GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/24 April) – Officials of South Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces are set to meet next week to discuss ways to resolve a worsening conflict among residents within their disputed boundaries.
South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said Tuesday Maguindanao officials agreed to meet with them and work on a possible settlement regarding the delineation of the boundaries of Tantangan town in South Cotabato and Mangudadatu town in Maguindanao.
He said they will discuss during the meeting some interventions to help ease the tension among land claimants that already led to the killing of a resident of Tantangan town earlier this month.
Pingoy said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu has signified to attend the proposed meeting, which is being finalized by both local governments.
“Gov. Mangudadatu and I had initial discussions on this matter and we both agreed that it’s time for us to settle this matter to avoid further bloodshed among the claimants,” the governor said.
Pingoy said the local government has requested the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to conduct a survey and set delineation marks on the boundaries of the two municipalities.
He said they also asked the Department of Agrarian Reform to provide copies of possible documents pertaining to the disputed lands.
“We’re currently compiling the registry and assessment records, survey maps and other related documents concerning these lands. Hopefully, we can come up with some settlement and bring peace to the affected areas in Tantangan,” Pingoy said.
On April 9, a resident of Purok Maharlika in Barangay Poblacion of Tantangan was killed in an attack allegedly staged by a group of land claimants from nearby Mangudadatu town.
The victim, identified as Army T/Sgt. Fernando Patria, was on his way home from his farm when he was waylaid by about 20 armed men allegedly led by a certain Kumander Patotoy.
The local police believe the incident was an offshoot of a long-drawn conflict over vast tracts of farmlands in the area, including Patria’s palay farm.
Tension also escalated in the area in July last year, prompting the municipal government of Tantangan to elevate the matter to the Provincial Peace and Order Council.
Tantangan Mayor Arnold Garingo said his town already lost some 143 hectares of titled private lands due to alleged illegal occupation by claimants from the neighboring Mangudadatu town and Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat.
He said most of the lands that were annexed by the claimants were located in the lower portion of Barangay Poblacion and Barangay Cuyapo in Tantangan, comprising irrigated rice lands that stretch to the banks of Lake Buluan.
The mayor said the alleged “land-grabbing” activities started in 1994 and has worsened during the last several years.
He said some farmers in the area were forced to leave their lands supposedly due to threats of violence from the claimants, some of whom reportedly come from this city. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)