Robredo, Sumilao farmers reunited in Naga City
MANILA, Philippines – Vice presidential bet and Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo welcomed the Sumilao farmers in Naga City on Friday, April 29.
The welcome was reminiscent of the Sumilao march in 2007 when the late former interior secretary Jesse Robredo, joined by his wife Leni, welcomed 55 Sumilao farmers in Naga City to support their fight for their land.
Only this time, Jesse Robredo was no longer there. Instead, they were welcomed by Leni Robredo near the late secretary's grave at the Eternal Gardens in Naga.
"Parehong masaya at nakakalungkot. Nakakalungkot kasi wala na si Jesse Robredo na sumalubong sa amin. Pero masaya pa rin kasi ang susunod na vice president ang sumalubong sa aming magsasaka ngayon," Noland Peñas, spokesperson of the Sumilao farmers, said.
(We are happy and sad at the same time. We are sad because Jesse Robredo is no long with us today. We are happy nonetheless because the person who welcomed us is none other than the next vice president of the country)
Noland Penas is the son of the late Rene Peñas, the leader of the Sumilao farmers who was killed a year after the 2007 march.
Twenty-six farmers who came from Sumilao, Valencia and San Fernando in Bukidnon, Bugsuk Island in Palawan, and Casiguran in Aurora, launched a 25-day caravan to support Leni Robredo's vice presidential bid for the 2016 elections.
It is their 15th day on the caravan. Their last stop will be in Metro Manila from May 6 to 7.
"Nakakawala po ng pagod. Nakakagaan ng loob na sinalubong kami," Peñas described the mood when Leni Robredo welcomed the group of farmers in her hometown. (Seeing Leni Robredo welcome us relieved us of our fatigue from the march.)
The farmers said they are marching not only to support Leni Robredo, but also to amplify the plight of marginalized sectors in the country – women and farmers included.
"Ito ay hindi lang para sa mga Sumilao farmers. Ito rin ay para sa lahat ng magsasaka, mangingisda, babae, at sa lahat ng nasa laylayan ng lipunan. Ang panawagan po namin ay panahon na, na tayo ay mag-angat ng isang tunay na lider na nakikinig sa mga interes ng mga mamamayan," Peñas said.
(We dedicate this march not only to the Sumilao farmers. This is also for the farmers, fishermen, women, and all the marginalized sectors in the country. This is our plea: It is time to elect a genuine leader who listens to the interests and plight of his or her constituents.)
Peñas cited the plight of farmers in Kidapawan and Koronadal cities, pointing to the irony that Filipino farmers – who are the main food producers in the country – remain the most volunerable to hunger.
The fight for Sumilao
In the 1990s, the Sumilao farmers found out that their ancestral land, which they had been tilling for generations, already belonged to someone else because they had no official land title.
They fought for years, staging a hunger strike in 1997, before marching to Manila in 2007 and gathering wide public support.
Robredo, who was a human rights lawyer before she entered politics, supported the plight of farmers and other marginalized groups. As part of her work with the non-governmental legal group Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), she defended the Sumilao farmers as a volunteer lawyer.
The Sumilao farmers kicked off their caravan on April 15 in Sumilao, Bukidnon, seeking to travel over 3,700 km, using trucks and ferries across the country.
Will their 25-day caravan translate to enough votes that could make their vice presidential bet win?
Here are more photos from the welcome: