MANILA, Philippines -- The ban on the reclassification of agricultural lands for real estate development imperils the government's plan to build one million homes for the poor in next five years and should be lifted, developers said on Saturday.
The Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Associations Inc. (CREBA) said that it would be forced to petition the Supreme Court to lift the moratorium unless the Department of Agrarian Reform lifted it.
?The progress of the whole country is being held hostage by the DAR because of the ban on conversion,'' CREBA national president Reghis Romero II told reporters after the Sulo Hotel press forum.
At the forum, Romero said the ban was tying up the government's plan to build one million housing units for government personnel, low-income workers and the underprivileged in the next five years, and offset the 1.5-million unit backlog.
He said that some agricultural lands have been reclassified for residential and industrial development by local government units, but their conversion could not be completed because of the ban.
To effect conversion, a license must be obtained from the DAR. The government needs some 1,500 hectares of land to meet its target of building 200,000 homes a year in the next five years, according to Romero.
In the middle of April, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman imposed an indefinite moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands for real estate development in the face of the rice shortage.
The moratorium was intended to pave the way for the review and study of conversion guidelines to address the ?unabated conversion of prime agricultural lands for real estate development.''
Experts had blamed dwindling rice lands, caused by the conversion of these lands into subdivisions and golf courses, for the rice shortage.
Romero said he has written the DAR to lift the ?unnecessary'' moratorium, or else, he would seek the intervention of the courts.
?If that is not lifted within a certain period of time, maybe we have to file a legal case for the lifting of the ban on conversion. We think this is unlawful,'' he told reporters.
Romero, chair of the R-II Builders Group of Companies, said he believed the 3.9-million hectare agricultural land devoted for rice production was sufficient.
?If we look at what we produced, we produced 16 million metric tons of rice, and we imported 3.5 million more. That's roughly 20 million. If we use hybrid rice, we will produce 7 times more. That will be sufficient for us,'' he said.
Romero said that in contrast, only three percent of the country's total land area, or 117,000 hectares, has been devoted to non-agricultural uses, and despite this, the government has failed to keep its status as rice exporter.
?The area for housing is just minimal,'' he said.