MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 October) – Defying a ban on protest actions within the capitol grounds here, about 3,000 protesters led by the Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa (Kasama) Bukidnon set up tents at the public site for Lumad evacuees from San Fernando town, Bukidnon who are demanding justice for their slain leader.
The protest, held in time for the 40th anniversary of the land reform law or Presidential Decree 27 of Ferdinand Marcos, ended peacefully according to organizers with the police saying they exercised “maximum tolerance.”
Jose Benemerito Jr., secretary general of Kasama Bukidnon called the protest a victory.
Danilo Menente, Kasama Bukidnon chairperson, admitted that they really intended to breach the barrier set up in the area and pitch the 25 meter x 5 meter tent for evacuees who had been disallowed to put up tents since their return on August 29.
Lumads from Barangay Dao in San Fernando town had earlier encamped at the capitol grounds to demand justice for slain village chief Jimmy Liguyon, who was allegedly killed by members of a paramilitary group. They agreed to go back to Dao after negotiations with provincial officials but returned to the capitol saying Liguyon’s killers continued to harass them there.
“We were previously ignored. They did not respect us. Now we will hold our protest in this area,” a protester barked on a megaphone while aboard a vehicle that moved along the road section where only vehicles of Capitol employees and officials may enter.
The same group of protesters was barred from entering the area on September 21, when they held a rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Martial Law.
Gov. Alex Calingasan signed Executive Order 87 on September 3 providing “stricter regulations regarding the assembly of individuals staging protests or creating infrastructures within the provincial capitol compound which impedes the normal function of government offices.”
The order prevented the returning evacuees from putting up tents anew within the capitol area. The protesters claimed that they were harassed by unidentified men on the same day that Calingasan issued the order.
The provincial board passed a resolution last month creating a “freedom park” in the area but no area has been designated so far for such purpose.
The incident Tuesday afternoon caught Capitol security and police by surprise.
It happened quickly. A little past 3pm, the protesters, who had marched around the city proper, arrived at the Provincial Veterinary Office where the Civil Security Unit set up a barricade.
When they walked past the barricade, the lead marchers soon began running towards the center of the road and in seconds about a hundred more were heading towards the Capitol building. Seeing this, Capitol security and police ran towards the entrance of the building as the protesters occupied the flagpole area.
Personnel from the police’s Provincial Public Safety Command, bearing long firearms, warned protesters to back off. The protesters replied with chants, some of them shouting at reporters who were taking photos of the ongoing commotion. Some male protesters threatened to destroy the cameras or throw stones at those who were taking photos, including some Capitol personnel.
Menente was seen initially facing the Capitol building but when the protesters started to swell near the stairs outside the building he turned to his colleagues and told them to back off saying they were only there to air their sentiments. Somebody handed him a megaphone so the other protesters may hear his appeal.
As the protest in front of the capitol building went on, some protesters brought bamboo poles, tarps, wires, and plywood to set up tents intended for at least 100 individuals from Sitio Kirangol, Dao who were occupying the stage at the Capitol rounds.
Inspector Joel Salo, who led a city police team in the area, estimated the crowd at 3,000. Menente gave the same estimate.
Menente said they did not intend to cause violence as they only wanted to mark Farmers’ Month, Peasants’ Day, and to demand justice for Liguyon.
Benemerito said the evacuees who are Liguyon’s supporters will not leave the encampment until justice is served for the slain leader.
In their statement Kasama Bukidnon said 40 years of land reform in the country has been “inutile” and “burdensome” for the farmers. Some of the placards called for increase in wages and decrease in prices of goods.
Liguyon was killed on March 5 allegedly by Aldy “Butchoy” Salusad, a leader of a paramilitary group in the area and son of Benjamin Salusad, a New People’s Army member who surrendered last year with 81 other alleged rebels.
The elder Salusad is now a member of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)