By Alyssa Michelle R. Viado
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Almost a decade has passed, but the great story of the Sumilao farmers lives on.
The Sumilao farmers bravely and non-violently fought for their land, marching for more than 1,500 kilometers for about 60 days from their hometown to the highest office in the country to appeal for their cause. It was more than a fight for their land. It was a fight for their rights.
“When we began to walk, I couldn’t explain the difficulty of it all. We walked through the heat, rain, hunger, sweat, and tears — it was really hard,” recounted Panaw Sumilao chairperson Cheril Lorenza.
They began their historic march on October 10, 2007, after countless rejections from the local government and the departments assigned in agrarian reforms to grant them their lands — the 144 hectares of their ancestral domain being part of the Higaonon tribe of Bukidnon.
In spite of criticisms and lack of support, even leaving their children behind, the Sumilao farmers managed to arrive on the grounds of the Malacañang Palace.
“I couldn’t believe that I had done that, walk all the way to Manila,” said Lorenza, recalling in tears the warm reception of various universities, church organizations, and civil society groups who supported their cause along the way.
“Seeing them all made us all feel alive. So instead of giving up, we decided to go on with what we were fighting for, for what we believed in,” she added.
Looking back, Lorenza and the rest of the Sumilao farmers still couldn’t believe the trek they made and the impact it left their community.
Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan’s Development Communication department celebrates this zealous bravery of the Sumilao farmers through a photo exhibit called “Lansad” (Binisaya for “to launch”) with the theme, “Sumilao: Footprints in Triumph.”
As opposed to its predecessors, this year’s Lansad photo exhibit partnered with a community — the Panaw Sumilao Multipurpose Cooperative of Kisolon, Sumilao, Bukidnon in line with XU’s Service Learning Program, where students’ collaboration with the community is an integral part of the academic application.
“Every Lansad is totally different from the last one,” said DevCom department chairperson Professor Evans Yonson, who teaches photography and film at XU.
“We want to get the message across — the struggle is real. The Sumilao farmers have fought long and hard and have triumphed. But the struggle continues and it is not only in Sumilao. It is happening elsewhere. We want everyone to get involved and start talking about the issues our farmers face on a daily basis,” Yonson continued.
Sumilao farmers’ ‘March for Justice’
Junior DevCom students were immersed into the community to get a glimpse of the daily activities and the indigenous culture of the farmers. The experience became more than a school requirement after their three-day stay with their foster families.
“I realized we are making an impact in the world. We are doing this for development. We are doing this for the people, not just for ourselves or for our grades,” related DevCom student Donnabelle Lumasag, who served as the overall person-in-charge of the project.
“We can help make this world a better place,” Lumasag added.
In the form of a photo exhibit, junior DevCom students wish to showcase the livelihood, the people, and the landscapes of Sumilao, showing how their historic “March for Justice” bore fruits that continue to benefit their community up to this day.
This year’s Lansad, held at the activity center of Centrio Ayala Mall from September 26 to 29, also featured the Sumilao corn coffee which can be purchased for Php100 a pack. As a token of appreciation to the farmers’ community, a coffee table book titled “Sumilao: Footprints in Triumph” will be launched soon.
This exhibit serves as an avenue to raise awareness on the struggles and the great victory of the Sumilao farmers, hoping that other beleaguered farming communities in the country can learn from their hardships and determination