Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sumilao redux

On a clear day in Sumilao, Bukidnon, one could see Mount Kitanglad standing tall in the distance. Nestled between Mount Sayawan and Mount Palaopao, Sumilao is a valley and home to the Higaonon, an indigenous cultural community that lived there before the 1930s when settlers from distant places began to look upon Mindanao and the new frontier.

The Higaonon believed that Magbabaya the Almighty, gave this balaang yuta (sacred land) to their forefathers and foremothers. Because of the cool weather and the abundance of pine trees, the people described the place as “pine-tree-hon”.

The Higaonon’s ancestral land measured 243.8 hectares and served as their seat of government. Here, the Higaonon’s tribal council led by Apo Manuagay and Apo Mangganiahon ruled and led through the traditional paghusay and pamuhat.

In the 1930s, the Higaonons were forcibly evicted from the land which went from one landed non-Higaonon family to another. In the 1970s the ancestral land was divided between two landowners, the Carloses (99.8 ha.) and the Quisumbings (144 ha.). (If I remember right the dying Carlos patriarch had let go of his share in favor of the farmers.) The Quisumbings eventually leased the land to Del Monte Philippines for 10 years. The Higaonons became farm workers in the land they once owned.

And then the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 came to be, covering the 144 ha. which was for distribution to 137 Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag (Mapalad) farmers who were of Higaonon ancestry. A certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was issued, making the Mapalad farmers owners of the 144 hectares. But this was not to be.

To avoid land reform, the Quisumbings that had possession of the land planned to convert it into an agro-industrial estate and educational complex, park and tourism enclave. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) put its foot down but Ruben Torres, then executive secretary of then Pres. Ramos, overturned the decision and approved the land’s conversion.

Things came to a head at this juncture. Much had been written, blood had been shed, a lot of intervention had been made. The farmers’ long and life-threatening hunger strike in front of the DAR office sparked a lot of interest and sympathy for them. Pres. Ramos issued a “win-win solution” which would allot 100 has. for the farmers and 44 has. for the Quisumbings.

Sadly, in 1999 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Quisumbings. Ramos’ win-win solution was thrown out because of technicalities and the farmers were reduced to mere “recommendee farmer beneficiaries”, meaning they have no real interest over the land. No real interest over the land?

Well, after many years, the 144-ha. land has not been converted into what its supposed owners had planned, it has been sold to the Cojuangco-owned San Miguel Foods Inc.

This is how things looked recently: The Mapalad-Sumilao farmers and the San Vicente landless Farmers Association have filed a Petition for the Cancellation of the Conversion Order against the Quisumbings and/or SMFI before the DAR. The farmers argued that more than five years had passed since the conversion order but no development work had been done on the land. They further argued that converting the place into a hog farm would violate the conditions in the conversion order.

Last September the Higaonon began a campaign to reclaim the land with a pananghid ritual. They sought the help of church leaders even while military and police forces descended on their area and raided their multi-purpose center. It’s back to square one.

Last October 2, the Office of the President dismissed the farmers’ appeal.

This chronicle of events is definitely from the claimants’ point of view. I had written about this case a number of times over the years and I am not afraid to say that I am biased in the farmers’ favor.

This is not the end of the farmers’ struggle. A “Walk for Sumilao, Walk for Justice” is underway. It’s a long road ahead.


A reader writes to express her disgust by the news coverage of last week’s Glorietta mall explosion that killed 11 and injured more than 100. I agree with her views. I have myself been outraged at the way on-the-spot broadcast news coverage and emergency room journalism are conducted by insensitive journalists.

“Writing you is my way to vent my disappointment over some broadcast journalists on the way they gather ‘news’ Please bear with me.

“In the aftermath of the Glorietta explosion, one radio report came from the field and all the guy had to say was: ‘Halos hindi makapagsalita ang ina ni Maureen sa sinapit ng kanyang anak. Binibigyan na siya ng tubig...’ Then, he popped the question to a relative (I suppose): ‘Ano ho ang nararamdaman ninyo....’

“I mean, can't this guy be a little less idiotic?! I am outraged by the lack of respect people like him in media show to victims and survivors of tragedy. They who rave and rant about censorship, press freedom etc. are so insensitive as to make a spectacle out of people's inexplicable grief! What about the freedom to privacy? For some members of the media, everything and everyone is fair game, so long as they could fill the airwaves, and scream their headlines.

“Pardon my ranting. I should stop here before I begin to sound like them.”