Villar, Tulfo clash over farmlands conversion, Rice Tariffication law

A heated verbal exchange ensued between Senators Cynthia Villar and Raffy Tulfo when the latter raised the topic of private developers converting farmlands into residential and commercial spaces during the Senate’s deliberations on the proposed 2023 national budget.

It was Tulfo who raised the issue of the agricultural lands in the Philippines decreasing especially in the provinces when Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, defended the budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Tulfo inquired what the DA is doing about this practice and what actions the agency plans to take to adress the issue.

But Villar, who owns Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc., said developers like them do not buy lands in provinces as they only buy houses in cities and capital towns.

“That’s our business. I want to tell you that we don’t buy agricultural lands in the provinces. Nobody will buy houses on agricultural lands,” Villar said.

But Tulfo, who hails from the province of Isabela, said he has proof that farmlands there are being converted into subdivisions.

“Kaya nga po iyan iyong dahilan bakit gusto ko po na maipasa ang (That is why I wanted to pursue the passage into law of the) National Land Use Act,” Tulfo said.

To this Villar reiterated that property developers don’t buy agricultural lands in the provinces and said that converting lands in cities into subdivision is permissible.

Villar suggested to Tulfo that he also considers that business side of agriculture, saying it is an investment decision for people who own farmlands.

“If somebody will buy your land at a bigger amount, maybe you can buy land that is cheaper somewhere else and build your farm there,” she pointed out.

“Where will the people live if you don’t build subdivisions,” she insisted.

To this Tulfo replied: “Marami pong ibang lugar na pwede pong pagtayuan ng subdivisions, ‘wag lang po i-take over yung mga farms (There are many places where you can build subdivisions, just don’t take over farms).”

Tulfo also raised the huge burden caused by the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law, noting that local farmers earned less due to the higher prices of fertilizers and other farm inputs.

Villar, however, defended the law, saying she wrote it in 2018 at the time the cost of rice rose to almost P50 to P60 per kilo.

She said the law helped the establishment of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which was created to ensure that the country’s rice farmers can improve their competitiveness and income under a liberalized Philippine rice trade policy.

“I have no guilt to rice farmers. All the money that came from the Rice Tariffication Law were given back. I wrote that law,” Villar said.

“We need residential areas and the commercial area to improve the quality of lives of our people. It’s not the amount of farmlands, it’s the efficiency of using these farmlands,” Villar said.

To which Tulfo again pushed for the National Land Use Act which he noted has been languishing in the legislative mill after four presidents.

“Hindi ko po alam kung bakit hanggang ngayon, apat na presidente na po ang dumaan ay hindi pa rin ito maipasapasa. Hindi ko po alam kung bakit (I don’t know why until now, after four presidents have served, this bill still can’t pass into law. I don’t know why),” Tulfo pointed out.

Villar answered that all local governments already have a Land Use Plan and the power of implementing the determination of land use is within the local government.

“You will remove it from the local government and transfer it to the national government? Do you think that is better?” Villar asked.

Tulfo responded: “It is better for the national government ang humawak po (to handle this) under this National Land Use Act.”

To which Villar replied: “Not everybody agrees with you.”

Tulfo replied by saying: “Not everyone also agrees with you, ma’am.”

At this point, Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri interrupted the exchange and ordered a minute suspension to stop the tension from escalating.