MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/29 May) — It’s planting season but these farmers are in the picketlines, not in the ricefields.
Farmers belonging to the Buffalo Tamaraw Limus (BTL) Association staged a week-long rally against Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon demanding that they be allowed to continue using the land previously leased to them under a five-year contract.
From May 24 to May 29, BTL members estimated by organizers to be 500 gathered at the main gate in Musuan after a CMU-created task force failed to forge an agreement on the status of about 800 families occupying at least 400 of the more than 3,000 hectares of land titled by CMU.
The farmers are asking that their contracts be extended for four more years, pledging to pay P5,000 per hectare per year and are demanding a permanent relocation site at the end of the four-year extension.
CMU president Dr. Ma. Luisa Soliven said over radio station DXDB on May 27 that the CMU board of regents approved an extension of only three years and is asking for only a peso per hectare per year lease. At the end of it, she added, the farmers have to leave with no relocation site.
CMU has asked the farmers to vacate following an earlier offer by the provincial government of relocation in Talakag town. But the farmers are holding their ground. They said they will not relocate yet because the site is still undeveloped.
BTL spokesperson Jose Benemerito Jr. told MindaNews on May 28 that the farmers are still open to the relocation offered in Talakag “but we can’t just move out right away. The relocation site must be prepared first.”
He added that the roads are not yet built and he was told there is still no access to water and electricity there.
In the rally, the farmers warned that they will continue to till their farms in CMU and vowed to start it on May 28. By evening of May 27, Benemerito said, Soliven asked them in a letter to wait for the BOR decision.
The BOR meets on June 2.
But Benemerito said time is running out. He said farmers want to start planning already. They have not been able to do so because of CMU’s decision for a status quo in the rice fields. The farmers continued to stay in the area but were not allowed to till the farms.
Soliven, who inherited the decades old problem from past CMU presidents, consulted the farmer-leaders before she ordered the formation of the task force.
She told MindaNews in an earlier interview that CMU is pushing for a win-win solution to this land problem.
The nine-member task force, which includes a representative from BTL, failed to come up with a compromise agreement.
But even if they did, any agreement would still be temporary.
Soliven said that although an appellate court declared CMU titles as “null and void,” the final say rests in the Supreme Court.
“If the Supreme Court favors CMU, we will honor the task force’s recommendation,” she said.
Any new proposals, Soliven said, must be brought to the BOR’s attention.
A year after the five year contract expired in 2008, Soliven said CMU proposed a “transitional lease contract,” approved for signing by the BOR. But BTL did not sign it, claiming it was “one-sided.”
Soliven said the late Mardonio Lao, former CMU president, stopped the farmers from tilling the lands when the contract expired.
When Lao died, CMU officer in charge Rodrigo Malunhao allowed the farmers to return to farming the area for “humanitarian reasons.” The present rally was a repeat of the rally held when Malunhao arrived in CMU.
His work as officer in charge was cut short when he fell ill a year later and was replaced by Bukidnon State University president Victor Barroso, who serve as OIC for both universities until Soliven’s assumption.
Aside from the farmers, CMU also battles a land dispute with the Lumads (indigenous peoples) who claim a portion of CMU’s lands as their ancestral domain.
Earlier, the Supreme Court decided that Presidential Proclamation 310, issued by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to set aside at least 670 hectares to the Lumad, was unconstitutional.
But Bae Alma Binayao, head claimant, told MindaNews in an earlier interview that the Supreme Court has to decide on the Court of Appeals decision declaring CMU’s titles as null and void.
“That is the real test because we have evidence to prove it,” she added.
Soliven said she hopes that both parties will respect the decision of the Supreme Court.
“In case it favors CMU, please respect the decision,” she said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)