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First Posted on Inside Mindanao (www.insidemindanao.com) on June 9, 2008

Manobo–Dulagan tribe vows to oppose attempts
to ease them out of their ancestral land

By Bong S. Sarmiento

SENATOR NINOY AQUINO, SULTAN KUDARAT—Members of the Manobo–Dulagan tribe here vowed to oppose attempts to ease them out of their ancestral land straddling some 295 hectares in at least six sitios or villages in this far–flung town.

Sultan Malinoy Sipot, a Manobo elder told a fact–finding team composed of non–government organizations, said they will continue to struggle to keep the land that they inherited from their forefathers.

On May 16, a life was lost when alleged soldiers belonging to the 38th Infantry Battalion strafed Robert Rodriguez. The soldiers were reportedly backing Florence C. dela Pena, who is claiming around 295 hectares of land which the Manobos claimed as their ancestral land.

Rodriguez, who reportedly opposed the claims of dela Pena, was allegedly armed with a grenade, forcing the soldiers to shoot him.

Based on a fact sheet from the League of Indigenous Peoples for Ancestral Domain (LIPAD–Mindanao), the non–government organization which conducted the fact–finding mission, dela Pena won a case in the 1990s against the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) involving the granting of certificates of land ownership awards to at least 74 hectares in the village of Midtungok.

After winning her case with DAR, dela Pena has expanded her claims to another 295 hectares, which is being contested by the Manobos, the briefer added.

Dela Pena, who is reportedly a resident of General Santos City, could not be reached for comment on allegations that she duped the Manobos involving the 74–hectare property.

Sipot said they are letting to pass the 74–hectare dispute but will fiercely contest, if needed, dela Pena's expansion claims on the 295 hectares.

At a press conference in Koronadal City, Reginaldo Benitez, Sr., LIPAD–Mindanao interim regional coordinator and head of the fact finding team, recommended that DAR stop the land processing application of dela Pena.

He also urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to immediately cancel the issuance of authority given to dela Pena to survey the 295–hectare disputed land.

On the other hand, Benitez called on concerned government agencies to give the contested area in favor of the Manobos.

Based on the fact–finding team's initial investigation, it was DAR and DENR which facilitated the attempt to survey the area last May 16, which eventually ended in the death of Rodriguez.

"Contrary to several items in the police report, dela Pena and the surveying team were not assaulted by Rodriguez. Rather, the victim was seen just sitting outside the nearby house from a store owned by Oscar Morales where... [the victim] was shot to death with armalite guns," it added.

Nemesio Guse, a town councilor here, said the Sangguniang Bayan will recommend to President Gloria M. Arroyo that she orders the different concerned government agencies to settle the land conflict to avoid more bloodshed. Guse said he saw how the alleged soldiers fired on the victim.

END

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