By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The members of a coalition of 43 community-based organizations of peasant women in Northern Mindanao condemned the indiscriminate firing of guns by guards on peasants holding a protest action to fight for their right to the land they have been tilling. At least seven farmers have been wounded in the shooting incident.
“We deeply revile the acts of violence committed by the security guards under Chevron Security Agency against the peaceful protest of the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (Bukidnon Free Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Association – Triad Agricultural Manpower of Rural Active Workers –Landless Tillers Inhabitants of Musuan) on June 14, 2011,” the statement read.
On June 14, at around 10:30 a.m., some 15 guards, headed by Nestor Honasan, “fired at the farmers and beat up those near them.” Peasants Billy Jardin, Gregorio Santillan and Larry de Vera all sustained gunshot wounds and were rushed to the nearest hospital. They are waiting for surgery as the bullets remain in their legs.
Another peasant Weni Loable was hit in one eye by a fragment of a stone when bullets hit the ground. “He is waiting to be checked and is in danger of losing his eyesight,” a statement from Amihan-Northern Mindanao Region read. The group added that the farmers were not attended by medical aides “because they could not afford the rates – even for x-ray alone.”
“The guards also tore down the protest camps, took away the cooking utensils and other essentials, and destroyed the group’s loudspeaker to stop them from continuing their protest,” the statement added.
Peasant victims of indiscriminate firing of security guards hired by the Central Mindanao University show their gunshot wounds. (Photos courtesy by Amihan-NMR / Bulatlat.com)
The farmers of the 3,084 hectares of land of the Central Mindanao University were originally hired as agricultural tillers by the said school to develop idle lands into rice farms. But when the CMU went bankrupt in 1986, the farmers, through its group Kilusang Sariling Sikap, continued to cultivate the land and paid rental fees per square meter.
In a statement, Amihan-NMR said that in 1987, 800 members of Kilusang Sariling Sikap applied for the inclusion of 1,200 out of the 3,084 hectares in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the administration of former president Corazon Aquino. “They were given a Certificate of Land Ownership Award for 400 hectares in 1992,” the statement read. The CLOA, however, was cancelled in 2002.
In a memorandum of agreement in 2002, the CMU agreed to lease the designated land in the amount of P4,000 per year for five years. As part of the agreement, the local government unit would have to seek a relocation site for the farmers, which it failed to do five years later. At present, the farmers are being asked to move to San Fernando, a hinterland municipality at the borders of Bukidnon and Davao del Sur, and Talakag, another border municipality between Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental but the peasants argued that the “target sites are either non-agricultural lands or locations with problems on peace and order.”
Amihan sees the Davao Agricultural Ventures Corporation (Davco), a corporate pineapple and banana plantation, as one “motivating force” in the CMU’s intensified plan to evict the farmers as the said plantation company is eyeing the lands. One of the efforts of the CMU, Amihan said, is the increasing presence of CMU guards and paramilitary units under the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Karapatan, a human rights organization, has documented cases of harassment of farmers by soldiers and CMU guards. They set up a people’s camp in front of CMU and organized a farming schedule to prevent any untoward incidents. The said camp out, which has been going on for two weeks now, is the same camp out that the farmers were manning when they were fired at.
“The neglect of the plight of the farmers is becoming a central human rights issue under the present administration, further illustrated by this new brutal incident in Central Mindanao,” the Amihan’s statement read.
The group added that “the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III seriously puts into doubt the respect for human rights of the farmers in the country,” citing the case of the vast Hacienda Luisita, where, in 2004, seven farmer leaders were massacred in front of its gates. “The now infamous Hacienda Luisita Massacre continues to hound the Aquino presidency.”
Amihan also called on the cancellation of the permit to operate of Chevron Security Agency, which, according to the group, is composed of “hired goons who, like rabid guard dogs, would bite and kill at the beck and call of their master.” They also urged the local government of Bukidnon to immediately arrest the guards and authorities responsible for the incident.
We salute the BTL Women’s Association member Marilou Portin, and all the other BTL members in the camp out, for courageously fighting for their rights despite the threats posed on them by the Central Mindanao University and its hired goons. Their plight has been long, more than a decade, and yet they continue to stand by their principles and hope for the realization of their demands.
“We demand that Central Mindanao University president Maria Luisa Soliven, be held accountable for the shooting incident, and be suspended to prevent her from interfering with the investigations.”
But most importantly, the group calls on the national government to review the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) because despite the few cases that the DAR is boasting about, “most of the Bukidnon farmers do not support CARPER because they are its victims.”