Looking Into Land Conversation
PHILIPPINE POPULATION growth which has not abated urges a policy discussion about land use. People occupy space, with a measure of quantity for quality of life. Unfortunately, this has not been a hot-button topic and the media have mostly kept it on the back burners waiting for attention.
A three-part series of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 1 to 3) focused the spotlight on land conversion and the negative impact this has had on food security and housing. Land conversion, a component of RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) which was enacted in 1988, allows land reform beneficiaries to apply for using agricultural lands for other purposes. The series reviewed conflicting land laws and the disturbing lack of resolution of contradictory provisions. CMFR cheers the special reports, given the rising demographics and the country’s predominantly agricultural economy.
The first part “Many farms lost to land conversion” noted how rapid urbanization has turned land from food production to other commercial interests, placing Philippine food security at risk. A graphic image of the urban sprawl of Metro Manila from 1988 to 2014 dramatizes the spread of infrastructure and construction into previously agricultural areas. Within the period, the Department of Agriculture (DA) reported that a total of 97,592.5 hectares of agricultural land were approved for conversion to nonagricultural purposes. World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist Makiko Watanabe, during the Conference on Sustainable Land Governance on February 8, discussed challenges such as rising prices of land and housing demands caused by the lack of coordination between urban growth and land development.
The government’s attempt to address this problem was discussed in the second part, “EO on land conversion moratorium soon” which was met with objections. Economic managers including Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez among others consider the moratorium “antithetical to economic growth, job generation and poverty reduction.”
The section also presented points made by Calixto Chikiamco, Foundation for Economic Freedom President, who said that food security could be attained by maximizing productivity, citing the example of Singapore. Chikiamco prefers to “free the market rather than force the lands to be agricultural,” adding that industrial lands have higher productivity than agricultural areas. Singapore is one of the world’s most food-secure countries despite having small agricultural land.
Conflicting regulations were discussed in the culminating piece “Land laws need to be harmonized.” The final installment noted the incompatibility of existing laws such as CARL, Housing Act of 1992 and Mining Act of 1995, among several others – with contradictory objectives that result in the “irrational and uncoordinated use of land,” per Gemma Rita Marin of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Justice. The National Land Use Act was proposed to address this but still failed to pass in Congress. The proposal was designed to “ensure ecological integrity, energy supply and promote food security.”
CMFR hopes to see more stories that clarify the dilemmas of development. Media attention can help facilitate public discussion that can force government to resolve policy differences so that agencies can implement and coordinate coherent programs. Land use questions cannot be set aside indefinitely and deserves a prominent place in the news agenda.