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24 December 2007

Walk for Sumilao Land, Walk for Justice

Despite the disappointing Order of Secretary Pangandaman issued last December 12, and the counter propaganda against the farmer, they remained consistent with their peaceful means of struggle. To express their indignation against the order, they had a sit down rally, which prevented the employees of DAR to get in their offices, a noise barrage, candle lighting, and continuous sharing to the students who visited them in their encampment.

Yesterday (December 15), the farmers had a general assembly where they talked about their concern for their family they left in Sumilao, Bukidnon. Like them, their families at home also feel the fear that their case will not be resolved soon. And like them, their families and the rest of the members of MAPALAD and SALFA also feel angry and frustrated with Secretary Pangandaman’s order. Said order was far from what they expected.

They also talked about what will happen tomorrow (December 17) when they will have a dialogue with Pres. Arroyo. Although they are not certain of President Arroyo’s commitment to resolve their case in their favor, they remain hopeful that she will take time to really listen and base her decision on the facts and law.

At 10:00 am, students from the Ateneo de Manila had an exposure with the farmers. They took pictures of the farmers and tried to capture the exhaustion, frustration, and also the bravery and strength of the farmers in embarking on their long journey to Malacanang to demand from the government to give back their land.
At 2pm, the farmers attended a mass celebrated by Bishop Pabillo and Fr. Robert Reyes.
The urban poor apostolate of the Claretian Missionaries visited and spent time with the farmers. And a religious organization, Simbahan Lingkod ng Bayan, made their Christmas party more meaningful and relevant by spending it together with the farmers.

To help ease the burden of the farmers, the Jesuit brothers and a psychologist facilitated a short reflection. The farmers were divided into 7 groups. They reflected on what gave them the strength that made them survive their walk, and their stay in DAR. They also reflected on the grace they had received as well as their wish for the Christmas.
Their day ended with the Christmas caroling offered by the Ateneo Christian Life Community.

Early this morning (December 16), the farmers attended the first mass of the traditional ’misa de gallo’, which also happened to be the 3 rd Sunday of Advent. Fr. Eduardo Apungan, CMF celebrated said mass. Fr. Apungan boosted the morale of the farmers by reminding them of their significance in social progress, and that they should constantly remain hopeful.

There was also a team leaders’ pool meeting in preparation for tomorrow’s expected dialogue with Pres. Arroyo.

Arroyo to ’act decisively’ on case

By Jerome Aning


Last updated 01:34:00 12/16/2007

FIFTY-FIVE farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, will meet with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Monday to seek her help in getting back a 144-hectare property a giant corporation is turning into a hog farm.

To be accompanied by priests, nuns and lay groups from various Manila parishes, the farmers will march to the Palace for the first time to try and persuade Arroyo to act decisively in their case.

The farmers, who are disputing the sale of the property to San Miguel Foods Inc. (SMFI) claiming that it should be subjected to land reform, marched on Malacañang on Dec. 7 but were allowed only up to the Palace gates and no government official came out to meet them.

The President was on her way home from Kuwait at the time.

This time, Arroyo will be around to meet with the farmers, who walked 1,700 kilometers from San Vicente village in Sumilao to convince the government to stop the conversion of the land into a hog farm by SMFI.

They have been camping out in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform central office in Quezon City since reaching Manila on Dec. 3.

"If through our walk, we were able to convince the cardinal, the bishops, priests and the church people to the righteousness and sincerity of our cause, we are hopeful that we can likewise convince the President so that she will take decisive action to resolve our case," said Napoleon Merida Jr., chair of the San Vicente Landless Farmers Association.
Coordinators from the Ateneo-based Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan lay group, which is helping the farmers, said they were trying to get Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales to either join the farmers at Malacañang or meet with them at some point during the march.

Rosales, who served as bishop of Bukidnon for 11 years, said mass for the farmers at the Ateneo on Dec. 5, during which he said he had written to the President on their behalf.

The farmers are all members of or descended from Bukidnon’s indigenous Higaonon community.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman said Malacañang had not indicated what the agenda for Monday’s dialogue would be.

"I don’t think I would be able to discuss the merits of the case during the dialogue because the case is pending with me," Pangandaman said in a phone interview.

He said his office was rushing the resolution of the case, which was only remanded to the DAR by Malacañang on Nov. 22.

The farmers’ lawyer, Arlene Bag-ao, said they will ask the President to reverse the status quo order that Pangandaman issued on Wednesday ordering the farmers to respect SMFI’s ownership and possession of the land and allows SMFI to proceed with ongoing form development activities.

Bag-ao said the order was "completely unacceptable" to the farmers who want SMFI to stop all activities on the property pending the DAR’s resolution of the case.


Petitioners are real parties in interest in the Petition for Cancellation And/Or Revocation of The Conversion Order

The cause of action of this case is separate and distinct from that in Fortich. And this case can and should be pursued even with the erroneous effects of the Fortich ruling wherein the discussion on the standing of the farmers who sought to intervene was merely obiter dicta. Where the issues relevant to the farmers were decided based purely on technical grounds. Those misgivings, though unfortunate, are irrelevant now because the instant case arises from non-compliance with the conditions of the conversion order rendered final and effective by said Fortich ruling.

If then intervenors, petitioners herein, were expected to respect the Conversion Order which was adverse to them, then with more reason should the grantee of said order be assumed to respect the order and abide with the conditions-both those they themselves indicated and those provided under law- therein. Needless to say, the authority which issued the conversion order is counted on to see to it that the order, with its requisite conditions, is upheld.

Now that the respondents have failed to comply with the conversion order, petitioners have every right to invoke the rules on cancellation thereof and be accorded due process. To help put things in perspective, the conditional nature of conversion orders should be reiterated. This means that the approving authority has the duty to monitor its implementation and investigate non-compliance and/or violations thereof. And the authority for this and the eventual revocation of the order are clearly provided for under DAR Administrative Orders.
What is relevant in this case are the present circumstances of the land, the brazen violation of the conversion order by the grantee, and the injury upon the petitioners brought by the unjust persistence of NQSRMDC and SMFI on the conversion order even if the cause for it has been proven non-existent as the projects upon which the order was conditioned have not brought to fruition.

What is required from this office is nothing but the application of the rules which provide, clearly, that the conversion order should be revoked in cases of ( 47.3) non-compliance with the conditions of the Conversion Order; and (47.5) conversion to a use other than that authorized in the conversion order.

Pertinent rules on conversion expressly allow any person to file the petition for revocation and petitioners stand to benefit from the revocation of the conversion order

The petitioners in this case indubitably have the legal standing for filing the petition to revoke the conversion order by virtue of DAR Administrative Order 1, series of 2002. The said provision is unequivocal when it says:

"Section 46. Filing of Petition - Any person may file a petition to revoke, and the landowner may file a petition to withdraw, the Conversion Order before the approving authority xxx." (emphasis supplied) It is clear from the abovementioned rule that any person may file a petition for revocation of a conversion order. This rule applies to all types of conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses because all such conversions are regulated by the DAR as mandated by RA 6657. The rule is in line with the policy that conversion of lands is strictly regulated by the State and greater vigilance from the people is needed to assist the State. In this case, however, it is clear that the purpose of the rules on revocation and cancellation of conversion orders is the prevention of illegal and futile conversions.

Under the rules on intervention for ALI cases, even potential farmer-beneficiaries may intervene

The Agrarian Law Implementation (ALI) Rules were made in order to foster a just, inexpensive, and expeditious determination of agrarian cases. We ought to examine the section on Intervention and apply by analogy its policy which clearly illustrates who the DAR considers as entities having the legal personality to intervene in the adjudication of cases involving agrarian law implementation. Section 16 of DAR Administrative Order 1, series of 2003 states:

"No intervention shall be given due course unless the intervenor shows proof that he has a substantial right or interest in the case which he cannot adequately protect in another case. This notwithstanding, potential farmer beneficiaries have a substantial right, interest, and legal personality to intervene. No intervenor shall, however, be allowed to file any motion to postpone/extend/reset or any pleading which may in any way delay the case which he seeks to intervene in." (Emphasis supplied)

It is clear that in the adjudication of cases entailing implementation of agrarian laws, even mere potential farmer-beneficiaries may intervene. Thus, petitioners herein have the legal standing to file the instant petition for cancellation/revocation of the conversion order.

Petitioners are the landless farmers and residents of Barangay San Vicente and qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who are directly affected by the conversion

The petitioners in this case are landless farmers, farmworkers, and community residents in San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, majority of whom belong to the Higaonon Tribe. Being such, they undoubtedly have a paramount interest in the instant petition as they are the immediate community residents who are directly affected by the conversion of the land.

Further, the petitioner-farmers being the landless residents of San Vicente, Sumilao, are the qualified farmer beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law:

SEC. 22. Qualified Beneficiaries. - The lands covered by the CARP shall be distributed as much as possible to landless residents of the same barangay, or in the absence thereof, landless residents of the same municipality in the following order of priority:

(a) agricultural lessees and share tenants;

(b) regular farm workers;

(c) seasonal farm workers;

(d) other farm workers;

(e) actual tillers or occupants of public lands;

(f) collective or cooperatives of the above beneficiaries; and

(g) others directly working on the land.

SEC. 25. Award Ceilings for Beneficiaries. - Beneficiaries shall be awarded an area not exceediong three (3) hectares which may cover a contiguous tract of land or several parcels of land cumulated up to the prescribed limits.

For purposes of this Act, a landless beneficiary is one who owns less than three (3) hectares of agricutlural land.

The fact that SMFI plans to illegally transform the whole 144-hectare property into a piggery farm right in the midst of the farmers’ residences, raises immediate concern on the part of the petitioners. The active participation of the actual residents and the landless farmers in filing the instant petition, as they are the ones who are directly affected thereby, confirms their legal standing to petition its cancellation.

Furthermore, the effect of granting the petition for revocation of the conversion order is the reversion of the land to the status of agricultural lands and shall be subject to CARP coverage as circumstances may warrant. The petitioners and their future generations will be the beneficiaries of the subject land’s CARP coverage under Section 22 of RA 6657. In other words, the cancellation of the Conversion Order will redound to the benefit of the Sumilao farmers and their future generations, otherwise, they will suffer the consequences if the Conversion Order will be upheld. Hence, their legal standing is beyond doubt.

The farmers were previously granted ownership of the 144-hectare land by virtue of the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) issued in their names

We should not lose sight of the fact that the petitioners are the former holders of a Certificate of Land Ownership Award No. TCT/CLOA No. 00240227 (copy of which is herein attached as Annex "G") issued to 137 MAPALAD farmer-beneficiaries in 1995. The TCT/CLOA was even registered before the Register of Deeds in the same year. Their TCT/CLOA was cancelled precisely as a result of the issuance of the conversion order, which this present petition seeks to cancel.

Based on the foregoing, it is the petitioners who now have the greatest interest to petition for the cancellation of the approved conversion order for non-compliance and violations thereof, especially that it is they who have been previously stripped off of their ownership of the 144-hectare land. Herein petitioners were the ones who were most injured by the Supreme Court Decision in Fortich as they were removed form the land already granted to them by the government. Petitioners undoubtedly have a legal standing in the instant petition as the success thereof necessarily means the CARP coverage of the subject properties and the consequent distribution thereof in their names.

To reiterate, the petition for cancellation and revocation may be filed by any person. The petitioners herein are residents of the barangays covered by the conversion order. They are the farmers whose Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was cancelled because of the conversion of the land. They are members of the community the welfare and progress of which was directly affected by the illegal conversion of the land. They are members, if not heads, of the families whose livelihood has been stunted because their farming activities have been restricted for more than a decade because of empty promises. They are parents of children, some of whom have not been sent to school because of the continued and unjust imposition of a use of their ancestors’ land different from that of its natural condition of agricultural productivity. They are responsible citizens, and even officials, of a local government unit the autonomy of which has been improperly invoked to secure this conversion order which ironically has worked against their welfare. They are contributors to the economy and sustainability of their municipality whose roles in participation and rights to consultation have continuously been ignored.

Are the actual residents, occupants, landless farmers, and qualified farmer-beneficiaries expected to just stand by while they suffer from this Office’s inaction? Is it not proper for them to be vigilant in asserting their rights over the land which had been trampled on for the sake of unaccomplished, if not illusory, plans of development? Must not this office allow the petitioners to present its case and decide it in accordance with the laws and rules this office is mandated to implement?


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