By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol had called the attention of President Rodrigo Duterte on the problem hounding the agriculture sector for decades, which is the conversion of agriculture lands into subdivisions and industrial complexes — something that may not sit well on one of the country’s legislators.
To date, he said the agriculture sector loses about 50,000 hectares of land every year to pave way for industrial and residential developments, which he calls “illegal.”
In a statement over the weekend, Piñol said he had brought to the attention of Duterte and the members of the Cabinet the “serious problem” of the conflict between national government agencies and local government units (LGU) over the conversion of prime agricultural lands for industrial or residential uses.
To take matters into his own hands, he also directed all Agriculture Regional Directors to document all conversions of agricultural lands for purposes other than farming in their areas.
“While I believe that with the growing population, more subdivisions need to be built, I do not agree that the establishment of these subdivisions in prime agricultural lands should be allowed,” Piñol said.
However, Piñol’s statement on land conversion may not sit well on Senator Cynthia Villar, an industry source mentioned when asked to comment on the issue.
“It’s good for the industry that the [Agriculture] Secretary has looked into this issue. I just hope he is aware of people he will be in conflict with when pushing for it,” the source said.
“Let’s not worry about land conversion. They mean progress,” Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said last year on the sidelines of a Philippine Carabao Center event.
Going back to Piñol, he said that in order to convert a land, real estate investors would often try to find a loophole in the law, which states that agricultural lands that have not been utilized for farming for a period of three years could already be converted for industrial and residential uses.
“Investors buy prime farm lands and wait out for the three-year reglamentary period before applying for conversion,” Piñol said.
Under the present set up, LGU have also the power to reclassify lands within their political boundaries and allow the use of the areas for purposes other than agricultural.
“This unfettered power to reclassify lands, however, has resulted in the indiscriminate conversion of prime agricultural lands into industrial and residential areas,” Piñol added.
He also explained that in many cases, housing and industrial companies do not even bother to wait for the end of the three-year period.
Using their connections with LGUs, they just proceed with the conversion without getting clearances from the national government committee, which handles land conversions, the DA chief further said.