Church stands by the Sumilao farmers

Archbishop Rosales to say mass for 55 marchers

Hundreds gathered for the Sumilao farmers’ arrival in Manila since December 3, including Catholic church officials and representatives. In a statement by the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, they urged the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to cancel the conversion order on the irrigated property and immediately install the farmers as the rightful owners of 144 hectares in San Vincente, Sumilao in Bukidnon.

We urge everyone to rise to the defense of the common good as stated in Catholic teaching,  they said.

On December 5, Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales will say mass for the 55 farmers on a 1,700-kilometer Walk for Justice at the Ateneo de Manila’s Church of Gesu in the afternoon. University president Bienvenido Nebres, SJ is also set to read a statement of support. Students and various support groups at an overnight vigil for the farmers’ stay on campus will be treated to a free concert by top bands and artists.

They will stop for a prayer rally in front of the San Miguel Corporate Office building in Ortigas at 12 noon.

The marchers’ proceed to Congress the next day to campaign for HB 1257, a bill to reform and extend the current Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Today they were received by Senator Aquilino Pimentel outside the Senate building.

The celebration follows last week’s dialogue with Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman where he reportedly said that the issuance of a cease-and-desist order against San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) is a great possibility. The food giant had begun construction of a hog farm, which was not included in the original conversion plan approved.

In a statement the farmers said they are hopeful that the DAR will revoke the conversion order and redistribute the land under the CARP. The petition was first filed in 2004 citing the landowner’s violation of the conversion’s terms and was denied by Pangandaman in 2006.

The Office of the President upheld the decision in 2007. Last November Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita granted a motion for reconsideration, saying that the DAR is a trier of facts and is in a better position to assess and evaluate the credibility of the contending parties and the validity of their respective evidence.

The property was approved for conversion to agro-industrial uses in 1994 through an order issued by then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres. The Supreme Court upheld Torres’ decision in 1999, resulting in the cancellation of the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) of the 165 farmer-beneficiaries belonging to the group called Mapalad.

Aison Garcia of SALIGAN (Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal), lawyers of the Sumilao farmers, said the primary issue of the case is whether the agricultural land originally owned by the Quisumbings and now SMFI should be placed within CARP coverage after the landowners did not implement the conversion granted by the government 10 years ago.

Garcia also addressed accusations that the Sumilao farmers were not really landless. Although some of the Sumilao Marchers now have land from the distribution of the Carlos Estate under CARP, they can still qualify as beneficiaries. The law deems them as landless because they own less than three hectares, he said. He added that most were resident tillers, not beneficiaries of the 66 hectares previously owned by Salvador Carlos.

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