Davao group suggests multi-stakeholders dialogue to resolve issues on land investments

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Nov) – The Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM) said Tuesday multi-stakeholders dialogue may help in resolving issues related to land investments, especially involving the indigenous people (IP).

Starjoan Villanueva, AFRIM executive director, said during the National Conference on Land Investments held Lispher Inn here that a dialogue among affected government agencies, concerned communities and civil society organizations is better than confrontational approach.

She noted that the national conference, which the group started in the past two years, was actually a multisectoral dialogue as representatives from concerned government agencies and other sectors were invited.

Among agencies invited were the National Commission on Indigenous People, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agrarian Reform and Department of Energy.

However, the department heads only sent their regional representatives who said they were not authorized to speak for their office but only for personal views.

Villanueva mentioned the Mindanao Business Council (MBC) was supposed to represent the business sector, but did not respond to the invitation.

She noted that the MBC is not directly involved in the issues of land investments, which concern agro-fuel and large-scale land deals such as mining, as these are mostly transnational investments.

Following a series of island-wide roundtable discussions, the conference aimed to present stories based on the AFRIM’s researches from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and sought responses from the government agencies.

Maria Luisa Alano of the University of Amsterdam presented the initial findings on land deals conducted in Luzon and Mindanao.

In an interview, she said land conflict among members of tribes was an issue raised as investments presented prospects of income and employment.

She said the government and investors are weak in implementing existing policies that caused some IP groups to take extra legal means resulting in violence.

But when the IPs resorted to extra legal means in asserting their rights, they are being confronted by government forces, she added.

“The community still ended up losing,” she stressed.

But Alano said it is not a hopeless struggle for the IP communities because what is needed is for the government to promote their rights and give them assistance.

Sharing the mining cases of Bayog in Zamboanga del Sur, Pigcawayan in North Cotabato and Cantilan in Surigao del Sur, AFRIM program officer Beverly Besmanos said engagements and dialogues are a big help in bringing possible options on how to solve problems in the community.

Conflict between large-scale mining company and small-scale mining operations resulted in displacement of small mine workers, loss of livelihood, increased mining-related crimes, death of innocent children caught up in shooting incidents and death threats to community leaders, AFRIM said.

Villanueva said the group aims to come up with a map of all land investments in the country and the government can make use of the data.

While the national conference helped improve relations among stakeholders, structural changes such as policy reforms will be pushed in future multi-stakeholders dialogues, she added.

AFRIM stated that there are at least 429,000 hectares of land identified for cultivation of agro-fuel, which refers to crops like jathropa, cassava, corn, oil palm and other processed plants to become fuel. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)

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