Pass land use code now

The land use code can also designate forest corridors and finally resolve the long delayed but needed Sierra Madre range rehabilitation. 


Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on November 17, 2020.


When local government units (LGUs) are required to pass their land use ordinances, it behooves the national government to finally act on the National Land Use Code, which has been pending in Congress since 1987. Why is the land use code essential? It is critical for spatial development, for designating new townships, for banning houses in declared hazardous zones and for integrating supply chain and logistics strategy to the design thinking in order that any disaster, man-made or natural, can be dealt with readily.

The land use code can also designate forest corridors and finally resolve the long delayed but needed Sierra Madre range rehabilitation. Such formulation should also take into account population density, giving clear direction in development initiatives; even identifying the niche industries of each province in order that everything is coordinated at the national to the local levels of government. The land use code can also be the cornerstone of the development of new economic corridors and the enhancement of the existing ones.

There are three laws that cover rational land use and sustainable urban and regional development. These are Executive Order (EO) No. 72, providing for the preparation and implementation of the Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs) of LGUs pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991 and other pertinent laws; Memorandum Circular No. 54, prescribing the guidelines of Section 20, Republic Act 7160, authorizing cities/municipalities to reclassify lands into nonagricultural uses; and EO No. 124, establishing priorities and procedures in evaluating areas for land conversion in regional agricultural/industrial centers, tourism development areas and sites for socialized housing.

In the Philippines, tracts of land are categorized as: protected areas, alienable and disposable, and privately owned lands. Of the total Philippine land area of “29.8 million hectares, 15.88 million hectares are forest lands or protected areas and 14.12 million hectares are alienable and disposable lands of which sixty-five percent (64.8 percent) are titled and privately owned.” An important balancing act has to be struck in terms of economic and commercial uses and food production in order that food security is intertwined in the code. “An average of 1,310.72 hectares of agricultural land was converted in the period 1990 to 2004 with a total of 43,141.64 hectares converted to other uses. It should be noted that conversion to residential uses accounts for more than one third of the conversions.The significant decrease in the size of lands available for agricultural purposes has contributed to the reduction of land for rice production. In 2000 the Philippines was one of the Asian economies that experienced a significant decrease in the lands devoted to rice production.”

According to experts, “a common policy framework for land use should integrate the various levels of land use planning in the municipal, provincial, regional and national levels. This should balance different yet related concerns such as food security, human settlements, environmental protection, indigenous communities and other economic and commercial pursuits.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has mentioned the National Land Use Act in two consecutive State of the Nation Addresses, 2017 and 2018. The House of Representatives crafted several versions of the National Land Use Act. It finally passed House Bill 5240 or “An act instituting a national land use and management policy providing the implementing mechanisms therefor, and for other purposes,” which was to substitute for other proposed measures tackling land use. The Senate filed a counterpart measure in July 2017, authored by Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri for the “rational, holistic and just allocation, utilization, management and development of our land resources.”

Despite that, it appears the measure is not moving in the Senate because of one legislator, who seems unable to see through the gains of the country with this legislation, which could become the bedrock of building back better through townships of the future. The moral suasion of the Senate leadership should be able to rationally discuss this because we can correct the problems of the past through legislation that is responsive and timely to the needs of the country.

We just have to stop the cycle of people evacuated from nonhabitable areas; only to go back after a strong typhoon or even during earthquakes and the like. The amount we spend times the 20 typhoons on the average that the country experiences is really not worth the wait for another calamity to pass. Yes, lives are important, but let’s get them out of harm’s way. Put a dot to it. Politicians should consider lives more important than votes because lives impinge on limited resources, and the challenge of leadership is to be creative enough to ensure that everyone is given their share of protection and service.

The cost of rescue and relief operations when viewed from the top 15 strongest typhoons of the country is staggering. Anticipatory planning is vital and risks communication a necessity both for national and local governments. An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year; of which, five to seven are destructive. The impact of Yolanda on the economy was “estimated at P604 billion or five percent of the country’s gross domestic product or in dollar terms, $14 billion; this is more than three times the reconstruction cost of [Typhoon] ‘Pepeng’ (international name: ‘Parma’) and Typhoon ‘Ondoy’ (international name: ‘Ketsana’). We cannot afford reconstruction because of our fiscal standing and budgetary priorities. Thus, we need to focus on readiness, which in turn, can only be operationalized by observing that nonhabitable zones are the norm and not the exception.

In the end, it boils down to preparation. “Leaders don’t venture without vision. They don’t pray without plans. They don’t climb without clues. They are always prepared.” Covid-19 has shown the mettle of our leaders, and we hope this will be replicated in how we handle crises and come out much, much better.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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