By Bingo P. Dejaresco III
The Bohol Chronicle
Editor In Chief
On December 10, 1948, the world through the United Nations started the celebration of the â€œInternational Human Rights Day.â€
Close to 50 years after last Monday, we observed the tattered flag of such declaration in the saga of the 55 farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon, who are now trying to assert their â€œright of property.â€
For close to two months since October 10, 2007, the farmers marched from Mindanao to the streets of Manila to dramatize their plight over a 144-hectare piece of land that they used to own. They used to own the land through Certificates of Land Ownership (CLOA) but surrendered their rights after the group of the Quisumbings applied for conversion of the rich farm land into an industrial estate.
They are asking the DAR to rescind the contract since the terms of the conversion were not honored by the new landlords and instead they sold the property recently to the San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) to convert it into a huge piggery. This would house 162 piggery buildings with 4,400 female pigs and 44,000 piglets.
Under the Comprehensive Rules on Land Conversion (CRLC), the Quisumbing Group was to implement the conversion plan on year one and complete the project within five years back in 2004. The 144 hectares was to be converted into: 24 hectares (Development Academy of Mindanao), 67 hectares (Agro Industrial Park), 33 hectares (Forest Development) and 23 hectares (support facilities).
The Group did nothing of the above and instead sold the property to SMFI. It was clearly a land speculation deal that took Courts for a ride. The DAR regional offices had so declared in the years 2004-2006 that no such development ever took place.
It is violative of Section 34 of the CLRC which specifies the use of the land upon conversion and its successor (SMFI) to honor the terms of the conversion.
Aside from the non-compliance of the Law, the farmers contended they were mistreated by the landowners for the last decade. In the rural areas, without the presence of the Stateâ€™s police power, those who have the guns rule the town. And so it was.
The farmers rightfully demanded their right to the property after these violations. The members of civil society, Bishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the superiors of the religious orders, activist priests and nuns, Ateneo de Manila and other NGOs had supported the two month walk for justice of the 55 Sumilao farmers.
The Palace of course snubbed the march (while GMA was away), showing once again the disregard if not the condescension of the powers-that-be of the â€œinformal sectorâ€ of our society, who because of their lack of education and economic power are not organized. They are not only denied, as informal sector, the benefits of SSS and Philhealth, but their access to the legal system is prohibitively low.
So they had to do the drama. The pitiful, emotionally laden road to Calvary of 55 dispossessed farmers in order to assert â€œtheir right to property.â€
But this is not all soap opera for the farmers since under the law of Conversion of Land, they are entitled to their rights. It is very clear that if one keeps the blindfold of Lady Justice right there were her eyes are, the farmers should win the case.
Now, Jesus Arranza, the president of the Federation of Philippine Industries spoke in behalf of the capitalists â€“ clouding the issue by saying that corn buyers who are afraid to lose their monopoly over the corn sales due to the possible entry of SMFI â€“ are the mafia behind the farmersâ€™ agitation.
That confused analysis pales against the genuine bid of farmers to claim ownership and development of the land they till. How dare the armchair industrialist use welfare economics to disguise his defense of his class interest.
Also, it has been raised as an issue that some of the protesting farmers had already gotten back their titles in some portions of the 144 hectares. It is not easy for those who care nothing but themselves to see people marching in behalf of their brethren who are prejudiced and disenfranchised like their brother farmers in Bukidnon.
Very often, farmers who are part of the â€œinformal sectorâ€ are so driven by the need to survive and fight for their daily meal that they do not have the time nor the resources to seek legal remedies when their shanties are demolished, their lands stolen, their rights violated.
The remarkable, brave stand of this Gallant 55, leaving family and heart behind to put political drama to the violation of their â€œright to propertyâ€ right in the heart of the Philippine capital is a good sign of new empowerment of the people.
That after two months they were able to file their formal legal protest at the DAR on December 10 â€“ International Human Rights Day is in itself significant.
Democratic space should allow this kind of dissent and protest. Otherwise we are forcing the poor from becoming â€œthe legally excluded poor to become socially condemned criminalsâ€ once we prevent the wheels of justice from turning.
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