CMU's new prexy vows changes, no more bloodshed

MUSUAN, Maramag, Bukidnon (MindaNews/30 Dec) — Central Mindanao University’s new president, Dr. Ma. Luisa Soliven, knew that the position she officially assumes on January 1, 2011 is controversial and dreaded.

But the first woman president of the 9,000-student university said she finds courage in the support given by the CMU stakeholders who put her in the position.

The first memorandum she will issue is the creation of two committees that will initiate changes in CMU: the changing of the university code to upgrade on the curricula and the restructuring of the university organizational structure. She said new positions have to be created and redundant ones be removed.

She said the university is among the Top 5 in the country despite its limitations.

“But we lacked a lot and we need to catch up,” she said. She said they take pride in their well-trained faculty despite problems with equipment and facilities.

In the College of Agriculture, for example, which is one of the flagship programs, 34 of the 66 faculty members have PhD degrees. She said the national government is pressuring state universities to maximize use of their assets alongside what she said as the “deteriorating” national budget allocations for state colleges and universities.

Soliven admitted, however, that one of her biggest tasks is to face the pending land issues CMU is involved in, including the 670 hectares of land which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued to a Manobo-Talaandig tribe in 2003 as part of their ancestral domain but within the university’s more than 3,000-hectare title property.

She said they cannot maximize raising locally generated funds for capital outlay because of the land dispute.

The Supreme Court, in an en banc decision, ruled that Ms Arroyo erred in issuing Presidential Proclamation 310 which granted 670 hectares of land taken from CMU as part of the ancestral domain being claimed by the tribe.

During the public forum in the selection process for CMU president, Soliven, then the vice president for academic affairs, vowed to “abide by the rule law” in addressing the land dispute.

The group of Bae Alma Binayao has filed a motion for reconsideration at the Supreme Court to contest its ruling.

In October, Binayao told MindaNews they will contest the decision and were “ready to return to the picket lines” if necessary.

Soliven said she might have vowed to abide by the law but she also cannot opt for radical positions like evicting the residents she labeled as squatters from their current positions.

“I do not want us to resort to bloodshed. There has been like that before and it did not work,” she said.

Soliven said she will conduct a massive consultation on how to address the problem but she is inclined to go for peaceful and gradual resolution to the problem.

In a decision penned by Justice Roberto A. Abad and dated Sept. 21, the SC ruled that PP 310, which awarded a portion of Central Mindanao University’s 3,410 hectares to the tribe, is unconstitutional since the university’s lands were not inalienable public lands.

Arroyo issued the proclamation on January 7, 2003 upon the recommendation of Task Force 63, a body formed to fast-track executive action on ancestral domain claims in areas where violence was likely to erupt between the contending parties.

The Court held that when President Carlos P. Garcia dedicated the lands for CMU’s use in scientific and technological research in the field of agriculture in 1958, the announcement said, the lands have since become inalienable.

Garcia issued PP 476 in 1958 delineating CMU’s property in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon.

The late CMU president Mardonio Lao questioned Arroyo’s proclamation before the Regional Trial Court and later at the Court of Appeals.

CMU pursued the case up to the Supreme Court even after Lao’s death in August 2008. He died of complications caused by a liver disease.

Lao vowed not to allow the claimants to come in pending court decision on CMU’s petition.

He said the petition did not intend to defy Arroyo but to exhaust legal means in protecting the university’s titled property.

The SC used the decision in CMU v. Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB), where CMU questioned DARAB’s order segregating 400 hectares of CMU lands for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries.

“I do not want to do a Dr. Lao,” she said. Her predecessor, who died before his term ended in 2008, reportedly strictly implemented the law, causing evictions and confrontations with the parties to the land dispute.

His administration was marked with reports of harassments against farmers and Lumads who occupied the disputed lands, including reports of alleged killings.

“We do not want something like that,” Soliven said, although she admitted that many of the reports that came out of the media were one-sided.

She said she will coordinate with the provincial government of Bukidnon in approaching the problem as it involves the problems of its constituents.

Soliven vowed to find ways so the occupants can have livelihood and so they can live in the boundaries of the property.

She also vowed not to push for tuition fee increases “unless necessary” in the upkeep of quality education.

“Quality education is a shared responsibility. We cannot just solely rely on government,” Soliven stressed.

In June 2011, CMU will increase its tuition fee for freshmen enrollees from P90 to P150 per unit.

To those who did not support her candidacy, Soliven said she will treat them equally and will not keep grudges.

“As long as they do their work, it is easy to move on,” she added. Soliven said another important thing to do first is to practice transparency in the university’s transactions.

“I have to prepare for those who will be hit by the changes,” she said. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)