Occidental Mindoro

Occidental Mindoro residents protest land claim, ask DAR for help vs possible displacement

Chris Burnet Ramos

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Occidental Mindoro residents protest land claim, ask DAR for help vs possible displacement

PRAYER WALK. Families of Sitio Matabang, Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro protested on the highway near Abra de Ilog port on December 3.

Photo courtesy of Tubong Matabang Facebook page.

Residents in Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro are asking for help from the Department of Agrarian Reform against private entities claiming their land

OCCIDENTAL MINDORO, Philippines – Hundreds of protesting residents in a portside community in Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro, held prayer walks against a “court-ordered” ownership of their land from private individuals.

Emiliana De Mesa, 77 years old, is one of the senior organizers of the protests in Sitio Matabang in Barangay Lumangbayan. She is the oldest among the area’s seven Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) awardees, granted by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1994.

In September 2019, De Mesa submitted a letter to DAR requesting a dialogue to discuss the updates on the land’s ownership after private entities suddenly claimed the 3.35-hectare property despite their CLOA.

According to residents, private entities arrived in their area and surveyed the land with mohon or marker installations without preceding notice. In November, the same people built fences and insisted on the land claim, saying that they already “won the case” and the court already decided on their ownership despite no filed cases and court hearing happened. 

When the residents asked for legal documents, they said the claimants only presented a court order for a different location alongside a crumpled paper printed with a certain Sheriff’s name and a mobile number.

On November 10, a man from the claimant’s group was reported to have collected signatures from some of the residents in a blank paper for a certain “meeting.”

The title holders tried to approach the claimant at Abra de Ilog’s Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) worrying for their signatures to be used for document falsification but the latter stood pat for “winning” the land claim, invalidating the DAR’s land ownership title. 

Gimbal po ang lahat [kung] paano po nila ito nagawa nang tahimik, walang patawag, walang meeting at lalong walang court hearing na naganap. Sinabi po namin na may hawak kaming katibayan […] grabe po ang sagot niya sa amin: ‘sira-ulo ang DAR na nag-iissue sa inyo niyan’.

Hindi po katanggap tanggap ang mga salita niya,” said Barangay Lumangbayan secretary Maida de Mesa.

(Everyone was shocked on how they did all of these behind us without any summons, meeting, or a court hearing. We said that we have our evidence but they said: ‘whoever in DAR issued your titles are deranged.’ Their words are not acceptable.)

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PROTEST. Sitio Matabang residents held a prayer walk on December 8. Tubong Matabang Facebook Page

According to DAR’s administrative order no. 03, series of 2009, private individuals who can submit cancellation of CLOA are those owners of private agricultural lands who were granted retention and whose lands had been declared as exempted from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1998. 

Three days later, MCTC Branch 1 of Abra De Ilog-Paluan presiding judge Elena Ramos Aguilar summoned the residents and the claimants for a meeting, only for their property to be ordered for a relocation survey on November 17. 

Masyado pong mabilis ang mga pangyayari […] Nakakalungkot po, ipinatawag lang pala po kami para makinig lang sa sasabihin nila. Walang kalaban-laban, walang magawa dahil utos niya. Humiling po kami kay Judge Aguilar kung pwede ay magsasama na kami ng abogado namin at taga DAR sa susunod niyang patawag o pameeting [pero] mariin po niya kaming sinagot na hindi na kailangan dahil mayroon nang court decision,” De Mesa recalled.

(It all happened swiftly. It’s sad because they summoned us just for us to listen. We were helpless. We couldn’t do anything because it’s her order. We requested Judge Aguilar for us to bring our attorney and a DAR officer in the next meeting but she insisted that there’s no need for it as there’s already a court order.)

Gigi de Mesa, also an active protester of the land claim, told Rappler the claimants are insisting the CLOAs given to Sitio Matabang residents were already bound for annulment and that they should just accept the monetary settlement being offered.

“Pag kausap mo sila, ang laging iniinsist nila samin, settlement. Kaya sabi namin, ‘paanong kami ay babayaran eh amin ito?’ They are trying to say na ‘Wag na kayong lumaban. Makipag-settlement na lang kayo,'” she said. 

(When you talk with them, they are always insisting for us to accept the settlement. We said, “Why would we pay for this land if this is ours? They’re trying to say that “You shouldn’t fight anymore. Just accept the settlement.”) 

Meanwhile, newly-elected Barangay Lumangbayan chairman Rafael Enriquez urged the DAR to take further action in this dispute as the agency is what the residents hold on to against their land’s claimants.

DAR Occidental Mindoro agrarian reform program officer Lydia Sarmiento, who visited the community on November 17 during the relocation survey order of Aguilar, vowed to take further steps in the dispute.

The residents are worrying about a looming forced relocation. They now urge the DAR to intervene and for the national government to resolve the dispute as hundreds of families will be affected if their land titles are revoked. – Rappler.com

Chris Burnet Ramos is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.

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