Military and cops loaded in 6×6 trucks consequently entered the gates, shut-off the electric lights and took advantage of the dark, randomly whipping at the protesters who just awakened from sleep.
By DANILDA L. FUSILERO
KABACAN, Cotabato, Philippines – Protesters camping by the main gates of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) to demand the ouster of its president over allegations of graft and abuse of authority, were hurt when military and police rammed the gates early dawn, Wednesday, awakened them from their sleep and beat them.
Abby Pato, lead convener of the USM Multi-stakeholders Movement for Truth and Justice (USM-MMTJ) said they were sleeping when a Simba tank bumped the main gate.
Around 200 military and police personnel loaded in 6×6 trucks, according to Pato, consequently entered the gates, shut-off the electric lights and took advantage of the dark, randomly whipping at them.
Some of the protesters who were awakened by the loud crashing of the Simba tank, Pato said, managed to fight back to defend themselves. Some, Pato said, were able to text residents of nearby communities who arrived to help them.
“We would have died were it not for them,” Badrodin Datu Ali, one of the protesters said, adding that many of them were also hurt in the scuffle that lasted for more or less, two hours, until the police and military troops pulled out.
Over 30 rallyists were hurt, with five badly wounded when hit at sensitive parts of their bodies, Darwin Morante, Kabataan Party Coordinator said.
Morante said one of the rallyists, Garry Magunto, sustained a wound at the back of his head, while two others, Al Rashid Sencil and Mincucom Sencil were hit in their arms.
Another protester, Badrudin Datuali, Morante added, was struck on his head, while Patik Mohamad sustained wounds in different parts of the body. They were treated at the university hospital.
Two of the protesters according to Morante were also reportedly taken by the police.
“Gusto lang mig kabag-uhan sa university pinaagi sa pagpalagpot sa presidente, nganong hasta mga pulis, gamiton man para mi masakitan? (All we want are reforms by ousting the (USM) President, but why are they using the police to hurt us?),” he pointed out.
The protesters accused the USM President Jesus Antonio Derije, in connivance with the local police and the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, including Kabacan Mayor George Tan, to be behind the move, with the intent of dismantling their barricade.
Kabacan Chief of Police Leo Ajero however, in an interview with a local radio station, belied these, saying that the protesters resisted and started throwing stones at them when his troops tried to open the gates.
According to Ajero, the rallyists “initiated the violence and were armed with machete, hammer and wood with protruding nails.” He claimed that four of their troops had also sustained bruises and wounds from the incident.
Ajero added that they were just there to intervene upon the request of the USM president who complained that the protesters have locked all the gates of the university.
He also admitted taking four protesters “for investigation.”
The protest for the ouster of Derije started last January 7.
Aside from alleged graft and abuse of authority, members of the USM-MMTJ have also accused Derije of “cultural bias” against the Muslims in the university, instigating members of nearby Muslim communities to also join the protest.
Derije, however, has announced that he has no plan of stepping out, asserting that his re-appointment as president was “legitimate.”
“If they have the right to protest, we also have the right to work and the students to attend their classes,” Derije said, adding that due process should be afforded him, regarding the graft charges.
Executive Director Julito Vitriolo of the Commission on Higher Education has stressed earlier the need for the University’s Board of Regents to urgently resolve the USM crisis, an opinion which is also shared by Kabacan town’s interior and local government officer, Cedric Mantawil. (Danilda L. Fusilero/davaotoday.com)