THE implementation of a two-year ban on land conversion would keep millions of poor families homeless and delay the government’s infrastructure projects, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and Neda Director General Ernesto M. Pernia said the Neda has circulated a two-page position paper opposing its implementation to members of the President’s economic team.
Pernia said there is already a draft executive order to create the two-year ban. However, this policy is being held in abeyance awaiting the opinion of the economic team.
“The economic team is against it. It’s not a good policy because it’s a blanket policy and there are many lands not suited for agriculture, so why ban these lands from being converted?” he said.
Pernia said Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III has already read the position paper and has expressed full support for the Neda’s position. He added that Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, who has yet to read the full position paper, also agreed with the Neda.
The Neda chief said he aims to have the position paper signed by the economic team this week before they all leave for Washington, D.C., to attend the International Monetary Fund-World Bank Fall Meeting.
“The Neda has circulated it to the departments of Finance, Trade and Industry [DTI], and Budget and Management. The purpose is to get them to sign, as well, so there will be more gravitas as far as the position is concerned,” Pernia said.
“Agrarian Reform Secretary[Rafael] Mariano is influential because he appeals to agrarian reform, poor farmers, small farmers and he has a big following also,” he added.
If the ban is implemented, Pernia said this will limit the ability of the government to carry out the relocation of informal-settler families (ISFs) and delay right-of-way acquisition for infrastructure projects.
Pernia said there is a need to address the 5.5 million worth housing backlog. Data from the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) stated this includes 1.4 million ISFs.
HUDCC data showed of this number, around 584,425, or 28 percent, of ISFs are in Metro Manila, while 221,284 are in Region 4-A or Calabarzon. Some 117,670 ISFs are located in Region 3, or Central Luzon.
“Most of this backlog, housing backlog is for the poor, so this two-year ban is going to be antipoor, because it is going todelay our objective of providing housing to the poor,” Pernia said.
Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he will not issue any permit for the conversion of agricultural lands into residential and commercial areas.
Piñol made the announcement to assure farmers that there is enough land for agricultural production, especially for rice.
A survey conducted by the government in 2008 found that an average of 9,000 hectares of farmlands devoted to rice all over the country are being converted to other uses or planted with other crops every year.
The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) said it is seeking to be exempted from the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) moratorium on land conversion for areas, which are being eyed as sites for additional economic zones.
Peza warned that the moratorium on land conversion could discourage foreigners from investing in the Philippines.
“[Peza is] working with the DAR closely through the DTI, to have some exceptions on that pronouncement as far as economic zones are concerned,” Peza Officer in Charge Deputy Director Justo Porifirio Yusingco said.
“If we don’t have new economic zones or new areas, we will have a problem where to bring the investors we’ve been inviting,” Yusingco added.
Earlier, the DAR announced that it is working on an executive order to impose a two-year ban on land conversion covering agricultural lands covered by various agrarian- reform programs.
Among land areas covered include those distributed since 1972 under a decree issued during martial law and under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
As of April this year, there were 345 economic operating ecozones registered by Peza, encompassing manufacturing, information technology parks, agro-industrial, tourism and medical tourism economic zones/parks.
With a report from Catherine N. Pillas