WHAT do you think could stir a boulevard leper, a shanty resident and a gutter plebian to unrest and resistance these days?

Perhaps Ninoy Aquino, in one of his many sorties in the impoverished barrios of Tarlac, may have figured out the best answer when he was the province’s youngest governor back then.

The columnist-biographer Manuel F. Martinez, whom I met two years ago when I repackaged the cover of the Divine Mercy comic book, quoted Ninoy in his 1987 opus, The Grand Collision: Aquino vs. Marcos, as saying, “The Filipino is not afraid of poverty. What he is afraid of is social injustice.”

Ninoy, the firebrand orator and popular martyr, has every reason to gloat from Up There. Branded during his time as a “communist coddler” by President Ferdinand Marcos, he may be witnessing a repeat of social injustice in disturbing proportions nowadays.

Last October 10, 63 Higaonon farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon started a 1,700-kilometer protest march to Manila to appeal before the government that a disputed 144-hectare property, now owned by a giant food and beverages conglomerate, be placed under agrarian reform once more. The previous owner of the land had evaded land reform on a technicality but later sold it to the conglomerate which was a violation of the law. Now, the farmers demand the long-overdue justice. This land is ours, they declare.

A front-page photo in the Inquirer last December 5 showed the visibly haggard farmers picketing outside the Senate, cooling their blistered heels and hoping that some lone ranger would emerge from the august chamber to champion their cause. But neither the wisest nor the dumbest among our senators came out to comfort the farmers. Some of our senators might have found time to chat with the farmers on their way to another function, but they did not.

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While the senators before had been quick to pander to the gallery and capitalize on issues, there was no sweeping action on the parliamentary floor that day. Their silence was stunning.

But before that, senators, together with congressman, had gone globe-trotting in several European capitals with the President, like Santa’s prodigal elves who callously horse-played at the toy-house junkyard while the poor grappled with exhaustion and seethed with anger over the injustice of want and poverty.

And how much did their infamous European junket cost?” Around P42 million ($1 million), which could have been better spent in providing legal and administrative relief to the Higaonon farmers in their battle with corporate wolves and bureaucratic crocodiles.

“Mukhang malabo,” meekly said a farmer about the prospects of winning the land that is theirs by justice and law. Earlier, Agrarian Reform Sec. Nasser Pangandaman had said the land could not be turned over to the farmers since it had been converted from an agrarian land to an agro-industrial site following then Executive Secretary Ruben Torres’ order in March 1996, not to mention a Supreme Court ruling in 1999 which upheld the order.

But Pangandaman’s opinion seems tenuous since, to be sure, the original owner, Norberto Quisumbing, had failed to convert the land when he sold the property to San Miguel Foods, Inc. Despite the sale of the land, which clearly violated the agrarian reform law, the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board issued a development permit to convert the property into an agro-industrial zone. The permit was issued only in 2004!

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Why should a permit be issued to San Miguel to develop the land if it had already been converted? Obviously, the law and the government are on the side of San Miguel!

The farmers have asked for a cease and desist order from the DAR which has not even provided that immediate relief which is procedural in serious cases like this. So whatever happened to the favorite truism from President Ramon Magsaysay echoed and blared blasphemously by politicians and public officials: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

Betraying the Great Unwashed in a dangerous undertaking. Remember 1789?

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