Vice presidential candidate and Camarines Sur 3 District Representative Leni Robredo welcomed the Sumilao farmers with a bright smile and warm hugs in Naga City on Friday, April 29.
Many felt nostalgic at how it resembled the Sumliao march in 2007, when the late former interior secretary Jesse Robredo, along with his wife Leni, welcomed the 55 Sumilao farmers in Naga City to join them in their fight for their land.
This time, however, only Leni Robredo is there to meet them. The farmers were welcomed near Jesse Robredo’s grave at the Eternal Gardens in Naga.
When asked about the reunion, the Sumilao farmer’s spokesperson Noland Peῆas replied:
"Parehong masaya at nakakalungkot. Nakakalungkot kasi wala na si Jesse Robredo na sumalubong sa amin. Pero masaya pa rin kasi ang susunod na vice president ang sumalubong sa aming magsasaka ngayon,"
(This is both a happy and sad reunion. Sad because Jesse Robredo is no longer here to welcome us. But happy because the next vice president of the country welcomed us instead.)
Noland is the son of the late Rene Penas, the leader of the Sumilao farmers who was murdered a year after the 2007 march.
Twenty-six farmers from Sumilao, Valencia and San Fernando in Bukidnon, Bugsuk Island in Palawan, and Casiguran in Aurora, embarked on a 25-day march to support Leni Robredo’s vice presidential bid for the 2016 elections.
It is currently their 15 day on the caravan, and their last stop will be in Metro Manila from May 6 to 7.
"Nakakawala po ng pagod. Nakakagaan ng loob na sinalubong kami," Noland explained when Leni welcomed the farmers in her hometown.
(We felt less tired. It lightened our heavy hearts.)
The farmers added that they march not just for Leni, but also for the plight of marginalized sectors in the country, such as women and farmers.
Noland specifically pointed out the irony of how the country’s farmers – such as those in Kidapawan and Koronadal cities – are those that are most vulnerable to hunger.
"Ito ay hindi lang para sa mga Sumilao farmers. Ito rin ay para sa lahat ng magsasaka, mangingisda, babae, at sa lahat ng nasa laylayan ng lipunan. Ang panawagan po namin ay panahon na, na tayo ay mag-angat ng isang tunay na lider na nakikinig sa mga interes ng mga mamamayan,"
(This is not just for the Sumilao farmers. This is also for all the farmers, fishermen, women and all the marginalized sectors in our country. The time has come for our plea to be heard, for us to finally elect a genuine leader who will listen to our interests and plights.)
The Sumilao farmers and Leni go way back; years ago, when the farmers were fighting for ownership over their ancestral land, Robredo supported their plight and defended them as a volunteer lawyer. They have now won back their land and are grateful for the Robredos’ help in the struggle.
The farmers began the caravan on April 15 in Sumilao, Bukidnon. They seek to travel over 3,700 km, using trucks and ferries across the Philippines.
Will their 25-day caravan inspire enough votes to elect Leni?