By Neil Jerome C. Morales

The battle continues for the Sumilao farmers and their call for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The farmers reached Manila on December 3 after a 1,700-kilometer march from San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon to personally voice out their grievances to the Department of Agrarian Refom (DAR) and to Malacañang.

The Sumilao case

Higaonons were early settlers of a piece of agricultural land in Sumilao. In 1940, the Higaonons were forcibly evicted from a 243.885-hectare part of their ancestral land, which was converted into a cattle ranch by the Angeles family.
In the 1970s, Salvador Carlos owned
99.855 hectares of the ancestral land while Norberto Quisumbing held 144 hectares. It was Quisumbing’s land that raised controversy.

By 1988, the 144-hectare ancestral land was covered by the CARP and was set for distribution among 137 Mapadayonon Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag (MAPALAD) Higaonon farmers.

Quisumbing and the Sangguniang Bayan of Sumilao conspired in 1994 to issue Resolution No. 24, converting the land of the Norberto Quisumbing, Sr. Management and Development Corporation from an agricultural to an industrial/institutional area.

However, the move ran contrary to 1993 Malacañang-issued Memorandum Circular No. 54 which gave guidelines for local governments converting agricultural lands for non-agricultural use. The circular stated that lands suitable for agricultural production were “non-negotiable for conversion.” Agriculturally suitable lands are those with irrigation or available for irrigation by the Department of Agriculture or the National Irrigation Administration.

The non-conversion rule was reversed by former Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, approving Quisumbing’s application for land conversion in 1996.

Torres said the land “would open great opportunities for employment and bring about real development in the area towards a sustained economic growth in the municipality.” However, he said giving out the land to non-tenant beneficiaries wouldn’t assure such benefits.”

President Fidel Ramos, through Deputy Executive Secretary Renato Corona, issued a “win-win solution” in 1998, where the farmers would get 100 hectares while 44 hectares would be retained for Quisumbing. In 1999, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled the Sumilao conversion case based on technicalities. The SC said the DAR failed to question the Torres conversion order on time.

According to the farmers, the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Development Association (BAIDA) project that promised museums, libraries, and housing projects did not deliver at the end of the five-year conversion period.

Instead, Quisumbing sold the land in 2002 to San Miguel Foods, Inc., owned by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., which converted it into a livestock farm for subsidiary Monterey Foods Corporation.

The Sumilao farmers are now petitioning for the cancellation of the 1996 conversion order. They said Quisumbing did not comply with the order’s conditions since he failed to begin development work in the land a year from the finality of the conversion order on August 25, 1999. Quisumbing, they said, wasn’t able to complete the development plan for the property in five years since 1999 and also submit a written request for extension within six months before the lapse of the five-year period in 2004.

The charges violated provisions in the DAR Administrative Order No. 1 of 1990, or the “Revised Rules and Regulations Governing Conversion of Agricultural Lands to Non Agricultural Uses.”

The verdict for the Sumilao case is still pending under DAR. Until the case is solved, the Sumilao farmers will keep on airing their calls for their ancestral lands.


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