COTABATO CITY -- To address land conflicts that often result in clan wars in Maguindanao, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DENR-ARMM) has begun surveying lands in preparation for the free distribution of land titles in conflict-affected towns of the province.

Forester Kahal Kedtag, DENR-ARMM Secretary, said the PHP42-million “free land titling and survey” project of the department was formally launched Thursday in Rajah Buayan, one of the 15 municipalities out of Maguindanao’s 36 towns that will benefit from the project.

“Land dispute hinders development,” Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan said. “This project will provide bigger opportunities for our people.”

Ampatuan said the people were hoping for a fully secured land ownership, especially for his town, which relies on farming.

Kedtag said the massive distribution of land titles would also help combat poverty and stimulate progress and development in the province.

He said the project was under the region’s Humanitarian Development and Assistance Program (HDAP) aimed at demarcating properties of landowners in the region.

HDAP, a project of the regional government under the Hataman administration, is tasked to implement various government initiatives, specifically relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, both horizontal (roads and bridges) and vertical (school buildings, houses, and health centers).

The project also covers livelihood programs that will promote peace and help the situation in calamity-affected communities, especially in 15 Maguindanao towns.

Kedtag said the distribution of free land titles was one of the priorities of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman to help reduce conflicts in Maguindanao, many of which were fueled by land disputes.

The initiative has the full backing of local government executives and their respective constituents.

In 2016, the region granted a total of 1,800 hectares of land to residents of the conflict-torn “SPMS box”, which stands for Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Salibo.

The SPMS box remains under the close watch of the military due to the presence of Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. It is now being developed into productive areas.

Meanwhile, DENR-ARMM reported that it is also gearing up to distribute 4,500 hectares of land to pilot barangays in the 15 target municipalities.

“We want to give what is due to the people in the region,” Kedtag said. (PNA)