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Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform

11 December 2007

The Philippines: Access to land is denied to 165 farmer beneficiaries, Sumilao, Bukidnon, Northern Mindanao

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0720APHL 03-12-2007

165 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon have been struggling for their right to food for the
past 10 years. Although the farmers were identified as beneficiaries for 144 hectares of
land in 1995, the land was later converted from agricultural to agro-industrial use,
thus exempted from the national agrarian reform program. On October 10, 50 Sumilao
farmers started a march from Sumilao to Manila, a distance of 1500 km, to bring their
case to the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Office of the President in time for
the International Human Rights Day (December 10). Please write a polite letter to
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as well as to Secretary Nasser C. Pangandaman,
Department of Agrarian Reform, requesting them to immediately distribute and install the
165 farmer beneficiaries and their families to the said landholding.

Bukidnon, a province in the Northern Mindanao region, is known in the Philippines as the
food basket of Mindanao. The province is a major producer of rice, maize, coffee,
pineapple and other fruits and vegetables, as well as chickens, hogs and cattle.
For the past 10 years, the farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon have been struggling for their
right to food. In 1990, the 144-hectare Quisumbing Estate was placed under the national
agrarian reform program, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). 165 farmers
were identified as farmer beneficiaries and awarded a Certificate of Land Ownership
Award (CLOA) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1995. However, the land was
never distributed to them and the farmers were not able to till the land to feed
themselves adequately. Shortly after the farmers received the CLOA, the landowner
applied to convert the 144 hectare land from agricultural to agro-industrial use and
establish the Bukidnon Agro-industrial Development Area (BAIDA) notwithstanding the fact
that prime agricultural lands are non-negotiable for conversion. While the conversion
application was originally denied by the DAR Central Office, it was later approved by
the Office of the President, Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, despite its illegality.

Deprived of their means to feed themselves, the farmers occupied the said landholding
and began cultivating. The landowner retaliated by sending armed guards who harassed the
farmers and destroyed their huts. Left with no more recourse, the farmers decided to
stage hunger strikes in front of the DAR Central Office in Manila, consuming nothing but
water for 28 days. Due to huge public pressure, then President Ramos issued a resolution
wherein 100 hectares were to be given to the farmers and the rest to the landowner
Norberto Quisumbing. Infuriated with this decision, however, Quisumbing brought the same
before the Supreme Court and the court reinstated the earlier ruling in favour of the
landowner. This was in 1999.

Then in 2002, the landowner sold the 144 hectare land to San Miguel Foods, Inc (SMFI),
the largest conglomerate in the Philippines which plans to put up a piggery farm. None
of the projects upon which the conversion was conditioned were implemented. In 2004, the
Sumilao farmers filed a petition for the cancellation of the conversion order against
Quisumbing and /or SMFI before the DAR on the basis that Quisumbing has failed to
initiate any development work on the land, and that SMFI violated the conditions of the
conversion order by changing completely its use to hog farming. The case was then
brought to the Office of the President and it is currently pending. Recently, the
farmers decided to stage a march of 60 days from Sumilao to Manila. They hope to reach
Manila on 3rd of December, in time for the Human Rights Week Celebration, to resolve the
claim on the 144 hectares that are rightfully theirs. The Mandate of the Emergency
The Philippines is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights and is therefore duty-bound under international law to fulfil the right
to food of its population. Agrarian reform is a central measure to implement the
landless farmers’ right to feed themselves and hence obligatory. The failure to install
the 165 identified farmers’ beneficiaries onto the 144 hectare landholding and the
related irregularities with respect to the land conversion constitute a breach of this
obligation. Hence the government of the Philippines has violated the peasants’ right to
feed themselves.

End of Action: January 30, 2008

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