Land dispute spawns conflict in troubled Maguindanao town
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippines — Land dispute is at the core of armed conflict in South Upi, Maguindanao province, which has displaced thousands of families belonging to the Teduray and Lambangian indigenous communities, according to a top Bangsamoro official.
Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, who is also spokesperson for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said the regional government would review property titles in the area to settle the land issue involving the ancestral domain of Teduray people.
“The issue in South Upi is very complex,” Sinarimbo told a virtual forum organized by the Mindanao Institute of Journalism on Saturday. “It’s not just an issue of CADT (certificate of ancestral domain title) but of lands with Torrens titles,” he said, referring to the land ownership document issued by the Register of Deeds.
The South Upi conflict came into the spotlight on New Year’s Eve when armed men attacked Barangay Itaw and burned 13 houses. A few days later, a convoy of Mayor Reynalbert Insular was ambushed on its way to distribute relief items to villagers. One civilian was killed and three were wounded.
A faction of the Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), claimed responsibility for the attacks.
According to Sinarimbo, a fact-finding mission conducted by the Bangsamoro government cited land conflict as the root of the harassment.
He said BIFF members responded to calls from fellow Maguindanaons in South Upi who were allegedly being evicted with the help of members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit.
An MILF unit is also in the area, along with communist New People’s Army rebels, thus complicating the situation, he said.
Edward Abelardo, a Teduray youth leader, said the BIFF fighters had been trying to force villagers to abandon their ancestral land. Some Teduray and Lambangian families have been displaced for almost two years now, he said.
He said the presence of MILF members was also sowing fear among non-Moro indigenous peoples (IPs) in South Upi, about an hour’s drive away from the seat of the Bangsamoro government in Cotabato City.
“This needs a sustainable solution. It cannot be solved by giving rice, canned goods and noodles,” Abelardo said in Filipino, referring to the BARMM aid to the villagers.
Bong Fenis of Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement said the New Year’s Eve attack in Itaw only amplified the displacement of people in South Upi because of land conflict.
Tribal residents in the villages of Kuya, Pandan and Pilar have been uprooted in the last two years due to harassment, Fenis said.
Abelardo lamented that the Bangsamoro Parliament has not yet passed the Indigenous Peoples Code, which was filed in 2019, to “ensure [that] the rights and welfare of the minority non-Moro IPs” would be protected in the BARMM.
The creation of the Bangsamoro autonomous region is the key component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal signed by the government and the MILF in 2014 after 17 years of on-off negotiations.
It was established in January 2019 following the ratification of Republic Act No. 11054, or the Organic Law for the BARMM, more popularly called the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Sinarimbo said the regional government should first stabilize peace and order in the affected villages as it would be difficult to settle the land dispute if the security situation remained volatile. INQ
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