Duterte irked by slow pace of land conversion
Frustrated by the sluggish land use conversion process, President Duterte had an “outburst” at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, blaming bureaucratic red tape and communist rebels.
The outburst came two days after Malacañang announced that the Philippine Reclamation Authority had been placed under the direct control of the Office of the President because Duterte wanted to be more hands-on with the approval of reclamation projects, 43 of which are in Manila Bay.
The President’s exasperation with the slow pace of land conversion prompted him to rest for a few minutes during the meeting with his Cabinet, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
He said Duterte was so frustrated with the requirements for conversion that he talked about these for half an hour.
“It turns out that there are many requirements from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local government units,’’ he said.
Panelo made the remarks following the Cabinet meeting, during which the President reminded agencies to streamline the conversion process.
Panelo said the President also blamed the New People’s Army (NPA) for slowing down the land use conversion program by threatening government inspectors from surveying land.
“So how will you give the permit if you cannot examine the land? That’s why there are so many pending applications,” he said.
On Thursday, Duterte slammed new red tape.
“In the land conversion, it took two years, that includes corruption, where the applicant keeps on coming back,” he said.
Speaking at an oath-taking of government officials in Malacañang, the President said he left the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday night during a discussion of the land use conversion process.
“If that is red tape or black tape… I cut them. ‘I would not like to be a part of this briefing,’’ he said.
Pending for 25 years
The President said he found out that some applications had been pending in the National Economic and Development Authority for 25 years.
In Davao City, he cited the case of a company that was applying for a permit to construct a brewery but ended up buying land beside the provincial boundary because of red tape.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles earlier said the government wanted to reduce the application period for land conversion to 30 days, from the previous 26 to 36 months.
Last year, 140 conversion cases were pending in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
Between 1988 and the first half of 2016, the DAR approved 97,592.5 hectares of land earlier awarded to agrarian reform beneficiaries for conversion into nonagricultural purposes.
Farmers’ groups have opposed conversion of farms into nonagricultural use such as subdivisions, shopping malls and industrial parks, saying these adversely affect the country’s ability to feed itself.
In September 2016, then Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano proposed a two-year moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands to ensure food security.
Calling the proposed ban “antithetical to economic growth, job generation and poverty reduction,” Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Vice President Leni Robredo urged Mariano to instead press for the passage of a national land use plan.
Mariano’s proposal went nowhere. He failed to get confirmation from the Commission on Appointments in September 2017.
The President is pushing for a speedier conversion of agricultural land into other uses even as he claims that he supports land reform.
The demand for agricultural land is not only coming from real estate and industrial park developers, but also from foreigners.
Ramon Tulfo, who was appointed special envoy to Beijing in 2018, wrote last October that China was interested in contract farming—leasing idle agricultural lands and fishponds.
Tulfo said he could facilitate applications and issuance of permits to Chinese investors to generate jobs in the countryside.
China has also been reported to be looking at more than five areas in Luzon and Mindanao as potential locations for industrial parks. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.