The Sumilao farmers of Bukidnon are back in Manila and they are bent on pressuring the government to finally give them the 144-hectare land presently owned by San Miguel Corporation. But this time, in an apparent show of force, there are 144 farmers, more than double their number when they marched from Bukidnon to Manila last year.
The farmers are maintaining a camp at Caritas Manila and are planning to march around Malacanang to remind President Arroyo of her promise. According to Atty. Arlene Bag-ao, lawyer for the famers, Malacanang should once and for all issue the notice of coverage, the next step after the revocation order issued December last year. Just before Christmas, the president revoked the conversion order given by the Ramos administration which then essentially paved the way for the exemption of the contested land from agrarian reform.
I was told 300 hogs are now being raised inside the state-of-the-art hog farm of San Miguel, through its subsidiary, San Miguel Foods Incorporated. While farmers are camping here in Manila, lucky pigs are comfortably staying in air-conditioned facilities in Bukidnon.
Through San Miguel’s Jane Francisco, my team toured the hog farm early this year. It was indeed a different kind of hog farm in the country. Before entering the premises, we were asked to take a bath and wear their own farm clothing, basically to “disinfect” us. It is that hi-tech that they were very careful we might bring in bacteria and virii which could harm the hogs, which at the time were only about to be delivered.
I understand that in a way, San Miguel will be providing jobs not only for the protesting Sumilao farmers, but other residents of the town as well. They have done this in the construction of their facilities, although not all workers came from Sumilao.
But then, most residents of Sumilao were born to be farmers and barely knew anything about raising hogs commercially. They fear, if and when San Miguel hires workers for the hog farm, they might not qualify and the company might instead outsource people from neighboring provinces.
And again, isn’t land meant to be tilled?
San Miguel is bent on keeping whatever structure they have built in the area. But I learned a “win-win” solution is being brokered by the Catholic church. San Miguel may give up 50 hectares of the contested property which remains untouched, add some 44 more hectares reportedly bought from the town mayor, and another 50 hectares owned by a private corporation. These parcels of land are contiguous and arable and may look appealing to the farmers.
I’d like to think the church will be fair to both parties, at the very least. Well, we can somehow expect that from the church since they have been supporting the cause of the Sumilao farmers and Cardinal Rosales once served as bishop of Bukidnon.
Now let’s see what happens next, will the Sumilao farmers come home satisfied?
Or will they go back to their families left behind in Sumilao, empty-handed?