Land has always been a central issue in the Philippines.
Last week, with an overwhelming 262 yes votes, against three negatives and zero abstentions, the Philippine House of Representatives approved
the National Land Use Act on its third and final reading. The bill will now make its way to the Senate for further deliberation.
The proposed Act
includes the formation of a governing body, the National Land Use Commission, which will oversee the integration and harmonization of all relevant laws, guidelines and policies, as well as advise the president regarding matters important to land use and planning.
Progressive groups, however, have pointed out that the bill does not champion the interests of farmers. “What we want is a pro-farmer and pro-people national land use policy,” the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a progressive farmers’ group, said in response to the House’s vote, according to a report
In particular, the KMP flagged the bill’s propensity to protect land for private interests such as tourism, mining, and urban development. Whereas the National Land Use Act contains protections for agricultural lands and disallows their conversion for other purposes, the House of Representatives rejected amendments aimed at providing safeguards for agricultural land dedicated for food production.
This is a major flaw of the bill seeing as “ensuring land use for food production is a paramount duty and obligation of the State,” Rafael Mariano, KMP chairperson emeritus and former agrarian reform secretary, said.
According to an analysis
by The Philippine Greenprint, a network of environmentally-focused non-profits, several different versions of the National Land Use Act have been filed since 1994, none of which have prospered enough to become a law. These have been held back by several roadblocks, often political or structural in nature
These roadblocks include overlapping policies, mandates, and authorities, which make it difficult for one body to make final and binding decisions regarding land use, according to a report
by the German Institute for Development Evaluation.
Moreover, it is often the case that political friction and shortcomings get in the way of efficient land use and planning. In the local government context, for instance, rivalling political parties may stonewall a project for their own gain, while shortage of resources could prevent plans from coming to fruition.