Satur C. Ocampo | The Moro Land Problem

At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Infectious was the enthusiastic response of the student audiences in the Mindanao State University’s Marawi and Iligan campuses that I addressed in separate forums last Monday and Tuesday. Topic: the resumed “exploratory” peace talks between the government (GPH) and the MILF on Feb. 9-10 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the GPH-NDFP formal peace talks on Feb. 14-21 in Oslo, Norway.

The Moro students were particularly enthused, as were the professors who attended the forum at the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, to hear that the Bangsamoro land problem — ancestral domain, the core issue in the GPH-MILF talks — could also be addressed in the scheduled negotiations on social and economic reforms, focused on agrarian reform and national industrialization, of the GPH-NDFP negotiations.

How? Credit the Mindanaoans for quick action.

In response to the calls by the GPH and the NDFP panels for consultations with, and participation of, various sectors in the peace process, Mindanao peace advocates and people’s organizations met in mid-February in Davao City. They drew up and approved a Mindanao people’s peace agenda for submission to the two negotiating panels. The agenda was presented at the Marawi and Iligan forums.

On agrarian reform, the Mindanao people’s agenda calls for the inclusion of the Moro taliawids (farmers) in the land redistribution program; the scrapping of land laws discriminatory to the Moros; and subjecting to agrarian reform lands occupied by multinational and transnational corporations.

The agenda also recommends steps to uphold the rights of the lumads (indigenous peoples) to their ancestral domain. (In this regard, a researcher at the MSU-IIT history department shared with me her concern over the problem of the Higaonons in the town of Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon whose sacred ancestral burial land has been occupied by a foreign corporate plantation. Every time they wish to visit the place, the tribal people are being given a hard time securing permission from the corporation.)

In much the same way that Christianized native Filipinos lost their lands to the Spanish and the American colonial rulers, the Bangsamoro were systematically dispossessed by the American colonizers in the early 1900s. This was done through a series of land laws, beginning with the Land Registration Act 496 that documented all privately-occupied lands in Mindanao.

In 1903, Public Act 718 voided all lands granted by Moro sultans and datus or non-Christian chiefs without state authority, which dispossessed the Moros of their ancestral landholdings. Public Act 926 declared all lands registered under Act 496 as public lands, and were made available for homestead, sale or lease by individuals or corporations.

In 1905, the Mining Act declared all public lands free and open for exploration, occupation and purchase even by US citizens.

In 1919, Public Land Act 2894 allowed non-Moro Filipinos to apply for ownership of 24 hectares of land, while Moros were allowed only 10 hectares.

The Commonwealth government followed through with more discriminatory land laws.

Act 141 in 1936 declared all Moro ancestral landholdings as public lands, with every Moro allowed to apply for a maximum of four hectares, whereas a Christian could own six times more, or 24 hectares. A corporation was allowed to hold 1,024 hectares.

That law led to the thousands of hectares since then occupied by foreign and Filipino-owned firms as pineapple, banana and other commercial crop plantations. In succeeding years these firms expanded their plantations beyond 1,024 hectares, by inducing small farmland owners to lease their lands to them and become farm workers instead.

Consequently, the Bangsamoro claim on 98 percent of the lands in Mindanao and Sulu as their ancestral domain before the Americans came was effectively reduced to only 17 percent in 1976. Most of such retained lands were in remote and infertile mountain areas.

The irony is that, after the signing in 1977 of the Tripoli agreement between the Marcos government and the Moro National Liberation Front (from which the MILF split thereafter), the Bangsamoro lands continued to be chipped off.

Thus, at the Kuala Lumpur talks last Feb. 10, Mohager Iqbal, MILF panel head, submitted a revised comprehensive compact draft, containing the “proposed negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao.” Referring to the document, Iqbal stated:

“It affords the people of the future Bangsamoro state to have a modest share and taste of the remaining seven to nine percent of the lands, wealth and resources of what used to be 98 percent at the turn of the century.” Sense the bitterness in that statement of the phrase, “to have a modest share and taste of.”

This MILF concession spurred GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen to tell the media later that it would now be easier to arrive at a negotiated political settlement. That, however, remains to be seen because other critical issues still have to be resolved.

On the other hand, in the GPH-NDFP negotiations on social and economic reforms set in June, the government proposes to discuss “asset reform” rather than “agrarian reform and rural development.”

Informed of these facts, the Mindanao students, perhaps with fingers crossed, signed the manifesto expressing support for the peace talks. — Reposted by (

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