Sumilao farmers, 2016 polls also a fight for a better future

sumilao farmers
NO LAND. Noland Peñas is one of the 22 farmers who traveled from Sumilao to Manila. Photo by Pat Nabong/Rappler

The Sumilao farmers, who are supporting vice presidential bet Leni Robredo, hope to see marginalized sectors benefit from the elections

MANILA, Philippines (May 6, 2016) — The story behind Noland Peñas’ name is quite straightforward.

It means no land. In Filipino, walang lupa.

He was named by his father Rene Peñas, a Sumilao farmer, as such because they didn’t own any land at the time he was born.

In 2007, Noland and his father, along with hundreds of Sumilao farmers, fought hard from the “fringes of the society” to claim their right over the ancestral land that they have been tilling for generations.

The Sumilao farmers’ decade-long struggle – championed by non-governmental organizations like the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) – led to the awarding of 144 hectares of land to them in 2010. Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo, a volunteer lawyer for Saligan back then, defended the farmers in their legal cases over the controversial land.

No longer landless and powerless, the Sumilao farmers recently returned to Manila – this time to support Robredo’s vice presidential bid.

Success story

Si Leni Robredo ay hindi lang namin naging abogado o consultant. Siya ay naging kasama namin sa buhay,” Peñas said.

(Robredo is more than just our lawyer or consultant. She is part of our struggle.)

In 1997, the Sumilao farmers launched their fight over their ancestral land. Despite staging a hunger strike, the farmers lost their case to the agro-industrial plan of the former landowner.

Fast forward to more than a decade later, the government finally awarded the Sumilao farmers their right over the land in 2010. Since then, the farmers have operated as a single cooperative – the Panaw Sumilao Multipurpose Cooperative. The creation of the farmers’ cooperative, according to Peñas, improved their quality of living.

Iba talaga ang buhay sa may sinasaka sa walang sinasaka dahil may kasiguraduhan na may ipapakain sa pamilya,” Peñas said.

(It is really different when you own land and when you don’t own land. Now, we are ensured that we have food for our families.)

The 2010 decision benefited 163 families in Sumilao, Peñas added. The facilities, trucks, and farming tractors in their community are just a few of the fruits of their struggle.

Walk for Leni

Beyond campaigning for Robredo, Peñas and 21 other farmers returned to the streets on April 15 to share their success story to other marginalized sectors in the country.

Throughout their 23-day caravan from Sumilao to Manila, they learned that many other Filipinos – farmers, fishermen, and urban poor alike – share the same story of hardships.

liberal party
BONDING. Liberal Party candidates Leni Robredo and Manuel Roxas II bond with the Sumilao farmers in Ateneo de Manila University. Photo from Roxas Media Bureau

Marami pa talagang napag-iiwanan sa lipunan, lalo na ‘yung mga magsasakang Moro sa Southern Mindanao na apektado ng El Niño,” Peñas said.

(There are really many other marginalized Filipinos in the country, especially Moro farmers in Southern Mindanao affected by El Niño.)

Peñas was referring to the Kidapawan and Koronadal farmers who, in April, staged a protest to demand assistance from the government.

Peñas also learned how fishing and farming communities in areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) are getting back on their feet after the 2013 disaster.

Kung ang maliliit na magsasaka ay nabibigyan ng pagkakataon na makisama sa tinatawag na people’s participation planning ay dun talaga mag-uugat ang kaunlaran,” Peñas said.

(When farmers are given the opportunity to participate in governance, they will have the opportunity to improve their quality of life.)

Elections and the marginalized sectors

On May 3, the Sumilao farmers were welcomed by Robredo’s daughter, Tricia Robredo, in Manila.

Their caravan came full circle on Friday, May 6, when the Sumilao farmers and the vice presidential bet reunited at the Ateneo de Manila University.

They first met up along the trail on April 29 in Naga City. The welcome was reminiscent of the 2007 Sumilao farmers’ march when they were greeted by Jesse and Leni Robredo in Naga City.

During their meeting with Robredo and Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II at Ateneo, the Sumilao farmers brought up their 11-point agenda:

  • Improve and implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms
  • Expand the support services for small and poor farmers
  • Support and pass the National Land Use Act
  • Pass the coco levy trust fund bill and ensure that it will benefit small-time coconut farmers
  • Pass the Food Security Act to ensure that farmers gain from what they produce
  • Pass the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB) to protect the environment
  • Pass the Freedom of Information Bill and continue good governance projects such as Bottom-up Budgeting
  • Continue and strengthen the implementation of the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipinong Program
  • Pass a bill defining the extent of municipal waters using the archipelagic doctrine
  • Uphold the rights of indigenous peoples
  • Uphold and strengthen equal gender rights

During the meeting, the LP bets promised to champion these projects if they win in the polls.

The Sumilao farmers are not just campaigning for Robredo. More than anything, they hope to see the marginalized sectors in the country benefit from the 2016 elections.

  by Raisa Serafica |