The Department of Finance (DoF) is calling for an overhaul of obsolete land governance policies to prevent Metro Manila’s “urban nightmare” from spreading all over the country.
“I will be the first to admit our policies regarding land governance are in urgent need for updating,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd said in his keynote speech at the Conference on Sustainable Governance organized by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) held in Manila on Wednesday.
Unless the government acts swiftly to upgrade its land governance policies, other areas of the country will suffer the same fate as that of Metro Manila, where high land costs and the lack of provisions for road expansions inhibit the government’s response to the worsening problems related to urban congestion, the Cabinet official noted.
“Metro Manila presents us with the most severe case of poor land governance. This is an urban nightmare, a metropolis that grew without planning. Right now, high land costs prevent us from acquiring property to build schools and hospitals. Right-of-way has become a costly proposition for public works. No provisions were put in place for road widening,” he said.
The Department of Finance (DOF) is “bringing coherence” to the country’s land governance by moving to reduce estate taxes to encourage the documentation of land assets and free them up for productive use, the Finance chief noted.
The DOF is encouraging local government units to update land valuations as a measure not just to raise revenues but also to discourage owners of prime land from keeping these assets idle or non-productive, Dominguez said.
Policies on land governance are “in urgent need of updating,” with the proposed National Land Use Plan “sitting in the legislative mill, with little indication it will be passed into law any time soon,” he said.
“So many of our settlements are vulnerable. Our cities are congested. Our forested areas have been stripped to make way for human habitation. We are truly facing a land governance crisis and we must respond decisively to this,” Dominguez said.
The government needs to harmonize conflicting provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and existing property rights, clarify rules on habitation in danger zones, and rethink agrarian reform in light of the “continuing backwardness of our agriculture,” Dominguez said.
“The Philippines, being an archipelago, has less arable land per unit of population than Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Our farms and cities are built in narrow strips between shore and mountainside. Our farms are small. Our cities are congested. There is severe shortage of land to build homes. A happy compromise will have to be found between the demands of agriculture and the requirements of an increasingly urban population,” Dominguez said.
“As our population increased rapidly over the last few decades, with our land policies hardly keeping pace, the phenomenon of landlessness has become more severe. Settlements are pushed to the most perilous places: steep slopes prone to landslides, shorelines prone to storm surges, and riverbanks that have become clogged. We need to plan for our settlements, addressing a housing backlog estimated at well over three million units,” he added.
Unless the government updates land governance policies, land prices will likely spiral as commercial developers, agricultural estates, industrial and export-processing zones and the extractive industries compete for the use of the country’s scarce land resources.
“If land becomes too expensive, it will be inaccessible to the homeless and raise the costs of production—thereby diminishing our competitiveness,” Dominguez said.