With the circumstances described in my preceding article, the question often asked is: Is the Matling Plantation a boon or bane? Let's confront the meat of this narrative — residents' grievances against the corporation.
From the documents furnished this column, Matling Industrial and Commercial Corporation was established in the 1900s by a Thomasite, Ralph Edmund Spencer. Thomasites were American teachers who came to the Philippines in 1901 on the ship USAT Thomas to establish the public school system in English. Matling was "formed and organized in 1928 with Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Spencer as controlling stockholders/owners."
The corporation was principally engaged in the milling of cassava tubers and the production of cassava starch. Its principal place of business was in Barangay Matling, Malabang, Lanao del Sur, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). Still, it has expanded its tentacles to include portions of the towns of Marogong and Sultan Gumander. The Spencers are deceased, and according to available records, the corporation is now managed by Ms. Ace Mancilla-Gacad, its president and chief executive officer.
Local residents should have welcomed this huge investment, considering the benefits they could derive from it regarding job generation, social amelioration, and boosting the region's overall economy. But many have been complaining. Why is that so?
To cut to the chase, let us enumerate, in seriatim, the residents' grievances against the corporation based on documents submitted to this column.
A. The alarming creeping expansion of Matling's area of operations. The grant of a franchise to the corporation for cassava production was based on antiquated or ancient documents dating back to the time the Philippines was a colony of the United States of America. From its original area of operations, it has expanded considerably to other areas. Many residents compare this to "a Pac-Man gobbling up dots in a maze." We can only surmise that the company's justification for its expansion was based on moldy documents.
On 29 May 1911, General Order No. 76 was issued, followed by Executive Order 1364 of William Howard Taft, president of the USA, "Enlarging Torrey Barracks Reservation, Malabang, Mindanao, Philippine Islands." But if this was the basis for the increase in area, that law no longer applies after we gained independence because we have our own laws independent of the USA. And even with such ancient documents as the justification, the General Order categorically provided for conditions before the law could be invoked, i.e., it shall be "subject to private rights" and "no private property shall be taken or destroyed without first making payment therefore" or the occupation or possession of the land required for the reservation "has been extinguished by due process of law."
Remember that some of these lands are ancestral in nature, and the rights of its occupant-owners must be respected. Again, one wonders what could have been the basis for occupying other areas outside its original franchise area. Did they purchase land owned by private owners? Stated differently, were the private landowners compensated for using their lands by the company? Or was it a blatant land grab, as claimed by some residents? These are questions that beg for answers.
Apropos of this, the Department of Agrarian Reform has issued Executive Order No. 75, Series of 2019, "Directing all departments, bureaus, offices, and instrumentalities of the government to identify lands owned by the government devoted to or suitable for Agriculture for distribution to qualified beneficiaries."
I know this because DAR has an ongoing Field Validation and Survey program to determine the lands inside a military reservation in Marawi City and the adjoining towns of Piagapo, Saguiaran, and Marantao with the intention of awarding these to the present occupants. Was DAR Executive Order No. 75 followed in the expansion program of Matling? Was there a validation and survey conducted? Or were the lands leased by the military establishment to the corporation? It would be best to hear the legal justification for the occupation and use of other lands from the corporation.
These and many other questions could only be vetted and answered in an investigation that the government should conduct.
(To be continued)