DENR-12 pushes creation of special body to settle land disputes

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 23 Jan) – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12 is pushing for the creation of a special regional body that would handle the settlement of conflicting land claims and the harmonize various land administration concerns affecting the area.

Elmer Mercado, DENR-12’s land management division chief, said Wednesday they have started discussions with government agencies involved in the issuance of land tenurial instruments for the establishment of a regional committee that would directly deal with various issues and concerns regarding conflicting land claims within the region.

He said the talks involved key officials and personnel from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and the Land Registration Authority (LRA).

“Our main goal is to harmonize various issues involved in the issuance of land titles and other tenurial instruments. This way, we can avoid coming out with conflicting issuances that could cause problems among claimants,” Mercado said.

Region 12, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

In a dialogue held in this city last month, he said officials of the four agencies agreed to initially create a regional-level committee as a working mechanism for the Joint DENR-DAR-NCIP-LRA Administrative Order (JAO) No. 1 issued in January last year.

Mercado said they also agreed to create provincial-level committees that would address specific concerns within the region’s four provinces and their component or attached cities.

JAO No. 1-12 specifically provides for the clarification, restatement and interfacing of the respective jurisdictions, policies, programs and projects of DENR, DAR, NCIP and LRA “to address jurisdictional and operational issues between and among the agencies.”

The order was set as a guideline to specifically address “issues of overlapping jurisdiction, operational issues and conflicting claims by and among the aforementioned agencies.”

It was signed by Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, NCIP Chairperson Zenaida Brigida Pawid and LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz III.

At the regional level, Mercado said they were ready to form and activate the proposed regional committee but noted that they were presently facing some problems due to the lack of an enabling directive for such move from the Office of the President.

“We have requested for the issuance of a directive (from the Office of the President) that would set the convergence of the four agencies as provided for in JAO 01-12,” he said.

Datu Tungko Saikol, DENR-12 regional executive director, said the creation of the proposed regional committee could help resolve various pending land claims in the region that were triggered by conflicting land tenurial instruments.

He specifically cited the issuance of Certificate of Land Ownership Agreement or CLOA by DAR to an upland area in Koronadal City that was earlier declared by the DENR as Community-Based Forest Management Area.

In South Cotabato, the provincial government had raised concerns on the worsening cases of land disputes in the area, some of which had already resulted to murders and other violent incidents.

A resident of Tantangan town was killed in April last year while a landowner in Polomolok town was shot over separate land dispute problems.

Engr. Siegfred Flaviano, acting South Cotabato Provincial Environment Management Office (PEMO) chief, said they are currently facing problems with overlapping” tenurial instruments issued by various government agencies on declared protected areas in the province.

He specifically cited the case of a portion of the protected areas in T’boli town that were issued with certificates of ancestral domain title or CADT by the NCIP and CLOAs by DAR.

“There’s no other way to resolve these problems other than converging all these involved agencies and harmonize all conflicting matters regarding land administration. We’re hoping that this will materialize soon,” Saikol added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)