Cotabato City—The land reform program of the Bangsamoro Government forms part of a transitional justice to the Moro people, after having experienced centuries of systematic colonial schemes of “land dispossession.”
Dr. Mohammad Yacob, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Land Reform of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (MAFAR-BARMM), said under the Annex Agreement on Normalization, the Terms of Reference (ToR) on the creation of the Transitional Justice Commission (TJRC) have identified “land dispossession” as the main colonial tool of subjugating the Moro people in centuries of “historical injustices.”
It all started with a letter to the US President in January 2003, in which the late Ustadz Salamat Hashim, Founding Chairman the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), sought to “correct the historical injustices” that the colonial powers have reduced the Moro people to in centuries of oppression.
Yacob said the MAFAR had distributed Certification of Land Ownership Award titles for a total of 1,200 hectares of land to pre-assessed farmer-recipients and Agrarian Reform Communities (ARC) in BARMM regionwide.
For 2020, Yacob said, the MAFAR-BARMM aims to completely distribute CLOA titles for some 2,000 hectares to beneficiary ARC farmers, before the year ends.
Yacob said within its legal mandates, the MAFAR-BARMM’s land distribution program is much akin to stories of Moro land repossession, hardly obtained in the past through application petitions with the Bureau of Lands (now Lands Management Bureau), after the American Colonial Government declared all lands in the Philippines, including those in Mindanao, as public domain.
Bangsamoro land reformists, however, have lamented that only few Moro families and mostly non-Muslims have availed of homestead applications mode of land possession.
One reason was the designation of the Bureau of Lands to exist and serve only in selected office locations, like Manila and Zamboanga City, which were far from majority Moro populated areas.
Moreover, the 1935 Constitution granted only the rights of land possession to citizens of the United States and citizens of the Philippines.
For their part, the Moro people then were largely hesitant to be called a “Filipino,” or much less to declare Philippine citizenship on any official document, as an act contrasting the local tradition.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), signed in 2014 between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the MILF, covers a Framework Agreement and Annexes relating to transitional arrangements, wealth sharing, power-sharing and normalization.
The Annex on Normalization contains the creation of a TJRC with a Terms of Reference of tasks to assess and provide recommendations and expert advice to the peace panels regarding “legitimate grievances,” “historical injustices,” “human rights violations and marginalization through land dispossession” of the Bangsamoro people, with the objectives of “healing and reconciliation.”