Groups press for passage of land use law

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A multi-sector coalition of public officials and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) on Wednesday urged President Benigno Aquino 3rd to certify as urgent House Bill 108, or the National Land Use and Management Act (NLUA).

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In a press conference, the Campaign for a National Land Use Policy Now (CLUP Now!) said that the absence of a national land use policy remains to be one of the glaring gaps in the country’s public policy, which manifested during Super Typhoon Yolanda.

“We have had enough of partial solutions to climate disasters. In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, it is high time to rebuild safer, climate-resilient and prosperous communities in Visayas and all over the country through proper and comprehensive land use planning based on the proposed NLUA,” CLUP Now! said.

Better than just enforcing “No build zones” in restoring Tacloban and other typhoon-stricken areas, Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands said that the Aquino administration should immediately pass a national policy, which provides guidelines to formulate national physical planning framework that clearly identifies areas for protection, production, settlement and infrastructure.

“Focusing on disaster preparedness is a quick fix, and comes from the wrong premise that every natural phenomenon would necessarily result in a disaster, with people dying, infrastructure damaged, and crops destroyed,” Bag-ao said.

“What we need is to become pro-active and responsible policymakers during sober times,” she added.

Bag-ao stressed that in the wake of Yolanda, it is chance for the government to consolidate efforts toward protecting the people from loss of lives and livelihood, integrating concerns of affected sectors.

“We need to put our foot down to say no to complacency and neglect,” she said.

The lawmaker expressed belief that NLUA will not only prepare the country for calamities, but also help the country in mitigating climate change, which she called as the primary cause for the aggravation of the calamities.

Under the proposed NLUA, critical watersheds and forests, and even prime agricultural lands, are delineated and categorized as “Protection land use” which means that these areas should be rehabilitated and preserved, and should not be converted to any other use.

The proposed bill also prohibits activities in critical areas that reduce riverine habitat and alter flood patterns, such as large-scale irrigation and river channelization. Risk reduction and mitigating measures are required in areas considered high risk and danger zones, especially where there are large settlements of communities.

For resilient communities
For his part, Climate Change Commission (CCC) Commissioner Yeb Sano warned that there will come a time, perhaps very soon, that it may be too late to rebuild properly, given the context of the swiftly shifting climate.

“In fact, for the thousands of people who lost their lives and homes, it is too late. But we must continue to strive to rehabilitate safe, prosperous and resilient communities to end these massive disasters and achieve social, economic and environmental stability,” he stressed.

To recall, Sano was the Philippine delegate who became emotional during his appeal at the recent Climate Change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.

Year after year, communities of the poor majority are continually displaced by typhoons and other natural calamities, he said.

In 2009, some 993,227 families were affected and 464 people reported died due to Typhoon Ondoy; while in 2010, Typhoon Sendong claimed at least 2,512 lives; and some 1,067 individuals died and 216,817 houses were damaged due to Typhoon Pablo.

This year, over 5,560 people were killed and more than 1,757 missing after Super Typhoon Yolanda struck Central Philippines.

CLUP Now! convenor Anthony Marzan said that many of the displaced and affected communities stand in danger zones, saying that a well-crafted and strict implementation of the comprehensive land use plans could have lowered the number of victims and cost of damage.

“CLUPs should have not allowed the housing developments in high risk areas, conversion of critical biodiversity areas to industrial zones,” Marzan said.

For any land use act to be effective, Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Fred Serrano said that it is important to include prime agricultural lands under the protection land use to ensure that future generations will be fed, especially in the face of climate change.

“The more important question now is why we need NLUA, rather why it is still not there?” he said.

“Land use is very important resource since it is our main source of food, settlements, livelihoods, biodiversity, among others. Sustainable and genuine national development can only come from proper, comprehensive and just land use planning,” Serrano added.

House Bill 108 has been pending for approval since the 8th Congress. The proposed measure was passed at the House of Representatives on November 20 and will be forwarded to the Committee on Appropriations.

CLUP Now!, however, noted that no similar deliberations have been taken up in the Senate so far by the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

“CLUP Now! calls on President Aquino to once again, certify the NLUA Bill as urgent, and ensure legislators of this Congress heed his call and hasten more progressive climate change mitigation solutions,” the group said.

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