The Land Use Cases Division (LUCD) of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA) under the Agrarian Legal Sector (ALS) of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) convened the First National Stakeholders Forum on Land Use Conversion at the Microtel Hotel at the UP-Ayala Techno Hub in Quezon City on November 16 and 17, 2017.
The Forum was convened by BALA Director Celestina Manlagnit-Tam and ALS Head Undersecretary Luis M.C. Pañgulayan.
The Directors of the various DAR Regional Offices were in attendance during the two-day affair. Representatives from the major CARP Implementing Agencies were also present.
Undersecretary Pañgulayan in his welcome remarks noted the timeliness of the forum since the Department needs to identify the urgent issues and policy concerns regarding land use conversion. The Forum, which he expects to be the first of a series of discussions among the stakeholders from the public and private sectors, become more relevant since the guidelines on conversion under DAR Administrative Order (A.O.) No. 1, Series of 2002 have not been re-examined for the past fifteen (15) years. All inputs in the discussion series should be included as the DAR convenes the Policy Review and Formulation Committee (PRFC) to review the policy and procedures on conversion of agricultural lands.
Undersecretary for Field Operations Office (FOO) Karlo Bello welcomed the participants in behalf of OIC-Secretary Rosalina L. Bistoyong. Undersecretary Bello also observed that the Forum will provide the needed inputs as the DAR undertakes the task of reviewing DAR A.O. No. 1, Series of 2002. The participation of the stakeholders is much needed as the Department examines its land use conversion policies.
The Forum Speakers tackled special issues affecting the process of evaluating conversion grants. On the first day, Undersecretary Pañgulayan discussed the general legal framework on land use conversion, and emphasized that conversion is a rigorous process since it removes landholdings from CARP coverage. Thus, it is important that the State mandate on agrarian reform and social justice must always prevail.
Senior Agriculturist Jovette Tenorio of the Department of Agriculture (DA) discussed DA A.O. No. 1, Series of 2017 which provides the process before the DA certifies whether or not the land is agricultural. It is indispensable in the DAR Action on Conversion Applications.
Engineer Joel Polintan of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) discussed technical matters governing conversion and exemption/exclusion of landholdings. He discussed the concept and meaning of the eighteen percent (18%) slope which is a ground for exemption provided that the land is undeveloped.
Principal Engineer A Eden Bulatao of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) discussed the NIA policies on the identification and certification of irrigated and irrigable lands which is needed in the processing of applications for land use conversion. Irrigated and irrigable lands are "non-negotiable" for conversion.
On the second day of the Forum, OIC-RARAD Rolando Cua discussed the basic features of DAR A.O. No. 1, Series of 2002. He likewise discussed the substantive and procedural components of the DAR conversion process.
OIC-Secretary Rosalina L. Bistoyong graced the Forum on the final day after her attendance in a Conference on Climate Change in Germany. The OIC-Secretary stressed that while the DAR exercises exclusive authority on the conversion of agricultural lands, the foremost concern of the Department is food security and social justice.
During the open forum, the discussion centered on the need to ensure the primacy of the land acquisition and distribution process, and at the same time, address the needs for progress and development through the conversion of lands only in specific and meritorious cases.
The government agencies agreed to examine possible areas where the separate processes can be streamlined for the immediate resolution of land use conversion cases with due regard to social justice and food security concerns.
The farmers' groups asserted the primacy of the land acquisition and distribution versus land use conversion.
The Forum shall be re-convened in February 2018.
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