Ateneo de Manila University confers Ozanam Award to the Sumilao farmers and their lawyer
Three and a half months after making a breakthrough in their 13-years quest to reclaim their land and signing a settlement agreement with San Miguel Corporation, the Sumilao farmers and their lawyer Atty. Kaka Bag-ao of Balaod-Mindanaw will be awarded the Ateneo de Manila’s Ozanam Award. The farmers will receive the award in a Special Academic Convocation to be held at the Henry Lee Irwin Theatre at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) today, July 15. The Ozanam Award will conferred to the Sumilao farmers “in recognition of their peaceful ways of reclaiming their ancestral lands in Sumilao, Bukidnon. The hunger strike and cross-country walk inspired fellow farmers. It also raised awareness and support from students, churches and the nation on the role of agricultural development in national development.”
The Sumilao farmers signed a settlement agreement with San Miguel Corporation last March 29, 2008 at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City which gave them 50-hectares within the 144-hectare contested property. Under the agreement the farmers will also receive 94-hectares outside the 144-hectare property.
“Our peaceful return to our land 3-months ago has given us a brighter view of the future. We are now in the process of turning the land which has been idle for more than a decade into a bountiful field of our dreams” said Peter Tuminhay, a Sumilao farmer leader. He said that cultivating the land and making it productive has not been easy. “The land has been idle for a long time and that is evident in the thick growth that has covered the land. Even just clearing the land for cultivation is labor intensive. At present we are faced by the challenge of making the land productive with our collective financial resources which are meager. While we have received commitments from the DAR in a form of financial assistance right after we gained entry into the 50-hectare property, the production loan that was promised to us has not yet materialized after more than 3 months due to the bureaucratic processes that need to be undertaken” Tuminhay added.
“Our struggle is far from over. We are yet to receive the 94-hectares committed by San Miguel Corporation under the settlement agreement. SMC has submitted to us a list of landholdings that total 59 hectares but only 28 hectares are acceptable to us. The rest of the land being offered by SMC do not comply with the conditions that was set under the agreement. Some of the lands are located very far from our homes, others are still covered by lease agreements and remain planted to pineapple. Others are not irrigated and not nearly as fertile as the 144-hectare land” said Rene Peñas, Sumilao farmer leader and paralegal. Peñas said that the failure of Congress to pass the extension and reform of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law give them reason to be concerned. “According to the settlement agreement, the remaining 94 hectares will be distributed to us under CARP but with the impasse in agrarian reform implementation after the failure of Congress to extend it is worrisome. We have heard of cases where the DAR has refused to install farmer beneficiaries in lands already awarded to them” Peñas added.
Atty. Kaka Bag-ao said that the Sumilao farmers are very careful in making decisions over the land that they have reclaimed. “The decision-making processes among the farmers has been very tedious and patience-stretching. They are very careful that the decisions they arrive at are the consensus of all their members” Bag-ao said. She said that the long and difficult struggle that the farmers had experienced molded their consciousness to be sensitive to each other and to have a deep sense of solidarity with other farmers in struggle.
Bajekjek Merida, one of the young leaders of the Sumilao farmers said that they are humbled to be given the Ozanam Award which they learned was given to persons of distinction. “The tremendous and overwhelming support that we have received during our long struggle made our success not solely ours but a success of a multitude of people and groups who have buoyed us up with their support. We shall be receiving this award not only for ourselves but for the thousands who have supported us and who remain to be supportive of the causes of other farmers who, like us, continue to struggle for a piece of land they can build their dreams on. We share this award with the countless of parishioners, priests and nuns and bishops who fed, nurtured, sheltered and prayed for us. We share this award to all the schools, their faculty and students who welcomed us and joined us in our walk” Merida said.
Atty. Kaka Bag-ao, who shares the award with the Sumilao farmers said that support of the Ateneo community to the Sumilao farmers in the past decade has been overwhelming. Bag-ao, an alumnus of the Ateneo Law School said that her Ateneo education is one of the strongest influences in her career as a lawyer. “I am overwhelmed by the recognition of my Alma Mater, who has taught me to love the path that has taken me to the side of the Sumilao farmers and other farmers like them. I am also overwhelmed to share this award with the Sumilao farmers who had been a part of most of my professional life as a lawyer. What I have not learned in Ateneo, I learned in Sumilao and that makes my education more complete” Bag-ao said. She also said that Ateneo has been part of the most crucial junctures in the Sumilao campaign. “It was here in the Ateneo where his Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales embraced the Sumilao farmers and announced his support for our cause, that evening marked the beginning of our triumphant return to the land in Sumilao” Bag-ao added.
Ateneo will also be conferring academic awards four others namely, Very Rev. Antonio M. Pernia, SVD, Bukas Palad Award in Memory of Fr. Manuel Peypoch, S.J.; Eugenia Duran-Apostol, Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan; Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi; and Dr. Fernando P. Hofileña, Lux-in-Domino Award. ###