Displaced Maranaos must prove they own the land: Mayor

By International Alert Philippines

Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra. (File photo)

The mayor of Marawi City declared Friday that the State’s power of eminent domain allows it to expropriate any land that it needs for the development and rehabilitation of the city. This was Mayor Majul Gandamra’s response to accusations that the local government was engaged in land grabbing or illegally confiscating privately-owned land in the city’s former commercial area.

Marawi was thrown into ruin and its residents displaced after violent extremists seized control of the city in May 2017. The full-scale military response led to the destruction of the Islamic City and its many historical and cultural treasures.   

In Friday night’s “After the Fact” cable TV and radio show on ANC, Gandamra warned those entering the most affected area of Marawi that they shouldered the burden of proof in asserting their ownership of the land, said IAP. 

Hindi pa naman na-determine kung meron talaga tinamaan na private properties, so that it is the burden of these claimants to prove that indeed this property belongs to them,” he was quoted as saying.   

The controversy erupted after many displaced residents complained to the local government and social media that local tax authorities were refusing to accept their tax payments and landowners were being denied building permits for properties that would be sequestered by the National Housing Authority.  

Displaced residents who were denied entry into their properties for more than three years decried the lack of transparency and deplore the fact that they were duped by the government. 

“We had no choice but to wait despite the slow pace of rehabilitation and now it turns out that they were planning to “take” properties without our knowledge and without consultation with those directly affected,” said one resident who did not want herself to be identified.    

The properties in question were described by the Marawi Mayor as part of the previous reclamation area in the city. However, mapping expert Jorge Golle of International Alert Philippines showed geographical maps overlaid with land titles and claims made by the group that indicated these areas as beyond the reclamation area. 

“More than 11,000 individuals will lose their prime areas if they proceed with the sequestration of the properties,” Golle said.      

“We are long-time occupants of these properties with legitimate certificates of land title, and we cannot be dispossessed of our land without a proper court hearing and an order from the court. This is in violation of all existing jurisprudence about private property rights,” said Atty. Mimbalawag, a leading oppositor of what he calls a government-led yet illegal expropriation of their properties. 

Mimbalawag’s family is among those who will lose their properties due to the State takeover of these lands. 

“Might is not right, and silence does not mean our agreement,” Mimbalawag said.  

Gandamra, however, insisted that he is prepared to revoke any previous agreements or concessions given by previous governments to the claimants whose properties are situated in the reclamation area. The mayor kept silent when asked about whether they were willing to pay compensation for the properties. 

“Our homes, our private properties, our mosques, and our cultural and historical heritage were all destroyed during the Marawi Siege. The government has not even passed a compensation bill for the reparation of our damaged houses and private properties. Now the local government is unlawfully “taking” our properties without just compensation and tells us to our face that we can no longer go back to our titled lots to rebuild our houses. I assure you that we shall continuously oppose this illegal confiscation, along with the other IDPs affected,” Mimbalawag declared. (PR)

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