Land dispute eyed in grenade blast

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/02 August) — Police authorities are eyeing a long-standing land conflict as behind the grenade attack on a vehicle of a village official near the national highway here Monday afternoon that left a person injured.

Chief Insp. Leo Sua, Pendatun police station chief, said Tuesday their investigation showed that the grenade explosion at around 3pm Monday at the rear portion of a Mitsubishi Strada pickup owned Barangay Sinawal Councilor Alberto Bantilan Sr. could have been triggered by a land dispute involving the latter in Sitio Cabuay in Barangay Sinawal.

“This is an isolated case and there were no indications that it was terrorism-related,” Sua told reporters.

The police official said Bantilan and his three other companions were on their way home aboard a red Mitsubishi Strada pickup with license plate MEM 294 when the explosion happened.

He said the pickup was traversing the junction of Bulaong Avenue and the national highway in Barangay Dadiangas North here when two men aboard a blue Honda XRM motorcycle reportedly lobbed a fragmentation grenade on the vehicle’s cab.

The city police’s scene of the crime operatives later recovered the grenade’s safety pin a few meters from the scene of the explosion, he said.

Sua said the grenade’s shrapnel ripped through the rear portion of the pickup, hitting Bantilan’s security aide Leonardo Camalan on the right ear.

Bantilan, his son Eugene and grandson Bobby escaped the attack unharmed. Bantilan said they just came from a meeting with Senior Supt. Willie Dangane, intelligence and operations chief of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Western Mindanao, at the Camp Fermin Lira
here when the attack happened.

He said they sought a meeting with the police official to follow up on the murder of his nephew, Barangay Sinawal Councilor Ronnie Impal, in Polomolok town in South Cotabato last July 3.

Impal was gunned down by unidentified motorcycle-riding attackers while traveling aboard a motorcycle near Barangay Poblacion of Polomolok. Bantilan could not say whether the grenade explosion was related to Impal’s murder but believed he was the target of the attack.

After Impal’s murder, he said they received reports from anonymous sources that five more officials of Barangay Sinawal were also being targeted by unknown assailants.

“It’s clear that I’m the main target (of the attack) and there’s no reason for this other than the continuing land conflict in our area,” he said in the vernacular.

Bantilan, a B’laan tribal leader, was among the claimants of a 620-hectare land in Sitio Cabuay in Barangay Sinawal here that was being disputed by another group of claimants under the Sinawal Multipurpose Blaan Farmer’s Cooperative.

The disputed land, which was awarded by the Supreme Court in 2002 to the cooperative, used to be a part of Forest Land Grazing Agreement 552 leased by Feliciano Alcantara.

But Bantilan said he was able to obtain a Certificate of Ancestral Land Title of CALT from the National Commission on Indigenous People for a portion of the disputed area.

Last week, Bantilan claimed he was able to secure an order from a local court directing the eviction of alleged squatters within his claimed lands. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)