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The Sumilao farmers have finally met their chosen president.

The farmers started their 23-day journey from Bukidnon to Visayas and to Luzon on April 15. They met other farmers, fisherfolks, and the urban poor along the way, and have embraced the other sectors’ agenda as their own.

In the first half of their campaign, they focused on boosting Leni Robredo, Daang Matuwid standard-bearer Mar Roxas’ running mate. Roxas was a member of SALIGAN, the non-government organization (NGO) that Robredo was member of. The NGO successfully lobbied for the return of the farmers’ ancestral land in 2007.

Roxas was one of the senators who signed and helped pass the bill on the extension and reform of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARPER) in 2009, which the Sumilao farmers were campaigning for in 2007-2009.

Upon arriving in Alabang on May 2 (Sunday), the Sumilao farmers endorsed Roxas in the same way they have long supported Robredo’s candidacy in the vice presidential race.

“Naniniwala kaming higit na matutupad ni Leni ang kanyang adhikaing maiangat ang mga nasa laylayan bilang bise-presidente kung katuwang niya si Ginoong Mar Roxas bilang Pangulo ng Pilipinas,” they said in their official statement released on May 3.

Today, Friday (May 6), Roxas spent the last weekday of his campaign with the Sumilao farmers at the Ateneo de Manila University, where the farmers are staying. Upon his arrival, he was greeted warmly with cheers and hugs.

In a press conference, the Sumilao farmers formally endorsed Roxas as their president.

“Atin pong iluklok si Leni Robredo para sa bansa, at saka si Mar Roxas po sa pagkapresidente,” said Pepeng Orenza, the chairperson of PANAW-Sumilao, the cooperative of the farmers.

“Inalam namin ang kuwento ng pagbangon at muling pagkabuhay ng Yolanda areas,” said Noland Peñas, one of the farmers. “Mali po ang lumalabas na walang nagawa si Mar Roxas sa Yolanda areas.”

Robredo said the farmers endorsed Roxas through their own volition—it was a collective, consultative, decision.

“Sila po ‘yung nagsuggest na ‘bago kami magpaalam, gusto namin formally i-endorse din namin si Secretary Mar,'” Robredo said of the farmers.

“Bago ko sila napakiusapan, sila na nagsabi. ‘Gusto di namin tulungan si Secretary Mar kasi naniniwala kami na sa lahat na kandidato sa pagkapresidente, siya naman talaga yung karapat-dapat tulungan,'” said Robredo. “Tapos sabi nila ‘naniniwala kami na kung kayong dalawa yung papalarin, mas makakabuwelo ka sa pagtulong sa mga kagaya namin.”

“Tinanong ko, sabi ko, ‘Sigurado ba kayong voluntary yan sa inyo?’ ‘Oo, nagtanong kami paisa-isa, lahat kami, Mar Roxas,'” she said.

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Roxas was very thankful for the formal endorsement.

“Natutuwa po ako at nagpapasalamat sa tiwala na pinagkakaloob po ninyo sa akin sa pag-endorso. Masasabi ko po sa inyo na tinatanggap ko po ito nang bukas-puso at may sagradong respeto sa pinagkaloob po ninyo. Makakaasa kayo na hindi ko po kayo bibgigyan ng dahilan na pagsisihan ang inyong pagbibigyan ng tiwala.”

Roxas also vowed to continue to push for the 12-point agenda* set out by the Sumilao farmers in addition to the reforms that are already in place or are taking shape.

Central to Roxas’ platform to the farmers is economic empowerment.

“Ito po ‘yung kakayahan na tanggihan, talikdan ‘yung mga nagsasamantala. ‘Yan po ang kakayahan na magpundar ng isang alternatibong kinabukasan para sa pamilya. ‘Yan po ang tunay na kasangkapan para magkaroon ng laman, magkaroon ng meaning sa inyo ‘yung political empowerment. Dahil ‘yung political empowerment, eventually, kung walang economic empowerment, ay malulusay dahil sa gutom, dahil sa poverty,” he explained.

He then elaborated on his Bukid Revolution platform: cheaper loans for the farmers, post-harvest facilities, as well as other infrastructural developments that will make sure that the farmers earn gainfully from their harvests.

“Sa ating pamahalaan, at saka sa inyong pahintulot, kung palarin po tayo, kami ni Leni, makakaasa po kayo ng tulong sa pagtagumpay ng mga katulad ninyo.”

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