THE farmers who were allegedly harassed by armed men last week inside Montalvan ranch in Maramag, Bukidnon have called for the intervention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Northern Mindanao as they held a picket at its office Monday.

With placards that read, "Land for farmers, not for cows," the farmers belonging to the Nakawa Dologon Farmers Association (NDFA) trooped to the DENR office accompanied by some leaders of Task Force Mapalad and other farmers belonging to the Panalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata).

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The farmers had urged the DENR to deny the application for renewal of Montalvan Ranch, saying that they have been occupants of the land for several years, and want the agency to give back to them the 63-hectare land that the allegedly owned through the community-based forest management (CBFM) agreement.

Fe B. Panelo allegedly said the men of family Montalvan, armed with high-power firearms, "harassed" them on August 4.

"My family came to Maramag in 1957 even before the Montalvan ranch came into the picture. The Montalvans claimed the land in 1969 and we were forced to evacuate the land as per request by Montalvan to the Bureau of Forestry. They also arrested 13 men, including my father," Panelo narrated.

In 1969, Panelo said there was an amicable settlement which resulted to the release of her father and the resettlement of her family and other farmers in the 63-hectare land outside the 200-hectare Montalvan Ranch.

Panelo said it all turned out well until 1976 when they were again harassed allegedly by Montalvan's men, which forced them to leave the land.

She said the lease contract of Rancho Montalvan Inc. on the land has already expired. The Montalvans had a lease contract with the government for pasture.

But the management of Rancho Montalvan has filed a renewal of lease contract before the DENR though the agency has yet to issue a hold-over pending the submission of requirements for renewal.

Maximo O. Dichoso, DENR regional executive director, said the farmers need to establish their actual occupation at the area before they could get a share of land to till.

"Even if the contract is not yet renewed, it is not that easy," Dichoso said when asked of the probability of denying the renewal of lease contract to Rancho Montalvan Inc.

He added that the government must reclassify first the land since it is still classified as pasture land, and not for residential or agricultural, before the farmers can eventually apply.

Dichoso said even the workers of the ranch are also claiming ownership under CBFM, who have been occupying the land for so many years.

"This could be called the win-win solution. If possible, they could have themselves organized and maybe, the government could make the necessary compromise between them," Dichoso said.

He claimed that the DENR still has to do an inventory of the number of occupants in the area and the number of hectares to be divided between all of the claimants. (Nicole J. Managbanag/Loui S. Maliza)