Recently--on March 12, last Thursday, to be precise--I got to watch Ditsi Carolino's (the filmmaker/genius behind "Minsang Lang Sila Bata" and my all-time favorite, "Bunso") latest indie offering: "Lupang Hinarang" in the auditorium of Malcolm Hall (UP Law). The documentary comes in two parts and tells of some Filipino farmers and their battles against their oppressive landowners as well as their woes on the state of national agrarian reform. Specifically, "Lupang Hinarang" recounts the struggles of the Sumilao farmers (walked all the way from Mindanao to Luzon) as well as those of the sugarcane workers from Negros who went on a 29-day hunger strike in front of DAR in protest of their landowners' ongoing oppression. The Negros farmers were able to get their lands back but their victory was cut short when the landowners' armed men killed two of the farmers who participated in the hunger strike not a year later. "Lupang Hinarang" still has that original Carolino touch (no narrator, understated cinematography, realistic presentation of events that is romanticized by a skillful yet honest kind of handling/editing), and perhaps, the best part about the film is that it appeals for the implementation of CARPER (CARP Extension with Reforms), a bill that "pushes to extend what CARP has done and to distribute the remaining 1.3 million hectares of privately owned lands to the farmers who make them productive." (lupanghinarang.com) It must be noted that Carolino's other masterpiece, "Bunso" was also one of the forerunners of the campaign for the approval of the Juvenile Justice Act/RA 9344 in 2006, a law that aims to protect the youth, most particularly those accused of crimes and who are under 18, from further abuse in prison. Carolino's works do not only promote "art for art's sake" but also serve as insightful "social mirrors" that knock on the the society's collective conscience as they present the realities that are present in it, the cancers, the ills that continue to plague what is supposed to be the "Pearl of the Orient," our "Lupang Hinirang."
This move has been brought to Congress and the Senate for some time now and has been ignored until the last 2 days of legislative sessions in 2008. When the legislators gave some attention to CARPER's propositions at last, they came up with an ingenious way of killing it. The Congress and the Senate signed a joint resolution extending CARP but without compulsory acquisition. It means that the program may go on but the landowners may or may not sell their lands. It's the landowners' call. For whom is the program again?This joint resolution has just plucked CARPER's fangs. It has trimmed and buffed its claws and has taken away the heart of real agrarian reform. Meanwhile landless farmers walk miles to protest and hold weeks of hunger strikes to be heard.The pseudo-CARPER is effective until June 2009. President Arroyo and the lawmakers have until then to redeem their purpose as representatives of the people. The farmers can still hope and fight for justice. We can still do our part in rewriting our nation's history of poverty and injustice. Speak up, stand up, and show the government that we are fools no more. Let us push for CARPER. Now.(lupanghinirang.com)
The following is a paper that I had written on the Sumilao farmers' situation almost a year ago. It was a requirement for my Pan Pil 50 under Dr. Apolonio Chua (very respectable man) where we were encouraged to discuss extensively anything that we thought reinforced the essence of being one nation. Here, I insisted that I write in English instead of Filipino which was the language supposedly used in the course. It's a good thing that he conceded ("just as long as you can justify your medium in a preface," I remember him telling me). I couldn't have written it any other way, and even if a year or two have already passed, I still share these same sentiments with our sisters and brothers of the earth.
I am a Filipino. Proud to be one, too. I am also a Bicolana. That, I am proud of, as well. But it is greatly because of that that I am not accustomed to speaking in Tagalog or in our Lingua Franca herself, Filipino. I hate to make a scapegoat of my heritage every time I insist on writing in English, but I am afraid that—and I am too honest to deny this—I may not be able to write as well if I were to use Filipino. And the Bicol I know is one that is heard on the streets of Legazpi, and not the ornate kind of language read in “Marhay na Bareta” (“The Good News” a. k. a. The Holy Bible) which would have been excellent for formal writing.
If I were to be asked if my conscience was ever bothered by Jose Rizal’s oft-quoted “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, daig pa ang hayop at malansang isda,” my answer would be “yes and no.” I was a little troubled back then (in elementary and high school, to be specific) because my classmates kept on teasing me that I was being too “sosyal” for their own good taste, which might explain why I never really had many friends. But they were wrong. Our family is of middle socio-economic status. I have not stepped out of the country, we do not even own a car, and up to now, our supposed 2-storey house still has one more floor to go, perhaps due to the fact that there are already two of us being sent to college, plus, my brother wasn’t fortunate enough to steer clear of the damned Tuition and Other Fees Increase or what is more famously—or infamously—known as TOFI (which was curiously implemented just in time for the “carnival-esque” U.P. Centennial Celebration, hmmm). I am NOT sosyal. Otherwise, I would not have gone to the Premier State University in the first place, well, as part of the pre-TOFI batch, of course. Besides, does speaking in English really make a person “sosyal?”
Believing that one’s mastery in English elevates him/her to a higher level of prestige is tantamount to promoting colonialism. My English is not a product of “high-end” living satiated with isteytsayd brands, Philip Stein Teslar watches, Yves Saint Laurent purses, Häagen-dazs ice cream, or those awfully ugly Crocs. My English was borne of rented “Archie’s” comic books, borrowed paperback copies of children’s classics (which have yet to be returned) and hard-earned J. K. Rowling and Jostein Gaarder books (which have yet to be classics), a set of Jessica Zafra’s “Twisted” series and an entire shelf devoted to secondhand Reader’s Digest magazines and “digested” Sunday issues of Philippine Daily Inquirer, and many other literary pieces that I have happily buried myself in as I’ve grown through the years. We did not drive around in a Mercedes but our treasures at home were more than enough to give me a prosperous childhood. And now that I am already an adult, a 10-hour bus ride away from home, I am entitled to starting my personal “library” whose earliest pieces are those of Joyce Carol Oates and Shakespeare as well as those of Filipino writers, Katrina Tuvera and Sheryl Raros. At this point, I plan to save up and select an F. Sionil Jose from the nearest National Bookstore or if I get lucky, from the nearest Booksale which will definitely help me conserve a few bucks. See? Hindi ako sosyal.
I am a Filipino. I can speak the language. I can write in it. But I can express myself better in English and that does not make me less of a Filipino. Of course, I am not saying that I am the best Filipino citizen that I can be—nobly patriotic, passionately nationalistic, and all that. No. I can be better. And that is why I have written this paper. I considered all the news clippings and notes on the Sumilao farmers that I had accumulated late last year, and decided that, despite my materials’ need to be updated, I must write about our farmers’ plight. I do not know how I am going to elaborate on this topic and paint a much larger picture, say, “being a nation.” But I feel very strongly for our fellow Filipinos who are the ones responsible for every grain of rice—the Filipino staple food—in our stomachs. At the end of the day, they are the ones who basically feed us and yet, while we slept soundly or took on the graveyard shift in our little cubicles, armed with headphones and our best impressions of the American accent, some 55 farmers spent their cold December nights outside the gates of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), begging to have their lands back.
I wish I was able to march along with them even for just a few miles. We all have our roles to play. Even Shakespeare said that one time too many. I have written this not only for the farmers of Sumilao, but for all those who already have their brown backs hunched over the earth before daybreak. This is for the Children of the Sun whose voices are those that have yet to be heard. We are one with them as we are one with the earth. And so, I speak for them, albeit in English, because I refuse to be apathetic. And this desire to actually do my part, I believe, gives me more conviction when I say, “Yes, I am a Filipino.”
Lara Sinson Mendizabal
25 March 2008
Pigs Over People: A Peek at the Plight of the Sumilao Farmers
“Te, kumain na po muna kayo,” I said, handing her my little offering of Gardenia sliced bread (I made sure that it’s not a product of San Miguel Foods, Inc.).
“Salamat ha…pero hindi namin magawang kumain, ineng. Kahit maraming nagbibigay sa amin ng pagkain. Masyado kasing masakit sa puso ang mga pangyayari,” Aling Tess answered in her rough accent, setting my little offering aside and taking my hand, stroking it against her own.
As a matter of fact, there was enough food in their tent in front of DAR to get them by (55 farmers in total), thanks to hearts that were kind enough to send some help such as those of San Jose Seminary and Mary, Mirror of Justice Parish in Makati City (both had been visiting the farmers and serving them meals for lunch and dinner). But Aling Tess, true to her words, would not eat until after one in the afternoon, considering that they were engaged in another protest rally all morning, screaming at the top of their lungs, “Ilang milya pa bang kailangan naming lakarin para lang kami’y inyong dinggin?” and many other sentiments that only the most deprived can articulate with as much passion as a seasoned rhetor. The Sumilao farmers of the indigenous Higaonon tribes, who left their idyllic land (if at all it is indeed theirs) in Bukidnon for the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila, are not your ordinary megaphone-toting “tibak”. I mean, sure, we all have a cause when we take our crusade on the streets but the Sumilao farmers, despite their small number, are fighting a much larger battle.
Just how much fervor does it take for one to march 1 700 kilometers, against all odds, if only to reach deaf ears? Those one thousand and seven hundred kilometers (a march called the “Lakaw Sumilao” which literally translates to “Lakad Sumilao” in Filipino), for a clearer illustration, started from Bukidnon in Mindanao, through the San Juanico Bridge that connects Samar and Leyte, to the National Capital Region, the heart of Luzon. Those one thousand and seven hundred kilometers, they walked entirely (except when they had to board a ferry boat from Lipata, Surigao to Liloan, Leyte for the mere reason that there was not any land to tread on but vast waters that did not daunt them still), their backs to their parents, spouses, and children, if only to face suit-and-tie-clad strangers, hoping against hope that those in power will listen to their woes and address their problems. Those one thousand and seven hundred kilometers of heat and rain and cold, which have wrecked their modest slippers and sandals, and have soiled their shirts of thin cotton, they traveled for two whole months (they began their trek on October 10, 2007 and arrived in Manila on December 6 that same year). And when they marched further to the gates of Malacañang, nobody would meet them, not even Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who would later comment, “We understand that anytime they can be seen probably in Quezon City, in the general area of DAR. Of course, they want to dramatize their march, saying they will go to Malacañang” (qtd. in “The Long March”). Words of a foul fool. The Lakaw Sumilao did, in fact, declare the Presidential Palace as its primary destination, not DAR. There was no need for “dramatization.” Walking all the way from their humble homes and corn plantation (from which they were barred by the current landowner) in Mindanao through three major islands, as if their sun-beaten backs have not suffered enough, was beyond “dramatic.” The Lakaw Sumilao is, more than anything else, real. And I believe that nothing quite like it has ever happened before, at least in my limited memory. In the whole post-American Philippine history, the Lakaw Sumilao was the most incredible act of bayanihan after EDSA I and II. To believe that it was mere theatrics in desperate need of attention is wishful thinking. If anything, these apathetic power dressers should fear the tired and slovenly. “We’ve walked this far, and the issue still hangs in the air” as the farmers’ leader, Napoleon “Kuya Yoyong” Merida Jr., would say (qtd. in Burgonio). Indeed, they had come this far. Far enough, in fact. And I believe that theirs is a story that the world must hear.
The Higaonon Indigenous Cultural Communities were the early settlers of a piece of ancestral land in Sumilao, Bukidnon. In the 1940s, the Angeles came and evicted the Higaonons from a 243.8551-hectare portion of their ancestral land and converted it into a cattle ranch. The land was later transferred to the Ilagans. In the 70s, the ancestral land was then divided between two landowners: 99.8551 hectares to Salvador Carlos while the 144 hectares were transferred to Norberto Quisumbing. The ancestral land was eventually leased to Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI) for 10 years until 1994. At that time, the Higaonons became farm workers of the land that they once owned.
With the advent of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) in 1988, the 144-hectare ancestral land was covered for distribution to 137 farmers, all of Higaonon lineage. Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was subsequently issued to them, hence, recognizing their ownership of the 144-ancestral land which rightfully belongs to them. What followed next was a controversial legal battle which sparked national interest involving the sad state of agrarian reform in the country (Multiply.com).
Fast forward to 2008. None of these Higaonons own the land. Even worse is the fact that Quisumbing has already sold all 144, 000 hectares to San Miguel Foods Inc. five years ago (Monsod). The land that was supposed to be converted from agricultural into industrial use remains idle and uncultivated. Not one of the proposals given 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” (Multiply.com). Under the rule, the successor in interest to the property is bound by the terms of the approved conversion. SMFI plans to put up a piggery with 162 buildings to house 4, 400 female pigs and 44, 000 piglets and also to put up a slaughterhouse. Compare this SMFI project with the originally approved conversion plan. The former was people’s welfare-oriented; now it is pig-oriented (Bernas)! In fact, they are also considering to provide air conditioning units for the animals because they are purportedly “not used to the tropics,” since they are to be imported from China. “Pinagpalit kami sa mga baboy,” was how it was perfectly put by one Sumilao farmer (Alfonso).
A large part of total income is sourced from farming. However, the share of farm income has declined from 1990 to 2000. Still, more than half of total income...come from farming...The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was a response to the people’s clamor and expectations of a more effective land reform program that would supposedly correct the many flaws that plagued the previous land reform programs (Reyes). Judging from the recent “developments,” who has been benefitting? On the eve of Human Rights Day, when the Sumilao farmers first sought audience from DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, their fellow Mindanaoan, the official would not let them in. And as if to add more irony to the turn of events, all this was happening while Gloria was being awarded a medal for human rights in Spain. Perhaps they should have reconsidered granting that award and changed it into “animal rights” instead, those of the hogs to be specific. I am not bayani material. But I believe that the blood that runs through my veins is also that of the Higaonons (for whom my heart bleeds), and that of the incumbent president as well (for whom my heart rages). Norberto Quisumbing is also a Filipino, I presume. And yet, the pigs seem more like family to us than our lowly farmers. That question nags at me: For whom indeed is the Filipino Nation? If She cannot be for those who provide us our food, then who does She nourish?
On Human Rights Day in 2007, Aling Tess was holding my hand, a tear slowly drying on her cheek. My gaze landed on the hall across the DAR grounds. It said “Bahay ng mga Magsasaka.” How dare I think that the only thing I can do for them is to bring them sliced bread! They do not want food. They do not need your money. They do not even deserve your pity. They want action. They need their lands, their lives back. They deserve Justice. They’ve walked this far. There is no need for them to walk any further. It is us, the people they feed by tilling threir lands from sunrise to sunset, who must continue the walk for them. One of my favorite columnists could not have said it better:
...[We must] put the images of Trillanes and Lim’s revolt and the Sumilao farmers’ march side by side, one an extra-constitutional and violent means of solving things and the other a perfectly legal and peaceable way of doing so; one an impatient rush to change things and the other a patient way to do so (De Quiros).
The coup, the quiet march…they all speak of change.
28 March 2008
Alfonso, Nono, S.J. “The Shepherd Finds His Voice.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 12 Dec.
Bernas, Joaquin G., S.J. “What Is The DAR Secretary Waiting For?” Philippine Daily
Inquirer. 10 Dec. 2007: A15.
Burgonio, T.J. “Sumilao Farmers Hit DAR Inaction.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 6 Dec.
De Quiros, Conrado. “Death March.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 12 Dec. 2007: A14.
Monsod, Solita Collas. “Injustice in snail-paced CARP Implementation.” Philippine
Daily Inquirer. 8 Dec. 2007: A12.
Multiply.com. “Sumilao March.” Multiply.com. Online. Internet. 2007-2008. Available URL:
Reyes, Celia M. Impact of Agrarian Reform on Poverty. Philippine Institute for
Development Studies, Makati, Philippines: January 2002.
“The Long March.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. 10 Dec. 2007: A14.
P.S.: The author currently regrets having written this Spoonful. The essay above that was submitted as a course requirement still articulates the same sentiments that she has at present. However, the author now understands that the only way towards genuine agrarian reform is the GENUINE AGRARIAN REFORM BILL (GARB), because it truly chooses the side of the farmers. Ditsi Carolino is a wonderful filmmaker, has an eye for awesome shots and a gift for visual storytelling. And yet, the author feels uncomfortable that the deaths of these Sumilao farmers were only "documented," and that no "real change" was lobbied for. CARPER is highly deceiving, and only "extends" the pro-landowner and manipulative aims of Corazon Aquino's CARP. One good example of CARP and CARPER's futility is the ongoing struggle of the Hacienda Luisita farmers and farm workers. The author also mourns over the exploitation of the Sumilao farmers by some landowners and liberal upper-middle-class so-called "leftists" who claim to be friends of the impoverished. Nonetheless, the author does not wish to delete or edit this post--well, aside from this postscript--in order to retain the openness and honesty of these Spoonfuls. Also, she is humbled by seeing how far she's gone and how much knowledge and understanding she has gained through the years of reading and writing. Still, the author takes pride in her mistakes, simply because she recognizes these mistakes and wishes to correct them, altogether, if the need arises. This Spoonful is only one of the products of misinformation and the liberal culture that still exists in modern Philippine society. Such a culture still wants most Filipinos to believe that reform is the only way to better our lives, if only to feed these liberals' own interests. Carolino is hardly a talentless artist. However, her art and liberal political stand pose a threat not only to the dignity of her subjects, but also to their well-being and overall morale. The poor and oppressed should be empowered, NOT pitied on or earned from by making a spectacle out of them. "The artist is becoming a participant.... For it is the supreme duty of the artist to investigate the truth no matter what forces attempt to hide it. And then to report this truth to the people, to confront them with it. Like a whiplash it will cause wounds but will free the mind from the various fantasies and escapist fares with which "the establishment" pollutes our minds," as perfectly said by Lino Brocka.