GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 Oct) – Officials of Tantangan town in South Cotabato have raised alarm over the alleged massive land grabbing activities in two of its villages that is reportedly backed by an armed group.
Tantangan Mayor Benjamin Figueroa Jr. disclosed the problem on Tuesday as he sought the intervention of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) in resolving the matter, which already forced some residents to abandon their lands.
He said the affected areas mainly cover portions of barangays Poblacion and Magon, specifically within the boundary areas of the municipality and those of Mangudadatu town in Maguindanao and Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat.
The area is composed largely of irrigated rice lands that stretch to the banks of Lake Buluan, which is shared by Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces.
The mayor said the affected lands are all privately-owned and properly titled, making the claims and their annexation illegal.
“These land grabbers are very aggressive because they are protected by an armed group and they would just immediately claim the lands that they want,” Figueroa said.
He said they confirmed the presence of the armed group last week following verification made by local government personnel.
“They were already within the AOR (area of responsibility) of South Cotabato,” he said.
The municipal government, in coordination with the local police personnel, is currently establishing the identities of the members of the armed group and their possible affiliations, he said.
“We have to resolve this as soon as possible and before the situation in the area would worsen,” the mayor said.
South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, who chairs the PPOC, advised the municipal government to assist residents who were affected by the land grabbing activities to file the necessary charges against the perpetrators.
“This problem actually started in the ’90s and has not been resolved up to now because nobody was filing charges against these land-grabbers,” she said.
She acknowledged the need to pursue law enforcement activities in the area but noted that such action needs legal basis through the formal filing of charges.
As to the reported presence of an armed group in the area, she directed police personnel in Tantangan to coordinate with the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office so they could properly act on the matter.
Two years ago, tension gripped communities in barangays Poblacion, Magon and the neighboring villages adjacent to the boundaries of the three municipalities due to the rising land grabbing activities.
The municipal government of Tantangan earlier reported that it already lost a total of 143 hectares of titled private lands due to alleged illegal occupation by claimants from the neighboring Lutayan and Mangudadatu towns.
The supposed land grabbing activities in the area started in 1994 and worsened during the last several years.
Some farmers in the area had been forced to leave their lands supposedly due to threats of violence from the claimants.