The Municipality of Ampatuan in the province of Maguindanao has seen its share of land conflicts in many years. The decades-old conflicting land claim involving 170 hectares in Barangay Kauran proper is one of the most complex and sensitive conflicts that could possibly result in violence if not properly resolved.

The original claimant of the land is Mr. Bobby Dalagunan from a prominent Muslim family in Ampatuan but now residing in Cotabato City. Accordingly, Dalagunan’s family has in possession all legal documents related to their claim including a land title that was approved in the 1930s, while Barangay Kauran was established in the 1950s. The other claimants are Christian residents of the barangay who have now pending applications for land titles with the Department of Environment and Resources (DENR).

In 1998, it was reported that the DENR office was burned, and this included copies of the land titles in Kauran owned by the Dalagunan family. A survey to the area was conducted in February 2009 through the joint efforts of the barangay local government unit (BLGU) under the administration of Barangay Chairman Reynaldo Huesca, the Dalagunan family and a hired surveyor. However, this was not completed due to the alleged harassment by some Christian residents opposing the claim of the Dalagunan family. Since then, the Dalagunan family halted the legal process in reclaiming the land. The Christian residents then pursued their claim through applying for land titles at the DENR, which prompted the Dalagunan family to file a petition to stop the approval of the land titles. With this petition, the DENR paused the processing and approval of the land titles. The Christian residents then sought clarification on the status of their application from the concerned government agencies involved.

With an end view of resolving this decades-old land conflict, the A3B project key leaders led by Kagawad Rommel Rodriguez and former Kagawad Heidi Ebagat, together with the barangay officials, organized a dialogue on 13 August 2018 held at the Kauran Barangay Hall. They invited personnel from the DENR headed by CENRO Mohaliden M. Kasid; the parties involved – Bobby Dalagunan and other representatives of Dalagunan family, and the Christian residents of Kauran headed by TRL Haide Ebagat; Kagawad Sobremesana; and, Atty. Gumana from the Philippine Mediation Center based in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.

The dialogue facilitated by Kagawad Rodriguez gave each party the chance to present their position on the issue. It was highlighted by presentation of claim folders as evidence of each party, with initial interpretations from DENR and Atty. Gumana. There was also an updating on the status of claim of every party presented by DENR through the CENRO. Issues were also clarified related to the harassment incident during the survey allegedly perpetrated by some community leaders, some of whom are now barangay officials of Kauran.

A plan of action was then outlined, among them are the request DENR or a surveyor to interpret the documents presented by Mr. Dalagunan to stand the validity of the documents including the validity of the location of the land title, the conduct of a general assembly with the Kauran residents to inform them of the result of the dialogue and of the conflict resolution process, BLGU to secure a copy of Mr. Dalagunan’s claim folder for reference of the barangay, the holding of another round of dialogue with the presence of other concerned agencies including the Municipal LGU of Ampatuan, PENRO, Bureau of Land and MENRO of Ampatuan, and the laying down of options to resolve the conflict, to include the filing of a case in the court to contest the claim of Dalagunan family.

This development highlighted the importance of dialogue as a peaceful means to resolve a conflict. This opened a window of opportunity for the affected Muslims and Christians and concerned agencies to discuss the issue and review the documents related to the claim of each party. What happened is a testament that through dialogue, the gap between Muslims and Christians who had a longstanding mistrust caused by the historical cycle of violence in the area can still be bridged.