KIDAPAWAN CITY -- The president of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) is undergoing a month-long research in Thailand, which also signaled the end of the protests spearheaded by some faculty, students, and civil society in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

The order for USM president Dr. Jesus Antonio Derije to undertake research and management in agriculture outside the country came from Higher Education (Ched) Commissioner Patricia Licuanan.

Licuanan, in her memorandum order dated February 15, authorized Derije to undertake two important activities on official time: first, make a "benchmark" with leading agricultural universities and research centers in the country and in Thailand; and second, attend scheduled official conferences in connection with the current USM commitments, effective February 15 up to March 31, 2013.

Licuanan said the activities covered by her special directive to Derije are “intended to enable the USM to update its current strategic plan as one of the leading universities in the Philippines, especially in areas of research management; and researches on agricultural crops, ruminants, bio-diversity, and the ‘halal’ food industry.

Derije would be replaced by Dr. Teresita Cambel as the officer-in-charge during his ‘temporary’ special work assignment, the Ched order stated.

Cambel is the president of the Sultan Kudarat State University in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.

After the Ched order was handed to rally organizers, they immediately opened the main entrance gate and all the exits of the university, at around 1 p.m. Friday, according to Rod Benez, reporter for DXVL-FM, the USM's campus radio.

William dela Torre, instructor at the USM's Agriculture Department and one of the rally organizers, said they will try to cooperate with Cambel "as long as she joins our group in our search for truth and justice."

Dela Torre said that starting Monday, they would open the gates of the university "so that classes and the school's operations could resume."

He, however, clarified that the tents they put up in front of the USM's administration building "will stay."

"We will continue to monitor until Dr. Derije is suspended by the Ombudsman," he said.

Dela Torre said after the month-long task the Ched has given to Derije, they would ask the USM's Board of Regents (BOR) to re-consider their decision to put on hold the 90-day preventive suspension that it should have handed down to the president before the Commission’s order came out.

"We were told that the BOR has decided to postpone the 90-day suspension due to some technicalities," he said.

The supposed suspension, he stressed, stemmed from the administrative charges they filed against Derije for gross neglect of duty, dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the government service.

Derije, for his part, said the Ched order was a ‘divine intervention’ to end the protest rallies against him in a "peaceful way."

"Whatever we did to ensure that classes would resume, we were always met with so much force from the rallyists. Worst, our policemen had been hurt when they tried to open our gates. Our students and teachers had been traumatized because they were not allowed to enter the campus. The rallyists had become violent. They are already carrying guns and machetes inside the university," Derije said.

He added that a ‘third force’ was already "meddling" in the protests.

This "force", he said, is "armed" and has so much following. He refused to elaborate.

He admitted it was his own idea to go on a leave.

"But the Ched gave me important tasks to accomplish, which I think are more relevant to maintain the status of the USM as one of the country’s leading agricultural universities," Derije said. "What is important to me is to ensure that students get quality education and that they're safe and secure while inside the campus."