tillers to 144 hectares of prime agricultural land in San Vicente, Sumilao, by virtue of a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued to them in 1995 under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Delays, delays, delays. To evade CARP coverage, landowner Norberto Quisumbing stalled by proposing to convert the land to an agro-industrial estate having a development academy, cultural center, institute for livelihood science, sports development complex, agro-industrial park, forest development facilities, 360-room hotel, restaurant, golf course, housing projects, etc., which all proved to be false promises. Agrarian Reform Secretary Ernesto Garilao disapproved it, but then- Governor Carlos Fortich of Bukidnon wrote a letter-appeal to the Office of the President, and Executive Secretary Ruben Torres approved the conversion proposal in 1996.

To redress the Torres decision, in 1997 the farmers went on a hunger strike for 28 days, until President Fidel V. Ramos issued a so-called “win-win” solution awarding 100 hectares to the farmers and 44 hectares to Quisumbing. But Ramos’ formula was elevated to the Supreme Court, which ruled (through the Second Division, on April 24, 1998) that the Torres decision could not be reversed, on a technicality of late filing of Motion for Reconsideration by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). When the farmers and the DAR filed their Motions for Reconsideration, the Supreme Court’s Second Division was split, 2-2, with then-Justice (now Chief Justice) Reynato Puno voting in favor of the farmers.
Although the conversion proposal had thus gotten the nod of the Supreme Court, Quisumbing did not in fact implement it within the required five years, and instead, in 2002, sold the land to San Miguel Foods Inc., which means to make it into a piggery. Citing the violation of the terms of the conversion, on Nov. 3, 2004 the farmers petitioned the DAR to cancel it. After two years, the DAR confirmed (Oct. 27, 2006) that the conversion had not been done -- there was no development academy etc. However, the DAR also passed the buck to the Office of the President (OP) by claiming that OP took jurisdiction ever since the 1996 Torres decision.

This year, the farmers elevated their petition (Jan. 27, 2007) to the OP, which initially denied it (Oct. 3, 2007) on the claim that the farmers lack personality to ask for it, but two weeks ago ( Nov. 16, 2007) it remanded the case to the DAR for resolution. It took another week for the DAR to receive the remand (Nov. 23, 2007). The Sumilao farmers are now awaiting the DAR’s action on their demands for: (a) a Cease and Desist Order on the conversion of the land into a piggery, and (b) a Notice of Coverage to start the process of distribution of the land to beneficiaries under CARP.

The Sumilao farmers have a strong case. They are supported by many advocacy groups, including many in the Catholic hierarchy. They got help from many sympathizers, including Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, all along their walk. Their legal counsel includes the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN), based at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Agrarian reform is a slow process. The Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963 aimed to abolish share tenancy -- though proportional sharing between landlord and tenant is not unjust per se. Operation Land Transfer in 1972 provided for rice and corn tillers to become owners over a 15-year period. The CARP, since 1987, covers all crops, which makes sense, though its ban on the use of land as collateral for credit is a hindrance to market forces.

The continuation of serious agrarian unrest shows that agrarian reform is incomplete -- as it is incomplete in Mexico, even after a hundred years. To give up on agrarian reform is like giving up on democracy altogether, just because one can see that the present system is still flawed.

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My first personal experience in doing a survey was in 1973, involving 387 rice farmers in Nueva Ecija, the pilot province of land reform. The study “Tenants, Lessees, Owners: Welfare Implications of Tenure Change” (by myself, V. A. Miralao, and R. P. de los Reyes, Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1976) found that owner-operators, share tenants, and fixed-lease tenants are equally productive. Owner-operators are the best-off because they have no land rent to pay.

In late 1986, when I was consultant to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) on land reform, at a meeting with President Corazon Aquino, Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, and NEDA Director-General Winnie Monsod, Arroyo asked me how much more agricultural productivity to expect out of the estimated multibillion-peso cost of comprehensive agrarian reform. My reply of “None” and that we should be satisfied if productivity did not decline despite the agrarian adjustment was a shock to Joker, who reacted, “Then we will be throwing the money down a black hole!” I responded that the government would be spending merely money, rather than blood, to solve the perennial problem of agrarian unrest.

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Sumilao: Shattered dreams, broken pledges
Sumilao: Shattered dreams, broken pledges
First posted 00:40:28 (Mla time) December 03, 2007
Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.

MANILA, Philippines - The marching Sumilao farmers are expected to enter Manila today. Theirs has not been like the march of the Israelites to the Promised Land; meanwhile, the marchers have been demonized by some quarters. A review of history should place the struggle of the farmers in brighter perspective.

The marching farmers trace their ancestry to Apo Manuagay Anlicao and Apo Mangganlahon Anlicao, Higaonon natives, early settlers of a piece of land in Bukidnon. The land was considered “balaang yuta” for the Higaonons and it was the seat of government for the tribal leaders. The land was called “pinetreehon” by visitors owing to the abundance of pine trees and the cold temperature in the area. As a young Jesuit, I and fellow Jesuit seminarians enjoyed some summer days away from books in refreshing Bukidnon weather.

The Higaonons lost the land by eviction. I do not have a clear picture of how it happened. Eventually, one family won 99.885 hectares where tenants planted rice and corn, and the Quisumbing family won 144 hectares, the current bone of contention.

The 144 hectares became a pineapple plantation under a 10-year Crop Producer and Grower Agreement between the landowner and Del Monte Philippines (DMPI). The Higaonons worked as seasonal farm workers in the area. The lease expired in April 1994.

Immediately thereafter the Higaonon farmers initiated the movement to reclaim the land of their ancestors under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Their effort to reclaim the 144 hectares became the subject of litigation moving from the Department of Agrarian Reform, to the Office of the President and finally three times to the Supreme Court. I shall not enter into the nitty gritty of the case. Let me just cite some key developments.

The initial skirmishes on the DAR level favored the farmers. In 1990, DAR served notice placing the 144 hectares under CARP coverage and in 1992 served a notice of valuation to the owner of the property. But DAR suspended implementation because the property was still under lease.

Before the expiration of the lease agreement, however, the landowner applied for conversion of the land from agricultural to agro-industrial. The petition was supported by the municipality of Sumilao and by a Resolution of the Sanggunian Panlalawigan of Bukidnon. It contained the glowing promises of how the 144 hectares would be developed:

24 hectares would contain a Development Academy of Mindanao consisting of an Institute for Higher Education, Institute for Livelihood Science, Institute for Agri-Business Research, Museum, Library, Cultural Center and Mindanao Sports Development Complex.

67 hectares would contain a Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park consisting of a processing plant for corn oil, corn starch and various corn products; cassava processing for starch, alcohol and food delicacies; processing plants for fruits and fruit products such as juices; processing plants for vegetables; cold storage and ice plant; cannery system; commercial stores; public market and abattoir.

33 hectares for Forest Development including open spaces and parks for recreation, horse-back riding, mini animal zoo.

20 hectares for Support Facilities including a 360-room hotel, restaurants, dormitories and housing project.

This was touted by the promise, cited even by the Supreme Court, that “The proposed project is petitioners’ way of helping insure food, shelter and lifetime security of the greater majority of Sumilao’s 22,000 people.”

The governor of Bukidnon championed the cause of the landowner and appealed to the President arguing that “agricultural development will never take place if the area will be given to landless farmers, tenants and other qualified farmer beneficiaries.” But that did not prevent a sympathetic DAR from transferring the title of the property to the Republic and issuing Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) to 137 farmers and registering them in the Register of Deeds.

In March 1996, however, Malacañang reversed the decision of DAR, saying among others that “converting the land in question would open great opportunities for employment and bring about real development in the area towards a sustained economic growth in the municipality.”

In 1997, when trouble ensued, President Fidel Ramos modified the previous decision with a “win-win” solution limiting the conversion to 44 hectares and approving 100 hectares for distribution to farmers. When the “win-win” solution was challenged in the Supreme Court, it was declared invalid for being an attempt by Ramos to reverse his own decision which had already become final. To no avail did Justices Reynato Puno and Jose Melo argue that procedural rule on finality should give way to a consideration of the substance of the issue, as the Court often does. Subsequent attempts to persuade the Supreme Court to have a change of heart failed.

Meanwhile, here is the tragic part: What happened to the rosy promise of development which would assure the Sumilao inhabitants a better life? The landowner forgot about it. Instead, in 2002 the landowner sold the land to San Miguel Foods Inc.

The Conversion Order of 1997 contained the condition that “The landowner and future landowner(s) of the property approved for conversion shall not change its use to another use not authorized under the conversion order without prior consent from the DAR.”

By 2005 no development had happened in the property. Now, however, I am told that SMFI has started rushing the setting up of a piggery! The rosy development project for the farmers will favor the pigs! Meanwhile, the President has asked DAR to decide whether the unfulfilled conversion order still holds. Abangan!