Protesters who barricaded for over a month at the gates of the University of Southern Mindanao stopped their collective action after the Commission on Higher Education issued an immediate temporary special assignment to former USM President Jesus Antonio Derije.
By DANILDA L. FUSILERO
KABACAN, North Cotabato, Philippines – They no more have a reason to hold a protest camp out. At least, for now.
Protesters who barricaded for over a month at the gates of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) stopped their collective action after the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) issued an immediate temporary special assignment to former USM President Jesus Antonio Derije.
Since January 7, protesters demanded for Derije’s ouster over allegations of graft and abuse of authority. He was also accused of “cultural bias” against the Muslims in the university.
In a memorandum issued to the university Board of Regents, academic and administrative councils dated February 15, Ched said Derije will be temporarily assigned as focal person in the conduct of benchmark research with leading agricultural universities and research centers in the country and in Thailand in line with the Higher Education Reform Agenda and the Public Higher Education Roadmap. His special assignment will last until end of March this year.
Derije earlier announced that he has no plan of stepping out as he asserted that his re-appointment to the position was legitimate. He said he deserves due process over the allegations.
Last week, though, his request for the government troops to intervene with the barricade led to a violent clash when over 30 of the protesters were hurt when the military and police rammed the university gate, awakened the protesters from sleep and beat them.
As Derije is moved to a special assignment, Ched designated Sultan Kudarat State University President Dr. Teresita Cambel, Ph.D. as concurrent Officer-in-Charge (OIC) President of USM, via a special order.
Cambel is the current regional chairperson of the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges.
Those who called for Derije’s ouster welcomed the designation of Cambel. However, they emphasized, their demand to oust Derije remains.
“Magkaiba man ang aming mga pagkilos, iisa ang aming hangarin at ‘yon ay ang mapataklsik si Pres. Derije sa pamantasan,” said Darwin Rey Morante, coordinator for Kabataan Party (KP) in North Cotabato. He looked at Derije’s special assignment as “a victory among the students, faculty, parents and community who painstakingly sacrificed throughout the month-long protest.”
KP’s affiliate students and youth organizations Anakbayan, Liga ng Kabataang Moro and League of Filipino Students (LFS) presented their 15-point agenda to Cambel.
The agenda include the five-year moratorium on Tuition and miscellaneous fees; scrapping of the ‘No Permit, No Exam’ policy; accessible and pro-poor enrolment and payment scheme; abolition of unnecessary, redundant and exorbitant fees, fines and sanctions; rechanneling of student development fund from business-related projects to conducive classrooms and school facilities; consultations prior to student policies formulations; reform in the registration of student organizations; and genuine fiscal autonomy of student councils and student publication.
“USM has a long history of struggle staged by progressive youth and students to defend their rights to education but as an epitome of a commercialized educational system, the university’s public character continues to diminish and has forgotten its social obligation of providing quality and accessible education,” the group’s statement said.
The USM Multi-Stakeholders Movement for Justice and Peace (USM-MSMJP) also presented their 10-point demand.
The group called for the resignation of all members of administrative council and appointment of new members not associated with Derije; to restrain Derije and his identified “minions” to transact any USM-related business; to create an independent investigating body (representations from the office of the Ombudsman, NBI, COA, Civil Service Commission, the university administration and the protesters) to handle all complaints hurled against Derije; to reject the proposed 400-hectare banana plantation; to recognize the rights of the decades-long farmer-maintainers in the rice production area who were ejected due to the joint-venture agreement entered into by Derije.
The USM-MSMJP also demanded the impounding of all harvested palay from the controversial 90-hectare rice production area and the impounding of the questionable equipment (Toyota Fortuner, backhoe, dump truck and x-ray machines, etc).
USM-MSMJP was represented by William dela Torre of the Faculty and Employees; Kamarudin Mandingan of the Parents & Community; and Alimen Sencil, Ph.D of the Civil Society/NGO group. (Danilda L. Fusilero/davaotoday.com)