His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
Malacañang Palace, Metro Manila
Dear President Aquino:
We are profoundly disturbed by the reported conduct of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), through President Maria Luisa R. Soliven, in prohibiting the farmers-members of Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL) to continue tilling their farm-lots inside the CMU premises at Dologon, Maramag, Bukidnon.
Some 800 families of the BTL farmers tilling in good faith about 400 hectares out of the 3,080 state-owned CMU agricultural lands face eviction and its inevitable consequence, hunger.
While last of BTL's series of lease agreement with CMU expired in 2007, we stand with the farmers on their position that unless appropriate relocation site is provided to them by the local government unit of Bukidnon, they should not be driven out from their farms inside the CMU premises.
We have known that the initiatives of the Provincial Government of Bukidnon, represented by then governor and now vice-governor Jose Maria Zubiri, together with the 3rd Congressional District of Bukidnon, represented by then congressman and now senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, of providing relocation sites at the municipalities of Talakag and San Fernando for the BTL farmers have by far failed because the relocation sites are situated at the mountainous areas, the lands not suitable to agriculture and with persistent peace and order problems.
We are alarmed by reports of human rights violations perpetrated by the Chevron Security agency hired by the CMU and by the paramilitary elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' 23rd Infantry Battalion as means of forcing the BTL farmers to leave the premises.
We condemn the assault on the picket line on June 14, 2011, resulting to seriously wounding three farmers. We are, therefore, tagging the CMU President, Maria Luisa R. Soliven, as criminally liable.
We seek for swift and impartial investigation and appropriate actions from the Philippines' Department of Justice, Commission of Human Rights, Committee for Human Rights of the House of Representatives and Committee for Human Rights of the Philippines Senate, and from independent national and international human rights organizations over reports of sustained harassments against the farmers and their families, and unlawful confiscation of their farm implements by the CMU guards. We look forward to an end of these human rights violations, and those responsible duly held accountable therefore.
The BTL farmers have been cultivating their lands since 1986 and have long struggled for ownership of said lands for the same period. They were even awarded Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) as beneficiaries of the Republic Act 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) under the government of your esteemed mother, Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino. Sadly, the Supreme Court divested the BTL farmers of their CLOAS in 1992 and exempted the CMU from CARP, in favor of CMU's Income Enhancement Program aimed at leasing its lands to multinational corporations (MNCs) as means to generate revenues and to offset the government's lack of budget for state colleges and universities.
We find no justification or urgent reason for CMU to evict immediately the BTL farmers from the lands they have been tilling for almost 25 years reckoned from 1986. Certainly, CMU's reasons for converting the same to 'fish ponds, piggery and poultry' educational enterprise could never be accepted as supreme over the farmers' right to life and their right to till the land.
Mr. President, we hope that your government consider with sincerity the gravity of the case of the BTL farmers, and action be taken promptly to arrive at the just resolution of the CMU land dispute with lasting effects. We call on your government to address the agrarian unrest at CMU by way of implementing genuine agrarian reform that will award ultimately titles of ownership to the BTL farmers. We invoke on your personal and your government's sense of history and social justice by taking notice and adherence to the 1971 Cadastral Court Decision allotting 321.9 hectares of land to the landless farmers for humanitarian reasons and in pursuit of the government's agrarian reform program.
Pending resolution of the BTL's claim for ownership of lands pursuant to the agrarian reform law, we urge the Philippine government to direct CMU administration to enter into a 50-year lease contract, taking into consideration the period covered by the past lease agreements beginning in 1992, and extendable for another 50 years in the same manner that the Philippine government has been allowing multi-national corporations to lease public lands for the same period. Such arrangement will allow peace and order to prevail inside the contested CMU areas.
Thank you very much.
Very truly yours,
Hon. Loretta Ann Rosales
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Building, Commonwealth Avenue
UP Complex, Diliman, Quezon City
Atty. Virgilio R. Delos Reyes
Department of Agrarian Reform
Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City
Senator Jose Ma. R. Zubiri III
Senate of the Philippines
Gov. Alex Calingasan
Province of Bukidnon
Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri
Province of Bukidnon
Maria Luisa R. Soliven
Central Mindanao University
University Town, Musuan, Bukidnon , Philippines