Bukidnon farming communities as social laboratories?
By Gina Mission

After undergoing years of legal battles and harassment, members of the Bukidnon Free Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Organization (Buffalo) and the Tried Agricultural Manpower and Rural Active Workers (Tamaraw), are finally seeing a glimmer of hope as the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) promised to study their proposal regarding the disposition of land belonging to Central Mindanao University (CMU) that the farmers say is theirs.

___In a September 16 dialogue with Buffalo and Tamaraw leaders, CHED Commissioner Roberto Padua, in his capacity as chair of the CMU Board of Regents, ordered the review and consideration of the farmers’ proposal.

The case

___CMU is the registered owner of three parcels of land in Musuan and Maramag, Bukidnon, with a total area of 3,000 hectares. According to Buffalo President Florentino Macote, the said lots were withdrawn from sale or settlement and were reserved for educational purposes since 1958. This has been the cause of various land conflicts with the lumad, landless farm workers and settlers in Musuan who claim to have been living in the place since time immemorial.

___In 1960, a group of lumad filed an opposition to the application of CMU to a title for the land. In 1972, farmers belonging to the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) entered and occupied the eastern portion of the CMU land for more than two months. Macote recalled that classes were disrupted and the school was even closed for more than a week. The FFF, however, abandoned the area when Martial Law was declared.

___In 1984, former CMU President Isabelo S. Alcordo initiated the Agribusiness Management Training Program (AMTP) in campus and absorbed hundreds of landless farmers as farm workers. This, according to Macote, freed the CMU of agrarian problems for more than a decade, until after the EDSA Revolution when the aspiration of the landless for land was rekindled. Immediately after EDSA, Buffalo was born, composed of the lumad, settlers and laid-off workers of the university’s AMTP project.

___Buffalo then filed a case for the inclusion of CMU’s agricultural land under agrarian reform, before the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB). The farmers got a favorable decision, which was later upheld by the Court of Appeals. Consequently, the DARAB issued a writ of execution segregating 400 hectares of CMU land for distribution to Buffalo members.

___The issuance of the writ was based on the premise that the DARAB decision was "immediately executory pending appeal" and that "no court of the land can issue a restraining order against the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP)." A certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) was immediately issued to the 252 members of Buffalo.

___Inspired by Buffalo’s success, other groups of farmers also organized and filed separate petitions for the inclusion of the southeastern side of CMU land under the CARP. The Tamaraw won 600 hectares under the Omnibus Decision of the Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board of Region 10. Another farmers’ group, Taladula, won another 200 hectares under the Compulsory Acquisition initiated by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) in 1991.

___On October 22, 1992, however, the Supreme Court reversed all three rulings, saying that the DARAB lacked jurisdiction over the case, and that public lands used as school reservations are not covered by CARP.

___According to Macote, the DAR abandoned the area and the farmers after the issuance of the Supreme Court decision. But the farmers stayed on. "We persistently cling to the land despite the various forms of harassment waged by CMU authorities, resulting in injuries and disillusionment of many farmers in the present system of governance," said Macote.

___Even while citing a constitutional provision that urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished except in a just and humane manner, and with the proper consultation and relocation of those affected, the farmers know that theirs is a lost cause. "Legally, we have already lost. But we’re hoping for a humanitarian settlement of the issue," said Roger Senoben, a Buffalo member.

___Nevertheless, they used the same rule in spearheading a campaign to ask the intercession of "higher authorities" to find an administrative solution to this problem. For this purpose, the farmers suggested a lease contract with the University until the DAR makes a resettlement area available for them.

Social laboratory

___Former Education Secretary, Ricardo Gloria visited the place in April 1995 and held a dialogue with CMU authorities and Buffalo. On April 12, 1997, he returned to the area and spoke to the lumad who claimed the land as their ancestral domain. These meetings led Gloria to propose that the land in question be converted into a "social laboratory" and that a P5M budget from the President's Social Fund be requested to initially support the project.

___Gloria's "social laboratory" would serve as the field practicum of agriculture students as they researched various social issues such as rural development, cooperatives, rural industrialization, agrarian reform, population dynamics, and as a training center for farmers and rural development workers.

___For the farmers, the social laboratory concept appears to be the soundest solution to their problem. Thus, they have committed to make the project successful and lasting. They also promised support to the goals and mission of the school, contrary to allegations that the landless farmers are a "threat to the existence of the institution."

___The farmers agreed that schools are institution of higher learning "established to promote knowledge, to advance knowledge and to protect knowledge for the benefit of mankind." The Central Mindanao University, as a center of agricultural learning established for the benefit and welfare of the farming population, which, incidentally, includes them, is one such institution.

___Realizing the benefits that being a part of the social laboratory would bring, the farmers suggested that a vast portion of the project’s budget be set aside for the education, training and job placement of children and dependents of farmers in such non-farming endeavors as carpentry, welding, automotive, tool fabrication and computers, among others. These, the farmers believed, would prepare them for the coming industrial stage.

___"Children and dependents of the farmers should be given access to elementary and high school education in CMU, " the farmers proposed. In turn, the farmers would make themselves and their farms available to agriculture students and academic researchers.

___As such, the social laboratory will encourage the farmers’ children to study and therefore not inherit the farming occupations of their parents. "Eventually, this will reduce the farming population inside the laboratory, thereby releasing a considerable area to give room to other developmental programs of the University," explained Rafael Mariano, Secretary General of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP).

___This strategy, Mariano continued, may also be adopted by the government as a solution to the ongoing agrarian unrest in the countryside. "The government must exert efforts to reduce the farming population into levels at par with Japan, Europe or US to solve the agrarian problem," he added

___Following the social laboratory model, the farmers proposed that all duly-recognized farmer organizations inside the University be considered participants of the project, and be allowed to till the land they presently occupy, the average of which is 0.7 hectare per member for a total of 800 hectares. The farmers offered to pay P2,000 per hectare per year as land rental.

___The farmers’ proposal further asked for a first lease agreement, which shall cover 800 hectares renewable after 20 years, followed by a second lease agreement covering 600 hectares renewable after 20 years, a third lease agreement to cover 400 hectares renewable after 20 years, and another lease agreement to cover 200 hectares renewable after 20 years.

The voice of the gods

___In a dialogue about the proposal for a leasehold arrangement, Dr. Mardonio Lao, CMU President raised reservations about its alleged lack of legal basis, as well as the sincerity of the farmers. But the farmers clarified that the misunderstandings in the past were "due to the insistence of the CMU to enforce the Supreme Court decision."

___For his part, CHED Commissioner Padua stated that it is time to "put the misunderstanding aside in favor of a peaceful solution." Padua indefinitely lifted the writ of demolition to pave the way for the consideration and study of the leasehold proposal of the farmers. A committee was formed composed of Lao or his duly authorized representative, and the representatives of the regional offices of the National Economic Development Authority, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, representatives from the local governments of Maramag and Bukidnon, and one representative of the three farmers’ organizations.

___Among other things, the committee will study and recommend means "to implement the Supreme Court decision in the most humane way" and to propose alternative sources of livelihood for the farmers. The committee will convene in the second week of October.

___While they are sure about the outcome of the committee’s deliberations, the CMU farmers are celebrating the inclusion of their representative to the committee, which they consider their "first victory" after the Supreme Court decision. Their hopes remain high that this episode will end well. As Macote said, "God is not sleeping. He will touch the hearts of the committee members."

___They do not call themselves "Buffalo" and "Tamaraw" for nothing. Their determination to fight is as strong as a raging bull’s, but without the attendant bull-headedness. For they still believe in the attainment of a "peaceful solution," which, as they said, can only be had by going "beyond the legal technicalities" in favor of the "higher ends of justice."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.09.23