Orlando Ravanera, former Undersecretary and Chairperson of the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA

By Perfecto T. Raymundo, Jr. 

SAN JUAN CITY — In “The Agenda” Media Forum hosted by Atty. Siegfred Mison the issues on human rights, environment and social justice were tackled on Friday (June 21) here at Club Filipino.

Efren Estoque, president of Ilocano Settlers Agricultural Cooperative or ISAC, who is in Mindanao now whose parents were from La Uniion, Pangasinan, and Tarlac, and a third generation of the settlers, descendants of La Pantar, 3,000 individuals were affected in Barangay Sumugot in Lanao del Sur.

Estoque said that they are now seeking the help of the government in order to address their problem.

He noted that when they held a press conference, out of the 10 media outlets, only one blogger broadcast their problem.

In December last year, they were ordered not to plant anymore in Barangay Sumugot.

Even their houses were pulled out and brought to the area near the SPDA complex.

Orlando Ravanera, former Undersecretary and Chairperson of the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), said “we are so happy na we are given the chance to give you this information for missing to include in your agenda today.”

Ravanera cited that in Lanao del Sur, the experience of thousands of Ilocano farmers, the problem of whom, is happening in a town in Lanao del Sur now.

“Sultan Mastora, the incumbent mayor then, he was replaced by the wife, and then their children, which is a political dynasty,” Ravanera said.

“They came from LaPanTar (La Union, Pangasinan, Tarlac). They are settlers. I knew because I grew up in Wao and I know that they have the “prior rights” on the 10,000 hectares to Amay Manatilan, which was originally Wao, and 16,000 to Wao settlers,” he added.

Ravanera noted that the mayor of Wao did not allow them to enter even though the settlers there already have their “prior rights”.

He stressed “recently, their water supply was cut off and the road was destroyed. The SPDA, Asia Pacific Precision Agricultural Group (ASPAC), every time they damage the crops through the tractors, there was the presence of the military, AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), PNP (Philippine National Police) and apparently there was the support of the SPDA.”

In a media conference in Cagayan de Oro City, it was highlighted that Noel Subido, his father with 21 people, including a pregnant woman, were massacred.

“The 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army Head was present and nothing happened. The eminent power emanates from the people and not the corporations,’ Ravanera said.

Ravanera stressed that they have already talked with SPDA Administrator Gerry Salapuddin and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), who seems to be siding with the other party, in connection with the problem in Barangay Sumugot. 

“They are now controlling our ‘blessed land’ at the expense of our farmers,” Ravanera said.

Leonardo “Leony” Montemayor, former Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and now Chairperson of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), recalled that in the time of then President Ramon Magsaysay, there were Ibanag settlers in Lanao del Sur, who cleared the area, developed it and at present, the large area, especially in Barangay Sumugot, they supply two sugar mills in the area.

“Probably, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the SPDA entered into the Barangay Sumugot through Presidential Decree 2046 issued on Jan. 17, 1981, the very same day Martial Law was lifted through PD 2045, the area was to be developed as an agro-industrial area, with administrative control of the SPDA,” Montemayor said.

“No development happened there since. SPDA with two corporations, apparently a Filipino company and a foreign company, through a joint venture agreement, they put up plantations for coffee and cacao,” he added.

“Sa laki po ng area, 10,000 hectares, bakit yung pong areas na developed na ng Ilocanos? Should it not be built in other areas, magtulungan ang mga tao for further development,” Montemayor said.

The SPDA told them that cacao will be planted in the area and the local settlers or communities will be relocated.

Montemayor noted that the role of the other government agencies, 55th Battalion of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police, where Col. Dimaala stated that “mukhang illegal ang settllers, mukhang may influence ang rebel insurgents.”

“Kahit lumapit na ang SPDA sa PNP at Army, dapat pinag-aralan muna bago kumampi sa two corporations,” he said. 

“30 years and continuous possession of a piece of public land is tantamount to legal right, which was shortened to 20 years, just a little bit of documents needed, and the settlers were supposed to the legal right on the property,” Montemayor said. 

“Right now, they are now in violation of the Philippine laws. They are probably violating some international conventions. We are now studying whether or not file the appropriate charges against the violator companies,” he added.

“Meron pong national security implication kasi rather than convincing our people to live within the bounds of the Constitution, we are driving them to go against it,” Montemayor said.

He noted that Kenemer is all over Mindanao and he was shocked to know why Kenemer was doing such violation of human rights, and if they found to be responsible for such violations, their standing in the international community may be affected.   

Last Thursday, June 13, I was able to talk with DAR Secretary and DA Secretary Laurel, who referred the case to MINDA Secretary Leo Magno, Magno texted back to Laurel, who ordered a stop in the destruction of the plantation, but it turned out later, the operations of the tractors in the area are still continuing.

Kenemer, which is exporting cacao to the European Union, and Aspac should exercise “due diligence” as they are apparently violating their social corporate responsibility in the area.

Montemayor stressed that they would meet with the ambassadors of the European Union to the Philippines in order to abreast them about the prevailing situation in the contested area, and if they would know that human rights are being violated in the area, the importation of cacao of Kenemer to the European Union may be affected.

The former DA Chief pointed out that the CHR Regional Office in Cagayan de Oro City is now gathering information and evidence for the conduct of an investigation in connection with the “prevailing situation” in Barangay Sumugot, Lanao del Sur involving the 3,000 Ilocano settlers in the area, who have been agriculturally productive there for several decades now. 

Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Arjel Cabatbat said the SPDA has the “legal right” in the contested area in the same way that Israel has the right to kill the Jews.

“Is it moral to destroy the houses of the settlers even without a court order. Is it legal? Cabatbat asked.

Cabatbat personally experienced in the 1990s, where his father was the barangay captain, with the Muslim settlers, there was no such “violence”.

He shared that if two individuals do not know each other well, they would first seek to befriend each other.

Cabatbat is also the legal counsel of the FFF.

“To change the law about how the Jews were massacred in Germany,” he said. 

Cabatbat disclosed that they are planning to file a petition with the Supreme Court (SC) pertaining to the case in Barangay Sumugot and other similarly situated cases, to stop what is happening now with the farmers in the area.