DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines – Despite running on just two hours of sleep, the Sumilao farmers gamely conducted house-to-house campaigns for the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan ticket in two barangays in Dumaguete City on Wednesday, April 6.
The group stopped by Barangays Poblacion 8 and Calindagan, a seaside community, to personally meet voters from basic sectors.
The contingent, composed of 10 farmers from Sumilao and seven representatives from different organizations of peasant group Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama), arrived at around 4 am after riding the ferry from Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte.
The farmers gave out leaflets and stickers to residents while explaining how Robredo, an alternative lawyer, helped them recover their ancestral land. For the group, among the aims of their 40-day march from Sumilao to Manila is to introduce Robredo as a pro-poor candidate who has consistently worked for society’s most marginalized sectors.
“Bakit ako nandito? Nandito po ako, sumama po ako bilang paralegal sapagkat ang sabi nila, nakikita ko sa social media, si Leni raw ay maka-mayaman kasi ang nag-kakampanya sa kanya ay mga mayayaman, makikintab ang mga kotse, at pagkatapos ay malalaki ‘yung mga rally sa Maynila. Gusto ko pong patunayan na hindi siya ganoon. Siya po ay kasama-sama namin, abogado pa lang siya, hindi pa siya kongresista, at hindi pa rin siya bise presidente,” said Rene Cerilla, a farmer-paralegal from Quezon who joined the group.
(Why am I here? I joined because they said, and I see this on social media, that Leni is for the rich because those who campaign for her are the rich, those with shiny cars, and with large rallies in Manila. I want to prove that she is not like that. She was with us when she was still a lawyer, not yet a congresswoman, not yet vice president.)
Cerilla said that Robredo, who was then working with alternative law group Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panlegal (SALIGAN), taught him the necessary laws and legal processes that would help him and his fellow farmers defend their land.
Residents were receptive to the Sumilao farmers’ campaign, despite the occasional hecklers, which the group says is common occurrence in previous stops.
Some residents of Barangay Calindagan noted that this was the first time that volunteers from a presidential campaign visited their community for the 2022 elections.
Nancy Estolloso, chair of the Dumaguete City People’s Development Council and who also works with the local Robredo People’s Council (RPC), said that it is important for the sectors to meet.
“Very important kaayo nga ang mga sektor mao ang mangampanya para ni VP Leni tungod kay ang kaning mga sektor, especially ning Sumilao, mao ni ang resibo ni VP Leni nga nitabang gyud siya sa mga katawhan,” she said.
(It is very important for the [basic] sectors to campaign for VP Leni because these sectors, especially the Sumilao [farmers], are proof that she really helped the people)
As the campaign enters its final month, Estolloso said that the local RPC will focus on strengthening house-to-house campaigning that would introduce Robredo as “candidate of the people.”
“Kinahanglan ipaduol nato si VP Leni nga anha sa katawhan. Mao nang very important nga ang last days, house-to-house gyud mi. Kanang grand rally, kanang kuwan ra na siya, pasalamat ra na siya sa iyang mga supporters, it’s like that, pakisalamat, pakighimamat. But ang core gud sa atong campaign, is we reach out to people, especially those in the communities,” Estolloso said.
(We need to bring VP Leni closer to the people. That’s why in the last days, we will really go house-to-house. The grand rally is just a way to thank and meet her supporters. But the core of our campaign is that we reach out to people, especially those in the communities.)
After a quick lunch, the Sumilao farmers left for San Carlos City, Negros Occidental where they will stay for the night. They will to proceed to Bacolod City on Thursday, April 7.
As their truck was leaving, one of the farmers shouted, “Kami po ay ‘di susuko, tuloy ang laban!” (We won’t give up, the fight continues!)
Farmers arrive in Naga
Over a week later, on April 17, the farmers reached Robredo’s bailiwick, Naga City. They had walked from Iriga City and were warmly welcomed by a sea of pink.
Among their 17 core group members, only 10 are farmers from Sumilao – the other seven are composed of representatives from groups under Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama). They said the numbers 10 and seven represented Robredo’s and Pangilinan’s respective ballot numbers, and that they chose 17 representatives to symbolize their hope of Robredo becoming the 17th president of the Philippines.
Despite politicians using the agricultural sector as a springboard for their electoral campaigns, Filipino farmers remain among the poorest sectors in the country. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), farmers earned a daily wage of PhP 331.10 in 2019.
The agriculture sector also bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic – the country’s agriculture output contracted by 1.7% for the entire 2021.
Cerilla expressed his frustration over the practice of most politicians promising to help them during the campaign but completely ignoring them once elected.
“Kapag eleksyon bidang-bida kami, pero pagkatapos ng eleksyon, nakakalimutan naman kami,” said Cerilla.
(During elections, we take center stage, but once it’s over, we are yet again forgotten.)
But in the Leni-Kiko tandem, they see hope for a brighter future not just for the agricultural sector, but for all other unrepresented and unheard sectors. Pangilinan, in particular, is running on a platform to end hunger by helping improve both the lives and output of farmers.
“Hindi namin kailangan mag-hunger strike upang bigyan atensyon ang aming hinaing, dahil sila mismo ang lalapit samin upang kami ay marinig at dahil kami ay makakasama sa ano mang desisyon na gagawin na makakaapekto sa mga magsasaka,” said Sumilao leader and Pakisama chair Noland Peñas, son slain Sumilao farmer leader Rene Peñas.
(We don’t have to stage hunger strikes just for our pleas to be heard, because they themselves would come and listen to us, and because we will be included in making decisions that affect farmers.)
Part of the family
Robredo’s friendship with the Sumilao farmers dates back to 2007.
“Hindi pa siya politiko, kasama na namin siya sa pakikibaka ng lupa,” recalled Renente, a Sumilao farmer who walked 1,700 kilometers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, to Metro Manila in 2007 for their ancestral lands.
(Before she became a politician, she was already with us in our fight for land.)
Fifteen years ago, the Sumilao farmers staged a 28-day hunger strike and a 60-day march to reclaim their 144-hectare ancestral land from San Miguel Corporation. Robredo was still a pro bono lawyer under the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), which provided the farmers with legal aid and paralegal training.
When the farmers reached Naga, Robredo and her late husband, then-mayor Jesse Robredo, welcomed them and marched several kilometers with them. Naga City Council also issued a resolution of support for them – the only official resolution of support they received from a local government during their march.
The farmers eventually won their land back.
The Sumilao farmers did not forget these acts of kindness from the Robredos. In 2016, the farmers backed Robredo’s bid for vice presidency and once again marched to Manila, and they did this once more for Robredo’s presidential bid.
“Si Leni ay isang kapamilya, kabahagi ng pamilya namin, lalong-lalo na [ng] Sumilao farmers,” said Bajekjek Orquillas, the youngest to join the Sumilao farmers’ 2007 march.
(Leni is part of our family, especially the Sumilao farmers.) – With reports from Patricia Nacional in Naga/ Rappler.com
Rapler intern Patricia Nacional is a journalism student from the University of the Philippines Diliman. This article was reviewed by a Rappler reporter and a senior editor. Learn more about Rappler’s internship program here.