“If we allow land use conversions and corporate housing to continue, both rural and urban poor Filipinos will suffer.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Even as President Duterte has yet to sign an executive order for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion of farmlands, conflict has arisen between government officials and progressive sectoral groups.
Some Cabinet members are opposing such a moratorium, saying this will have an “adverse impact” on the country’s development, while progressive organizations strongly support the moratorium, saying it will help impoverished farmers and contribute to food security.
The moratorium, said Einstein Recedes, Anakbayan secretary general, is an “initial step towards the attainment of genuine land reform, social justice, and empowerment of the poor.”
Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano proposed the moratorium when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) was convened on Sept. 12 and was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, the chairperson of the council.
Recedes said those who oppose the ban on land-use conversion have shown their true colors as “protectors of big landlords, real estate developers and land grabbing oligarchs.”
The Cabinet members who are opposing the proposed ban are; National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, and Vice President Leni Robredo, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). They also submitted a position paper to the President.
“Ito na ba ang kabayaran ni Robredo sa mga dilawan at oligarko na sumuporta sa kanya sa huling eleksyon (Is Robredo now paying back the Yellows and oligarchs who supported her in the elections)?” said Recedes in a statement.
The draft moratorium will temporarily stop processing applications for land-use conversion for at least two years. At least 4.6 million hectares of lands awarded under agrarian reform programs Republic Act 6657 and Presidential Decree 27 will be covered by the moratorium.
Moratorium will address rice self-sufficiency
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, said the moratorium on land-use conversion would help in addressing the rice self-sufficiency problem of the Philippines. It will also put a stop to the exodus of farmers, farm workers and national minorities to urban centers.
Citing Mariano’s statement, Zarate said agricultural lands that have been already converted could have produced food for seven million Filipinos every year.
“In addressing the basic problems of Philippine society, we must look at the whole picture and craft a comprehensive solution for the majority of our people, not just piecemeal solutions that would only benefit the oligarchs and their apologists and maintain the status quo,” Zarate said.
‘Robredo detached from the laylayan’
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya hit Robredo for opposing the land-use conversion saying that informal settlers in the urban centers were erstwhile farmers and fisherfolk who were displaced from their land and coastal areas due to land conversion projects of private companies.
“Despite her depressed-community visits, she still fails to see that land grabbing perpetrated by private firms with legal guarantees from the government is one of the main reasons why poverty prevails and informal settlers proliferate,” Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya chairperson said in a statement.
Urban poor group Kadamay National Alliance of Urban Poor also did not buy Robredo’s justification of her opposition to the ban that unproductive agricultural lands can be used for socialized housing. The group said many urban poor associations are critical of the socialized housing that is being peddled by HUDDC.
“Socialized housing in reality is corporate housing, routed through private developers causing surges in amortization despite sub-par housing projects,” said Gloria ‘Ka Bea’ Arellano, Kadamay Chairperson.
For one, the St. Martha relocation site in Bocaue, Bulacan, which Robredo visited, is an example of substandard mass housing, where many of the housing units are broken down, she said. Arellano said up to 8,000 empty units have not been used by relocatees due to its high amortization rates. She said the site is located far from commercial and market centers, and residents have been plagued for years by the lack of potable water. Kadamay received reports about two children who died due to contaminated water.
“Because of sky-high amortization rates in relocation areas, residents are effectively barred from accessing the thousands of housing units. Current socialized housing in the country reflects the opposite of urban poor aspirations and Robredo’s insistence on this only proves a dangerous inclination towards Public-Private Partnership projects,” said Arellano.
Robredo also has failed to “enact any sort of measure to counter-act the persistent problems of evictions,” Arellano added. The group has recorded that 4,209 families had been displaced by demolitions in Duterte’s first 100 days.
“If we allow land use conversions and corporate housing to continue, both rural and urban poor Filipinos will suffer. This reeks of ‘daang matuwid’ politics which consistently favored profit over people,” Arellano added.