Protesters continue to control NorthCot state university

KIDAPAWAN CITY (Mindanews / 31 Jan) – Members of the Multi-Stakeholders Movement for Peace, Truth, and Reforms continue to control the state-owned University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan, North Cotabato since they launched the third wave of their protests on Monday, a school official said.

The protests, which were aimed at throwing out Dr. Jesus Derije from the presidency for alleged graft and corruption, started on January 7.

Dr. Antonio Tacardon, USM’s vice-president for academic affairs, said the protesters are now manning the school’s main and other gates.

“I could say there is breakdown of law and order in the university because of these protests,” he said, adding that the protesters crashed the gates and have prevented the students from taking their midterm exams.

Tacardon said they were expecting police and other law enforcers to come to their rescue when the protesters became unruly.

“This is already a severe abuse of the right to protest. The protesters have practically gone beyond the boundaries of the right to protest. So it’s just right the government steps inside to prevent further deterioration of the conditions in the university,” said the school official.

The policemen detailed at the university, however, have maintained “maximum tolerance” against the rallyists.

Also, the school’s security personnel are told to stay put to prevent blood from spilling on the university.

Cedric Mantawil, interior and local government officer of the Kabacan LGU, said the third wave of the protests at the university was without permit.

Mantawil said Kabacan Mayor George Tan refused to grant the rally organizers another permit because of their failure to observe the restrictions that were agreed upon when they were first allowed on January 7 to hold the mass action.

“I would say the rally was not done peacefully. The protesters used big trucks to prevent vehicles and students from entering the campus. Also, I even witnessed a scene when the protesters did not even give Mayor Tan due respect when he visited the rally site last week,” said Mantawil.

Despite this, Mantawil stressed the local government will not meddle into the affairs of the USM, “even if the rally organizers have sought intervention from local officials to support them of their move to throw Dr. Derije out from his post.”

“The university has its own charter. It has its own system in choosing who would best fit as president of the school. Besides, there is an existing law that prevents politicians from meddling into the affairs of any state-owned university like the USM,” said Mantawil.

If, however, the university believes charges should be filed against the rally organizers for destroying some of the school’s facilities, Mantawil said “they can do it because that’s their right.”

Tacardon said most of the protesters were outsiders.

“These are not our students. They are residents from other places who were transported here to join the rally. The students who have joined the protests were very few. But you see? Those manning the gates are not our students,” said Tacardon.

Gutierrez Lamida, a resident of Barangay Kayaga, Kabacan and one of the protesters, admitted that not all of them are students.

“Many of us here are parents, guardians, and residents of the community affected by some of the policies of the school, which we consider are wicked,” Lamida said in the dialect.

Rey Morante, fourth year fisheries student at USM and spokesperson for the Kabataan party-list-Cotabato chapter, said he was overwhelmed by the continued pouring in of support from all sectors of the community.

“Since the rally started three Mondays ago, we are gaining so much support. They voluntarily came to the rally site after they learned about the president’s graft and corrupt practices,” said Morante.

Tacardon said the rally organizers cannot just remove anybody from any government institution because of the election ban, the synchronized local and national polls being just months away.

“Second, you cannot just remove people without due process. Dr. Derije was just reappointed for another four years after a rigorous selection. He was reappointed by no less than Commissioner Patricia Licuanan of the Commission on Higher Education,” said Tacardon.

Morante and his group had accused Derije of using Fund 164 or the Student Development Fund to purchase in 2011 a black Fortuner and a Norinco caliber .45 pistol.

Also, the president has been charged of violating the Government Procurement Act when he bought an expensive X-ray machine for the university’s hospital.

Rejana Camsa, secretary-general of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines at the USM, said the machine was worth P3.4 million.

“This was despite the fact that a much lower price was presented during the bidding process. The price was pegged at P1.9 million. Yet the president chose to purchase the P3.4 million X-ray machine,” said Camsa.

Derije denied the charges.

Tacardon, who serves as spokesman for the school, said those accusing the president of graft are “ignorant of the whole process.”

“We need a movable X-ray machine. That is what we requested, which was approved by the national government although that was a lot more expensive as compared to an ordinary machine which costs P1.9 million,” said Tacardon.

Also, he justified the use of student funds to purchase a Fortuner for Derije.

He explained that when Derije assumes the post in 2008, he was assigned a dilapidated vehicle. “As president, he needs to be always on the go. The USM Board of Regents allowed the use of Fund 164 … to purchase a Fortuner because that’s the only available fund at that time. It’s allowed under the law because the fund is not considered a fiduciary,” Tacardon explained.

Derije, however, is willing to face the charges filed against him at the Ombudsman and at the Department of Justice.

“I will wait for the resolution of those complaints. In the absence of the decision, I will continue to perform my duties as president because I’ve accepted the position under oath,” said Derije. (Malu Cadelina Manar / MindaNews)