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House OKs National Land Use bill, but rejects ban on agri land conversion

The House of Representatives has approved a bill providing for a national land use policy on second reading,  but rejected proposed amendments banning any form of conversion of agricultural lands devoted to food production.

House Bill 8162, which will create a National Land Use Commission (NLUC) under the Office of the President, was approved via voice vote Wednesday night.

The measure provides for a national framework for the development of the country's land to ensure its optimum use consistent with the principle  of sustainable development.

The bill also provides mandatory consultations from the regional, provincial, city and municipal level, as well as harmonizes existing rules and regulations governing the allocation, utilization,  development and management of land resources.

Further, the bill addresses the vital issues of agrarian reform, climate change, the completion of a national database and geo-hazard mapping and disaster risk reduction and  management.

The House plenary, however, rejected House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas' proposed amendment to change Section 51 on Priority Areas for Agricultural Development to read as "Agricultural lands devoted to food production will be protected at all costs from any form of conversion."

Brosas also wanted Section 51 to state that "policies or programs allowing the conversion of agricultural lands into so-called industrial estates, urban-housing estates and subdivisions, tourist resorts, golf courses or for the cultivation of export and biofuel crops will be suspended, reviewed, and as necessary, reversed," adding that agricultural lands that have been converted should be returned as much as possible to agricultural use.

All of Brosas' proposed Section 51 amendments, however, were rejected.

As a result, House Bill 8162's Section 51 on Priority Areas for Agricultural Development only stated that priority areas for development will include agricultural areas under the Republic Act 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and those covered under Network of Protected Areas for Agriculture and Agro-Industrial Development  and Strategic Agriculture and Fisheries Development Zones defined under House Bill 8162's Section 4 and under Republic Act 8435 or Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.

Brosas also pushed for the amendment of Section 52 on Conversion of Agricultural Lands by proposing that prime agricultural lands and specific types of lands necessary for attaining food self-sufficiency in rice and food security in other basic commodities determined by the Agriculture department based on mandatory consultation with the LGUs, the private sector, the NGOs, and people's, will be protected from conversion.

This is provided that all irrigated and irrigable lands, all lands developed or possessing the potential for development of high value crops, and all agricultural lands that are ecologically fragile and whose conversion will result in serious environmental problems will be given full protection from conversion subject to the review of the Agriculture department every three years instead of six years.

The House plenary also rejected this, alongside Brosas' another Section 52 proposed amendment which states that all lands subject to the comprehensive agrarian reform program, including those lands covered under the notice of compulsory acquisition or voluntary offer to sell, production or profit-sharing, or commercial farm deferment, will also be protected from conversion before, during and after distribution of farmer beneficiaries.

As a result, the Section 52 read that "all lands subject to the comprehensive agrarian reform program, including those lands covered under the notice of compulsory acquisition or voluntary offer to sell, production or profit-sharing, or commercial farm deferment, will also be protected from conversion pending the distribution and installation of farmer beneficiaries."

Brosas took the rejections in stride, saying it has happened before.

"I am used to it. I also proposed the same amendments in the 17th Congress and they were also rejected," Brosas said.

The bill tasks the NLUC to come out with a system of incentives and awards to LGUs  that regularly updates their comprehensive land use plan (CLUP), as well as provide sanctions and penalties for violations.

Under the proposed measure, the commission will be composed of the NLUC commissioner as its chairperson, the Secretary of National Economic Development Authority as vice chairperson and the following as ex-officio members:

  • Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Secretary Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD)
  • Secretary of the Department of Agriculture
  • Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform
  • Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways
  • Secretary of the Department of Local Government
  • a representative from the local government units
  • the Commissioner of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the
  • Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner

The NLUC commissioner will have a rank of Cabinet Secretary, while the two Deputy NLUC Commissioners will be deemed Undersecretary.

Aside from the NLUC, the same bill also establishes another office under the Office of the President: the National Land Use Office (NLUO) which will serve as the technical secretariat of the NLUC and headed by the NLUC Commissioner and two Deputy NLUO Commissioners.

House Bill 8162 also transfers the DHSUD’s Environmental, Land Use and Urban Planning and Development Bureau under the jurisdiction of the NLUO.—LDF, GMA Integrated News