Mgen Espino-7th ID reaffirms its right to stand firm on FMMR issue
By Jason de Asis
FORT MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija, November 30, 2010–Mgen Ireneo C Espino, Chief of the 7th Infantry (KAUGNAY) Division (7ID), Philippine Army reaffirms its right to possess and administer the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) amidst the growing number of informal settlers in the area.

The Batas International Media finds out that some 15,000 individuals have been squatting in the portion of the army reservation here as the land area of what once was a sprawling 73,000-hectare military camp named after late president Ramon Magsaysay continues to shrink due to various presidential proclamations and migration by informal settlers.

Espino said that series of meetings will be initiated by the 7th Infantry Division together with the local government and citizens with direct link with the military reservation to clarify its present condition.

The FMMR was proclaimed by former President Ramon Magsaysay through Presidential Proclamation # 237 (PP237) dated December 19, 1955 for military use. Its total land area was originally 73,000 hectares but due to prior changes made by proclamations of other Presidents, it was reduced to 48,000 hectares at present.

It is composed of the towns of General Tinio (Papaya), Sta Rosa, Laur, Gabaldon and Palayan City in the province of Nueva Ecija and Dingalan in the province of Aurora.

Due to lack of concrete landmarks that separate each boundaries of FMMR with adjacent land areas, civilians and government agencies started establishing inside its borders.

To give solution and enlightenment to this issue, investigations were once again done to ensure the right disposition and measurement of the confines of FMMR. Proclaimed titles before 19 December 1955 will be separated from the land areas within PP 237.

Meanwhile, titles proclaimed after PP237 will be considered null and void.

Espino, who supervises the camp, disclosed that the informal settlers have set up shanties and structures in 25 barangays inside and around the reservation, with more families seeking to build their own and with no immediate end in sight to squatting.

Col. Amadeo Azul, said that of the 25 barangays inhabited by squatters, eight are directly within the reservation area and the rest are in the outskirts or lying within the camp’s boundaries.

These are in barangays Liwayway, Maligaya and Mapalad in Sta. Rosa; Bago, Nazareth and Palale in Gen. Tinio; Canantong, Nauzon, Sagana, San Felipe, San Isidro, San Josef and San Juan in Laur; Aulo, Caballero, Dona Josefa and Langka in Palayan City; Bugnan, Bantog and Pinamalisan in Gabaldon and Butas na Bato, Cabog, Caragsacan, Ibuna and Matawe in Dingalan.     

The reservation is home to the 7th ID which has administrative and operational jurisdiction over soldiers deployed in eight provinces in Northern and Central Luzon. These provinces cover 16 cities, 164 municipalities and 4,478 barangays with a population of 11,642,976.

Azul said the lands occupied by the informal settlers are covered by several Spanish titles. One of the more prominent claimants was a certain Flor Garcia who figured in a land case with Army authorities that dragged on for 23 years.

He said that in 1943, a big portion of the reservation was also titled by people posing as farmers, adding that among those who claim part of the reservation are soldiers but said it’s easier to monitor them.

Espino encourage all citizens residing within the area to cooperate to 7th ID to have faster and clearer solutions regarding issues involving the military reservation and appealing to all concerned to consult and deal only with the proper authority, the Division Real State Office (DREO) of 7ID, and to avoid engaging illicit and unauthorized people/offices that use improper measures and with hidden intention of destroying the credibility and integrity of 7ID.

He added that their door is 24/7 open to the public for any queries that will help contribute to the immediate resolution of the issue.

Early this year, Espino said they are planning to come up with an ideal relocation plan for the informal settlers so that the remaining areas can be used solely for military training and other purposes. He said they are seeking the intervention of the Department of National Defense (DND) and provincial government to settle the problem.

Due to the presence of informal settlers, some portions of the reservation have been reconfigured to suit the training of troops to make sure no one gets caught in the crossfire while they are holding artillery and marksmanship training.

“We restructured certain areas for training and demos because we don’t want any civilian getting hurt,” he said. (Jason de Asis)