The Crux of the Moro Problem*

According to Jubair, after the signing of the Bates-Kiram Treaty on Aug. 20, 1899, the U.S. colonial government applied the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496) in Mindanao. It required the registration in writing of all lands occupied by any person, group or corporation. That mother act gave way to a host of “land grabbing laws.” Foremost of these were the following:

1. Public Act No. 718 (April 4, 1903), declaring as null and void all the lands granted by Moro sultans and datus or non-Christian chiefs without state authority. This law effectively dispossessed the Moros of their ancestral landholdings.

2. Public Act No. 926 (Oct. 7, 1903) declaring all lands registered under Act 496 as public lands, making them available for homestead, sale or lease by individuals or corporations.

3. Mining Act of 1905, declaring all public lands free and open for exploration, occupation and purchase even by U.S. citizens.

4. Cadastral Act of 1907, which facilitated land acquisition by “educated natives,” money bureaucrats and American speculators.”

Under the Commonwealth, more inequitable laws were passed:

1. Act No. 4197 (Feb. 12, 1935), which declared land settlement as “the only lasting solution” to the problem of Mindanao and Sulu. It “opened the floodgates to the massive influx of settlers into Mindanao,” who took over the choicest parcels of land, especially along the highways, and began cultivation even before the areas were subdivided.

2. Act No. 141 (Nov. 7, 1936) which declared all Moro ancestral landholdings as public lands. Each Moro was allowed to apply for no more than four hectares whereas a Christian could own 24 hectares and a corporation, 1024 hectares. That led to foreign firms hogging thousands of hectares as pineapple, banana and other crop plantations.

3. Act No. 441 (June 1939), creating the National Land Settlement Administration; it gave priority for land settlement to those who had completed military training (in preparation for the Japanese invasion).

After World War II, settlements in Mindanao were resumed under the Rice and Corn Production Administration and later the Land Settlement and Development Corp, which resettled 1,500 families. Then, under Republic Act No.1160 or the NARRA program, 20,500 families of former members of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap or People’s Anti-Japanese Army) were resettled from 1954 to 1963.

In September 1971 the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), formed under RA 6389, took over the settlement projects. By 1983 the DAR resettled 22,639 families in 23 projects in Mindanao. Sadly, says Jubair, under the 1987 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) the Moros continued to be dispossessed of their remaining landholdings.

Years of conflict despite two “final” peace accords with the MNLF and ceasefire agreements with MILF have forced the government to publicly acknowledge the roots of the Moro problem but like previous regimes, GMA’s lacks the political will to solve it by recognizing the right to self-determination, especially in the light of decades-old national oppression and discrimination.

It is clear why the Philippine government is not about to give up Mindanao or even only the acknowledged Moro ancestral domains to the Moro people. All talk about national sovereignty and the indivisibility of Philippine territory is just a convenient cover for the real reasons: ownership of land by big non-Moro landowners, including multinationals such as Dole and Del Monte, and access to the still untapped natural resources in Mindanao, including gold, copper and natural gas.

Further, the U.S. “war on terror” has brought to fore the importance of Mindanao as a strategic basing area for the US military forces, being at the center of Southeast Asia while having equal access to both the Middle East and Northeast Asia.

The GMA regime, like its predecessors, will do all it can to deprive the Moro people of their ancestral domain and genuine autonomy, even as GMA pays lip service to these. After all, from where she sits, the de facto President claims she is as strong as she wants to be. Streetwise / Posted by Bulatlat

*Published in Business World
17 – 18 August 2007

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