A RECENT report published by the Land Matrix Initiative has shed some light on the extent of so-called large-scale land acquisitions (LSLA) in the Philippines, and the news is not encouraging. The Philippines is among the top five countries in all of Asia in terms of the number of land acquisition deals made in the past 20 years. Even more alarming, as of 2021, there are potentially 3.6 million hectares — about 58 percent of all the arable land in the Philippines — that are under negotiation for potential deals.
And this may only be the tip of the iceberg; the Land Matrix Initiative report stresses that information about as many as one-third of LSLAs in the Philippines, whether completed or planned, is simply not available. The lack of transparency raises concern that lands are being converted from their proper use at a rapid rate. A tool exists to correct this — a National Land Use Code — but successive Congresses for nearly 30 years have been unwilling to pass it. This must change in the upcoming 20th Congress.
The need for a national land use code has been recognized since at least 1987, and a vast number of bills to create one have been introduced in the legislature every year since at least 1994. As of last year, there were 18 different land use bills pending in the House of Representatives, and four in the Senate. As in every other Congress preceding the recently departed 19th Congress, these bills were quietly shelved, advancing no further than the committee level. The reasons why our elected representatives have been so steadfast in avoiding passing a land use bill for so long are certainly open to speculation.
While there have obviously been differences in details of the many bills that have been proposed, the basic function of a land use code is to provide a comprehensive set of definitions for all land in the Philippines, and then govern the management and execution of a land use system and physical planning mechanisms. Parameters would be established for sustainable land use at all levels of government in terms of land protection, different types of production, infrastructure use, and settlement uses. The fundamental objective of a land use code is to ensure that all the land in the Philippines is put to its most beneficial use, whether that is agriculture, mining, or industry, residential or commercial use, or preservation.
Lack of consistency
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