LEFTIST groups on Sunday backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for a two-year moratorium on land conversion and asked him to reject efforts being made by Vice President Leni Robred to push for the entry of foreign investors in acquiring lands for affordable housing.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said it was good that Duterte and the Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR were now pushing for at least a two-year moratorium on land use conversion.
“This will definitely help in addressing the rice self-sufficiency problem of the Philippines and may stem to some extent the exodus of farmers and farm workers to urban centers because they are being displaced by land grabbers who use land use conversion as their cover,” Zarate stressed.
The Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or Kadamay on the other hand, hit out at Robredo and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Coucil chief for petitioning the reversal of the moratorium on land use conversion and for favoring foreign investors despite the President’s push for an independent foreign policy.
The group said that these moves are a throwback to measures undertaken by former President Benigno Aquino III’s Daang Matuwid.
“These pronouncements favor local and foreign corporations that pilfer through social services in the guise of alleviating poverty,” Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano said.
“[Robredo] cannot use resettlement projects as a justification for opposing the moratorium on land conversion when socialized housing has only served to further impoverish urban poor Filipinos,” Arellano stressed.
“If we allow land conversion 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 [‘s welfare]” Arellano said.
“Only large real estate developers and multinationals stand to gain from a reversal of the President’s moratorium on the land use conversion of agricultural lands,” according to Terry Ridon, chairman of the Presidential and Commission for the Urban Poor in response to appeals by several members of the Duterte Cabinet for the President to reconsider his decision to issue a moratorium on land use conversion.
Robredo called on Duterte to cancel the government’s plan to issue a moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands.
Robredo said on Thursday that the proposed ban would “further delay the housing and resettlement processes.”
“By unnecessarily locking up the land resources for two years, including those that were already identified as suitable for socialized housing, this will make our mission far more difficult in solving the growing problem of homelessness,” the Vice President stressed.
Ridon, who sits in the HUDCC, which Robredo chairs, said that the remedy was not to stop the issuance of a moratorium but to consider socialized housing projects as the only exception to the ban.
“Change has not come to our agricultural farmers if we will insist that food security and social justice should suffer at the whims of real estate moguls and multinationals,” Ridon said.
Ridon said real estate tycoons should not hide behind the need for massive socialized housing for the urban poor.
“The Vice President is correct that homelessness is a persistent problem for the urban poor. But we should remember that the status quo has prevented many agricultural lands from being used for socialized housing as well. We believe that socialized housing as the only exception to the moratorium will balance the benefits between the rural and urban poor,” Ridon argued.
Ridon said the main problem in agrarian reform was the dizzying pace of land use conversions, for other uses, to the exclusion of the poor Filipino farmer.
“In the main, land use conversions were made not for socialized housing but for the construction of provincial malls, golf courses, residential subdivisions and resorts,” he said.
Arellano also accused Robredo of pitting the urban and rural poor against each other.
Peasant groups have long been opposed to the land use conversion policy that have seen their agricultural lands turned into commercial properties such as golf courses and shopping centers, she said.
Arellano added many urban poor associations have also been critical of the socialized housing currently peddled by the housing czar.
“Socialized housing in reality is corporate housing, routed through private developers causing surges in amortization despite sub-par housing projects,” she said.
The Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) are also not in favor of the moratorium.
Ridon said he has full trust that the President will not reconsider the moratorium on land use conversion.
“The President has proven in the first hundred days that closest to his heart will always be the welfare of the ordinary Filipino. As with his war on drugs, we believe he will also stake his life and presidency for our Filipino farmers,” Ridon said.
“We should correct Aquino administration’s folly,” Zarate said.
“This will definitely help in addressing the rice self-sufficiency problem of the Philippines and may stem to some extent the exodus of farmers and farm workers to urban centers because they are being displaced by land grabbers who use land use conversion as their cover,” he added.
“It is sad to note that the Aquino administration and the Liberal Party, particularly, former Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala had been saying for the past six years that rice self sufficiency of the country is at 94-96 percent already (but), when in fact, government rice importation just last year is at 2.1 million metric tons. This is one of the reasons for the dirt cheap farm gate prices of palay. And ironically, on the other hand rice prices significantly increased during the past administration’s term,” Zarate said.
“DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, himself a farmer, said that the agricultural lands that have been already converted can feed seven million Filipinos every year. Therefore, having a moratorium on land use conversion is only logical and the right thing to do to feed our country men and for us not too rely on rice imports,” Zarate pointed out.