A Grasp on the Land Conflict of Marawi

The roles of Islam, Bangsamoro history, M’ranao politics, culture, kinship and custom, operating within Lanao del Sur particularly in Marawi City, are intertwined in the distinctive land, property and housing rights, which are generally cross-cultural in nature.

Marawi City is considered to be the economic hub of the province of Lanao del Sur. Its agricultural land supports majority of its residents who are either into farming and small trade of vegetable crops. The city has a total land area of 87.55 sq. km. with 96 barangays where 47 of which are considered urban. It has been a home to over 200, 000 M’ranaos who are business owners inside Padian, Banggolo and in almost 70 percent of the city. Others are professionals and students of various private educational institutions inside the city and those in Mindanao State University main campus.

Marawi takes pride in being the only Islamic city of the country where majority of its population are Muslims but there are, however, significant number of Christian settlers who have learned to live harmoniously with the M’ranao culture. One peculiarity in understanding the composition of Marawi is its high respect for the noble clans and lineages, parallel to that of the government instrumentalities. The major clans within the traditional setup of the city, as supported by the Sultanate league of Lanao del Sur, have their own respective areas of occupation within the territorial jurisdiction of Marawi. Apart from the government officials, academe, professionals and businessmen, Imams and Ulamas play also an essential role in shaping the community in its aim to maintain its Islamic culture and indigenous practices.

On the fateful day of 23rd of May 2017 when the conflict erupted between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the ISIS-inspired militant group, majority of the residents have forced themselves to evacuate and leave their properties without bringing with them any legal documents to prove their ownership. As of 10th of November 2017, we have 353, 921 internally displaced persons who have spread out in various provinces and municipalities in Mindanao, even reaching as far as Visayas and Luzon areas. The government response of declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao and the consecutive airstrikes to those suspected hideouts of the enemies have brought fear, panic and distress among the internally displaced families. This is proven by their responses during interviews conducted by local organizations. With the creation of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) by virtue of Administrative Order No. 3, headed by the Department of National Defense, Vice-chaired by Department of Public Works and Highways, with 21 members from other government agencies including the city government, the management of Marawi rebuilding and recovery was discussed to be embodied in a comprehensive rehabilitation plan.

While there’s an attempt to consolidate the plans submitted by the city government of Marawi and the provincial government of Lanao del Sur, through the intervention of the Mindanao State University, added by the ongoing Post Conflict Needs Assessment, with about 200 experts visiting the affected areas, majority of the IDPs are still puzzled with their questions left unanswered. Hence, they clamor for series of consultations regarding their housing, land and properties left in Marawi. The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS), in partnership with Balay Mindanao, has conducted a barangay consultation dated 4th of September 2017 and among the top concerns were the following in no particular order of importance;

First, majority of the landowners claim traditional title over the lands they occupy on the concept of ancestral possession since time immemorial. Subject to intra-clan land disputes, many confessed during the legal missions, conducted by IDEALS, to have no legal document to prove their ownership over the lands they occupy prior the Marawi siege. Hence, they are anxious of the possible claim of the military over the lands declared by Proclamation No. 453 to be under military reservation, with a total land area of 3,689.8731 hectares. On a live interview with the DENR LDS at S’bang Ka Marawi radio program, it was mentioned that it is still to be identified where this military reservation should start and which areas to be covered, however, it is certain that it should be within the size of the above mentioned total land area. Second, there are communities that have lived within and near the lakeshore and as a matter of fact, they claim to have a deep-rooted clan identity based on this particular settlement. The conflict now arises when they insist on staying on these areas but the government demands them to leave due to the “No Build Zone” policy. As emphasized by the Sultan of Marawi, these clans and sub-clans would revolt if they will be deprived of their land where they derive their royal titles as part of the Sultanate system. Third, the IDPs are concerned on where and how will the resettlement areas will be given, managed and maintained. They shared their skepticism on the prioritization of the beneficiary families since they were unsure if there was really a mass consultation with their IDP constituents.

The recent public statement on the flattening of the main battle area, now called as the most affected area, with composition of at least 24 to 26 barangays, the IDPs from Marawi are now alarmed on whether the government will push for the infrastructure development of the city at the expense of sacrificing the religious and cultural sensitivities, in addition to the age-old land disputes. The plan to create a central business district within the area is still being debated on the actual start of the development to the purpose of such when residents would prefer restoration or replacement but with the same residential purpose where they can enjoy their own homes and land. Many used to be hopeful but have now started to doubt on the fairness and responsiveness of the temporary and permanent shelters provided by the government. This was mainly due to their lack of participation in the planning stage, as highlighted by the local CSOs helping the IDPs to bring out their own voice.

As Becker puts it, the nature and scope of property rights have long been at the center of philosophical debates over natural law or morality-driven principles and legal positivism where legitimacy is derived from the authority of the law maker rather than morality. Islamic law relating to land is inspired by the concepts of sanctity of the land, divine ownership and righteousness of use. According to literal religious philosophical tradition, man is allowed to use resources such as land but can never own it. This principles run against the legal requirement to register lands under the Torrens system in the Philippines. This is where the conflict arises between the cultural practices against the government policies.

While there is an intricate discussion on the land issues of Marawi City, it must be a realization that the IDPs must have participation in the decision-making process on the crafting of the rehabilitation plan as well as its implementation. The legal community is willing to support the efforts of our government in mitigating the expectations of the IDPs. We can, however, use as a guide the Islamic principle that states property rights are conditional on the requirement that the land must not be used wastefully or exploitatively, or in a way that will deprive others of their justly acquired properties. (RSP)

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