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Land use

"The landlords, the rentiers, the housing magnates in mostly the Lower House, have not passed such important legislation."

The President’s State of the Nation Address, delivered at the Batasan with just a few in physical attendance, once again asked Congress to pass a National Land Use Act.

We heard that last year, and the year before last. We’ve seen the bill calling for a national land use policy filed as early as 1990, by Sen. Orlando Mercado, and re-filed in every Congress since then. When Orly finished two terms in the Senate, Sen. Gregorio Honasan kept filing the same bill from one Congress to the next. Now he too has graduated, and is already DICT secretary.

Still, the landlords, the rentiers, the housing magnates in mostly the Lower House, have not passed such important legislation. And because of this, land use and land classification in the country is left to the tender discretionary mercies of bureaucrats in connivance with local government officials, real estate speculators, and landowners. Zoning regulations are helter-skelter.

President Duterte vowed to protect the environment from further degradation, yet central to the protection of the environment, even to ensuring food security for generations yet to come, is a cogent land use policy.

Anyone who has been to Vietnam, particularly the cities and provinces beside the Mekong River, the country’s rice granary and agriculturally most productive area, will notice how well the government has managed land utilization.

Even in the commercial capital of Ho Chi Minh, one will notice that buildings are allotted very little land footprints. There are hotels, three-star at that, with no more than a five meter wide frontage. They go vertical, and very little land is used. And yet even within the jurisdiction of what was formerly Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam before the unification and the defeat of the Americans, one sees vegetable patches and even rice fields.

Driving northwards, you realize that government, which of course is socialist, has carefully delineated land use, giving primacy to agricultural production. Vietnam is about 33 million hectares in one long, contiguous whole, much like our Luzon. The Philippines, with a relatively smaller land area of 30 million hectares, is divided into several islands. Our population is larger at 108 million compared to theirs, which is 97 million.

But Vietnam exports rice, coffee, and a variety of fruits all over the world, among the top three exporters of such agricultural crops. The Philippines exports bananas and pineapple, imports rice, coffee, and fruits.

Here in Taiwan, marvel at how they make use of a very small area of land, only 3.6 million hectares, about the size of Regions 1, 3 and CAR put together, and very mountainous at that. Yet the small land area supports the food needs of 23 million inhabitants, and they export fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, even orchids, to the world. And agriculture, by the way, is only 5% of their GDP. To top all that, they have very strict environmental laws and regulations that have kept their mountains, rural and urban areas as green as can be.

We hope and pray that before the president’s term ends on June 30, 2022, that national land use policy becomes law. We keep our fingers crossed.

It would be a great legacy for President Duterte, where Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III failed to move Congress to act.

**

Still on the issue of land use, the 5th SONA called for the establishment of a Boracay Island Development Authority. It will be recalled that the president ordered the closure of the touristic jewel for six months in 2018, an unprecedented act, precisely because of continuing environmental degradation, particularly of the waters surrounding the white sand beaches of the small island.

The carrying capacity of the island has been far exceeded by the number of tourists, foreign and local, flocking to it at almost all seasons of the year. The Philippine Tourism Authority under Presidents Ramos and Estrada put up freshwater supply and wastewater treatment facilities in the island to safeguard its pristine waters. Local government authorities and even the DENR however allowed unbridled building establishments without proper zoning and land use restrictions. Worse, they even failed to ensure that all establishments would connect their septic tanks to the wastewater facility. Images on television of how big hotels drained their detritus straight into hidden pipes shallowly hidden beneath the white sand were so shocking.

When I was at the helm of the PTA in President Estrada’s abbreviated term, I discussed with Aklan’s perpetual governor, Joben Miraflores, the problems brought about by the local government of Malay, Aklan of which Boracay was part.

I mentioned the need for a stronger national government supervision of the island to protect it from helter-skelter “development” far beyond its carrying capacity. Gov. Joeben and I had already looked at mainland beachfront sites in Ibajay and Nabas which could be developed as medium-cost substitutes so as to prevent over-crowding.

Even as we commend the multi-agency Task Force Boracay headed by DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, for what it has done to rehabilitate the island, the idea of a Boracay Island Development Authority to virtually remove its supervision from local authorities, similar to Subic Bay or Clark, is definitely needed for the medium to long-term.

Again, hopefully it becomes true within the president’s time.

Topics: Lito Banayo , President Rodrigo Duterte , State of the Nation Address , SONA
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