“We are alarmed that CMU, a center for education and formation of values, by its actions, is promoting a teaching of values that contradicts the intention of social justice. By denying the farmers the land that is very much attached to their lives, the CMU has become a despotic landlord rather than an educational institution.” – solidarity mission
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MARAMAG, Bukidnon — For Winnie Loable, 36, their struggle for the land they have been tilling is not just a matter of securing the future of his family, it is also about honoring his father and seeking justice for his death.
“Like us, they, too, were fighting for our right to till our land,” Loable said, “Winning our agrarian dispute will not only assure my children of a better future but it would also be my way of giving honor to my father’s life and struggle.”
Leonardo, Loable’s father, was among those who were hired by the Central Mindanao University to till parts of the 3,084 hectares of land. The agricultural workers made the idle lands productive by planting it with rice. When the CMU went bankrupt, the farmers continued to cultivate the land and paid a rental fee per square meter.
In 1986, peasants formed Buffalo (Bukidnon Free Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Organization) and petitioned for the inclusion of the 1,200 hectares of the 3,084 hectares of land they were tilling in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of former President Cory Aquino. Two more groups of farmers formed Tamaraw (Triad Agricultural Manpower of Rural Active Workers) and Limus (Landless Tillers Inhabitants of Musuan) respectively, and staked their claim on another 1,200 hectares of land. Hence, when these three groups of farmers banded together, they called themselves BTL.
While waiting for the Certificate of Land Ownership Award, which was consequently awarded in 1992 and cancelled 10 years later, peasants regularly held protest actions.
On July 5, 1989, Leonardo was among those who were protesting outside the CMU. During their protest action, the peasants seized an opportunity to slip into the gate and continued their program inside. But the CMU guards fired at them, leaving many peasants injured and one, Leonardo, dead.
“We filed a case against the guards. The court issued a warrant of arrest but no one was ever arrested. Justice is yet to be served,” Loanable said.
Since then, the peasants became even more united. Their struggle bore fruit, albeit temporary. In 2002, the CMU agreed to lease parts of their land for P4,000 ($93) a year per hectare. The memorandum of agreement, meanwhile, stipulated that the local government unit would be responsible in finding a relocation site for the farmers, which it, unfortunately, failed to do five years later.
The peasants, at present, are being forced to move to San Fernando, a hinterland municipality at the borders of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental. But the peasants argued that the “land in the target site is not suitable for agriculture and has peace and order problems.”
The plight of the BTL farmers in the 1980s have been passed on to their children and their grandchildren. So, when the June 14, 2011 shooting incident happened, images of his father’s death rushed to Winnie’s head. At around 10:30 a.m. of that fateful day, some 15 guards headed by Nestor Honasan, fired at the farmers and beat up those near them. But instead of being cowed, Loable said, the struggle of the peasants became all the more stronger. “I, for my part, would continue to fight for this land to make sure that tatay (father) did not die in vain.”
The series of harassments and intimidation being committed by guards of CMU has continued to intensify the last few months. The farmers suspect that CMU is now eyeing to lease their lands to multinational corporations. To show their solidarity to the farmers, a group of students, health workers, lawyers, church people and peasants representing local, national and international people’s organization visited the BTL farmers to “listen to their stories of struggle and hope, conduct a medical mission and relief operation” from June 22 to 24.
In an interview with Gregorio Santillan, 36, a peasant who suffered a gunshot wound from the June 14 incident, he said that it was just an ordinary day until the two security group vehicles arrived. In full battle gear and carrying what it seems to Santillan as high calibre arms, the security group “confiscated our posters and streamers and cooking utensils while some started to indiscriminately fire at us.”
Santillan was shot at his right leg. And, as of press time, the bullets are still in his leg. “The doctor from the provincial hospital said that if they would remove it through surgery, there is little chance that I would be able to walk again because more nerves and muscles would be damaged. And so,he advised me to wait for the bullets to come out on its own, in due time.”
The following day, June 15, another security guard Antonio Pamisa, Santillan said, brought a grenade.
But aside from the June 14 shooting incident, the solidarity mission, dubbed as Hunglos: International Solidarity Mission to the Struggle of Peasants in Bukidnon, discovered more human rights violations that took place in the BTL community.
For one, on June 3, at around 10:00 a.m. CMU security guards and eight members of the paramilitary group Civilian Auxiliary Geographical Forces Unit (CAFGU) fired upon some 500 farmers who were farming in the Buffalo Area, causing peasant Ailyn Palanio to lose consciousness. Ronilo Hilado, 47, on the other hand, was fired at twice by a certain Staff Sergeant Gewan and an unidentified security guard while he was on his way home on May 23, 2011.
The security guards wanted to confiscate Hilado’s hand tractor. When he resisted, more security guards arrived, encircled his home and aimed their guns at Hilado and his wife. The peasant couple, helpless and unarmed, gave in and watched the security guards load the hand tractor into their truck and pulled away.
“I do not believe that the President (referring to Ma. Louisa Soliven) has nothing to do with all these attacks on the BTL peasants. She is the president of CMU and the security groups, which the university hired, would not act on their own unless an official order coming from her office was issued,” Santillan said.
The CMU’s recent intensified attacks against the peasants, according to Santillan, have only made them even more united and determined. He said that he is thankful that no one has yet been made to sacrifice his or her life.
In a dialogue with Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and members of the solidarity mission, CMU officials did not deny that there was indeed an order from university president Ma. Louisa Soliven to disperse the peasants who were camping outside the CMU’s gate. But, CMU Vice President for Academic Affairs Anthony Penasco insisted that Soliven ordered that the guards exercise”maximum tolerance” in dispersing the peasants.
Asked if the CMU has plans of terminating the services of Chevron Security and Investigation Agency Inc., for violating the supposed “maximum tolerance” order, Penasco said that they would be waiting for the contract to expire, which was last June 30, before they would decide on that matter.
Penasco also said that there are multinational companies that have already expressed its intent to rent CMU lands. He added that while nothing has been finalized yet, “there are better chances that they are good lessors than the farmers.”
CMU Vice President for Research Luzviminda Simboril added, “Please understand that we, too, need the money.”
Mariano, however, warned the CMU officials “not to tarnish the university’s image by having blood in their hands because of their desperate attempts to evict the farmers.”
Lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni noted that there are seeming efforts on the part of the CMU to come up with a peaceful solution to the land conflict. Musni recognized Soliven’s letter addressed to Mavrick Tapanan, chair of peasant group Amihan-NMR on June 22, expressing the university’s intention to form a high level task force that would be headed by the Commission on Higher Education to look into the matter. “We welcome it because addressing the land problem by way of a just and peaceful solution is also what the peasants are asking for.
However, Musni said that the letter raised four requisites that would be detrimental to the welfare and demands of the farmers. She said that these requisites would negate the confidence being built to make the negotiations successful. In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Musni said the four requisites that are stipulated in the letter would preempt the decision of the task force investigating the land dispute. The requisites are as follow:
First, farmers would be allowed to stay in the CMU land for the next six months provided they would observe a “status quo” on the case. The farmers are not allowed to construct new facilities. The CMU would have the authority to define the area of land that would be covered and tilled by the farmers. Finally, the BTL farmers would vacate their protest camp outside CMU’s main gate.
“It seems that the CMU was only forced to respond to the demands of the farmers. Is it really sincere when it said that it wanted to address the agrarian dispute?” Musni said, “We will be formalizing our response, also through a letter, as soon as possible.”
Given the current situation of BTL farmers, Musni said, there might not be enough legal remedies to win the agrarian dispute especially because the Supreme Court canceled the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards in 1992. “What is left now is for the peasants to strengthen their extra-legal and meta-legal means as they struggle for their right to land.”
The statement of the solidarity mission, which Musni read in a press conference in Cagayan de Oro City on June 24, reads, “We are alarmed that CMU, a center for education and formation of values, by its actions, is promoting a teaching of values that contradicts the intention of social justice. By denying the farmers the land that is very much attached to their lives, the CMU has become a despotic landlord rather than an educational institution.”
“Based from what is happening, we could say that the CMU has no moral ascendancy. What would they teach their students? To steal lands from farmers and shoot them if they would resist? To conspire with multinational companies at the expense of the welfare of the peasants?” Norma Dollaga of Kasimbayan, a church group, said during her solidarity message to the BTL community.
In a separate statement, Amihan-NMR said that CMU should not use the “promotion of education” as a reason to evict the BTL farmers because it is “obvious from the start that the goal of CMU, and that of President Maria Luisa Soliven, has been the commercialization of the facilities of the university for profit at the expense of the farmers and the students alike.” The peasant group proposed that instead of kicking out the famers from their land, “CMU should seek a larger budget appropriation from the national government as it is the Constitutional responsibility of the state to prioritize education.”
The struggle of the BTL peasants, meanwhile, has gained support from the international community. The Asia Rural Women’s Coalition, an organization composed of some 700 women’s organizations from 21 countries, expressed its “its support and solidarity to the women and men peasants who remain to be vigilant and courageous, despite the odds, in fighting for their rights to their land, livelihood and life.”
Tomoko Kashiwazaki, a representative from the ARWC and Asia Pacific Forum of Women in Law and Development, joined the solidarity mission to investigate the reported human rights violations.
Front Line, an International Foundation founded in Dublin for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, said in a statement that the violent dispersal of the farmers’ protest camp is a “serious infringement on the right to freedom of assembly.”
The Peoples’ Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), an international network of grassroots groups, of small food producers and their allies, did not only send a message of solidarity but also challenged the national government to intervene immediately to ensure that the harassment would be stopped. “The perpetrators – including individuals in the CMU administration providing direction to the eviction- must be held accountable for the grave violations of the farmers’ rights to life, security of person and civil as well as political freedoms, and be duly prosecuted.”
Other international organizations such Vikalpani National Federation, the Pacific’s Year of Rice Action and the Women Solidarity Forum and Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum also expressed their solidarity messages and condemned the indiscriminate firing on the protesting farmers.
Antonio Flores of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said that the case of the BTL community is a slap on President Benigno S. Aquino III, who, in his first year as president, has done nothing for the welfare of peasants. “Hacienda Luisita, which he co-owns, is a living example.”
“The BTL community is proof that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which has been extended for five more years, is a failure,” Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said, “The government awarded the land with its right hand but took it away with the other.”
Mariano added that while legal remedies might be scant, the peasants of the BTL community could still win their right to till the land if they are united. “Even if my life would be put on the line, I am ready for as long as it would benefit my fellow BTL farmers,” peasant leader Loanable said.