CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The farmers inside the Central Mindanao University (CMU) cannot claim the land within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte while the proposed Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) is still pending at the Lower House.
Ireneo Udarbe, regional chairperson of the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said this in a phone interview on Friday, October 13.
The group supports GARB or House Bill 252 as the better alternative to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which expired in 2014.
The peasants, collectively known as the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL), have been occupying a portion of property owned by the state-run CMU in Barangay Dologon, Maramag town in Bukidnon for more than 30 years.
“On the legal aspect, there is no assurance that the land the BTL members are asking will be given to them considering that GARB is not the priority of the House. They will just have to stand firm on their belief that the land they are tilling can finally be theirs in the future,” Udarbe said.
BTL members have been tilling parts of the 517 hectares inside the CMU campus with a total land area of 3,080 hectares.
BTL insisted on staying in the property despite the Supreme Court decision in favor with the CMU.
Udarbe said BTL members had survived various forms of abuse, from strafing, threats, to legal actions but they have remained unfazed.
“BTL has become an inspiration for all landless peasants who aspire to own a piece of land that they can call their own,” he added.
In a separate phone interview on Friday, Winnie Loable, BTL chairman, said there is no reason for CMU not to award the contested land to them because the school has not been using it.
“It has been idle for quite some time now. In fact, its other land holdings were being leased out to various firms,” Loable said.
A hundred members and officials of the BTL have been in Manila to bring their voice to the national government agencies such as the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in a protest action dubbed as “Baktas BTL: Fight for Land and Life.”
“Other than the right to till the land, Baktas BTL brings farmers’ issues of lack of social services in Bukidnon. While they are able to stay on their land through their collective assertion, services such as irrigation, food, health, and others are absent, making the lives of farmers difficult,” the group said in a statement.
Aside from the land, the groups are also asking the Duterte administration to extend to them the much-needed assistance such as fertilizers, seeds, and farm tools, as well as the construction of necessary infrastructure.
Since Thursday, Oct. 12, the peasants are camping out outside the DAR national office in Quezon City until their demands are heard and acted upon.
He said the CMU is renting out about 500 hectares of land planted to sugarcane and rice to several companies.
Created as an agricultural school in 1910, CMU was granted an area of about 3,401 hectares by the government through a proclamation issued by then-President Carlos Garcia in 1958.
According to the school’s official website, a portion of the CMU property, about 321.9 hectares, was apportioned to claimants in 1974 leaving the university with 3,080 hectares.
If CMU awards the 517 hectares to the BTL members, Loable said, it won’t pose problem to the university, as it has remaining huge expanse of land for use.
“They (CMU) can’t use all the land for its research, they might as well give it to us,” he added.
In its previous statement, the CMU has maintained that the land occupied by the peasants is owned by the university based on a Supreme Court ruling in 1992.
Over the years, CMU said, there were efforts made to compel the farmers to vacate the area but they refused to leave.
A proposed relocation site was also offered by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri but the BTL members remained committed to staying at the CMU land. (davaotoday.com)