(This backgrounder on the case of the Sumilao Farmers was lifted from the website of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, which supports the cause of the farmers.)
The Sumilao farmers are the indigenous people (Lumads) of Sumilao Bukidnon. They were the early settlers of a piece of ancestral land in Sumilao, Bukidnon. A portion thereof, 243.885 hectare area of the ancestral and served as the Seat of Government of the Higaonons where the traditional paghusay and pamuhat were conducted by the Higaonon tribal council lead by Apo Manuagay Anlicao and Apo Mangganiahon Anlicao. The ancestral land is a flat agricultural terrain situated in the midst of Mt. Sayawan and Mt. Palaopao, and where Mt. Kitanglad can be seen from afar.
Then the Angeles came in 1930s forcibly evicting the Higaonons from their ancestral land and converted the land into a cattle ranch. Later, the land was transferred to the Ilagans. In 1970s, the ancestral land was divided between 2 landowners: 99.885 hectares to Salvador Carlos while the 144 hectares was transferred to Norberto Quisumbing. The ancestral land was eventually leased to Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI) for 10 years. At this time, the Higaonons became farmworkers of the land they once owned.
With the advent of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in 1988, the 144 ancestral land was covered for distribution to 137 Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa mga Lumad Alang sa Damlag (Mapalad) farmers, all of Higaonon lineage. Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was subsequently issued in their names making them the owners of the 144 ancestral land. For the first time in several years, the Mapalad farmers regained their ancestral land. What followed next was a controversial legal battle which sparked national interest involving the sad state of agrarian reform in the country.
The Quisumbing family applied for conversion of the land from agricultural to agro-industrial before the DAR notwithstanding the fact that prime agricultural lands are non-negotiable for conversion. Quisumbing proudly proposed the establishment of a Development Academy of Mindanao, cultural center, Institute for Livelihood Science, museum, library, golf course, and Mindanao Sports Development Complex, Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Park, Forest Development and Support Facilities including the construction of a 360-room hotel, restaurant and housing projects, among others.
Further, Quisumbing partnered with the LGUs of Sumilao and Province of Bukidnon where the latter illegally passed Resolution No. 24 and Resolution No. 94-95, respectively, allowing the conversion of the land despite the fact that LGUs have no power of conversion under the law as the same belongs to the DAR Secretary.
The DAR Secretary denied the application because of its patent invalidity. On appeal to the Office of the President, Executive Secretary Ruben Torres issued the infamous Torres Resolution approving the application for conversion despite its illegality. Left of no more recourse, the Mapalad farmers decided to do the only non-violent and peaceful means their forefathers taught them during unpeaceful times — a Hunger Strike. For 28 days, the Mapalad farmers ate nothing but drank only water in front of the DAR Office in the cities of Quezon and Cagayan de Oro. Their peaceful protest caught the interest of the public: Cardinal Sin, including presidential wannabees Erap, Renato De Villa, and several senatoriables, LGUs and the House of Representatives.
Due to huge public pressure, President Ramos issued the so-called “Win-win Resolution” wherein 100 hectares were to be given to the farmers while 44 hectares to Quisumbing. It was a pleasant victory for the Mapalad farmers and the whole peasant sector. However, their victory was short-lived.
Quisumbing brought the same before the Supreme Court. Mapalad, as farmer beneficiaries of the 144, intervened in the case and raised novel questions such as the validity of conversion of prime agricultural lands which are supposedly non-negotiable for conversion, the power of reclassification of LGUs vis-à-vis DAR’s authority to approve conversions, and the validity of the comprehensive agrarian reform law itself.
Unexpectedly, the Supreme Court evaded the resolution of the substantial issues of the case and found one perfect excuse: reglementary periods. The Supreme Court refused to answer the constitutional issues and asserted that the DAR failed to question the Torres Resolution on time. The Supreme Court skirted merits and yielded to technicalities. The questionable Torres Resolution was reinstated while the “Win-win Resolution” was invalidated. Worst, it denied Mapalad’s intervention by equivocally saying they were merely “recommendee farmer beneficiaries”, hence, have no real interest over the land. Mapalad’s dream of regaining their ancestral land vanished in seconds. They lost to numbers.
Several years have passed since then yet the 144 hectare land remains idle. Not one of those proposed development projects and infrastructures by Quisumbing ever materialized. The “promises” of economic vitality, employment and increase in income, leaves much to be desired as everything was a “castle in the air”. Apparently, the Quisumbings have successfully fooled the Mapalad farmers and the peasant sector, local government units, national government, Supreme Court, and the Filipino people in general, by such empty “promises” of development in order to circumvent the coverage of the 144 hectare ancestral land and evade the implementation of genuine agrarian reform in the country.
As a non-violent way of protesting the more than 10 years of injustice they have gone through in trying to reclaim their ancestral land, 50 “lumad” farmers belonging to the Mapalad Multi-purpose Cooperative (MPC) will march on foot from their hometown of Sumilao, Bukidnon in the south to the capital city of Manila in the north from October 10 to December 10.