KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/16 February)—Classes disrupted by protests at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan, North Cotabato are expected to resume Monday after its president was allowed to leave for Thailand for a month-long research study.
In a memorandum on Friday, Patricia Licuanan, commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), instructed USM president Dr. Jesus Antonio Derije to attend to various matters in the country and abroad effective February 15 to March 31, 2013.
Protests against Derije spearheaded by some faculty members, students and civil society groups have stemmed from accusations of gross neglect of duty, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of government service.
Licuanan authorized Derije to go on leave for “benchmarking with leading agricultural universities and research centers in the country and in Thailand, and to attend scheduled official conferences in connection with the current USM commitments.”
She said the activities covered by her special directive to Derije are “intended to enable the USM to update its current strategic plan as one of the leading universities in the Philippines, especially in areas of research management and researches on agricultural crops, ruminants, bio-diversity, and the halal food industry.”
Dr. Teresita Cambel has been designated officer-in-charge vice Derije during his “temporary’ special work assignment,” the CHED order stated.
Cambel is the president of the Sultan Kudarat State University located in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.
After the CHED order was handed to rally organizers, they immediately opened the main entrance gate and all the other gates of the university at around 1 p.m. on Friday, the school’s FM radio station reported.
William dela Torre, instructor at the USM Agriculture Department and one of the rally organizers, said they will try to cooperate with Cambel “as long as she joins our group in our search for truth and justice.”
Dela Torre said that starting Monday, they would open the gates of the university “so that classes and the school’s operations could resume.”
However, he clarified that the tents they put up in front of the USM administration building “will stay” there.
“We will continue to monitor until Dr. Derije is suspended by the Ombudsman,” he stressed.
Dela Torre said that after Derije completes his official business, they would ask the USM Board of Regents (BoR) to reconsider their decision to withhold the 90-day preventive suspension that it should have handed down to him before the CHED order came out.
“The BoR [reportedly] decided to postpone the 90-day suspension due to some technicalities,” he said.
The supposed suspension, dela Torre stressed, stemmed from the administrative charges they filed against Derije.
For his part, Derije said the CHED order was a “divine intervention to end the protest rallies against him in a peaceful way.”
“Whatever we did to ensure that classes would resume, we were always met with so much force from the rallyists. Worst, our policemen had been hurt when they tried to open our gates,” he said.
“Our students and teachers had been traumatized because they were not allowed to enter the campus. The rallyists had become violent. They were [allegedly] carrying guns and machetes inside the university,” he added.
Derije claimed that a “third force” was behind the protests but he did not elaborate.
He also admitted that he was planning to go on a leave.
“But the CHED gave me important tasks to accomplish, which I think are more relevant to maintain the status of the USM as one of the country’s leading agricultural universities,” said Derije.
“What is important to me is to ensure that students get quality education and that they’re safe and secure while inside the campus,” he said. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)