Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Legalized Landgrabbing

Before the turn of the 20th century, ninety eight percent of the lands in Mindanao and Sulu belonged to the Moros.` Except in areas garrisoned by Spain particularly in the northern part of Mindanao, the Moros lorded over these vast islands and the various indigenous natives like the Manobos, Bagobos, Tagakaolos, and others numbering about 23 ethnic tribes were largely under their sphere of influence. But as soon as the Americans stepped into the Moro country, even before the indirect rule was discarded, they decreed a law called the Land Registration Act, also known as Act No. 496. requiring the registration of all lands occupied by any person, group or corporation in writing, signed and sworn to by the claimant. In such an early stage, when fighting was still widespread in the various islands, the Moro may not have heard of this law or, if they had, they would not have been willing to comply, for apparent reasons. The payment for staying in one's land or the cedula tax was one of the reasons why many Moros resisted the American occupation.  
On April 4, 1903, the Philippine Commission enacted Public Land Act No. 718. The law declared null and void all lands granted by Moro sultans, datus or chiefs of any of the non-Christian tribes without authority of the state. This law dispossessed the Moros of their landholdings which, in most instances, they occupied since time immemorial. The Moro sultans were not excluded from the operation of this law and their failure to comply with it meant they would be squatters and face automatic ejection.  
On October 7, 1903, the Public Act 926 was enacted into law which provided, among other stipulations, that all lands not registered under Act No. 496 were deemed public lands, and therefore available for homesteading, sale or lease by individual or corporation. One can imagine that in less than a year, by reasons of opposition to, default or ignorance of the American bureaucratic system, the Moros could be deprived of their lands. These were shallow alibis leading to the systematic dispossession of the Moros of their landholdings.  
The Mining Law of 1905 further confiscated Moro lands. The law declared all public lands as free, open for exploration, occupation and purchase even by Americans. Such a law opened the gates for American dollars to come, particularly in Mindanao, where wide tracts of lands were still available. The influx of American capitalists led to several conflicts which at one time caused the death of Lt. Edward C. Bolton, District Governor of Davao, on June 6, 1906.  
The Cadastral Act of 1907 facilitated the acquisition of new landholdings. The law virtually favored the educated natives, moneyed bureaucrats and American speculators who were more familiar with the bureaucratic process to legalize claims usurped through fraudulent surveys.  
In 1913, the Philippine Commission passed Acts 2254 and 2280 creating agricultural colonies. The two laws aimed at encouraging Filipino migrants from the northern areas to the so-called "public lands" in Mindanao and Sulu. The purpose of the colonies was as follows: 1) to increase food production especially rice; 2) to equalize the distribution of population in the Philippines; 3) to bring under cultivation extensive wild public lands; and 4) to afford an opportunity for the colonists to become land proprietors The earliest colonies were planted right in the middle of Moro communities with the aim of integrating Moros and Christian native population into a "homogeneous Filipino people 1,41 Of the ten colonies created between 1913 and 1917 in the entire Philippines, seven were established in Cotabato, one in Lanao and one in Basilan. The sites selected in Cotabato were Silik, Peidu Pulangi. Ginatilan, Pagalungan, Pikit, Talitay and Clan. all populated by Moros.  
Of special interest was Philippine Commission Act No. 2254. Again, it showed the glaring instance of injustices. While this law awarded Filipino settlers with a 16 hectare lot, the Moro was permitted to own only eight hectares, despite his prior birthright to the place. Such was the consequence of the previous enactments that already deprived him of his ancestral landholdings.
In 1919, the Public Land Act No. 2874 was enacted which provided for the manner of acquiring land ownership, especially in the Moro country. Under this law. a Filipino was entitled to apply and possess a 24-hectare parcel of land. while a Moro only ten hectares. The discrimination did not end there. In many instances, even before the Christian could come to Mindanao, his land had been titled already, while that of the Moro remained untitled for years. Or the Moro may not have moved to title his at all. He may have been personally responsible for some of the reasons for this failure, but that certainly was no sufficient moral ground to deprive him of his landholdings. One noted American writer had this to say on this predicament:
The government officials they turned to for counsel were often 'too busy' to help. And when some did manage to file their registration papers. they were disheartened by the uncertainty and delay in getting them approved .  
Aside from the inherent discriminations in such laws, there were at least two or more reasons for this pathetic situation. Firstly, the Moros continued to resist the registration of the lands they owned, occupied and tilled since time past under a government that they considered to be a "foreign authority." The second cause was the specious pretext raised apologetically that the Moros were not only poor but ignorant, little realizing that it was one of the fundamental duties of government to attend to the needs particularly of the marginalized and depressed sections of the population.

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