South Cotabato mulls body to resolve land claims

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – The provincial government of South Cotabato plans to create a special body that will address the pending land claims and disputes within the province and pursue their immediate settlement.

Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr. said Monday they came up with such move following a meeting late last week with officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) over the worsening cases of land conflicts in several parts of the province.

“We want all these cases resolved and settled the soonest possible time because some of them have already resulted to violence and have become irritants these past months,” he said in a radio program hosted by the provincial government.

During the meeting, the governor said DENR, DAR and NCIP officials agreed to resolve the problem by way of upholding the ownership over the disputed lands of persons or families who possess legally-issued titles and other related instruments.

He said they also recommended the observance of a “status quo” over disputes involving titled lands that were subjects of ancestral domain claims.

“Our position was to respect the stake of the title holders to put order to all these claims, pending the determination of the proper owners of the disputed lands,” Pingoy said.

The governor said the three agencies also agreed to hasten the processes involving the land claims and disputes and initiate regular dialogues with the involved parties to prevent the possible escalation of violence within the disputed areas.

He cited the case of the land dispute in Poblacion in Tantangan town that already resulted to the killing of a local resident last April.

In Polomolok town, he said a resident of Barangay Koronadal Proper was shot recently as an offshoot of heated land conflict in the area.

Earlier this year, the provincial government sought for the suspension of a banana plantation expansion venture in Barangay Koronadal Proper due to a conflict involving portions of the project area.

The banana expansion project covers portions of around 80 hectares of private titled lands that were being claimed by the family of Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Nadsid Faisal as part of their ancestral lands.

Pingoy said tension has continued to grip the area as some landowners reported cases of harassment allegedly perpetrated by an armed band sympathetic to the land claimants.

He said the provincial government initiated a dialogue between the contending parties and initially resolved to observe a status quo in the area.

Recently, the governor said tension also heightened in Barangay Glamang after a group of claimants also forced their way into some private titled lands in area.

He said the claimants were insisting that the titled lands were also part of their ancestral lands.

“We’re continually monitoring the situation there because it remains volatile but we’re very hopeful that this matter will eventually be resolved in a peaceful manner,” Pingoy said. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)