CMU to form task force to deal with protesting farmers

VALENCIA CITY (MindaNews/28 June) — The Central Mindanao University board of regents will create a “high level task force” that would continue looking for a peaceful solution to the lingering land conflict with three farmers groups that have merged as the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus Association.

In her letter to the BTL dated June 22 and mailed to MindaNews June 27, CMU president Dr. Maria Luisa R. Soliven said that CMU will observe a status quo in the area and the farmers may continue tilling the land.

About 800 families belonging to the BTL live and work on roughly 400 hectares of land they leased from 2002 to 2007.

But Soliven listed four conditions which the board hopes the farmers will follow:

  • The farmers may continue farming within the next six months starting July 1 as the task force does its work.
  • CMU will decide where the BTL members may continue farming based on a plan to be prepared by the university’s Business Management Resource Development Office.
  • The farmers should not put up any structure in the area during the six-month period.
  • The farmers should vacate the vicinity of the university main gate, where they had been holding a campout protest since May 23.

CMU’s letter was addressed to BTL’s three chairpersons: Winnie Loable, Jose Benemerito, and Genoviva Baconga.

Soliven told MindaNews Tuesday that Patricia Licuanan, concurrent chair of the CMU board and Commission on higher Education, will choose the members of the task force. She did not respond to the query why it is called a “high-level” body, but said it will probably be composed of “national personalities.”

CMU had formed a task force in April 2011 which included a representative from the BTL, but it failed to come up with any agreement.

“It’s possible. The new task force can discuss how to resolve the problem in the national level,” Benemirito told MindaNews via SMS Monday afternoon.

But Benemirito opposed the idea of allowing CMU to choose the area which they can till during the grace period.

“They should leave it to the national task force,” he added.

He said they will press charges against CMU security guards who figured in an allegedly forcible attempt to demolish their tents at the campout area on June 14, after their permit to rally had expired.

The incident left six protesters hurt allegedly by shots coming from the guards three of whom were detained by the Maramag police but released a day later due to an affidavit which even the farmers themselves admitted was faulty.

The farmers have suspended their campout protest as of Saturday.

In 1991, The Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board 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. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)