CMU on status quo with “land-squatting” 800 farmers since the 80s

by Cha Monforte, Rural Urban News

The administration of the Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Bukidnon is still taking an “indefinite status quo” position to the decade-old land occupation of a group of farmers who won in the lower level but lost at the Supreme Court in their bid to be the agrarian reform beneficiaries of the university.

Central Mindanao University

CMU vice president for operation Dr. Ricardo Villar said, in an interview, that per recent resolution of the CMU Board of Regents there is still “status quo or no movement” being taken by the university administration in dealing with the “land squatting” problem continually posed by Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus Farmers’ Association (BTL).

“The status quo would include the IP (indigenous people),” he added.

Asked if there was timeframe set by the Board, Dr. Villar said it would be “indefinite”.

But he affirmed that during this time the BTL farmers could “still plant and harvest” in the disputed land they have been occupying and contesting since the 80s .

Reports said that BTL has 800 families as members. They stake over some 400 hectares inside CMU’s land area of 3,080 hectares in Maramag and Sinalayan, Valencia, Bukidnon province. Those BTL-occupied lands are said to be mostly fully developed now as irrigated rice lands.

Moreover, some 670 hectares of CMU’s land area were subject of an ancestral domain claim by Manobos, which CMU has been legally and physically blocking since 2003 after the past Arroyo administration approved an area segregation for the tribe.

HOSTILITIES   

The administration’s status-quo position followed after the hostilities broke up June 3 last year when more than 50 heavily armed university guards and elements of the paramilitary Civilian Auxiliary Geographical Forces Unit partially evicted the farmers from their occupied land.

Reports said that the guards aided by two tractors allegedly destroyed and confiscated hand tools of the farmers. Some of the guards also fired their guns to the air and blocked irrigation canals leading to the farms.

In response, BTL farmers supported by allied women’s groups put up a protest camp in front of the university main gate to denounce the alleged coercive tactics employed by the CMU administration.

On June 14, 2011, protestors claimed that the university guards assaulted their picket line. The guards who were reportedly provoked made warning shots on the ground resulting to wounding of three farmers during the melee.

With the violent incident, the supposed exemption to agrarian reform law in the case of an educational institution as a landowner had apparently become a burning issue of land reform failure shouted by various leftist organizations. 

The BTL earlier charged that CMU preferred to have its vast lands leased to multinational corporations wanting to invest into pineapple and banana plantations.  

The BTL farmers’ claim to be Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries under the Cory Aquino government originated in a complaint filed in 1987 by a group of original complainants calling themselves as the Bukidnon Free Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Organization (Buffalo) before the Dept. Agrarian Reform for declaration of status as tenants under the CARP.

Buffalo leaders were identified to be CMU employees and others as hired workers and laborers in the lowland rice project called “Kilusang Sariling Sikap Program”, a livelihood project launched in 1984 that sought to augment the income of CMU employees. They, in seldas of five members each, were allocated 4 to 5 hectares of land for the lowland rice project.

RULINGS

On Sept. 4, 1989 the Dept. of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) ordered the segregation of 400 hectares of suitable, compact and contiguous portions of the CMU land and their inclusion in the CARP for distribution to qualified beneficiaries. It however declared private respondents Obrique, et al as “not tenants” and “cannot therefore be beneficiaries under the CARP.”

CMU questioned DARAB’s decision filing petition for review on certiorari. On August 20, 1990 the CA affirmed the decision of the DARAB. CMU subsequently appealed it to the Supreme Court for review. While the case was pending, in 1991, DARAB issued certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to the farmers.

On October 22, 1992 the Supreme Court overturned the decisions of the DARAB and the Court of Appeals finding the two bodies to have committed grave abuse of discretion. It ruled that CMU’s land is not covered by the CARP.

The Supreme Court noted that President Garcia issued Proclamation No. 476, withdrawing from sale or settlement and reserving for the Mindanao Agricultural College (forerunner of the CMU) a land reservation of 3,080 hectares as its future campus. “It was set up in Bukidnon, in the hinterlands of Mindanao, in order that it can have enough resources and wide open spaces to grow as an agricultural educational institution, to develop and train future farmers of Mindanao and help attract settlers to that part of the country.”

“To our mind, the taking of the CMU land which had been segregated for educational purposes for distribution to yet uncertain beneficiaries is a gross misinterpretation of the authority and jurisdiction granted by law to the DARAB,” stated the Supreme Court ruling.

However, following the Supreme Court’s decision, the farmers’ groups had been complaining over alleged harassments intermittently made by the university guards in trying to evict them from the land, even as six various CMU administrations apparently met the issue on how to evict the farmers with their changed composition as a recurring big headache.

Since 1997 CMU started to make forcible actions against BTL by securing writs of demolition. But BTL had been resistant. In 1999, BTL proposed for a 25-year lease of the land renewable for another 25 years, which was disapproved by the CMU Board.

In year 2002, the BTL through the help of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with CMU which allowed them to lease the designated land for five years for a rent of P4,000 per year per hectare of irrigated land.

During the five years, the provincial government should seek a proper relocation site for the farmers. Until then, the farmers should stay in CMU. In the year 2007, the MOA expired. CMU ordered the farmers to vacate for relocation in nearby Talakag town. The farmers refused, citing that the sites are either non-agricultural lands or locations with problems on peace and order, even as then Congressman Juan Miguel Zubiri intervened and offered to give financial assistance for relocation at P40,000 for each family.

When the 5-year lease agreement expired, BTL was said to be still obligated to CMU of P2.2 million in land rental arrears which accordingly remained unsettled at present.

CMU PROPOSAL

In CMUs website, the CMU Board of Regents posted an announcement, “So the

public will know” and said that “as early as 1992, the Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of CMU land holdings occupied by the squatters, particularly the BTL.”

After tracing the history of the conflict, the Board’s proposal was announced that commencing on June 1, 2011 a maximum of three (3) years would be given to original farmer-beneficiaries less those who availed the P40,000 cash option to cultivate no more than one (1) hectare per household with a rental fee of one (1) peso per hectare per year.

After that they would have to leave the land as the CMU Board stressed that relocation is not their obligation. CMU further offered to give free tuition fee for the qualified children of BTL.

“The human rights of the informal settlers to eke out a living by continually occupying portion of the university’s land are deemed incompatible with the human rights of this institution and the thousands of students who wish to avail of the quality education at affordable cost that CMU is offering,” said the Board said in the CMU website.
The proposal came up already under the present administration headed by CMU president Dr. Ma. Luisa Soliven. She became the 8th CMU university president on December 15, 2010.
As it appears that CMU’s status-quo position would wind up yet on June 2014, sources who talked on the condition of anonymity, said that at press time “the BTL, which not completely evicted last year as there were member-families who remained in the area, has gained strength, with those evicted re-entering the area.”

“The problem can’t be immediately solved as influential politicians are intervening and are behind the BTL. How then can CMU’s lands be recovered and protected?” sources added. – Rural Urban News/Cha Monforte

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