The House of Representatives has banned the conversion or reclassification of prime agricultural land after it approved House Bill 5240 or the National Land Use measure on third and final reading.
The bill defines prime agricultural lands as all contiguous irrigated areas and irrigable lands already covered by irrigation projects; all alluvial plain lands highly suitable for agriculture, irrigated or not, identified to satisfy the country’s needs for food self-sufficiency and security; agro-industrial croplands currently planted and suitable to industrial and high value crops; highlands, or areas located at an elevation of 500 meters or above and have the potential for growing semi-temperature and high value crops outside of declared permanent forestlands and protection forests, and not located in ecologically fragile and environmentally critical areas.
Likewise, the measure bans the conversion of lands covered under compulsory acquisition or voluntary offer to sell, production or profit-sharing subject to Comprehensive Agrarian Reform program pending the distribution and/or installation of the farmer beneficiaries.
It allows the conversion of all other agricultural lands not identified as prime agricultural lands but only for non-agricultural uses upon issuance of a Department of Agrarian Reform conversion order.
The conversion of all non-prime agricultural land, however, should not drastically change the nature of the overall land uses in the surrounding and adjacent areas from its existing land use.
Likewise, it mandates the government to review and affirm the legality of titles, settlements, permits, leases, and/or agreements within critical habitats, critical watershed areas, protected areas and Key Biodiversity Areas involving forestlands and watershed.
The definition of a watershed recently became a hot topic during the confirmation hearing of former environment secretary Gina Lopez after she insisted that mining operations should not be done on watersheds as provided by the Mining Law.
Lopez, however, argued that anything that functions as a watershed and supports life should be considered a watershed and therefore, should be left untouched by miners.
The Land Use bill states that lands needed for environmental protection and forestry purposes should not be reclassified as agricultural land or for any other land use.
Representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City and Arlene Bag-ao, authors of the measure, view the passage of their pet measure as something that will maximize the country’s resources and a driver of development.