Sitio Olag Settlers Demand Dialogues With New BU Admin

Young kids at a sari-sari store in Sitio Olag, Daraga live modestly amidst uncertainty along the neighborhood blocks of the BU College of Arts and Letters. Photo by Summer Untalan

๐‘ฉ๐’š ๐‘ฏ๐’‚๐’๐’” ๐‘จ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’‚๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’•๐’† ๐‘ต๐’๐’ƒ๐’๐’†, ๐‘ท๐’‚๐’•๐’“๐’Š๐’„๐’Š๐’‚ ๐‘ต๐’Š๐’„๐’๐’๐’† ๐‘ช๐’‚๐’‚๐’”๐’Š, ๐‘ซ๐’‚๐’“๐’๐’†๐’๐’† ๐‘ณ๐’‚๐’”๐’•๐’“๐’–๐’๐’๐’

Behind the towering structures of Bicol University (BU), the households of Sitio Olag play tug-of-war with the BU administration in a territorial dispute that has been recurring for a few decades.

At first glance, its inviting ambiance seems typical - children playing along busy roads, residents hemming into their small livelihoods and daily chores, while others tend to their livestock and gardens โ€“ only a few means of livelihood for this simple circle. All is mundane among such amenable citizens; but is it?

Not when the point of view focuses on the far northeast of the sitio. The young buildings of Bicol University nearly overlap with what appears to be a frontier. Territorial disputes existing for decades now, remain recurring. With the impending shift of the administration this 2023 and the welcoming of the next Bicol University president, the tug-of-war in land has become a back-and-forth process for both parties involved.

The past university administration headed by BU President Arnulfo Mascariรฑas saw a fluctuating turmoil over his term. Perhaps the situation peaked during the construction of the olympic-sized swimming pool for the Palarong Pambansa way back in 2016. The southwestern border, which was then a congregation of 41 households winding down the Sagumayun River, became a prospect for the expansion of new facilities in the university.

While expansion projects on granted land areas appear unfair in the eyes of the residents, the admin responds under the proclamation that BU is a government institution, and subsequent lands along the university are considered privileges of state universities. Thus, the conventional days of those families were cut, along with their resources and communal networks in favor of the expansion and construction in BU for various educational purposes.

From Lowland to Upland

In 2016, as the university pursued prestige and excellence, previous residents inside the university claimed how helpless they were in defending their territories against the administration. With the absence of legal documents, those 41 families were allegedly no match for the grit of government-based grants upon the universityโ€™s vicinity. Notwithstanding such a placid and lengthy stay among the forest and running streams, the families were left with no option but to abide by administrational command.

To help the residents whose houses were demolished on the said construction, the BU administration, in coordination with the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Legazpi, decided to relocate the families in the resettlement area of Barangay Taysan. Each family was given financial assistance ranging from P20,000 to P100,000, depending on the size of their previous houses inside the BU compound. Thus, residents then used the money for renting while relocation houses in Taysan were being built. However, out of the 41 households inside the university premises, only two families decided to settle in the relocation site.

โ€œAng usap saโ€™min ni Mayor [Noel E. Rosal], halimbawa ako binigyan ako ng 100,000 dahil malaki ang bahay ko tapos binigyan nila ako ng lupa. Ang kuwan lang ay, 50โ€™x40โ€™ [land area] lang ang measurement, maliit lang, pero ibibigay sayo โ€™tong lupa, pero ikaw na ang mapa-bahay. Pero hindi ganun ang usapan nung primero, mapasok kayo dyan may bahay na kayo. Dahil ang mapa-bahay, ang National Housing Authority (NHA)... kaya kami nag alis dyan,โ€ Leticia F. Tejada, barangay chairman of Barangay 2, Legazpi City said during an interview.

    Tejadaโ€™s family was one of the many who were evacuated to Barangay Taysan. She explained that her current house in Taysan was built from her own money and was not from the LGU. Furthermore, she mentioned how they were caught off guard on the construction of the swimming pool for the 2016 Palarong Pambansa because some of them just had prior renovations on their homes and had student boarders. Thus, they had no choice but to vacate the area, with no proof of ownership of the land.

โ€œIniisip ko, kung hindi kami dito umalis, panindigan namin ito, meron ng ano [policy] ang BU na bawal ka magpa-improve. Bawal ka mag renovate, โ€˜di papalapaon ninda ang mga bahay namin. Syempre aalis kami, kasi wala na magagawa,โ€ Tejada added.

On the other hand, another resident of Taysan residing at Gawad Kalinga village who wanted his identity be kept anonymous also shared a similar experience of being shocked regarding previous talks on their relocation with the university administration and LGU.

    โ€œSu samuya, sabi ni Mayor Rosal, pagibuhan daa kang agency ki ano โ€˜yan ki harong, 'ta gusto uniform daa, kang ano dae man na ano wara man ki giniboโ€ฆ Nag decide na lang akong mag-igdi na lang ta diit lang na uran duman nagbabaha, kaya nag digdi nalang ako. Pero lote lang igdi ang tig-avail ko, wara man ki harong,โ€ he said.

    He also shared that residents from Sitio Olag were already given a relocation site near the Gawad Kalinga village but did not decide to move in at the community.

    โ€œMay mga lote โ€˜to diyan, dae man nag-istar, garo nagturu-turugdok pa lang sinda - nagbubuild pa sana kang mga harong ninda. Garo tigbarayadan na ngane โ€˜yan dati, si gastos ninda garo tigpaulian - reimburse, may mga tawo ng nagkurua, ta ang iba digdi, โ€˜pag habo mo, halimbawa may nagastos kana, pwede mo i-reimburse si kwarta mo - makahuron ka ki tawo babayadan su ginastos mo,โ€ the resident said.

Life in the Fickle Lane

Meanwhile, one of the residents inside the university, who also wished his identity be kept anonymous, said that the university wasnโ€™t aware at first that there are houses built at the back of the new library, which they named โ€œBU Compoundโ€. It was a dumping site in the past where tons of garbage were thrown into. The residents cleaned the area, maintained the living space, and built shelters where some university students and employees rented a space.

Recently, these homes are now surrounded by infrastructures being built in the area regarding the expansion of new faciities and the recently constructed university clinic. Some houses are still present in the compound with livelihoods, such as a small grocery store and canteen for students and staff coming nearby.

โ€œSusunudin natin yung batas ng gobyerno. Kung ano yung batas ng gobyerno, โ€˜yun ang susunudin natin. Kasi ngayon ang balita baga private man โ€˜yan o government, kung merong nakatayo diyan na bahay bago kayo maghali, bibigyan kayo ng education or financial [assistance],โ€ he said.

    He also shared that they have been hearing talks that they may be dislodged in the area but are still waiting for a formal notice.

    โ€œOo, wala tayong magagawa, kakailanganin din siya, kailangan na nila nung lupa, at least may relocation na binigay. Pero kung wala naman silang binigay, โ€˜edi wala man kaming lilipatan. Paano aalis? โ€˜Di man [makakaalis],โ€ he added.

He also shared that the university recently implemented a policy requiring vehicle owners to pay P250 to enter or traverse through the premises. Thus, they are given gate passes to be identified easily as residents inside the university by security personnel.

On the other hand, another resident residing in Sitio Olag named Ernesto Guadalupe expressed his dismay at the university still expanding while a lot of vacant buildings or rooms arenโ€™t utilized. Guadalupe shared that his grandfather was one of the first natives to live in the area.

โ€œPalibhasa eskwelahan ta kung manggugulo su mga nag-istar papahalion ka. Sa BUCIT sana dakulon ang bakanteng building,โ€ the 77-year-old resident said in an interview with The Bicol Universitarian.


He also asserted that before his grandfather, Esteban Guadalupe, built his own house and started farming, he asked permission from the Capitol to utilize the land, where it allowed him and other residents to plant seeds and produce various products of root crops that serve as their source of livelihood.

Divining the New Leader


    For some who choose to keep opinions at bay, such as Zollo Cadag, who lives a few feet from the new College of Arts and Letters (CAL) building, years of no pause from the renovations on land property have been a burden. He and several keen residents pinpoint the ponderous and somewhat peculiar passage regulation at the universityโ€™s rear gate approaching Olag.

Eyes seem to fill with suspicion when talking about the P250 gate pass implemented for people passing from the outskirts of BUโ€™s established boundary. According to civilians, the impracticality of such rule appears to indicate a will to draw a dividing line, and an impression of how fussy land ownership is within such an inclusive institution - an irony as implied by residents such as Zollo. Despite its discontinuation a few months ago, residents still ask where the money went.

    The residents issued a grievance to the next university president, hoping to consider giving them the land outright rather than relocating them since the university has already taken up a major portion of it.

โ€œSabi nga ng mga tao rito, nakikiusap dito mga tao, yung konsiderasyon baga. Although kung na-occupy na ito ng BU itong area ito dahil malakas nga sila government. Kumbaga may [rule] dyan, legal rules," one of the residents inside the university said.

A Fresh Administration

    The notions of affected people share similarities with regards to their ideal administration. Whether those who reworded their lives in lands as far away as Taysan or those families holding their shrinking hopes and crippling homes behind BU lands are aware of the changing administration. They show neither false hope nor high ambitions for the coming leader. And above all is the belief that their power is weak to resist the consequences of possible land expansions.

   In the coming months, an afresh integration of the university mission and vision shall be warranted. Every movement and decision of the new administration will become a focus of scrutiny. By tracing the hierarchy back to its source, there is a dwindling possibility to relieve the smallest stakeholders affected by major land expansion - unless the chosen leader revises the course of BUโ€™s tie with the outside factors.

Before any apparent works are seen on prospect lands, a partnership with the Commision on Higher Education and associated legal orders is the major stepping-stone; the process of approval and final pronouncement of granting then follows. The arms of the highest office are delegated with tasks on land management. For example, land surveying and monitoring of ongoing constructions are within the responsibility of the Office of Resource Generation and Physical Assets Management.

The engineering endeavor as admonished by Sitio Olag villagers is inside the scope of its officer-in-charge. Although these satellite offices are stark players in such lofty land managements, they must adhere to the presidentโ€™s final decision.Thereby, the presidential office is the vicarious authority.

The 2016 resettlement and the resilient existence of Sitio Olag are both paragons of strong communities. Although uncertain of chances laid in their tomorrow, they are always expecting logical actions. As simple as their daily quest for survival is the complex flow of authority vested upon the president and constituent offices. This is the reason why they consider good communication and proper negotiations tantamount to a successful expansion project.

Many are admittedly guarding their inherent spaces devoid of titular evidence, yet sacrifice is considerable as long as diplomacy is created. For those describing their expected president, this is the essence well sought after.