Sumilao farmers pledge support for Robredo's presidential bid
In 2016, the Sumilao farmers held a 3,750-kilometer cross-country march-caravan from Bukidnon to Quezon City to support Leni Robredo’s vice presidential bid. On Wednesday, February 23, the same farmers of the Higaonon tribe pledged their support anew for Robredo as she seeks the presidency.
A woman stood on the entrance of Sitio Fatima in Brgy. San Vicente in Sumilao, holding a handmade banner with pink letters that read: “Sumilao farmers for Leni to Malacañang”. Several farmers wearing pink shirts and hats with pink buntings fell in line to welcome Robredo, with whom they have built a special relationship.
When the Vice President arrived, some Sumilao women escorted her, their arms affectionately wrapped around Robredo. The children danced for her, while several farmers spoke of how much their lives have changed since Robredo championed their cause.
In 2007, the late Jesse Robredo, then Naga City mayor, together with his wife, Leni, prepared a Grand Salubong for the Sumilao farmers, who after going on a 28-day hunger strike, walked 1,700 kilometers to Malacañang in 60 days to reclaim their ancestral land. The Vice President was at that time part of the non-government legal group Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN). The Robredos made sure the farmers had enough food and their wounds from the long walk, treated. The welcome to Naga developed into a deep friendship.
As Vice President, Robredo launched a P1.2-million initiative in partnership with Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., an Integrated Farming and Bio-Systems Training for the 244 Sumilao farmers from 10 barangays to teach them how to maximize their resources and diversify their crops.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) also allotted funds for the organic vegetable farming of vegetable growers in Sumilao; constructed 4 classrooms in the Sumilao Elementary School and Sumilao Tribal School, as well as 2 dormitories in the Sumilao National High School – Vista Villa Annex; and many other projects for the youth, public education, rural development, universal health care, and women empowerment.
“Iyong programa naman natin sa mga farmers ay hindi 'yun programa para sa eleksyon, pero matagal na kasi natin itong pinapakipaglaban,” Robredo said. “Marami na, pero marami pang pinapangarap.”
Robredo and the Sumilao farmers signed a covenant which outlines the vision of a Robredo presidency for farmers and fisherfolks.
Among her 10-point agenda are changing the government’s approach to agrarian and agricultural programs to prioritize the strengthening of local production over importation of foreign products; allocating sufficient budget and extending societal support for agrarian and agricultural reforms to improve the livelihoods of the marginalized workers; and ensuring the implementation of the Philippine Action Plan for Family Planning by agencies in charge of protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of agricultural farmers.
Robredo also committed to push for the enactment of the National Land Use Act; remove the barriers to the immediate distribution of more or less 500,000 hectares of agricultural land to the farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); and revisit the Rice Tariffication Law to advance the interests of small farmers.
“Ang pinakasadya kasi ng Rice Tariffication Law, bumaba 'yung presyo ng bigas. Tama naman 'yun. Bumaba 'yung presyo ng bigas pero hindi at the expense of the farmers. Kasi noong bumaba, hindi naman siya bumaba sa level na pinapangarap. Bumaba nang konti pero ang nawala sa mga farmers milyon-milyon. ‘Pag tinignan natin, sino ba 'yung nakinabang? 'Yung nakinabang 'yung mga traders, hindi 'yung mga naghihirap. So, ito talagang rerepasuhin ito,” Robredo assured.
Bajekjek Orquillas, who was only 21 years old when she joined the group of farmers in 2007 in marching all the way to Malacañang, vowed to gather more support for Robredo to see these plans come into fruition.
“Naipanalo natin siya noong 2016. Ngayon pa kaya tayo magpapatalo? Kung naipanalo natin si Ma'am noon, ipapanalo natin ngayon sa 2022,” Orquillas said.
Robredo replied: “Ang akin pong promise sa inyo, na patuloy na ipapakipaglaban natin 'yung karapatan at kabuhayan ng bawat magsasaka saka mangingisda. Ang akin pong assurance na kasama ninyo ako every step of the way. Hindi pa nga ako Pangulo kasama niyo na ako, lalo na ‘pag binigyan tayo ng pagkakataon na mamuno.”