The Sumilao farmers have finally reached the capital of the country once again after marching for 19 days, armed with nothing but a hope that the person who once helped them reclaim their lands will soon be elected as the next Vice President of the Philippines.
Marching through the crowded streets of the capital, so much different from the lands they till in Bukidnon they now rightfully call their own, 22 farmers were welcomed by the visibly emotional Leni Robredo’s daughter Tricia as they gift her with yellow chrysanthemums.
"Sabi nila, pasensya na dahil ito lang ang kaya nilang ibigay. Hindi niyo lang po alam, ito po ang pinaka-espesyal na bulaklak na natanggap ko," said Tricia Robredo who was seen shedding tears in the emotional reunion.
The young Robredo was only 13 years old when the Sumilao farmers first marched to Manila in 2007, to fight for their rights over the ancestral lands they have been tilling for generations. She first met the farmers in Naga City, where her father, former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, was the city mayor at that time. Her mother, Vice Presidential candidate Leni Robredo, served as a human rights lawyer before entering politics and defended the Sumilao farmers as part of her volunteer work with the non-governmental group Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan).
“Ang mga Sumilao Farmers, pansamantala nilang iniwan ang kanilang lupang sinasaka, ang mga tirahan at ang kanilang mga pamilya, hindi lamang para maipadama ang suporta kay Leni kundi para isulong ang matagal na nilang ipinaglalaban,” Tricia shared in her Facebook post.
“Ang pag-abot daw nila sa akin ng bulaklak ay parang pag-abot na rin ng kanilang mga hinaing na ipinagkakatiwala nilang patuloy na ipaglalaban ni Mama,” she added.
The march started on April 15 in Bukidnon and passed through different provinces – Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Leyte, Samar, Albay, Naga, Quezon, Laguna – before reaching Quezon City in Greater Manila Area.
One of those who joined the march is Linda Ligmon, who at the age of 64 still volunteered to march again to Manila 9 years after she first did it.
"Lumakbay kaming masaya, para kay Leni Robredo," Ligmon said.
The farmers where met by the vice presidential candidate on Friday, April 29, in Naga City, reminiscent of the 2007 march where they were greeted by the Robredo couple. However this time, they were welcomed by Leni near her husband’s grave.
"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," said Noland Peñas, spokesperson of the Sumilao farmers.
Like Ligmon and Peñas, all the Sumilao farmers and those who supported the caravan believe that Leni Robredo is the best vice presidential candidate to give voice to the marginalized sectors.
“Kanina, nagkita kaming lahat sa ilalim ng isang overpass sa Alabang. Kakagaling lang nila ng Laguna. Nagkaroon kami ng maliit na programa, pero megaphone nga lang ang gamit para magkarinigan. Nasasapawan ang mga boses ng dumadaang truck at kotse, at mga sound system na nagpapatugtog ng jingle ng iba't-ibang kandidato,” Tricia recalled of the emotional reunion with the Sumilao farmers.
“Pero katulad ng laging sabi ni Mama, sige lang. Darating ang panahon na ang boses nila ay magiging mas malakas sa lahat ng ingay,” she said.