THE recent tussle between Senators Raffy Tulfo and Cynthia Villar over the massive and unbridled conversion of farm lands to other purposes have brought to fore the urgency to pass the long-delayed National Land Use Act, including forest lands.
When we talk of national land use management, we talk not only of lands and resources for building our nation but lands vital to feeding and sustaining the basic needs of our fast-growing population now at more than 100 million and still counting at 1.4 percent annual population growth rate.
By government admissions, and validated by some private development institutions and non-government organizations, production of our basic food needs has reduced significantly in two decades now or so, while the importation of food items and other agricultural good have been increasing in bigger volume each year incurring billions in government annual agricultural and trade budget, not to mention pilferages that go to the pockets of government officials arranging such transactions and inking contracts.
Importation has increased by leaps and bounds because lesser farm lands by provinces and by local government units (LGU) are devoted to production of our basic and vital agricultural needs. As a result, the continuing surge in the prices of imported basic commodities, and so the consequent services, have become harder for people to access.
What made this massive importation and soaring inflation possible?
The central government has let loose the local government units (LGU), empowered by the Local Government Code (LGC 1992), to do whatever they want with the lands under their domain.
The LGC 1992 has given the LGUs all the powers to establish their zoning plans, and develop, convert and reclassify their lands they see fit with their local development plan and well-aligned with national plans and programs.
Good for some LGUs with a wholistic development framework; they are able to strike a good balance in meeting the basic needs of their people, the development of built environment to sustain their economic, social and cultural needs, keeping their territorial ecological balance adaptive to climate condition and hazards management, and aligning with national plans and programs.
Unfortunately, many LGUs are misguided by myopic sense of development, and often pursue programs and projects exclusive or biased for the big corporate interests and their own patrons of political dynasties.
One can easily identify which provinces, big cities and towns continue to convert massive farm lands into sprawl of subdivisions, malls and commercial centers recreational hubs, golf courses, wider roads and other infrastructures – forcing small farm holders to look for other survival ventures, and likewise resulting in the skyrocketing of the value of lands, making such increasingly unaffordable to small earning families.
In most of these urban centers, big real estate developers, in cahoots with legislators, urban planners, big contractors, and land speculators and brokers, have taken the pilot seat in urban development.
Their thrust is obviously urbanization and structural development – not holistic human development, ecological balance, urban resiliency and sustainability.
This also explains the increasingly aggressive drive and stiffer competition among the LGUs towards attaining status of a highly urbanized city (HUC) or at the least first class city or municipality because of the potential bigger investments, bigger national tax allocation and incentives that go with such classification, not to mention personal enrichment issues of local officials.
The sad part is, the plunder of our land and resources, the destruction of our ecological balance exacerbating climate problems and disaster risks, the further impoverishment of the majority of our people – all in the name of development – are happening under the useless watch and indifference of the central government.
All the post-Edsa uprising presidents, senators and house of representatives and the executive offices have never tackled the issue of national land use law, the supposed mother of all laws on national development.
The abuse and plunder of our lands and resources, the destruction of our ecological balance, have also much to do with the worsening climate injustice and disasters risks wreaking havoc in our country.
Anarchy and greed have taken over the houses of power.
Some circles of non-government development institutions and environmental organizations have also skirted this issue, while others among them even justified the issue with their programs addressing the effects of climate injustice with band-aid and piecemeal projects, not its substantive roots and questioning the culprits.
With these trends, the passage of a well-balanced land use act is imperative and urgent.
The National Land Use Act must be such that it addresses the basic needs of our people now and the next generations, the safety, security and sovereignty of our territories, the livability of our urban centers, and the resiliency and sustainability of our nation.
The national government should listen to the urges of Senator Tulfo, not the likes of Senator Villar and her ilk, to pass the law.
It must take decisive steps to put an immediate end to the organized efforts of profit-raking big developers and vested corporate interests and the madness of some LGUs – to pillage our rich agricultural country.
Progressive legislators, political parties, mass organizations, genuine environmentalists, and party-lists must unite and put muscle to advance the campaign for the passage of the national land use act, including sustainable forest land management.
Now na! Not tomorrow, not 2026, not 2030!