Gov’t asked to spare public school principals from handling land disputes

The appeal came as many Education officials in Bukidnon linked the March 25 killing of Onesimo Salga, Sr., principal of Airport Village Elementary School here to the case of land dispute involving the school compound and a group of squatters.

Dr. Gloria Benigno, DepEd provincial chief, said Salga was killed "because of a land dispute involving the school he was running and a group of alleged squatters.” She said there are many principals in the province who are also handling land disputes.

She said they might push for policy changes over the principals' custodial duty over school property, including handling the school's land titling needs.

A senior member of the Salga family told MindaNews on April 15 that they were looking at the possible liability of the DepEd in assigning their 60-year old brother to take care of two other schools, including the Casisang Elementary School, which has also a legal tiff with a group of alleged squatters.

On April 5, authorities arrested Joel Rama, whom witnesses pointed as the gunman in the killing of Salga. He was arrested in Casisang and was presented at the Malaybalay City Police Station before he was brought by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to Cagayan de Oro.

An Education supervisor from northern Bukidnon told MindaNews on March 31 that many supervisors around Bukidnon would demand that school principals be spared from handling land disputes of their schools.

The supervisor, who declined to be named, said taking custodial duty over disputed land "is putting our lives on the line.”

Many election supervisors, who attended Salga's burial, said "there might be a need to hire a legal team to mind DepEd’s at least 30 land disputes" in the province. They said that they need protection "from both DepEd and the community where they are teaching".

Another supervisor said security personnel should also be provided to ensure they are protected from attacks, if ever.

On April 8, about 3,000 teachers from all districts of Bukidnon attended an indignation rally and wore white shirts painted with "Justice for Onie" in front and "We do not deserve bullets" at the back.

Malaybalay Bishop Honesto Pacana, who stayed up to the end of the rally, requested in a prayer "for justice and peace for Onie and the bereaved family" and "(for the family) to overcome feelings of hatred and revenge.”

"Nahadlok pud mi uy pero suko kaayo mi," (We are afraid but we are also very angry) an elderly teacher who asked not to be named, said.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)