DENR-12 to probe intrusion of tribal group, mining firm in reforestation sites

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 September)– The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12 is set to launch an in-depth investigation into the alleged encroachments by a tribal group and a mining company on areas covered by its community forestry projects in the mountains of North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Datu Tungko Saikol, DENR-Region 12 executive director, said Wednesday he directed the agency’s forestry personnel to look into the reported intrusions and come up with recommendations that will help resolve the problem.

He designated DENR-12’s regional technical director for forestry Muripaga Umpar to spearhead the investigation.

Saikol ordered the probe after stakeholders of people’s organizations (POs) that were accredited by DENR-12 to implement their reforestation projects in the mountains of Arakan in North Cotabato and Bagumbayan in Sultan Kudarat reported the encroachments by “interest groups” into their project areas.

He said a member of the Kabalantian Farmers Association, Inc. (KAFAI) based in Arakan complained that a tribal group from Bukidnon province reportedly encroached into their Integrated Social Forestry (ISF) project area.

KAFAI, which was earlier granted with an ISF area covering 5,402 hectares in Barangay Kabalantian in Arakan, is a rural worker’s association that is also registered with the Department of Labor and Employment. The group is composed of around 200 rural workers.

He said its members, who are composed of Ilongo settlers and Manobo-Kulamanon tribal residents, are claiming prior rights over the area by virtue of a Certificate of Stewardship Contract issued by the DENR in 1997.

Saikol said the intrusion into KAFAI’s project area was reportedly led by members of the Matigsalog tribe under the FEMATRIC or Federation of Matigsalog Tribe CADT Holders based in Kitaotao town in Bukidnon.

He said the group is composed of holders of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

“The encroachments, according to KAFAI members, have allegedly brought instability in some parts of Barangay Kabalantian,” Saikol said.

Some farmers who have extra resources allegedly resorted to “pay outs” in order to free themselves from trouble, he said.

“This practice has some repercussions, though, because it has encouraged more adverse claimants who are really interested in receiving undisclosed sums of money,” he explained.

Saikol said the problem has become complicated due to the alleged refusal of the NCIP to issue a Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) to KAFAI.

An FPIC is one of the requirements for the conversion of the area from ISF to Community-Based Forest Management Agreement, a document that will provide security of tenure to upland organizations.

In Bagumbayan town, Saikol said some farmers also reported the alleged encroachments made by mining firm Global Resources Co. Ltd. (GRCO) Isulan Mining Corp. into their project area.

GRCO, which is 40 percent owned by a Korean company, has been conducting exploration activities under a mining tenement covering around 5,103 hectares.

GRCO earlier forged a mining operation agreement with Fadicasu Mining Corp., which has acquired a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement with the DENR.

Saikol said the complainants reportedly noticed a sign board of GRCO within their project area, which is covered by their Community Resource Management Framework plan. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)