Former farmworkers in Agusan to finally get individual land titles

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 24 Nov) – At 83, Dolzura Exchaure will finally get her individual land title in the second week of December after an arduous 34 years of waiting.

Edilberto Bayotlang, 69 (right), was among agrarian reform beneficiaries whose names were picked in a draw lot on Wednesday (23 November 2022) to be prioritized in getting their land titles by next month. He and the other ARBs were farmworkers of an oil palm plantation in Agusan del Sur. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

She and more than a thousand former farmworkers of a big oil palm plantation here and neighboring Rosario town were identified as agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in the landholdings of their former employer and were granted collective land titles in December 13, 1988 by then President Corazon Aquino.

On Wednesday, Dolzura and 148 others belonging to the Maligaya ARB Cooperative (MAARBCO) were the first batch of ARBs whose more than 400 hectares of palm oil plantation areas were drawn by a raffle the respective individual surveyed lots with areas ranging from 1.9 to 2.8 hectares.

The lands are former plantation areas of the NDC-Guthrie Plantations Inc. (NGPI). The ARBs organized themselves into NGPI Multi-Purpose Cooperative but later splintered into five cooperatives due to infighting in the rental of palm oil lands still maintained by the company until 2013.

The NGPI voluntarily turned over the management of the plantation to the cooperative in November 2013 because the latter continued to demand higher rentals for the land.

Jamil Amatonding Jr., Director IV and concurrent Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer II of the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), said that members of MAARBCO and of four other ARB cooperatives were supposed to be given individual Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) before the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte ended in June 30 but did not push through due to the delay in the release of funds.

Amatonding said to make the assignment of lots for ARBs to be fair, the DAR and the ARBs have agreed to draw lots. But MAARBCO members will get theirs first as their documents and other requirements were processed earlier than those of the other cooperatives, he added

The individual titling is part of the Support for Parcelization of Individual Titles (SPLIT) project of the DAR.

Dolzura Exchaure, 83, is all smiles on Wednesday (23 November 2022) when her name was picked in a draw lot for agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who will be prioritized to get their titles by next month. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

The project aims to distribute to individual beneficiaries to some 1.38 million hectares in the country. The DAR project is funded by a P24-billion government loan from the World Bank.

“I am thankful to DAR for realizing our dreams to come true,” said Metodio Abalayan, chairman of MAARBCO.

He said he and the original farmworkers who were identified for the issuance of collective CLOAs in 1988 were awarded with at least 2.8 hectares each. After a DAR validation of more areas, the new ARBs listed will have 1.9 hectares each, Abalayan added.

Edilberto Bayotlang, 69, former gardener at the mansion for British managers of the plantation, said he is happy that the land he finally owns will be inherited by his three grownup children.

A total of 3,150 hectares of the oil palm plantation areas would be distributed to 1,143 ARBs in the form of CLOAs. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)