Zubiri targets conversion of military reservations

Zubiri was reacting to a point raised by his father, Bukidnon Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., to legislate the conversion of at least 42,000 hectares of military reservations in the province.

Gov. Zubiri claimed the lands had been occupied by "generals, colonels, and whoever."

Sen. Zubiri said in a press conference at the Pine Hills Hotel here after his oath taking Monday he will try to work for the issuance of a presidential decree by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo converting vast military reservations after a cadastral survey is conducted.

He said he is confident the move could be done if the local government units push for local cadastral surveys to delineate ownership.

The senator said the move requires no legislation but a presidential decree, which has been bogged by resistance of local governments to spend on the cadastral survey needed to clarify land boundaries.

He said the president can decide on the conversion of a military reservation, which is a government property.

As a congressman, Zubiri said he tried to work for the conversion of a military reservation area in nearby Quezon town, but documents turned out to be insufficient to back the move.

The governor told MindaNews he has presented the proposed legislation before to senators whom he did not want to name.

He said they did not take up the issue, saying "we will look at it carefully."

He said he did not have to wait for Juan Miguel to become senator, but now there is a local advocate in the Senate.

The elder Zubiri said the lands could be used to relocate farmers from Central Mindanao University, returning rebels, and the province's landless.

Sen. Zubiri said the challenge for the provincial government is to fund the cadastral survey once and for all to identify the exact coverage of the reservation.

He said the same could be done for the other military reservations nationwide.

Zubiri said the major stumbling block why efforts like this in the past did not prosper was that local government units did not want to invest on the land survey.

Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command, told MindaNews via telephone interview Tuesday they are open to such a move because they can do nothing if that is the decision of the national government.

But he denied there are military officials occupying the reservations.

Cabangbang said the 42,000 hectares referred to by the governor is the military reservation in Kibaritan, Kalilangan, Bukidnon.

He admitted, however, that for the military's purposes the reservation has been idle because they cannot pursue implementing their plans for the property.

Cabangbang said lack of funds has hindered them through the years from putting up a multimillion-peso major Army training center and school for the Armed Forces’ soldiers in Mindanao in the reservation.

He said they also eyed putting up housing units for Mindanao's soldiers in the area, but the same could not be done.

Cabangbang said the AFP has prioritized personnel capability building for now over the training camp. The military spokesperson said they need a wide training area to accommodate both ground and air forces training.

At least 100 hectares of arable lands at present are also occupied by corn farmers, he said.

This is not the first time, however, the issue propped up. In the mid-1990s, the AFP planned to move its Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City that hosts the 4th Infantry Division to Kibaritan over the plan to subject the camp under the Bases Conversion Development Act.

About that time, the same call for the conversion of the military reservation was raised during the time of Bukidnon Gov. Carlos Fortich in the 1990s. But it did not materialize due to lack of funds, among other issues.

Zubiri said he expected no block to a presidential declaration once the documents are ready to back the move.

Gov. Zubiri said the move will gain popular support among legislators as it can be done nationwide where there are military reservations, too.