Farmers to ‘march for land’

Party-list solons, NGO leaders show support

Land for the Sumilao farmers. Ten years ago in October, Linda (in photo) held up this sign with her four children on the steps of the Supreme Court building. She and 14 other farmers of the Mapadayong Panaghiusa Sa Mga Lumad Alang Sa Damplag (MAPALAD) of Sumilao, Bukidnon came to Manila for a 28-day hunger strike at the Department of Agrarian (DAR) office in Quezon City. After calling for the redistribution of 144 hectares of their ancestral land controlled by the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC), they were awarded 100 hectares by then-president Fidel V. Ramos, while the remaining 44 went to NQSRMDC. The Supreme Court shortly nullified the decision.

In 2004, after the NQSRMDC’s stalled development, San Miguel Foods Inc. bought the land from the Quisumbings to put up a piggery farm. This despite a petition filed by the Sumilao farmers for the cancellation of the conversion order, that would allow the irrigated land to be converted from agricultural to agro-industrial property.

Several conditions of the conversion order were violated, which is why there’s a legitimate call to revoke it, says Marlon Manuel, lawyer of the alternative legal NGO, SALIGAN (Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal). They failed to initiate development for more than five years after it was issued. Then the current use of the land isn’t what was approved in the terms of the conversion order.

Sumilao’s farmers are again demanding that the conversion order be cancelled, and the land that is rightfully theirs returned. On October 10, 2007, 10 years since their first mass protest in Manila, they begin a two-month March for Land from Mindanao to Visayas and Luzon joined by other farmers from the regions. They arrive on foot in Manila by December 10, hoping for public support and holding up familiar signs.

One of the signs will be on HB 1257, a bill to extend and reform the current Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). It is not only the lack of budget that bedevils CARP but also its vague provisions which allow land owners and big agro-industrial corporations to circumvent the law, says Anakbayan representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who sponsored HB 1257 in Congress.

With Manuel, whose group SALIGAN drafted HB 1257 with various people’s organizations, and Anak-Mindanaw representative Mujiv Hataman, Hontiveros-Baraquel is a panelist at the press conference for the March for Land on October 9, 2007, 10:00 AM at the Max’s Restaurant on Elliptical Road in Quezon City. Also attending are two Sumilao farmers that participated in the protest 10 years ago. The land is our life, it is what nourishes us as a people and as a community, they said. Violence and intimidation will not deter us from fighting for what is ours.

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