CMU guards fire at farmers-protesters; 5 hurt

MALAYBALAY CITY – Security guards of Central Mindanao University fired at farmers who camped out to protest near the university’s main gate Tuesday morning. The Buffalo-Tamarraw-Timus (BTL) Association reported five of their members were hit and were brought to two hospitals, Agustin Sanong, BTL media liaison said.

The farmers have protested since May 24 CMU’s decision not extend their lease over 400 hectares of land and relocate them after.

The guards dismantled the protesters’ tents in the area and confiscated their materials, he added. Sanong told Bukidnon News two multi-cabs of CMU’s blue guards arrived near the side of the university main gate where they camped at around 10a.m.

“They fired without warning. About 40 blue guards just attacked us,” he said in an SMS sent early Tuesday afternoon. Sanong named those hit as Larry Divera, hit in foot and chest; Oyong Santillan, hit in foot with bullet that came out at his back; Abelardo Jarden, hit in leg; and a certain Marilou Porten.

Jose Benemirito, a BTL spokesperson who told Bukidnon News on May 28 that the farmers are still open to the relocation offered by the provincial government in Talakag, was also hit in his foot.

He said earlier that they just can’t just move out right away if the relocation site is not ready for them.

Sanong could not name who among the victims have been declared safe as of Tuesday early evening but he said two are still subject for operation. The victims were brought to a hospital in Valencia and in Malaybalay cities, Sanong said.

Bukidnon News sought CMU president Dr. Ma. Luisa Soliven for comments, but she did not respond to requests coursed through SMS for interview via telephone.

The incident was confirmed by the Maramag police station but Chief Inspector Linoraldo Torres, the town police officer-in-charge, refused to give details to Bukidnon News “pending investigation.”

He said police investigator SP02 Regner Sevilleno is yet to submit his initial report as of Tuesday late afternoon. He vowed to give Bukidnon News a copy of the report.

According to an SMS report forwarded by Supt. Canilo A. Fuentes, Bukidnon police deputy director for operations, six protesting farmers were hit “during a commotion.”

He said “they were hit with gunshots during a commotion” when their shanties were being demolished by the security guards of CMU.

The report Fuentes gave, which he labeled as “sketchy report,” showed that the CMU security guards were led by CMU security director George Gewan.

The same report cited that the CMU guards confiscated protesters’ tent and bamboos poles.

“They even took our rice supply, rice pots, tarps, and leaving us almost with nothing,” Sanong said.

But Sanong admitted that their permit to hold a rally has already expired.

From May 24, BTL members estimated by organizers to be 500 gathered at the main gate in Musuan after a CMU-created task force failed to forge an agreement on the status of about 800 families occupying at least 400 of the more than 3,000 hectares of land titled by CMU.

The farmers are asking that their collective contract be extended for four more years, pledging to pay P5,000 per hectare per year and are demanding a permanent relocation site at the end of the four-year extension.

In 1991, The Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) issued certificates of land ownership to BTL farmers, after they applied for coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program about a third of CMU’s close to 3,000 hectares.

The DARAB granted them CLOAs for close to 400 hectares —only to be slapped 10 years later by a Supreme Court decision that favored CMU. The high court in 2001 decided that CMU lands were exempted from redistribution. CMU claimed that they intend to use the land for “educational and scientific purposes.”

In 2002, the BTL entered into a memorandum of agreement with CMU to lease the area for five years. The local government vowed to look for a relocation site. When the MOA expired in 2007, however, farmers found no relocation site. They refused to vacate the area and tried to continue tilling the farm.

But the university’s blue guards kept them watched, in many instances the farmers’ cried harassment.

In 2008, Soliven told Bukidnon News earlier, CMU proposed a “transitional lease contract,” approved for signing by the BOR. But BTL did not sign it, claiming it was “one-sided.” Soliven said the late Mardonio Lao, former CMU president, stopped the farmers from tilling the lands when the contract expired.

When Lao died, CMU officer in charge Rodrigo Malunhao allowed the farmers to return to farming the area for “humanitarian reasons.” The present rally was a repeat of the rally held when Malunhao arrived in CMU.

His work as officer in charge was cut short when he fell ill a year later and was replaced by Bukidnon State University president Victor Barroso, who served as OIC for both universities until Soliven’s assumption in February 2011.

Soliven said over radio station DXDB on May 27 that the CMU board of regents approved an extension of only three years and is asking for only a peso per hectare per year lease. At the end of it, she added, the farmers have to leave with no relocation site.

CMU has asked the farmers to vacate following an earlier offer by the provincial government of relocation in Talakag town. But the farmers are holding their ground. They said they will not relocate yet because the site is still undeveloped. Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr, who was Bukidnon governor when the plan for relocation was hatched with his son Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, said the firing incident was a disappointment.

On June 8, six days before the incident, Zubiri presided over a dialogue between CMU and the BTL. But he said the negotiation was botched when CMU allegedly refused to allow farmers to return to the rice fields to continue farming while other stakeholders are looking for a relocation site.

He said he asked provincial government lawyers to file a temporary restraining order against CMU so farmers won’t be driven away. Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan said there must be a joint national and local government effort to address the problem.

But he said he is in favor of reducing CMU’s land area such that the extra lands could be leased to farmers instead of multi-national companies, as he said CMU appears to be doing. (Walter I. Balane)

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