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ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – It was like 2007 again for 46-year-old Marilou Reganion, one of the Sumilao farmers who marched all the way to Malacañang from Bukidnon in their fight for their ancestral land.
The Higaonons are marching again, traveling and campaigning, to return the favor to presidential bet Vice President Leni Robredo who helped them then, long before her first election as a public official.
“Vice President Leni helped us in securing the land for us in 2007 even at the time when she was not in politics,” the mother of two recalled.
Nolan Peñas, one of the leaders of the Sumilao farmers, said Robredo was with them when she worked for the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan), a non-governmental organization that provided legal aid to them as they fought to reclaim their tribal land in Bukidnon.
The Vice President was a lawyer who provided pro bono legal services at that time.
Peñas recalled that Robredo and her late husband, then-mayor Jessie Robredo, received them in Naga City and even walked several kilometers with them as a show of support.
All in all, the farmers completed a 1,700-kilometer, 60-day march to Malacañang as a political statement, and they subsequently succeeded in reclaiming their land from San Miguel Corporation.
This time, Peñas said, the group volunteered to campaign for Robredo and her running mate, Senator Francis Pangilinan, in key areas they would visit on the way to Manila.
“This is our way of showing our gratitude to VP Leni who helped us without asking anything in return many years ago,” Peñas said.
Before the group arrived in Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay on Tuesday, April 5, they spent the night in Kabasalan town where another Robredo supporter, 2021 Ramon Magsaysay awardee Roberto Ballon, lives.
The group is going around the Zamboanga Peninsula region, campaigning for Robredo. Before Zamboanga Sibugay, they were in Iligan City in Northern Mindanao, and Pagadian City in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
From Ipil, the 17 Sumilao farmers will proceed to Dapitan City where they will board a ferry to Dumaguete City and the two provinces of Negros in the Visayas.
The group has already campaigned for the Robredo-Pangilinan ticket in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Davao, Digos, and General Santos.
Herminio Agsalona, president of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama), said 17 farmers have joined the campaign which is symbolic of Robredo’s and Pangilinan’s numbers in the ballot. Robredo is No. 10 while Pangilinan is No. 7.
The Sumilao farmers’ campaign to elect Robredo and Pangilinan is funded by farmers’ and indigenous people’s groups, Agsalona said.
The farmers are expected to reach Manila and campaign for the Robredo-Pangilinan ticket there on April 18.
They decided to go around the country again weeks after Robredo visited them in Sumilao town in February. – Rappler.com
Antonio Manaytay and Froilan Gallardo are Mindanao-based journalists and awardees of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship