Basilan farmers acquire lands fought for 17 years

John Unson - Philstar.com

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – It was a tedious and expensive 17-year uphill struggle for land ownership they will never ever forget.

The 54 peasants who fought it out had finally been grouped Tuesday into a communal bloc, the Maloong-Canal Farmers Agrarian Reform Multi-Purpose Cooperative, as a positive aftermath of a battle stymied by lack of money and connections.

The group, whose members are called, in technical parlance, agrarian reform partners (ARPs) of Philippine government, was launched as a duly organized cooperative by the Department of Agrarian Reform in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DAR-ARMM) during a simple gathering at Barangay Maloong-Canal in Lamitan City.

The ARPs, during the launching rite, took turns thanking ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and his regional agrarian reform secretary, Amihilda Sangcopan, for helping them achieve their goal, something past governors of the autonomous region never did.

The cooperative now has full imprimatur to own a total of 153 hectares of rubber farms they had sought to own, via land reform, from the long defunct Basilan Agricultural Corporation (BATCO).

The BATCO was originally owned by a wealthy clan, which first rejected rabidly all applications by tenants for acquisition of the lands inside the plantation through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

“Helping these farmers was a top priority of Gov. Hataman. Land ownership issue, land conflicts are among the root causes of the long-time Moro rebellion in Southern Mindanao,” Sangcopan said on Wednesday.

The land acquisition issue that saddled the 54 workers of BATCO was dragged into various forums, a legal process that lasted for 17 years and gained headway only after a very recent order by Supreme Court, reversing previous judicial rulings that favored the owners of the plantation, to yield to legitimate land reform claimants.

The well-armed private security group of BATCO, equipped with assault rifles and shoulder-fire 40 millimeter grenade launchers, even figured in a firefight in 1999 with policemen and DAR officials who tried, but failed to divide the plantation to beneficiaries.

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