So far, so good

What for should I ask more

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Living in the land of the lost

I first encountered Sumilao when I went to Bukidnon last April. The bus made a five-minute stop in the town’s central market to pick up some passengers. The whole stretch of the highway- from Cagayan De Oro to Malaybalay (where I eventually rendezvous-ed with one of my closest friends from medical school, Dr Lester Geroy) –was flanked by a seamless array of plantations, hills, and, sparingly, by forests. It exceeded the vision I created in my head, of how nature and agriculture has fused perfectly in this bountiful place to provide for all who live off of it.. This is the reason why the place seemed as peace… Or so I thought.

I was fortunate enough to work two weekends with the secretariat of a training for doctors who will be tasked to render psychosocial response in times of disasters. There I met Jean Llorin, a community organizer from Albay who shared with the attendees some of the basics of social mobilization. She related how they dealt with the double burden of Mayon and Reming in 2006, plus some insights on how doctors can enmesh themselves/ourselves in disaster response. After her talk, I learned that she just flew in from Bukidnon where she saw off the Sumilao farmers who are making a two-month trek, walking from Mindanao to Malacanan, to air their grievance to the President on World Human Rights Day, December 10. Hmmm It seems that all is not well at the homefront.

I gave my word that I’ll do my own bit in making their cause more known. A tad belated, here’s me walking with them, albeit via the Information and not the Maharlika Highway.

I’m reposting below the position paper posted on the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development site.

Please sign the online petition in support of the Sumilao farmers which I think is equally important to the Desperate Housewives issue.

There are updates available online like this article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, just Google “Sumilao farmers”.

Also, to follow the progress of their 1000++-kilometer walk, updates are available from the Sumilao March Multiply page. Continue to read please-

Position Paper on the Sumilao Farmers' Struggle for Access to Their Land

Revoke the Conversion Order! Redistribute the Land under CARP!
Reform and Extend the Agrarian Reform Program! Rationalize Land Use!

The Higaonon Indigenous Cultural Communities were the early settlers of a piece of ancestral land in Sumilao, Bukidnon. A portion thereof, 243.885 hectare area of the ancestral land served as the Seat of Government of the Higaonons where the traditional paghusay and pamuhat were conducted by the Higaonon tribal council lead by Apo Manuagay Anlicao and Apo Mangganiahon Anlicao. The ancestral land is a flat agricultural terrain situated in the midst of Mt. Sayawan and Mt. Palaopao, and where Mt. Kitanglad can be seen from afar. It was once termed as pinetreehon by the visitors due to the abundance of pine trees all over the place and its cold temperature. Magbabaya gave this balaang yuta to the Higaonon communities. It was their forefathers’.

Then the Angeles came in 1930s forcibly evicting the Higaonons from their ancestral land and converted the land into a cattle ranch. Later, the land was transferred to the Ilagans. In 1970s, the ancestral land was divided between 2 landowners: 99.885 hectares to Salvador Carlos while the 144 hectares was transferred to Norberto Quisumbing. The ancestral land was eventually leased to Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI) for 10 years. At this time, the Higaonons became farmworkers of the land they once owned.

With the advent of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in 1988, the 144 ancestral land was covered for distribution to 137 Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag (MAPALAD) farmers, all of Higaonon lineage. Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was subsequently issued in their names making them the owners of the 144 ancestral land. For the first time in several years, the MAPALAD farmers regained their ancestral land. What followed next was a controversial legal battle which sparked national interest involving the sad state of agrarian reform in the country.

In an apparent move to circumvent agrarian reform, Quisumbing applied for conversion of the land from agricultural to agro-industrial before the DAR notwithstanding the fact that prime agricultural lands are non-negotiable for conversion. Quisumbing proudly proposed the establishment of a Development Academy of Mindanao, cultural center, Institute for Livelihood Science, museum, library, golf course, and Mindanao Sports Development Complex, Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park, Forest Development and Support Facilities including the construction of a 360-room hotel, restaurant and housing projects, among others.

Further, Quisumbing connived with the LGUs of Sumilao and Province of Bukidnon where the latter illegally passed Resolution No. 24 and Resolution No. 94-95, respectively, allowing the conversion of the land despite the fact that LGUs have no power of conversion under the law as the same belongs to the DAR Secretary.

The DAR Secretary denied the application because of its patent invalidity. On appeal to the Office of the President, Executive Secretary Ruben Torres issued the infamous Torres Resolution approving the application for conversion despite its illegality.
Left of no more recourse, the MAPALAD farmers decided to do the only non-violent and peaceful means their forefathers taught them during unpeaceful times – a Hunger Strike. For 28 days, the MAPALAD farmers ate nothing but water in front of the DAR Office in the cities of Quezon and Cagayan de Oro. Their peaceful protest caught the interest of the public: Cardinal Sin, including presidential wannabees Erap, Renato De Villa, and several senatoriables, LGUs and the House of Representatives.

Due to huge public pressure, President Ramos issued the so-called “Win-win Resolution” wherein 100 hectares were to be given to the farmers while 44 hectares to Quisumbing. It was a pleasant victory for the MAPALAD farmers and the whole peasant sector. However, their victory was short-lived.

Quisumbing was infuriated with the decision and brought the same before the Supreme Court. MAPALAD, as farmer beneficiaries of the 144, intervened in the case and raised novel questions such as the validity of conversion of prime agricultural lands which are supposedly non-negotiable for conversion, the power of reclassification of LGUs vis-à-vis DAR’s authority to approve conversions, and the validity of the comprehensive agrarian reform law itself.

Unexpectedly, the Supreme Court evaded the resolution of the substantial issues of the case and found one perfect excuse: reglementary periods. The Supreme Court refused to answer the constitutional issues and asserted that the DAR failed to question the Torres Resolution on time. The Supreme Court skirted merits and yielded to technicalities. The questionable Torres Resolution was reinstated while the “Win-win Resolution” was invalidated. Worst, it denied MAPALAD’s intervention by equivocally saying they were merely “recommendee farmer beneficiaries”, hence, have no real interest over the land. MAPALAD’s dream of regaining their ancestral land vanished in seconds. They lost to numbers.

That was in 1999.

Several years have passed since then yet the 144 hectare land remains idle. Not one of those proposed by Quisumbing ever materialized. The “promises” of economic vitality, employment and increase in income, leaves much to be desired as everything was a “castle in the air”. Apparently, the Quisumbings have successfully fooled the MAPALAD farmers and the peasant sector, local government units, national government, Supreme Court, and the Filipino people in general, by such empty “promises” of development in order to circumvent the coverage of the 144 hectare ancestral land and evade the implementation of genuine agrarian reform in the country.

In 2002, the Quisumbings have once more fooled the MAPALAD farmers by selling the 144 hectare ancestral land to San Miguel Foods, Inc. (SMFI), the biggest conglomerate in the country owned by Danding Cojuangco. SMFI plans to put up a piggery farm on the 144 hectare ancestral land knowing fully that such transaction is a violation of the conversion order as it substantially changed its use.

Hence, the Sumilao farmers lead by 78 MAPALAD farmers together with 90 members of the San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) filed a Petition for the Cancellation of the Conversion Order against Quisumbing and/or SMFI before the DAR. The Sumilao farmers maintain that more than 5 years have passed since the Conversion Order yet they failed to initiate any development work on the land. Further, SMFI has grossly violated the conditions of the Conversion Order by changing its use to hog farm. Both actions were made in violation of DAR Administrative Orders 1 and 2, Series of 1990 and other pertinent laws on conversion.

Petition pending before the Office of the President

The Sumilao farmers raised the petition for cancellation of the Conversion Order directly before the Office of the President since it is unable to obtain a favorable response from the DAR Secretary. The Sumilao farmers maintained that the DAR Secretary has exclusive jurisdiction over the petition, and that the DAR should have ordered the cancellation of the Conversion Order because of the violations.

Granting, however, that the Office of the President is the proper office to determine the petition, the more reason that it should immediately cancel the Conversion Order it previously approved since Quisumbing and/or SMFI has grossly violated the conditions thereof. Its willful defiance of the Conversion Order has already been affirmed by the DAR Secretary in its order, hence, the immediate cancellation thereof.

For certain, the cancellation of the Conversion Order will bring light and abundance not only to the present families of the Sumilao farmers but as well as their future generation who really deserved to have a piece of land of their own.
If the land was previously awarded to the Sumilao farmers, it would have been productive and earning income by now. Quisumbing in a sense was ironically right in his bias that distributing the land to the farmers does not guarantee such benefits because no benefits actually redounded to anyone. None to the farmers, none to the communities, none to the local government units, none to the government. All that was attained was the circumvention if not a sheer mockery of agrarian reform laws and agrarian law implementers to evade coverage from CARP.

Expiration of CARP in 2008

Notably, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is about to expire in 2008, yet, the fruits of agrarian reform remain to be seen, or to put it squarely, now belongs to Cojuangco and his hogs.

The government has reported an accomplishment of a seemingly impressive 6.4 million hectares – or 79.4% of the target CARP
scope of 8.1 million hectares from 1972 to 2005. However, the figures were computed in such a way as to deceive the true situation of agrarian reform in the country. The “accomplishments” include lands with registered CLOAs but these have not been turned over to tenants. There is double counting where collective CLOAs and the individual CLOAs are both tallied. In the most brazen cases, there are CLOA holders who still do not occupy the lands.

On top of that, the government’s original target scope of 10.3 million hectares in 1988 was severely reduced in 1996 to 8.1 million hectares to accommodate large-scale exemptions and massive land conversions. More than 5.3 million hectares of land were exempted outright from CARP in 1996. The reductions in the scope of public land in turn accommodated vast tracts of government land leased or otherwise controlled by big landlords as cattle ranches, export crop plantations and logging concessions. Taken as a whole, there are more than 10.2 million marginal farmers, tenants and farm workers, 70% of whom are still landless even at the
closing stages of CARP.

The recent moves of President Arroyo show that Congress may not likely give CARP another extension: CARP has been lumped with other asset reform programs of the government such as urban land and ancestral domain instead of the usual separate chapter in the recent Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP); the target for land acquisition and distribution (LAD) of private agricultural lands has been reduced to only 100,000 hectares per year; and the legal moves by Congress to stop CARP, to wit, exemptions of big prawn farms, fish ponds and aquaculture areas from CARP coverage, foreign investors’ leasing of private lands for up to 75 years, and the proposed 25-year moratorium on CARP implementation in the Mindanao region. This clearly indicates the Arroyo administration’s total abandonment of the Constitutional mandate on agrarian reform as provided in Section 4, Article XII of the Constitution.

The struggle of the Sumilao farmers will be brought to naught unless the agrarian reform program will be extended beyond 2008 and a genuine implementation of land acquisition and distribution (LAD) shall be had.

No Clear Land Use Policy

Corollary to the issue on the “expiration” of the CARP in 2008, the government seems to have no clear land use policy that ensures that agricultural lands are protected or exempted from conversion into other uses. The problem on massive land conversion is a serious problem for the government to deal with, especially with a growing population, perennial problem of food security and threat to the ecology.

As of the moment, the government has not come up with a national land use policy that it could effectively implement and consequently results in land disputes. Farmers are complaining that their lands are being converted to industrial plants and subdivisions while land developers and landowners insist that such lands are no longer fit for agricultural production. The weaknesses in land use policy, administration and management, inconsistent land policies, inefficient land administration infrastructure, a highly politicized land tax system, an inefficient agrarian reform and housing development programs are affecting the efficiency of land markets, and thus the country’s economic growth potential and equity.

In the case of the 144 hectare land, the same was illegally reclassified by the LGU of Sumilao to an agro-industrial property contrary to policy issuances prohibiting reclassification of prime agricultural lands, and in contravention of the power of conversion of the DAR Secretary. Unless and until a proper land use policy shall be enacted by Congress, the problem on massive conversions of agricultural land will pursue.

At real issue of the case is the right of the Sumilao farmers to regain their long lost ancestral land. The Sumilao farmers have been robbed of their land by unscrupulous landlords and transformed their ancestral land into cattle ranches, pineapple plantations and now, piggery farms – the very same land which the Higaonons perform their sacred rituals and prayer offerings.

Notably, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law is about to end in 2008. Yet, the fruits thereof remain to be seen, or to put it squarely, now belongs to Cojuangco and his hogs.

The 144 hectare ancestral land remains fertile though. Its rich soil awaits cultivation. Mt. Sayawan and Mt. Palaopao still protects the land from unwanted weather conditions and Culaman River runs through the land giving it water from beneath. In the end, the Higaonon ancestors foresee the final “resting” of their ancestral land.

In summary, the Sumilao farmers call the attention of Bukidnon Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Julio Celestiano, DAR Regional Director John Maruhom, DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, and demand the following:

1. Restore the dignity of the Sumilao farmers!
2. Revoke the Conversion Order!
3. Reclaim the land!
4. Reform and extend CARP!
5. Recognize the need for a National Land Use Law!

The Sumilao Farmers

To follow their progress, updates are available from the Sumilao March Multiply page.

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