Agusan oil palm farmworkers to finally get land titles

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 25 Nov) – After 32 years, thousands of oil palm plantation farmworkers of a multinational company turned agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) will finally get their individual land titles next year when the Department of Agrarian Reform implements the Support for Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling (SPLIT) program.

Oil palm workers in Agusan del Sur. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

The DAR provincial office here has identified about 3,800 hectares of Collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CCLOA) title of NGPI Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (NGPI ARB MPC) as priority to be surveyed for individual titling for the first quarter next year as part of the targeted 51,000 hectares in Agusan del Sur to be implemented in a span of three years.

Other large tracts of land owned by splinter groups of ARB cooperatives within the oil palm plantation will be also surveyed for individual titling.

NGPI ARB MPC with 864 members were former farmworkers of the some 7,000 hectares of oil palm plantation operated by the defunct NDC Guthrie Plantations, Inc. (NGPI) which was covered under Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of which CCLOAs were personally given to NGPI workers as ARBs who formed into cooperatives by the late former President Corazon Aquino in Cagayan de Oro City in 1988.

The SPLIT program is a World Bank-funded P24-billion project covering 904,000 hectares benefitting 1.1 million farmers nationwide. DAR allocated P500 million for the project.

Jamil Amatonding Jr., Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer II, said with SPLIT at hand ARB farmers can now freely determine what to do with their farms.

He said the DAR provincial office has targeted some 24,000 hectares that will be covered by the SPLIT program next year.

Members of Provincial Agrarian Reform Coordinating Committee and Provincial CARP Implementing Team in Agusan del Sur take turns signing their commitment for the salient features of the SPLIT Program during a presentation held on 19 November 2020. Photo courtesy of DAR-Agusan Sur

Each ARB will be given at least three hectares each for their individual CLOA, the ultimate goal of the CARP to redistribute private and public lands in the country to achieve genuine land reform, a centerpiece program of the Aquino administration after she was catapulted into power after the EDSA People Power revolution in 1986.

Implementation of SPLIT will also involve the local government units in validating the land use of the ARB lands while the Land Registration Authority through the provincial office of the Registry of Deeds will work on the cancellation of CCLOAs and registration of individual CLOAS in the name of ARBs.

The program has drawn mixed reactions from leaders and members of NGPI ARB MPC.

The leaders opposed the implementation of the SPLIT Program, saying collective ownership of ARB lands is favorable for the cooperative to productively operate.

Raul Batiao, manager of the cooperative, said they will consult with their lawyer on the possible legal action to stop the implementation of SPLIT Program. He added other leaders and members expressed opposition to the program as they will leave it to the general assembly to decide on the matter.

Agusan del Sur Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer II Jamil Amantonding Jr. signs his commitment for the salient features of the SPLIT Program during a presentation held on 19 November 2020. Photo courtesy of DAR-Agusan Sur

But some concerned members welcomed the move to implement the program.

Menio Orcullo, cooperative member and former councilor of Rosario town, said splitting the CCLOAs into individual land titles has been a long cherished dream of the oil palm plantation farmworkers.

Orcullo suspected that the move of their leaders to block the program has ulterior motives in protecting vested interest. “I smell something about financial mishandling of the cooperatives’ income from the harvest of oil palms sold to milling plants. It’s been a while that we have been given a share from our dividends,” he noted. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)