International participants gathered over the weekend to start the three-day solidarity visit to the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL) communities in Maramag, Bukidnon to express their support for the communities’ assertion of their rights.
The 24 participants, mostly coming from the United States of America, haven chosen the BTL area among other opened communities throughout the Philippines for their short exposure as part of the International Conference for People’s Rights in the Philippines (ICPRP).
Holding its first conference in July 2013, the ICPRP takes its unity from the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples, which, among others, asserted the right of the oppressed peoples of the world to fight for their liberation.
“We warmly welcome the participants who are here to gain deeper insights on peoples’ rights, which strongly anchor on the right to self determination,” said Vennel Francis Chenfoo, secretary general of Panalipdan Youth (PY) Mindanao and head of the Task Force International Solidarity Mission (TF-ISM). “Contrary to the common understanding of rights, this self determination is not only applicable to indigenous communities. We are all entitled to develop – as an individual and more importantly as a community. The BTL farmers’ defense of their land is their expression of this right.”
For BTL, the visit to their area is timely as they are about to launch anew their campaign after they lost their case in the Ombudsman.
The BTL is composed of roughly 800 farming families that have been asserting their occupation of some 400 hectares in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon. The area had previously been part of the land granted by then-president Carlos Garcia to the Central Mindanao University (CMU).
The land was later on subjected to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and was distributed among farmers who had developed the land under a failed rice program of the university. CMU challenged this decision and until now has kept on trying to install university guards in the area to stop the residents from farming. CMU insisted the land would be used for research and educational purposes. However, the university has leased a large part of its areas to agricultural plantations such as Davao Agricultural Ventures, and the Bukidnon Resources Company, Inc.
In their struggle, a number of their leaders have been killed over the years. However, the organizations stood firm and continued to launch several actions including a camp-out in front of the university’s main gate, which lasted for almost a month in June 2011. They also set up a system of collective tilling that allowed them to work on the land amidst the attacks of the university guards.
Dubbed as ‘Pakigbisog’, the international solidarity mission to BTL is arranged by theREAP Mindanao Network, Kasama Bukidnon, Karapatan-Northern Mindanao, Anakbayan-Northern Mindanao and PY Mindanao.
Participants will later proceed to Davao City for the ICPRP. (pr)