Protesters defy Capitol no-rally zone, pitch tents for IPs

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/22 October) About 3,000 protesters led by Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa (Kasama) Bukidnon aligned with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) defied a no-rally zone at the Capitol Grounds here Tuesday afternoon asserting that the area just in front the Capitol Building is “public” and within minutes set up a long tent for indigenous peoples from San Fernando camping in the area.

The protest, held in time for the 40th anniversary of the land reform law or Presidential Decree 27 of Ferdinand Marcos, ended peacefully according to organizers with the police saying they disposed of their duty with maximum tolerance.

Protesters said they strike victory Tuesday afternoon with their number they were able to stage a rally in a no-go zone and pitched the tents, Jose Benemerito Jr, secretary general of Kasama Bukidnon said.

Danilo Menente, Kasama Bukidnon chairperson, admitted that they really intended to break the barrier set up in the area and pitch the 25 meter x 5 meter tent for evacuees who had been disallowed to pitch tents since they arrived on August 29.

“We were previously ignored. They did not respect us. Now we will hold our protest in this area,” a protest barker said on the megaphone while he was riding a vehicle moving along the road section where, even on ordinary days was open only to vehicles of Capitol employees and officials.

The same group of protest organizers was barred from entering the area on September 21, when they held a rally to commemorate resistance against Martial Law.

Gov. Alex Calingasan’s Executive Order 87 on September 3 providing “stricter regulations regarding the assembly of individuals staging protests or creating infrastructures within the compounds of the provincial capitol which impedes the normal function of government offices.”

But the incident Tuesday afternoon caught Capitol security and police by surprise.

It happened very quickly. A little past 3p.m, the protesters arrived at the Provincial Veterinary Office corner of the Capitol Grounds where Civil Security Unit set up a barricade. The protesters came from a march around the city proper.

When they walked past the barricade, the lead marchers soon began running towards the center of the road and in seconds about a hundred were heading towards the Capitol building. Seeing these, Capitol security and police run towards the entrance of the building as the protesters occupied the flagpole area.

Personnel from the police’s Provincial Public Safety Command, bearing long firearms, warned protesters to back off using their guns to point. The protesters shouted protest chants, some of them shouting at reporters who were taking photos of the ongoing commotion. Some male protesters threatened to destroy the camera or throw stones at those who were taking photos, including some Capitol personnel.

Menente was seen initially facing the Capitol building but when the protesters started to swell near the stairs outside the building he turned to face them and started to shout and signal for back off. Soon someone handed him a megaphone to appeal for protesters to back off as they only intend to express their sentiments.

As protesters shouted protest yells in front the Capitol building, others rushed bamboo poles, tarps, wires, and ply wood to set up tents intended for at least 100 individuals from Kirangol, Dao, San Fernando who were occupying the stage at the Capitol Grounds.

Police Inspector Joel Salo, who led city police in the area, estimated the crowd to be 3,000.

Menente had the same estimate.

The latter cited that they did not intent to cause violence as they only wanted to mark Farmers’ Month, Peasants’ Day, and to call for justice for slain Dao San Fernando village chief Jimmy Liguyon.

In their protest statement Kasama Bukidnon said 40 years of land reform in the country is “inutile” and “burdensome” to the farmers. Some of the placards call for increase in the wages and decrease in prices of goods.

Some of their leaders spoke from the top of the roving vehicle, which they used as platform calling on the provincial government to heed the cry for justice for Liguyon.

He was slain on March 5 allegedly by Aldy “Butchoy” Salusad, a leader of a paramilitary group in the area and son of Benjamin Salusad, who surrendered last year with 81 others.

The elder Salusad is now a member of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU).

Tension began in the Capitol Grounds in the day Calingasan issued the order disallowing protests in the Capitol Grounds. The new batch of evacuees from Kirangol, Dao, San Fernando town were on their fifth day. They were not allowed to pitch tents in the area previously occupied by a different group of protesters, also from Dao including Liguyon’s family.

Protesters on September 3 reported they were harassed by unidentified personnel. Subsequent protests were also met with noise barrage in time for the Civil Service Month sports fest.

Benemerito said the evacuees who are Liguyon’s supporters will not leave the encampment until justice is served to the slain leader.

The provincial board passed a resolution last month creating a freedom park in the area but no area has been designated so far. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)