SUMILAO UPDATE | 44th & 45th days of Sumilao farmers’ walk

November 23, Friday & November 24, Saturday: 196 Kilometers Left to Manila

On 23 November 2007, the Sumilao Farmers left Sta. Elena at 4:00AM. With an update coming from Pag-asa Weather Bureau that Super Typhoon Mina will hit the Province of Quezon, they decided to walk until they reach Gumaca, Quezon. They were supposed to walk only until Lopez, Quezon but they have to avoid the chances of being stranded in flooded venues because of the typhoon. The original 32 kilometers for the day turned out be 52 kilometers. They walked what would have been a two-day march by not stopping in Calauag and Lopez Quezon. In these municipalities, the facilities are not equipped for possible problems like heavy rains and flood. Signal number 2 is up over Quezon Province and is expected to rise to signal number 3 by 7:00PM. They walked at a steady yet faster pace – they called it double-step. This was not the first time they did this. In some stretch of their Mindanao, Visayas and Bicol legs, they too had their double step march to avoid getting caught by bad weather and sometimes to arrive in their point of destination on time or ahead of time.

On their way to Gumaca, there were no rains in the areas they passed but the sky was cloudy and the winds are strong. While passing on some roads with tall trees on their sides, sometimes the marchers were running from time to time because of the fear that trees might fall.

They arrived in the Municipal Hall of Gumaca, Quezon at around 5:00PM, two hours before the eye of storm Mina would be in Manila. Through the initiative and resourcefulness of Gumaca Vice Mayor Carmela Josefa R. Lavides, problems were facilitated. They were supposed to rest and sleep at the covered court but due to the storm, said vice mayor offered her office and of some councilors to be the resting place of the marchers.

It was expected that a number of farmer organizations from the Province will visit them. The DAR Province and San Diego Parish Church however, visited the marchers and showed their solidarity.

The Sumilao Farmers were all tired and angry. They were tired because of their pace and the distance they traversed. Right after they ate their dinner, they all went to sleep. And they were angry with the DAR for not acting on their case. They asked how many storms they would have to brave before the 144-hectare land is returned to them.

The following day, the Sumilao Farmers decided to conduct their usual Reflection and Learning Session in Gumaca Town Hall. The Vice Mayor and some locals from Gumaca advised them to stay for at least another day because the weather is unstable.

The advisory of Pag-asa is still the same. They maximized the opportunity to attend to their personal concerns and in the afternoon, had their Learning Session.

Few minutes after they took their lunch, they all gathered and convened to discuss their issues, strengthen their ranks and share their personal thoughts and experiences. Everyone was given the chance to talk. They all actively participated in the discussion.

One of the highlights of their discussion during the Learning Session was that they really have to depend among themselves because their medic left due to the storm. They have to strengthen their paramedic team, though with a very minimal know-how, on giving first aid and medical treatments to their fellow marchers. Good thing, Dr. Grace Bag-ao is constantly and regularly communicating with the team. The paramedic team is receiving at least twice a day phone call from Dr. Bag-ao asking their condition and reminding of their vitamins. She is also giving advises on some medical concerns of the marchers. Dr. Bag-ao is not physically with the march, but the Sumilao Farmers can still feel her tender loving care. The farmers are praying for her faster recovery and hoping that soon, they will see her again, if not in the march, most probably in Manila shouting with them in front of Malacanang or DAR Central Office or in Sumilao, Bukidnon celebrating their victory.

Another highlight of the discussion was that they have learned that they have to be prepared and stay strong, in fact even stronger, when they meet people who are not supportive in their cause. Indeed, they will not please everybody and they do not have to. Not all people will understand their plight and the struggle they are currently in to. But this will not hinder their cause and certainly this will not make them feel sad.

The Learning Session was concluded with reaffirmation of their commitment and determination to continue their fight until truth prevailed and justice served.

Clearly, no storm and powerful companies could falter their determination to have the DAR Central office to revoke the conversion order of the 144-hectare land in Bukidnon.

Restore the dignity of the Sumilao Farmers! Return the land to its real owners!

Call of the Sumilao Farmers:

Restore the Dignity of the Sumilao Farmers!

Notwithstanding their loss in the Supreme Court be mere technicality, the Sumilao Farmers' commitment of regaining their ancestral land was never diminished. In fact, it even strengthened the MAPALAD Farmers towards their advocacy for genuine agrarian reform.

The Sumilao Farmers established the MAPALAD Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MPC) in order to reinforce their organization. Further, MAPALAD campaigned for the CARP coverage of the adjacent Salvador Carlos Estate which is still part of their ancestral land. Subsequently, a CLOA was issued to the MAPALAD Farmers making the owners of the land. Salvador Carlos initially opposed the distribution of his land to the farmers and a barrage of cases ensued before the courts. The MAPALAD Farmers were criminally prosecuted for Grave Coercion when they attempted to possess their own land. Several farmer leaders were imprisoned in jail.

With divine providence, Salvador Carlos eventually understood the plight of the MAPALAD Farmers and their basic desire to have a piece of land to call their own. In his last will, Salvador Carlos agreed to subject the land for coverage under CARP with the Sumilao Farmers as beneficiaries. They finally regained a portion of their ancestral land. But it was not that easy for the MAPALAD Farmers. Francisco Reyes, the administrator of Salvador Carlos, refused to heed the Volunteer Offer for Sale (VOS) submitted by Salvador Carlos to the farmers. When the MAPALAD Farmers initiated their land occupation of the property, Reyes brought several armed men to harass the farmers. But the latter persisted in successfully occupying the land. The family of Salvador Carlos even joined their thanksgiving mass where they gave the farmers rosaries and a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was a momentous event for the MAPALD Farmers and the Carlos family.

The MAPALAD Farmers immediately cultivated the cherished land. The cooperative, with 78 farmer beneficiaries, employed a communal farm development wherein each member was allocated a farm lot ranging from .450 to .900 hectares depending on their participation in the MPC's projects. A portion thereof was allocated for a communal farm to support community development projects such as farm technology, gender sensitivity trainings, and paralegal formation activities. Despite the inadequacy of the 66-hectare land for at least 137 growing households, the MAPALAD Farmers proved that they can develop the fullest potential of the land for agricultural productivity and at the same time for the advancement of the whole community.

Not only that, the MAPALAD Farmers also encouraged the formation of another peasant group in San Vicente, Sumilao which led to the establishment of San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) composed of 90 farmers, 90% of whom belongs to the Higaonon Tribe. Several members of SALFA are the children of the MAPALAD Farmers and the rest are the other farmers and farmworkers residing in the barangay. The MAPALAD Farmers also would want the SALFA members to carry on their struggle for genuine agrarian reform and their dream of possessing a precious land that is actually theirs in the first place.

All the SALFA members are landless. Apparently, the 66-hectare Carlos Estate distributed to the MAPALAD Farmers is not enough for more than 400 farmer-residents in Sumilao. There are many farmers who are still landless amid some cherished victories on the Carlos land. They merely depend on a Php 50.00 to Php 80.00 labor pay per day during harvest season. Outside the harvest season, they engage in broom making where they are paid Php 1.00 per broom. This meager earning could hardly provide food for their family. Not one of them had completed their schooling. The SALFA members also dreamt of one thing – a land of their own.

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD Mindanaw)
Door 3 Balay Mindanaw SIAD Peace Center
53A 12th St., zone II, Upper Bulua
9000 Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines
+63 8822 738794
+63 8822 738794 (telefax)