Cardinal Rosales ‘happy’ as Sumilao farmers get back their landMANILA, March 24, 2008—Manila Archbishop Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales is “happy” that a 144-hectar land dispute between Sumilao farmers and San Miguel Foods Inc (SMFI) “has been resolved.”
The cardinal was delighted to know the happy development that took place this Holy Week regarding the forging of a deal between 144 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon and SMFI, the Cardinal’s private secretary Fr. Reginald R. Malicdem, told CBCP News today.
SMFI, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Southeast Asia’s largest food and beverage company, bought from Norbeerto Quisumbing, Sr., the contentious land in Bukidnon, Mindanao.
According to a media report, SMC president and CEO Ramon Ang confirmed that an agreement has been reached between the two parties to resolve the issue; the Catholic Church led by Rosales played a key role in facilitating the deal.
Rosales will be joining the Sumilao farmers in offering a thanksgiving mass sometime this month in Malaybalay where he was once the Bishop, said Malicdem.
Manila Archdiocese communications director Peachy Yamsuan told CBCP News today that after the formal agreement was signed between the farmers and SMFI today or later this week, a joint statement will be made on this issue.
When asked if Cardinal Rosales could also issue an independent statement, Yamsuan said that he might do it, but not prior to the joint statement.
The details of the negations for the formal signing of the deal are underway, said Elgine Merida, an official of Caritas Manila and spokesperson of San Miguel Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) for Sumilao farmers.
In his response Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick S, Pabillo, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat for Social Action, told CBCP News that the “persistence and perseverance of Sumilao” is to be admired and the “generosity of SMFI was great.”
“The Catholic Church and Cardinal are very much appreciative of SMFI’s cooperation with the Sumilao farmers,” said Pabillo who is also the bishop-in-charge for Manila Archdiocesan for Social Services.
The Church “mediated” between the two parties to make sure that they “co-exist” in the area, he said.
The farmers staged a two-month protest march in December 2007 from Sumilao in Bukidnon to Manila to press their demand. Following this, President Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo directed the revocation of the conversion order, which declared the disputed land as an agro-industrial site from agricultural land covered by the covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The Arroyo administration declared that the revocation of the Conversion Order issued last December 18, 2007, was only the first step for returning the land to the farmers. This encouraged the Sumilao farmers to return home to Sumilao to give the government time to execute the order.
After Arroyo passed the Conversion Order, SMFI had filed its appeal challenging the revocation order in the Supreme Court.
During the administration of former president Fidel V. Ramos, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had offered the land to the farmers. However, his executive secretary Ruben Torres reversed the DAR’s ruling, a decision that the Supreme Court upheld.
Later the land was bought by SMF from its earlier owner, Norberto Quisumbing Sr., and began developing it into an agro-industrial farm.
Government’s lethargic attitude and slow action caused in the loss of land for the Sumilao farmers.
Meanwhile, SMFI started building their hog farm and more structures, according to the farmers.
Since, Arroyo’s revocation order was not executed immediately, the farmers returned to Manila on March 1 in a bid to force Arroyo to accelerate their demand to reclaim their land as owners.
Until both the parties agreed to settle the dispute, the farmers did lots of prayer vigils at Caritas Manila premises, different churches around Metro Manila and marched almost daily to the Malacañang and DAR office. (Santosh Digal)