COMMENT: Behind the Eleven Issues (6). By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (October 8) – Issues on: (6) Land conflict, (7) Poor delivery and access to basic services and facilities, (8) Non-adherence to EO 125 and other existing laws over Official Development Assistance (ODA) management, (9) Unstable peace and order, and (10) Inadequate representation of ARMM in the National Government are complaints so often raised. They are problems that should not really be.

Essentially, they are due to the non-implementation or the improper implementation of existing laws. When these concern inadequacy of funding or the compliance to orders and agreements, the national government is usually responsible. But in some cases, they stem from the failure of ARG and RLA to implement specific provisions of RA 9054.

There are indicators, however, that these problems have persisted due to default or lack of persistence on the part of local and regional government leaders – or even to indifference. For instance, in presenting Issue No. 7, the supporting tables are out of date — those of 1990 to 1998, 2000 to 2003 or, the latest, 2006 or 2007. How can they be reliable bases in presenting to the national government current problems with urgency without data of 2009 or, better, 2010 for comparison?

Land Problem

Land problem is very significant too. In an agricultural economy like that of ARMM, land is most vital to the social and economic life of its people and to its economic autonomy. Yet, the Summit skipped the most critical aspect of land problem: land distribution and the implementation of Article X on “Ancestral Domain, Ancestral Lands and Agrarian Reform” of RA 9054, especially Section 8 – the enactment by the RLA of an agrarian reform law.

The proper – or, aptly, aggressive – implementation of Article X should not be taken for granted. In 1985, the MILF estimated that 85 percent of the Moro people had no lands. Has the percentage gone down? In 1969, Datu Udtog Matalam issued an MIM manifesto demanding that 100,000 hectares in each province in Regions IX and XII be reserved for distribution to the Muslims. This was ignored.

Following the all-out war in 2000 and the Pikit war in 2003, there were government plans to lease Camp Abubakar and Ligawasan Marsh to multi-national corporations to develop as plantations — the Muslims providing cheap laborer. That would perpetuate Muslim landlessness. Suggested in the plans was for land-owning Moros to lease their lands to these corporations and become laborers in the plantations.

Statistically, that may increase productivity. But socially, how will that benefit the Moros to emancipate them from landlessness?

Low Productivity

Moro landlessness is relevant to low agricultural productivity and underuse of irrigation systems as pointed out in the JICA study. Common sense asks: How can landless people be agriculturally productive? How can landless people make use of irrigation systems to make agricultural lands productive?

For instance the big Kabulnan Irrigation System services the areas of Ampatuan, Sharif Aguak, Talayan and Datu Odin Sinsuat (until Dalican) areas of Maguindanao. Yet, these areas are not so much developed as neighboring Esperanza of Sultan Kudarat with only small irrigation systems. More people in Esperanza are landowners.

By all means solve the land conflict problems – land grabbing, double claimants, boundary disputes, VOS (voluntary offer to sell)-related disputes, ancestral domain claims subjected to mining explorations by MNCs, and political boundaries between LGUs – by (1) the creation of special body to address land conflict in ARMM; and, (2) the resolution of the ancestral domain issue in the GRP-MILF Peace Process.

[NOTE: Recommendation No. 2 looks like an afterthought. Isn’t it a bad joke to recommend the MOA-AD as a solution of land conflict in ARMM?]

But solving land conflict problems as proposed in the Summit is hardly the necessary incentive to high agricultural production. There is no substitute to land reform and land distribution as mandated in Article X of RA 9054.

Settlers’ Example

ARMM Gov. Zacaria A. Candao used to occasionally draw attention of Muslims to the state of development in the provinces of Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato in comparison with that in the ARMM. Indeed, it should be realized why these provinces attained in half a century what Maguindanao has failed to since the 1500s.

The Moros are justified in resenting the colonization of Mindanao by settlers from the Christian North. But they should have fathomed the reasons why the settlers came and the Christian leaders founded their own municipalities and provinces, refusing to remain playing second fiddle to the datu mayors and governors. “Incentive” was the reason – the psychological factor in the struggle for development.

Back in their provinces of origin, these settlers had no land of their own or had small unproductive parcels. They had no incentives. So, they braved the perils of Mindanao in order to have productive lands of their own. The development that Candao pointed out was the fruit of “incentive”.

Back in the 1960s, Muslim datus were justified in feeling betrayed by their Christian political protégés who later opposed them in elections. But these Christian political “ingrates” wanted more freedom to lead their Christian followers according to their own concept and brand of leadership. Still the keyword is “incentive”, the explanation of what Candao had seen.

For, indeed, compared to the Christian settlers, what incentive do landless Moros have? What incentive do they have in farming the lands of their datus?

That is the import of Article X of RA 9054, particularly Section 8 – to distribute lands to the landless Moros even to the extent of breaking up some lands of the datus. This land problem is apart from the issue of land conflict and should have been included as a separate issue for discussion at the ARMM Summit. Did the leaders not want to touch it as it would pose a challenge to them? If so, that was real leadership crisis. (Next: Implementation of 1996 FPA)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to