5 hurt as CMU guards fire at protesting farmers

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 June) – Security guards of Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Maramag town in Bukidnon on Tuesday morning fired at farmers who have camped out near the university’s main gate to demand for an extension of their stay in agricultural lands owned by the school.

Five members of the Buffalo-Tamarraw-Limus (BTL) Association were hit and were brought to two hospitals, Agustin Sanong, the group’s media liaison said.

The farmers have been protesting since May 24 CMU’s decision not to extend their lease over 400 hectares of land and to relocate them afterwards.

The guards dismantled the protesters’ tents in the area and confiscated their materials, Sanong added.

Sanong yesterday told MindaNews via SMS that about 40 CMU blue guards aboard two multi-cabs arrived around 10a.m and fired without warning.

He identified the victims as BTL spokesperson Jose Benemirito, hit in the foot; Larry Divera, hit in the foot and chest; Oyong Santillan, hit in the foot and back; Abelardo Jarden, hit in the leg; and Marilou Porten.

Sanong could not name who among the victims have been declared safe as of Tuesday evening but he said two still had to undergo operation. The victims were brought to hospitals in Valencia and in Malaybalay cities, he said.

CMU president Dr. Ma. Luisa Soliven did not respond to requests sent through SMS for interview via telephone.

Maramag police officer-in-charge Chief Inspector Linoraldo Torres refused to give details “pending investigation.” He said police investigator SP02 Regner Sevilleno was yet to submit his initial report as of Tuesday afternoon, although he promised to give MindaNews a copy of the report.

According to an SMS report forwarded by Supt. Canilo A. Fuentes, provincial police deputy director for operations, six protesting farmers were hit “during a commotion” when their shanties were being demolished by the CMU guards.

Quoting from a report, Fuentes said the guards were led by CMU security director George Gewan.

The same report said that the guards confiscated the protesters’ tent and bamboos poles.

“They even took our rice supply, rice pots, tarps, and leaving us almost with nothing,” Sanong said.

But Sanong admitted that their permit to hold a rally has already expired.

Since May 24, some 500 BTL members had gathered at the main gate of CMU after a task force formed by the university failed to forge an agreement on the fate of about 800 families occupying at least 400 of some 3,000 hectares of CMU lands.

The farmers are asking that their collective contract be extended for four more years, pledging to pay P5,000 per hectare per year and demanding a permanent relocation site by the end of the four-year extension.

Benemirito told MindaNews on May 28 that the farmers are still open to the relocation site in Talakag town offered by the provincial government. But he said they could not move out right away of the site is not ready.

In 1991, The Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) awarded some 400 hectares of CMU lands to BTL farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

After a few years however the Supreme Court overturned the DARAB’s decision.

Despite the SC decision the farmers continued tilling the land amid efforts by CMU to eject them, at times allegedly through harassment.

Successive school presidents starting from Dr. Leonardo Chua during the Cory Aquino administration have had failed to resolve the land conflict between CMU and the farmers.

Meanwhile, Danny Menente, chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Northern Mindanao said the incident in CMU showed that peasants have nothing to celebrate about the CARP for its alleged failure to implement land distribution for farmers.

“We have not benefited anything from CARP but instead of the promised social justice, we are now poorer than ever on account that we are continuously and deliberately deprived of owning the land we till. CARP has only worsened our situation,” Menente said.

CARP marks its 23rd anniversary this month. It became a law in 1988 as Republic Act 6657. (Walter I. Balane with reports from Cong B. Corrales/MindaNews)