Posted by: Ces | November 25, 2007

600 mile walk: Bukidnon farmers take protest to next level

by Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez

October 2007


Cagayan de Oro city – Ten years ago, the farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon staged an unprecedented 28-day hunger strike that has claimed the life of one of their members and caused lifelong ailments to others.


The protest hugged the headlines and forced the government to forge a “win-win” solution to the farmer’s woes involving 144-hectares of disputed land then owned by the influential Quisumbing clan. But the solution was apparently cosmetic. In 2004, the Quisumbings filed a petition to convert the land as agro-industrial estate. This was upheld by the Department of Agrarian Reform.


The farmers sought the help of Malacanang and filed a motion for reconsideration. On October 3 this year, Malacanang junked the motion and killed the hope of the farmers for a legal solution to the problem.


“Now we are employing active non-violence to fight for our cause,” says Jun Gallego, team leader of the group of farmers who have begun a 600-mile walk from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang last October 9.


“So far, we have been walking for five days covering 130 kilometers. We still have 1,300 kilometers of walking to do so we reserve our strength, we don’t overstretch our body,” said Gallego. He said the marchers are doing fine but some have complained of foot blisters as most of the farmers are not used to walking on paved road.


He said that the farmers are motivated by the show of support they get from the church, people’s organizations and even ordinary folks. “In Guinobatan, for example, we were welcomed by the mayor himself who allowed us to use the municipal gymnasium as resting area. Along the way, people gave free water, candies and coffee to the marchers,” said Gallego.


The farmers plan to personally bring a petition letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asking for the revocation of the conversion order and seeking for the extension of CARP.


Atty. Normina Batula, co-director of BALAOD Mindanaw, a group of legal advocates helping the Sumilao farmers, cites the need to reform the CARP if ever it will be extended. “This is the only way we can avoid such cases as the Sumilao, where the landlords go around the law and get away with it,” she says. She lauds the determination of the farmers to get their land back. “It is their right to make use of extra-legal means. There is no law preventing anyone to walk the roads,” she says.


A group of Asian lawyers from the Alternative Law Groups briefly joined the marchers yesterday in Misamis Oriental and walked for eight kilometers. They said they were inspired by the tenacity of the farmers and hoped that this can also be done in Burma.  


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