17 October 2016
To be clear, the Vice President signed the petition against the proposed two-year absolute ban on land use conversion because our proposal is to exempt from the moratorium agricultural lands which have already been declared unproductive by the Department of Agriculture and which may be used for socialized housing.
To use the issue to pit stakeholders against each other is simplistic, careless and malicious.
While the Vice President agrees with the need to conserve agricultural land for the benefit of our producers who count among our poorest, as with any government policy this cannot be total.
There are various considerations in play, and as HUDCC Secretary, the Vice President is particularly concerned about the further delays such a policy might introduce in the housing and resettlement processes, which also affect the poor.
As we are working on the insurmountable housing backlog, this blanket ban would further delay our efforts especially in the disaster-stricken areas.
For example, resettlement projects have been delayed in Yolanda-stricken areas in Leyte and Samar, and Sendong-stricken areas in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan due to land conversion issues among others. Years have passed and yet we haven’t been able to provide resettlement houses for our fellow Filipinos due to titling delays.
In 2015, our country had a total of 12,578,229 hectares of agricultural land, or 42.55% of total land area.
However, the number of areas with an approved land use conversion as of 2015 is 151,795.37 hectares. This accounts for only 1.22% of the total agricultural land resource of the Philippines.
The petition, which the Vice President signed together with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), states that rather than imposing a total two-year ban, a strict implementation of the land use regulation and an enactment of the land use law should be pursued.
In the immediate term, the petition is recommending that the government should strictly implement existing laws, regulating land use conversion (which already cover non-conversion of prime agricultural lands, lands subject to land reform, irrigated lands, irrigable lands, protected areas and other areas non-negotiable for conversion) and quickly clarify and decide the parameters for land use conversion.
In the medium term, the legislature should enact a national land use code covering not only land use conversion regulation but also effective land administration, such as timely titling of lands and taxing idle lands sufficiently so that owners will put them to appropriate uses.
The Vice President will be the last to compromise the interest of farmers in so far as their access to land that is due them.
She has long fought for the farmers’ plight – from the farmers of Bicol to the IPs of Sumilao, Bukidnon – even before she became a politician as an alternative lawyer. And we saw the effect on the improvement of the lives of the farmers’ families that the Vice President has helped and continued to help.
We want to reiterate that our poverty alleviation challenges are multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral. We all have to find ways to solve it together instead of making unfounded accusations that appear to be politically motivated.
Again, we call on all groups to build bridges instead of walls so we can be truly part of the solution and not add to the problem.