THE nine-member delegation of farmers from Southeast Asian countries were held by a team of law enforcers and their travel delayed when they visited their counterparts in Northern Mindanao on Wednesday was for their own security and safety, a police official said on Friday, November 17.
Senior Inspector Corrine Mae Estigoy, the Misamis Oriental provincial police spokesperson, said when they received information that a group of foreign nationals were in Opol town, they mobilized a group of operatives a checkpoint to see to it that no harm will come to them.
The foreigners, together with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) officials, were on their way out of Opol when they were flagged down by the police and brought to the town police station for questioning.
The group belonged to the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) who visited the farmers in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon to learn from their experiences in their struggle to own the land they’re tilling.
Estigoy said the group should have coordinated with the police first before going to their destination so authorities will know their whereabouts should an untoward incident happen.
She said it is the responsibility of the police to protect foreign visitors and inform their embassies of any situation that may arise from their visit.
Estigoy said the foreign peasants were able to present their travel documents and passports to the police.
Ireneo Udarbe, KMP-Northern Mindanao secretary-general, said the travel of the APC members was because of what happened.
The APC members were in Opol as they were interested in knowing how Pangalasag, the peasant group in Bagocboc, was able to fight and won back their land from a corporation that operated a 520-hectare palm oil plantation through legal means.
Udarbe said the APC delegates visited the peasants in Sawaga to learn how they were able to get back on their feet after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered an agri-business company to cease from further operating a palm oil plantation on a 520-hectare land in Tingalan last year.
The corporation reportedly was not able to comply with the provisions of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) as it failed to secure a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the IP community in the area, prompting the DENR to order to stop the firm to stop its operations.
The peasants only returned to their community in August of this year after they were evicted in 2009.
After seven years of being away from their home, the peasants began to resettle the land and planted banana and other crops.
Udarbe said this was the reason why Sawaga was chosen by APC for the farmer-to-farmer exchange program as the delegates have also experienced the same plight in their respective countries.
The foreigners the proceeded to Maramag municipality in Bukidnon and sit down with the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL) farmers who are occupying a portion of land inside the Central Mindanao University (CMU) campus in Barangay Dologon on November 16 to 17.
For Bishop Felixberto Calang, who pleaded with the police not to hold the delegation further, said the foreigners should have been given the due courtesy since they are guests in the country.
“Given that they are foreigners, they have the right to travel without any hamper because they have been allowed to enter the Philippines. I asked the police to reconsider because treating them as if they are suspects is not good for the image of our country,” Calang said in a separate interview.
“Their agenda is legal and if they are involved in crimes, they would have been held upon entering our airport and departed to the home countries. But they are only here for the farmer-to-farmer exchange and not for any illegal acts,” he said.
The bishop said unless the authorities have information that the foreign delegation has committed any violation, they must be allowed to travel within the country.
“Our country is open for foreigners to enter. These APC members have passports which make them legal foreigners. And they have complied with our laws,” he added.
He said the foreigners were traumatized as they have not experienced it in other APC member-countries they had been to.
As of this writing, the delegates declined to be interviewed for their side of the story.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on November 18, 2017.