Agusan oil palm plantation workers to get land titles before Duterte term ends

ROSARIO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 2 March) – Agrarian Reform Secretary Bernie Cruz has assured individual land titles for Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) who are former farm workers of the oil palm plantations in this province.

Agrarian Reform Secertary Bernie Cruz, who visited Agusan del Sur on 26 February 2022, listens to ARB group leader Metodio Abalayan in a forum discussing the fate of the oil palm farmers in the province. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Cruz, who met leaders of three ARB groups at the guest house of oil palm plantation areas in the village of Maligaya over the weekend, said the titles will be distributed before President Rodrigo Duterte ends his term on June 30.

But he said they will try the distribution of individual titles covering at least three hectares for each ARB within a month.

The individual titling initiative is part of the Support for Parcelization of Individual Titles (SPLIT) project of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) covering 1.38 million hectares in the country at a cost of P24 billion, 78 percent of which is funded by a World Bank loan.

Two weeks ago, the Registry of Deeds has already processed computerized titles for the SPLIT beneficiaries in the 20 provinces of the country. Two individual Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) will be given to ARBs in Agusan del Sur as a ceremonial launch of the conclusion of the project.

A total of 3,150 hectares of the oil palm plantation areas will be covered for the distribution of individual CLOAs to 1,143 ARBs from the three groups that had already developed and maintained the farmlands after the areas once owned and managed by NDC-Guthrie Plantations, Inc.(NGPI) was covered under Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1988.

Former President Corazon Aquino personally turned over the Collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award to the farmworkers of the company who formed themselves into NGPI Multi-Purpose Cooperative (NGPI MPC) on December 12, 1988 in Cagayan de Oro City.

As collective landowners of the oil palm plantation, NGPI MPC has entered into a leasehold contract with NGPI, which was later known as Filipinas Palmoil Plantation, Inc. in March 1990. The company voluntarily turned over the management of the plantation in November 2013 as the cooperative continued to demand higher rentals of the land.

Infighting among leaders and members of the cooperative has led to the split up into three groups, which already separately positioned and developed their areas initially surveyed by DAR to prevent further atrocities.

During the meeting, the original NGPI MPC with 843 members led by Nestor Alcular proposed to Cruz a 62-hectare industrial zone where they want to build an oil palm milling plant but the two leaders of the split group opposed the plan.

But a member of Alcular’s group, Menio Orcullo, stood up to oppose the plan. In an interview after the meeting, Orcullo said the 62-hectare industrial zone will even lessen the area of each individual title and thus detrimental to the ARBs’ dream of having an exact three-hectare farmland.

Alcular’s group filed a case at the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) September 1 last year for the recovery of possession of the ARB total land area but the case was dismissed on December 28 for lack of jurisdiction.

The case was filed more than a year later after the three groups reached and signed a compromise agreement in the presence of DAR central office officials that would split the plantation lands according to the number of ARB members.

Emmanuel Sustino, chairman of ARB Diversified Planters Association with 151 ARB members, said they had no plans to build a milling plant since the areas they tilled are still unstable and they need to replant more oil palm trees.

For their part, Metodio Abalayan, chairman of Maligaya Credit Cooperative (MACCO) with 149 members, said their members can now personally hold their individual titles after the distribution but have agreed that the oil palm plantation areas will still be maintained by the cooperative until they will fully replant the farmlands and fully paid the company the development cost for the 300 hectares of replanted oil palm trees.

Based on the agreement, MACCO ARBs will allow maintenance and development by the management with 70-percent share from the gains of their product while the remaining 30 percent will be allocated for maintenance and operation.

Among the three groups, MACCO ARBs has been fortunate with their cooperative management as they received an average P117,000 yearly dividends. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)