North Cotabato wants DOJ-led “super body” to settle land disputes

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 September) —  The province of North Cotabato  has asked the Department of Justice to lead a “super body” that would  intervene in resolving cases of land conflicts as these disputes  not only threaten the peace but also get in the way of the implementation of development projects, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza said.

Mendoza said the provincial government has been doing everything within its capacity to address the problem as its contribution to peace and development, but admitted it needs help from the national government, specifically the Department of Justice and the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process.

She said they sent a letter to the DOJ in April to lead and intervene in resolving cases of land conflicts but their request has not been acted upon.

The governor justified that it should be the Justice department that should lead a task force to resolve land conflicts as these have  allegedly been aggravated by issuance of land titles and ownership awards by different government agencies.

Among the government agencies she identified to be issuing conflicting and overlapping land ownership papers are the departments of Environment and Agrarian Reform.

Aside from a DOJ-led “super body” to resolve land conflict, the provincial government also also asked the Justice department to create a special court dedicated to swiftly act and resolve “serious crimes” like bombing and kidnapping.

Since Mendoza’s request for a special court has yet to be acted upon, she claimed she was forced to build separate prison cells for hardened criminals like suspected kidnappers and bombers “so they cannot influence other inmates. We might just be surprised that some of these inmates would also be engaged in kidnapping or bombing when they are freed.”

Mendoza, who was a panelist at the 2nd National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao said she has also asked Marvic Leonen, government’s chief negotiator in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to help them. “I asked Dean Leonen, how can you help us?”

Explaining why the government peace panel should help them, she replied, “what we are doing on the ground is our little way of helping the national government in its peace efforts.”

Some of the known land conflicts in Mendoza’s province that triggered armed encounters that displaced thousands of civilians involved forces of the MILF, which Leonen’s panel is talking peace with, and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which already signed a peace agreement with the government.

Early this year, forces of MILF Commander Kenig and MNLF Commander Dima Ambil engaged in armed encounters that led to the death of almost a dozen of troopers from both camps and sent some 12,000 individuals to evacuation centers.

Mendoza has appointed Edris Galibo as her deputy governor for Muslims, in her desire to reach out to her Moro constituents and to address their needed social services, yet she admitted “that was not even enough” as she “realized that some local problems could not really be substantially and decisively addressed unless we closely work with and partner with the national government agencies.”

Other problems that the provincial government is faced with and needing assistance and coordination with national agencies is the reduction of the Internal Revenue Allotment next year, which she said will be compounded with the creation of new cities and the standardization of salaries of government employees and additional teachers.

Aside from Galibo, the governor also stressed on the need to appoint sectoral and tribal representatives in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, the law-making body of the province, as provided by the Local Government Code.

In coordination with Representative Nancy Catamco of the second district, Mendoza said they had urged municipal governments in the province to immediately elect their sectoral representatives so that they can choose from among themselves their provincial representatives.

“We have also asked supplemental guidance” from the Department of Interior and Local Government on sectoral representation, she said. (Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)