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Aside from 2-year moratorium on land use conversion: DAR seeks review of LGU power to reclassify lands

Catanduanes TribuneAlarmed by the continued conversion of agricultural land into other uses, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is calling for a review of the local government’s power to reclassify lands aside from seeking a two-year moratorium on land-use conversions. This was disclosed by DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano last week during his visit to Catanduanes to inaugurate a farm-to-market road project in San Andres.

In a meeting with the local media at the DAR provincial office, Mariano said reclassification ordinances passed by local councils are helping remove agricultural lands from coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Under the CARP Law, lands being reclassified after June 15, 1988 effectivity of CARP need to have a conversion order from DAR.

He likewise informed that the final draft of an executive order covering the moratorium on land use conversions is now awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte. Under the proposed EO, the DAR secretary would have to determine whether the LUC application would be accepted.

“We also need to review Land Conversion Orders issued in the past,” Sec. Mariano stressed, saying it would give time for a task force to review conversions of agricultural lands and determine which are illegal, unlawful and premature.

“We need to preserve prime agricultural lands for the nation’s food security,” he said.

Under Section 20 of the Local Government Code, local councils are authorized to reclassify lands with certain limits ranging from 5% to 10% of the total land area.The reclassification process starts with a land use plan prepared by the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator and the committee on land use of the Sangguniang Bayan. This will be presented to the SB, which, in turn, will pass a zoning ordinance covering a given period, with the ordinance elevated to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for review.

Once the ordinance is approved by the provincial board, the landowners or developers will have to apply for the reclassification with the office of the mayor and the local council. The landowner can then apply the reclassified land for conversion to other uses, or for exemption from agrarian reform, with the DAR. .

In 1990, then Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon issued DOJ Opinion No. 44 that exempted all lands reclassified before the effectivity of CARP from coverage and then providing that all lands reclassified after the CARP effective be applied for conversion.

The problem, Mariano stated, is that the Code does not provide sanctions for LGUs that have exceeded their land reclassification limits and that it does not state how many times the limit will be applied. A recent report cited the case of a Region 4 municipality where rampant land reclassifications and conversions had left the once farming town with only 30% of its land area classified as agricultural.

The DAR secretary also disclosed that there is a pending House bill, authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, banning the conversion of irrigable and irrigated agricultural lands.

Under the interim guidelines on agricultural land use conversion, DAR sets as non-negotiable for conversion the following lands: all irrigated lands where water is available to support rice and other crop production; all irrigated lands where water is not available for rice and other crop production but within areas programmed for irrigation facility rehabilitation by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Irrigation Administration (NIA); and, all irrigable lands already covered by irrigation projects with firm funding commitments at the time of application for land use conversion or reclassification.

While there are no more land acquisition and distribution in Catanduanes under CARP, Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer II Alexander Teves said there is still a need for the LUC moratorium as the rampant agricultural land conversion would gradually reduce available agricultural lands needed for food security in the future.

Land use reclassifications of LGUs could be in violation of Republic Act 6657 if done after the effectivity of the law, he said. Land use conversion is very costly, with the applicant spending at least P15,000.00 for the inspection alone.

The DAR provincial office has been going after premature conversions of agricultural lands but has held back in the case of farmers who need to build homes near the land they are tilling.

Earlier, Sec. Mariano cited DAR’s five-point policy directions: protect farmers and ensure their security of tenure, promote farmers’ rights and welfare, contribute to rural development, help ensure food security, and strengthen the DAR Community.

“Walang magsasakang mapapalayas sa kanyang lupang sinasaka, lalo na iyong mga agrarian reform beneficiaries,” he said.

He said that some 4.7 million hectares of agricultural lands have been distributed or awarded to more than 2.7 million agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs). The Philippines has an estimated total land area of 29.82 million hectares, of which 9.67 million hectares are classified as agricultural.

“DAR has the duty to ensure that each of the ARBs has actual physical possession of the land awarded to them,” Mariano stressed as he likewise highlighted the importance of ensuring that the lands awarded are more productive.

The past years have been a challenge to DAR, he said, noting that as of January 2017, 92 percent of the lands for distribution under CARP are owned by private individuals and thus difficult to distribute.

In fact, he disclosed, the highest policy-making body on agrarian reform implementation, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) met for the first time in 2016 after lying idle during the last administration.

Sec. Mariano said he was able to convince the council to lift the suspension on the implementation of the P16-billion Tulay ng Pangulo para sa Agraryo, formerly the President’s Bridge Program, after it was discovered that parts for 287 steel bridges were rusting at DPWH warehouses despite the fact that the country was already paying for the loan from the French government. Ten of the bridges were started in 2016, with one already completed, he bared.

He informed that remaining machineries under the Common Service Facilities of the ARCCESS program have been distributed, with six more foreign-assisted projects being implemented by DAR. The secretary also expressed his support for a pending bill condoning surcharges and penalties on production loans of farmers.

On his pending confirmation before the Commission on Appointments, Mariano said he is leaving it to the CA to decide on the matter so he would be able to concentrate on his work. He expressed hope that the 5th round of peace negotiations between the government and the communist rebels would continue to ensure the attainment of just and lasting peace.

Source: http://www.catanduanestribune.com/article/403O

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