MANILA, Philippines – Linda Ligmon was 55 years old when she marched almost 1,500 kilometers from Bukidnon to Manila 9 years ago. Bejekjek Orquillos was 19.
The two farmers, along with 20 others, are back on the trail – this time for another fight.
Early April, members of the Samahang Tsinelas as well as the Laylayan Coalition announced that they would march again to support the vice presidential bid of Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Leni Robredo. She championed their cause – to get the land tilled in Sumilao, Bukidnon – in 2007.
They arrived in Manila on Tuesday, May 3, after traveling 19 days from Bukidnon to Manila, carrying Robredo’s platform for farmers and other marginalized sectors. On behalf of his mother, Tricia Robredo welcomed the farmers. The young Robredo was immediately moved to tears as the farmers handed her yellow flowers.
Young and old alike
Despite their long journey, the farmers, the including 64-year old Ligmon and 28-year old Ronquillos, showed no sign of fatigue.
“Kami po ay naglalakbay nang masaya. [Kung para] kay Leni Robredo ay hindi kami napapagod… Kaya nga sumama ako kahit matanda na ako, tiniis ko ang mainit at ulan dahil sa pagsuporta kay Leni,” Ligmon said. Ligmon wore a straw hat to protect herself from the heat.
(We were happy travelling. If it is for Leni Robredo, we won’t ever get tired. That is why I joined despite my age and despite the heat and the rain.)
While chanting “Leni Robredo, laban sa gutom (Leni Robredo, champion against hunger),” the Sumilao farmers marched towards Alabang flyover Tuesday morning, donned in yellow shirts bearing their vice presidential bet’s name.
The Sumilao farmers voluntarily joined the campaign of Robredo. More than paying back, Ligmon said they were marching to represent the plight of other farmers and marginalized sectors of the society.
“Ang aming mga hinaing at adhikain ay pinagkakatiwala namin kay Congressman Leni Robredo para madala niya kapag maluklok natin siya sa puwesto bilang vice president ng Pilipinas,” Orquillos said. (We are entrusting Robredo with our concerns and issues so she could bring these when she is elected vice president of the Philippines.)
Orquillos, the youngest Sumilao march participant in 2007, was accompanied in the trail by her one-year-old daughter, also one of the two youngest delegates in the march for Robredo.
Back in their hometown of Panaw, Sumilao, Ligmon said their whole family had been campaigning for the legislator.
“Sabi ko sa pamilya ko, sa anak at asawa ko, hindi lang ang Panaw, Sumilao ang magkakampanya kay Leni. `Yan ang ginagawa nila, pinapaalam sa mga kapitbahay kung bakit kami naglalakad at bakit si Leni ang dapat na vice president sa Pilipinas,” Ligmon shared. (I told my family to campaign for Leni. That’s what they’re doing – telling our neighbors why we are marching and why Robredo should be the next Philippine vice president.)
Nine years had passed since their struggle but Ligmon’s memory of the events leading to their victory remained clear today.
They took the streets in 2007 to fight for their right to the ancestral land they had tilled for generations. They found out that the land already belonged to someone else because they lacked a land title.
Their decade-long struggle, which involved staging a hunger strike in 1997 and a caravan in 2007, eventually resulted to an Executive Order granting 144 hectares to the farmers.
It was Robredo, as a volunteer lawyer at the non-governmental legal group Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), who defended the Sumilao farmers.
According to the farmers, they didn’t march simply because they owed Robredo a debt of gratitude. They said the caravan was also their way of amplifying the issues affecting farmers in the Philippines, including the Kidapawan and Koronadal farmers who had been affected by El Niño.
“Bahagi ito ng dati pa naming pakikibakang magpapatuloy hangga’t may mga magsasaka pang lumalaban para sa sarili nilang lupa (This is part of our bigger campaign to push for the rights of farmers),” Ronquillos said.
In early April, drought-affected Kidapawan farmers blocked the Davao-Cotabato Highway to ask for rice and demand government assistance.
Such is the reality shared by many farmers in the Philippines, where they either do not own the land they till or cannot afford what they produce, according to the Sumilao farmers.
Representing the plight of farmers, they are hoping that Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas and his running mate, Robredo, would prioritize the following programs and policies for agricultural reform:
- 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
While the Sumilao farmers marked the end of their 19-day journey in Metro Manila, the election journey is far from over.
With a fews day left before the elections, will the caravan make a dent in the election results? – Rappler.com