SUMILAO  FARMERS  INK  DEAL  WITH  SMFI / FARMERS  HOME  TO  NEW LAND


[PHOTO AT LEFT - San Miguel Corp. president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang (right) and one of the leaders of the Sumilao farmers hold a copy of the agreement they signed at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City yesterday, as Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and the other farmers rejoice. Photo by BOY SANTOS]

MANILA, MARCH 31, 2008 (STAR) By Marvin Sy and Evelyn Macairan - The long march of the farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon has finally come to an end after they signed an agreement with San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) yesterday over the disputed 144 hectares of agricultural land that they have been claiming.

After weeks of negotiations, the farmers will receive 50 hectares within the contested 144-hectare property through a deed of donation from the SMFI.

The remaining 94 hectares will be taken from other properties in the vicinity of the contested area and will be distributed to the farmers through a Voluntary Offer to Sale under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The signing of the agreement took place at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City and was witnessed by Church leaders led by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Auxiliary Archbishop Broderick Pabillo.

The SMFI, represented by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang, signed the agreement with the 144 officials and members of the three farmer-groups from Sumilao, namely Mapadayonong Panaghuisa sa Lumad alang sa Damlag (Mapalad), San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) and Panaghiusa sa mga Mag-uumang Nakibisog alang sa Yuta sa Sumilao (PANAW-Sumilao).

Both sides called it a “win-win situation,” with the farmers getting the same size of land while SMFI, a subsidiary of food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp., will continue its hog farm operations on the land it had purchased.

Ang said it was “a happy ending” for both parties.

Ang said the 50-hectare share of the farmers inside the 144-hectare land would be turned over for free and could be occupied immediately.

“All we ask is that we would not be blamed for the problems associated with the property in the past,” Ang said.

He said the remaining 94 hectares would be taken from an adjacent property which would be purchased by SMC on behalf of the farmers.

Rene Penas, one of the Sumilao farmers, said they have already identified 64 hectares of the adjacent property suitable for planting rice.

Penas said the 64-hectare land is irrigated but they would still have to look for another 30 hectares that would suit their needs.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman explained that the 94-hectare property would fall under the CARP and as such would be paid by the farmers over a period of 50 years.

President Arroyo, who met with the farmers at Malacañang yesterday, tasked Pangandaman to identify the beneficiaries of the 50-hectare property within the SMFI land.

DAR has already conducted a technical survey of the land and delineated the parts that would be given to the farmers.

Pangandaman said the process would only take a few weeks since the farmers have a cooperative.

“What we want to avoid is infiltration,” he said.

Pangandaman said the farmers’ group would be able to easily identify their members to facilitate the distribution process.

There are reportedly around 170 families that comprise the Sumilao farmers.

A joint statement released yesterday noted that other qualified beneficiaries from MAPALAD and SALFA would be included in the succeeding processes.

“This will finally vindicate their years of sacrifice and relentless efforts,” the statement said.

Gratitude

All the parties in the negotiations expressed their gratitude to Cardinal Rosales, who had served in Bukidnon for 10 years.

They thanked Rosales for his continued support and for helping the farmers and SMFI reach a compromise over the claims.

Rosales, for his part, told the farmers to thank the Lord for enlightening all those involved in the problem.

He also thanked the farmers for believing that there are people who would always be there to help them.

“This (agreement) is the solution – trust and goodwill. Thank you also for not allowing people to use and tempt you to resort to violence. This is precisely why the Lord continues to bless you,” Rosales told the farmers.

Rosales also extended his gratitude to Ang and SMC for being sincere in their commitment to help the Sumilao farmers find a solution to the land problem.

“He (Ang) wanted to respond and help the farmers. If every problem would be resolved in such a manner then people would not have enemies,” he said.

Rosales also mentioned the help given by Caritas Manila and the Catholic schools that opened their doors to the farmers during their two-month trek from Bukidnon to Manila.

“We celebrate the victory of thousands of pairs of feet that joined us in our journey,” the farmers said. “The thousands of pairs of hands that fed us throughout our Exodus. We celebrate the thousand and one consoling and encouraging words that melted the frustrations and desperations gnawing our hearts and soothed our aching and tired bodies... This day, we celebrate the triumph of solidarity and peaceful communal action,” the farmers said in a statement.

The agreement that embodied the settlement was signed by Ang and Francisco Alejo for SMC and SMFI; Antonio Medina for the Norberto Quisumbing Sr. Management Development Corp (NQSRMD); and Samuel Merida, Larry Carejo, Mercy Serona and Napoleon Merida Jr. for the Sumilao farmers.

The government was represented by Pangandaman and Philippine Information Agency (PIA) chief Conrado Limcaoco, who represented the Office of the President.

Other witnesses to the agreement included former elections chief Christian Monsod, who acted as legal consultant of the Sumilao farmers, along with Arlene Bag-ao and SMFI legal counsel Wilfredo Penaflor.

The memorandum of agreement (MOA) spelled out the implementing guidelines for the basic agreement forged by the parties last March 3 that laid the parameters of the final settlement.

Fr. Anton Pascual of Caritas Manila said a thanksgiving Mass would be held on the disputed farm site in Sumilao when the farmers finally return home.

The long way home

The farmers are scheduled to return to Bukidnon today with President Arroyo offering an Air Force C-130 plane for their trip home.

The farmers had marched all the way from Bukidnon to Manila to dramatize their struggle to win back the land they have tilled for decades.

The property claimed by NQSRMD was placed under CARP in 1995 and was awarded to the MAPALAD farm workers.

It was in 1996 that the land was converted into agro-industrial use by Malacañang, which reverted the property to the Quisumbings.

SMFI came into the picture in 2002 when it bought the disputed property from NQSRMD for purposes of establishing a hog farm.

Since then, the Sumilao farmers have been fighting for the return of the land and started their 1,700-kilometer trek to Manila last October.

The farmers eventually reached Malacañang on Dec. 7 but President Arroyo was out of the country at the time.

It was only on Dec. 17 that the farmers got to meet with the President.

A day after the meeting, the Office of the President revoked a previous order that placed the land under CARP.

The new order reverted the land back to purely agricultural use but this was not immediately implemented after SMFI made an appeal.

Malacañang urged the two parties to come up with a compromise agreement and after almost three months of negotiations, a compromise was finally reached with the help of the Catholic Church.

With the signing of the MOA yesterday, all of the cases related to the land dispute would be dropped as part of the agreement.

In addition, the presidential order on the land would no longer be in effect.

“All protagonists have won. SMC will be able to continue with their project and has also clearly demonstrated that it is a corporation with social responsibility,” according to the statement.

“The farmers will get the land they have sacrificed and worked for through many years with a promise of a better life for their families,” it added.

Farmers back in Sumilao, inspect new land By Katherine Adraneda Monday, March 31, 2008

After overcoming a colossal battle against a seemingly formidable opponent, the Sumilao farmers finally arrived home yesterday morning and immediately proceeded to the 50-hectare land given back to them by San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI).

The farmers left for Cagayan de Oro City on an Air Force C-130 Hercules plane and an F-27 Fokker plane early yesterday, and journeyed by land to Barangay San Vicente in Sumilao town, Bukidnon.

They left Manila a day after forging a settlement agreement with the SMFI represented by Ramon Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), mother company of the hog-farm project proponent within the disputed 144-hectare property formerly owned by the Quisumbings.

“I don’t know what they mean about win-win solution, but as far as the farmers are concerned, this is a big victory for them,” lawyer Arlene Bagao, counsel of the farmers, told The STAR in a telephone interview.

Bagao accompanied the farmers back to Sumilao. A Mass and program were held at the site yesterday afternoon.

Weeks of negotiations led to the signing of the agreement between the farmers and SMFI last Saturday at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City, which was witnessed by Church leaders led by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Auxiliary Archbishop Broderick Pabillo.

Under the agreement, the farmers will receive 50 hectares within the contested 144-hectare property through a deed of donation from the SMFI.

The remaining 94 hectares will be taken from other properties in the vicinity of the contested area and will be distributed to the farmers through a Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) scheme under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Beneficiaries of the land are farmers belonging to the Mapadayonong Panaghuisa sa Lumad alang sa Damlag (Mapalad), San Vicente Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) and Panaghiusa sa mga Mag-uumang Nakibisog alang sa Yuta sa Sumilao (PANAW-Sumilao).

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has initially identified 79 potential farmer-beneficiaries to the 144-hectare land being claimed by the Sumilao farmers, who are of Higaonon descent.

“If you would ask the farmers now, they are happy and willing to till the land, they are all prepared and ready to cultivate the land again,” Bag-ao said.

According to Ang, the 50-hectare share of the farmers inside the 144-hectare land would be turned over for free and could be occupied immediately.

The remaining 94 hectares would be taken from an adjacent property, which would be purchased by SMC on behalf of the farmers.

Some called the agreement’s stipulations a “win-win situation” with the farmers getting the same size of land while SMFI, a subsidiary of food and beverage giant SMC, will continue its modern hog farm operations on the land it had purchased from the Quisumbings in 2002.

Bag-ao said the farmers have already identified 64 hectares of the adjacent property suitable for planting. Search is still on for the additional 30 hectares to complete the 144-hectare land they are claiming.

DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman explained that the 94-hectare property would fall under the CARP and as such would be paid by the farmers over a period of 50 years.

“The farmers agreed on the payment because they know that it is part of the process,” Bag-ao said.

“We know the farmers have won on this, but it is not yet over until all the 144 hectares are identified and covered and actually distributed to the farmers,” she added.

As this developed, the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) branded the recent signing of a compromise deal between the Sumilao farmers and SMFI as “bittersweet” and “a testament to the inutility” of CARP.

Rafael Mariano, chairman of KMP and concurrent president of Anakpawis party- list, said it is bittersweet because the farmers still have to pay for the 94 hectares of land.

“By asking the farmers to pay for a land that is supposedly theirs, the deal contradicts the principle of social justice and genuine agrarian reform,” Mariano stressed. “Malacañang, the DAR, and SMFI are in essence duping the Sumilao farmers because there is no guarantee that the land, even the 50 hectares supposedly donated to them, would remain theirs.

“Based on the CARP they have to pay the 94 hectares at its present market value. But in reality, a majority of farmers who were so-called CARP beneficiaries went bankrupt by paying land amortization and they were evicted from their lands eventually,” he added.

According to Mariano, it is very insulting for President Arroyo to say that the Sumilao case shows that CARP has to be extended.

Mariano insisted that it is through CARP that the land was taken from the Sumilao farmers in the first place, but it is was settled not through CARP.

“It was only with the farmers’ firm resolve to own their land and the support of the Church and other sectors that pushed Malacañang and SMFI to work for a settlement,” the peasant leader pointed out. – Rudy Santos, Paolo Romero


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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