By Jonathan L. Mayuga, February 14 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

The Duterte administration has formed a joint task force to “streamline” the processes that will evaluate and resolve all land-conversion applications filed before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

At a news conference on Wednesday, DAR officials said there’s “no specific order” coming from President Duterte to approve land-use conversion applications.

DAR Secretary John R. Castriciones clarified that despite his outburst over the slow pace of processing of land-use conversion applications, President Duterte remains committed to distributing land to landless farmers.

The DAR chief added that land-use conversion is the opposite of agrarian reform, even as he admitted that the proposal of his predecessor, former DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, for a two-year moratorium on land-use conversion “was not extensively discussed.”

Mariano, a former party-list congressman, has submitted to the Palace a draft executive order that will set-aside all land-use conversion cases pending a comprehensive review or audit of all CARP-covered land that escaped land distribution through the conversion.

Mariano’s proposal met strong opposition from President Duterte’s economic team who rejected the idea.

Castriciones, however, maintained that the Duterte administration, with the DAR under his leadership, is stepping up the distribution of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards and has so far distributed CLOAs, or proof of ownership under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its amended version, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program—Extension with Reform (CARPer), covering a total of 60,000 hectares.

“This is the highest CLOA distribution ever made by the DAR,” he said.

Undersecretary Luis Meinrado C. Pangulayan, of the Legal Affairs Office, said aside from the creation of the interagency special task force, the Duterte administration has initially agreed to adopt “a whole of government approach” in the processing of applications.

“Let me clarify that President Duterte has no order to convert land,” he said.  “What the President wants is to fast-track the process of rendering a decision on a land-use application,” he said.

According to Pangulayan, there are 73 pending cases of land-use conversion application and there are 46 new applications.

The Inter-Agency Special Task Force on Land Use Conversion has agreed to formulate a joint memorandum circular for submission to the President and the Cabinet.

For purposes of processing application for land-use conversion from agricultural to residential, commercial and industrial uses, the task force will involve the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Agriculture, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, National Housing Authority, and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.  For conversion of agricultural land for purpose of energy production, the interagency task force will include the Department of Energy.

According to Pangulayan, a land-use conversion may be approved or rejected by concerned government agencies, particularly by the DAR, the lead-implementing agency of CARP and CARPer.

Pangulayan said that land-use conversion may be allowed if the basic requisites for conversion are satisfied. First, the land has ceased to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes; the locality has become urbanized; the land will have a greater economic value for nonagricultural purposes; and land is neither irrigated nor irrigable.

The authority of DAR to convert agricultural land goes beyond awarded lands or retained areas.

In his presentation, Pangulayan cited Paragraph K, Section 4, of Executive Order 129-A, which confers upon the DAR the authority to “approve or disapprove the conversion, restructuring or readjustment of agricultural lands into nonagricultural uses.”

However, he assured that land use-conversion is anchored on two important aspects as far as the DAR is concerned—the tiller’s right and food security.