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End in sight to 28 years of farmers' land conflict.

SAN FRANCISCO -- After about 28 years, at least 1,500 agrarian reform beneficiaries here and in the neighboring town of Rosario would finally become owners of more than 8,000 hectares of land now being used as palm oil plantations.

The vast tract of land had been placed under the agrarian reform program as early as 1988, in the early years of the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino, but infighting among cooperatives composed of the beneficiaries delayed the grant of benefits to the former farm workers.

The area covered by the agrarian reform program, which is now devoted to palm oil, is considered bigger than Hacienda Luisita, the agricultural estate in Tarlac and Pampanga provinces owned by the family of President Aquino, which militant farmers had used as a symbol of the struggle for land reform.

The palm oil areas, encompassing 8,000 ha, served as a model for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program enacted on June 10, 1998, and beneficiaries recalled turnover ceremonies led by Corazon Aquino herself in Cagayan de Oro City.

To address the infighting among beneficiaries, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in this province started conducting on May 17 the validation and redocumentation of the lands, once occupied by the National Development Corp.-Guthrie Estate Inc. and NDC-Guthrie Plantations Inc.

DAR officials were prompted to conduct what they said was a comprehensive revalidation of agrarian reform beneficiaries after finding that the cooperatives, which have already split into six groups because of differences, have recruited new members who could not possibly qualify as beneficiaries.

We need to firm up first the list of original (beneficiaries) to determine the real beneficiaries, said Julita Ragandang, DAR Caraga regional director.

She said over the years the cooperatives took in new members, who benefited from the proceeds of land rental payments but were not actually beneficiaries.

Because of infighting among cooperative leaders, many of the original beneficiaries were expelled and it resulted in the creation of splinter cooperative groups, three of them not yet registered with the Cooperative Development Authority.

Genalyn Luis, DAR provincial information officer, said cooperative officials were told during a stakeholders' forum to refrain from further expelling members after the revalidation of the documents of original beneficiaries is completed on June 30.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 23, 2016
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