SUMILAO, Bukidnon (MindaNews/February 24) – Sentimental but holding back her emotions, Vice President Leni Robredo has described her involvement in the struggle for recognition of farmers’ rights and welfare as something personal.
Speaking in Filipino to members of the Panaw Multipurpose Cooperative (originally called the Mapalad Farmers) on Wednesday, Robredo recalled that two lawyers from Saligan, an agrarian NGO where she had worked before joining politics, were among those who died in the Cebu Pacific Plane Crash on February 2, 1998.
“The reality is that we lost two lawyers in the Cebu Pacific plane crash on February 2, 1997 – Atty. Bobby Gana, who ran Saligan, and Atty. Kaloy Ollado. They were supposed to go to your house.
“So for us it’s a very personal fight because lives have been sacrificed for you to get your rights back,” said Robredo, who is running in the May 9 presidential election.
“So a lot of people have invested in you, Panaw Sumilao. I hope others like you also get what is rightfully theirs,” she added.
“Every time I’m here [the things we fight for] become so personal because, for example, when I see the children… Bebing’s child, when you paraded in 2016, was still a baby. This kid is my gauge of how long we’ve been together,” she said.
Robredo also recounted his first encounter with the farmers of Mapalad, when they marched from that town to Malacanang Palace from October 10 to December 10, 2007.
“I remember when I first knew you personally, when you walked to Malacanang and we met you in Naga (town) with my husband,” she said.
“Am I right? I think Bajekjek (referring to Panaw MPC president Elgine Orquillas) was the youngest among the walkers at the time. You have companions who are no longer there,” she recalls .
“It’s been a long journey, and I’m proud of you. Bajekjek not only speaks Tagalog well, but you can feel that everyone has empowered themselves by having the opportunity to lead and continue the fight, not only following orders, but being in the middle of it” , she said.
But Robredo clarified that she was not directly involved in the Mapalad case because she was from the Bicol branch of Saligan. “Our head office was really the one representing us in the case.”
The vice president also cited that Panaw’s assets have now reached 37 million pesos, saying it is a source of pride to say that the group has reached it with almost nothing to start with.
“But my promise to you is this: we will continue to fight for the rights and livelihoods of farmers and fishers. We have seen that with little help, you improved your condition twice. We couldn’t say our economy has improved if there are still people being left behind,” she added.
Robredo also recalled a near-mishap during one of her visits to Sumilao, eliciting laughter from her audience, which included Sumilao Mayor Antonio Villo, Talakag Mayor Vergito Factura, and Rep. of the first district of Bukidnon, Malou Acosta-Alba.
“If you remember, you made me ride a carabao and it got crazy. That’s why when I came in here, I asked Bajekjek, ‘Do you want me to ride a carabao again? carabao? I was relieved when Bajekjek told me I would walk.
“I was with the Governor (of the Dinagat Islands) Kaka Bag-ao and the carabao went wild, so they (the farmers) chased us to the cornfield. The carabao only stopped when it reached a slope. Everyone panicked,” she said. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)