Draft EO lists exemptions to land conversion

 

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council has introduced changes to the draft executive order (EO) that seeks to stop applications for the conversion of agricultural lands into residential, commercial, industrial or institutional uses.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella on March 1 said the EO, now on its fourth draft, should be “out soon.”

Among the changes introduced to the draft EO, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, was a list of exemptions to the proposed two-year moratorium on land conversion.

Subject to the certification from the concerned government agency, projects deemed to be “urgent, necessary and vital for national development” are exempted.

These include energy development projects under the Department of Energy; housing projects under the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council; economic zone development projects under the Philippine Economic Zone Authority; and tourism development projects under the Department of Tourism.

The draft EO also clarified that exemption did not mean automatic conversion.

These projects had been points of contention by Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Vice President Leni Robredo in a position paper opposing the ban.

They worried that a conversion ban could impede housing, infrastructure and economic development projects.

The ban was proposed last September by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to account for the “rampant and unchecked conversions” of prime agricultural lands meant for food production and distribution to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Among its key objectives is to review the status of all conversion grants from June 15, 1988, to June 30, 2016, which, according to the draft EO, covers 222,548.017 hectares.

The latest version of the data obtained by the Inquirer yielded a much smaller figure—97,592 ha, the size of Metro Manila and Cebu.

This was not the first time the DAR issued a ban on conversion. In April 2008, under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman issued Memorandum No. 88 ordering a temporary ban on land conversion to check against widespread conversion of agricultural lands for housing projects.

The draft EO also proposes the creation of an interagency task force, which will spearhead a nationwide review of all conversion grants and their compliance to their five-year development plan.

The task force will be headed by the DAR and composed of representatives from the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board.

Abella said the draft moratorium on land conversion was already with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. —JINKY CABILDO, MATTHEW REYSIO-CRUZ AND KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING

Philippine Daily Inquirer |  March 6, 2017

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