A viral Facebook post accused the government of land grab in four barangays on the ground zero of the Marawi siege in 2017 after a family was told it could no longer pay taxes for its residential property.
“You cannot pay real property tax because your property has been included in the government project,” lawyer Ibrahim Mimbalawag recalled an official of the Marawi City Assessors’ Office telling him and his sister.
Mimbalawag on July 9 guested on Alerto Bangsamoro, a radio program sponsored by International Alert Philippines on DXMS Radyo Bida Cagayan de Oro, after his Facebook post on their experience went viral.
They were instructed to clear up the matter with the local National Housing Authority (NHA), which he said confirmed the position of the assessor.
“(NHA) showed us that all our areas will be used for the government projects,” Mimbalawag said.
“In plain language, this is land grabbing. These private landowners have their own certificates of land titles. Only the courts can cancel titles,” said Mimbalawag.
He said their property was just one of the private properties in four barangays — Sabala Manao, Dansalan, Datu sa Dansalan, and Datu Naga — that were “sequestered” by the government for the Marawi rehabilitation plan.
His immediate family owns four other properties in the four barangays, he said.
“There were alleged consultations on the Marawi rehabilitation [plan]. But they only invited VIPs, or other sectors’ representatives. There must be notice to the ones affected,” he said.
‘Titles will need to be validated’
Mayor Majul Gandamra said the property in question sits on reclaimed land, which he said the government owns.
“Most [of the buildings there before the siege] are government properties. Some are occupied by private [individuals] but these properties are owned by the government because it’s a reclamation area,” Gandamra told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
“Only a portion [of the four barangays] ‘yung reclamation. ‘Yun ho ang hindi na pwedeng balikan ng private kasi nga ho, precisely, this is owned by the government (Only a portion of the four barangays are part of the reclamation area. We cannot allow private properties there because, precisely, this is owned by the government),” he said.
The mayor said he asked the Land Dispute Resolution Committee to also look into the claims. The reclamation area covers a total of 10 hectares spanning parts of the four barangays.
“They (claimants) have to present it (titles) to the proper authorities,” Gandamra said.
“‘Yung nasa reclaimed land ay hindi muna bibigyan ng tax declaration kasi nga iva-validate bakit nakakuha ng titulo (Those on reclaimed land will not yet be issued tax declarations because we will need to validate how they acquired titles),” Gandamra said.
Residents of the four barangays whose titles sit outside the reclamation area should not worry, he said. “Kapag may titulo po na hindi naman sa reclaimed area ay talagang ire-recognize ‘yan (If the titled property is outside of the reclamation area, it will definitely be recognized),” he said.
Other land issues
The online uproar over Mimbalawag’s Facebook post underscores how messy land ownership in the city will continue to plague rehabilitation work as residents debunk government claims that consultations were conducted.
Jorge Golle, senior program officer of International Alert Philippines, said the problem is confounded by discrepancies in the NHA and Marawi local government’s boundaries of the barangays.
“If NHA map is to be used (to determine sequestered lots), 81 residents [of the four barangays] will be affected. But if the LGU boundary is to be used, 114 will be affected,” Golle said.
Saripada “Tong” Pasacum Jr. of the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch said “the problem is not only in the four barangays, but in the whole of Marawi.”
“For example, in our family, we’re having a problem. The boundaries between properties are gone,” he said.
Marawi’s city center turned into a sea of destruction in the aftermath of the siege. When the buildings were demolished, concerns were raised that boundaries between properties may be difficult to determine when property owners return to rebuild.
Mimbalawag said road projects had also eaten up private properties. “One to two or three meters [of land] are being taken from private properties,” he said.
Jalilah Sapiin of Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch said many residents are kept in the dark about government plans.
“It’s very obvious that for the past two years, there has never been a drive to inform Marawi residents about the status of the most affected areas,” Sapiin said.
Only a few hundred households had been allowed to return to their properties four years after the siege. The government said the rest may be allowed to construct their houses and buildings by October 2021, when road networks are expected to be completed.
Residents will need to submit proof that they own the properties so they could be issued permits to build.
Sapiin warned that these issues will cause further discontent among residents. – with additional interview by Carmela Fonbuena
TOP PHOTO: File photo of Marawi's reclamation area taken in October 2019.