• Land reform is imperative

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    The Philippines has a long-standing history of critical land issues and concerns arising from ambiguous and unsystematic policies and laws regarding the distribution and management of the country’s land resources. History bore witness to a system that favors pro-landlord and commercial land use at the expense of the less privileged. Power relations had time and again side-stepped necessary regulations.

    The issue especially holds true for the agrarian sector, evident in the continued delay at land reform through Republic Act (RA) 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, which was passed into law during the late President Corazon Aquino’s time.

    An extension, CARPER, was further endeavored but to no avail. Opposition from the real estate and private sectors contributed to the heavy delay in enacting similar laws. A recent problem resulting from poor urban planning is the threat of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake produced by the Valley Fault System, which cuts across populated cities and provinces in Metro Manila, CNN reports. The issue of land use also manifests in densely situated housing areas. One only needs to take a stroll down inner-city streets of Metro Manila to behold the urgency of the matter.

    The National Land Use Act (NLUA) or Senate Bill 3091 is a bill that campaigns effective land use planning and seeks to establish a national framework for the allocation and management of the country’s finite land resources. According to recent article in Rappler.com, provisions of the NLUA includes the application of a centralized (not sectoral) National Physical Framework Plan that will classify lands based on four major categories: Protection, Production, Settlements development, and Infrastructure development. Sectors often harbor conflicting interest, and fair allocation that ultimately results in long-term outputs is compromised. A national land use authority will thereafter handle the just and equitable distribution of land based upon a needs-basis of categories with the purpose of promoting the general welfare through social development and poverty alleviation. Efforts made at enacting the bill are minimal at best over the last 2 decades, but the recent succession of tragic disasters earned the bill a renewed attention.

    Haribon Foundation is part of the network of advocates for the immediate implementation of the NLUA bill, known as the Campaign for Land Use Policy Now (CLUP Now!). CLUP Now! is a web of multi-sectoral NGOs, civil society groups, and political leaders serving as frontline stewards in the call for the passing of the NLUA.

    The inefficient use and abuse of the country’s land resources has extensive consequences not just on human rights but biodiversity as well. The current state of our forests is precariously dire. At least 54 percent natural forest cover equivalent to about 16 million hectares is needed to maintain the ecological processes in the country. Forest covers that protected and sustained us from floods are now increasingly being converted to commercial areas.

    Due to this, among many other factors, we are down to less than 1 million hectares and 91 million of us Filipinos depend on this to provide intangible ecological values such as water, medicine and food source, climate regulation, protection from tsunamis, flashfloods and typhoons as well as wildlife habitat.

    Under the bill’s provisions, it comprehensively defines and provides concise resolutions, promote and ensure integrity, stability, preservation, and development of the country’s rich lands. It also provides precise citations and distinctions of lands such as forestlands (forests and forest reserves), coastal area/zone, critical watershed and environmentally critical areas (natural parks, watershed reserves, and sanctuaries inclusive of other terrestrial and marine life) that must be appropriately managed and protected so its resources—mineral fuel deposits, indigenous wild life habitats, timber and various forest-based products, food production, among many other things are justly utilized so as to avoid and discontinue rampant misappropriation, uneven distribution, and destruction. So as to ensure coherent and balanced approach for long-term sustainability in adherence to universal sustainable principles, and to minimize the catastrophic effects of human overpopulation and climate change.

    It is no secret that inefficient land use contributes to social, economic, and political inequality. We must take into consideration that land is a finite source. However, our actions speak otherwise. Adopting the right utilization and management of our lands will provide safety, security and sustainability for its inhabitants—humans and biodiversity alike.

    The NLUA is a bill long overdue. It is about time we recognize the importance of enacting efficient guidelines for proper and sustainable use of the country’s lands. With the upcoming 2015 State of the Nation Address, Haribon petitions for the immediate passing of the NLUA into law by the 16th Congress, as it is an imperative issue with far-reaching implications that must no longer be ignored.

    Join the march to advocate for the passing of the three Green Bills: NLUA, AMMB, and FRB on July 25, 7 a.m. at Quezon City Circle.

    For more information, e-mail haringibon@haribon.org.ph.

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