For the third time, Rodrigo Duterte has again identified the National Land Use Act (NLUA) as a priority bill of his regime in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 22.
Duterte insisted that this measure has to be immediately passed by Congress before the end of 2019 to purportedly lay down a national and comprehensive land use plan that will “meet the demands of foreign investors.”
The NLUA primarily aims to hasten the process of massive conversion of agricultural and ancestral lands into residential, commercial and industrial uses to immediately facilitate wholesale of these to foreign investors and their bourgeois comprador counterparts. This will be used to evict farmers and indigenous peoples from lands that are targeted for the construction of giant infrastructures under the “Build, Build, Build” program. The regime has initially implemented this through the issuance of several administrative orders by the Department of Agrarian Reform last February.
The NLUA will establish the National Land Use Commission (NLUC) which will administer the reclassification and conversion of land resources across the country and drafting of a national plan every ten years based on the demands of capitalists. The agency will classify only which lands can be cultivated and on the other hand be used for infrastructures and settlements. The NLUC will also prohibit farming in public lands that will be classified as forestlands, even those already being cultivated by small farmers. This will systematize schemes such as the National Greening Program which are being used to evict small kaingineros from their farms that are converted into vast plantations of commercial timber.
The NLUA has been languishing in Congress for more than two decades already. It was first pushed for by the Corazon Aquino regime along with other neoliberal reforms dictated by the World Bank. In the past, this push was undertaken as a conditionality in exchange for billions of loans. The bill has been successively forwarded and even identified as a key legislative measure by succeeding regimes; however, it is yet to be enacted.
These past few years, the American Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the USAID, used the The Arangkada Philippines Project to aggressively compel the Aquino and Duterte regimes to continue lobbying for the passage of the bill in Congress. The Duterte regime manifested utter subservience when it had its Congress pass on third reading the said bill just before it ended its session on June 3.
The bill has already been referred to the Senate and is set to be discussed in the coming months under its committee on environment and natural resources which is chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar. Despite being an ally of Duterte, she is strongly opposing the enactment of the NLUA as this will remove from local governments the authority to reclassify land resources within their territories and implement a local land use plan. When the NLUA is enacted, the said powers will be granted to the NLUC which is directly under the national government.
The Villars have obviously benefitted from the current land use policy especially that it enables them to easily bribe local government officials to have their real estate businesses passed. (Read related article on page 7.)
Amid the threat of once again being stalled, the regime implemented the Joint Department of Agrarian Reform-Department of Justice Order 75 on May 31 which will institutionalize Duterte’s land use program even if the NLUA has not yet been ratified.
Conservative government estimates published last January indicate that the total agricultural land area in the country already shrank by 25% from 9.7 million hectares in 1980 to 7.3 million in 2012, primarily due to massive use conversion and widespread landgrabbing across the country.