A HOUSE panel approved a bill on Thursday which seeks to systematically identify and determine the best use of land.

The proposed National Land Use Act will guide “communities to make informed decisions about how their land is used,” Nueva Ecija Rep. Rosanna V. Vergara, who chaired the technical working group that made adjustments to the bill, told the committee.

She added that the bill will help local governments and land users “identify and prioritize land use policies and projects that align with their unique needs and aspirations.”

The unnumbered substitute bill seeks to create the National Land Use Commission (NLUC) under the office of the President. It will have the authority to resolve land use conflicts between or among agencies, branches, or levels of government. The NLUC will take over the current powers of the National Land Use Committee, which will be abolished.

The NLUC is tasked with drafting the National Physical Framework Plan (NPFP), which will guide the planning and management of the country’s land and other physical resources. It will contain “broad spatial direction and policy guidelines on settlements development, production and protection land use, social services and utilities, transmission line corridor, and transportation and communication,” according to the bill.

The NPFP is to have a 30-year time horizon and will be updated every 10 years.

The bill covers all land and natural resources whether public, private, government-owned, or owned by any person, whether natural or juridical.

It calls for a 5% idle land tax on any person or entity that causes irrigated land to go idle or remain unproductive for more than a year. If the land remains unproductive for two years, it will revert to the State.

Local government units (LGUs) are directed to create their own Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), which must contain maps to serve as a guide for future use of land and natural resources. LGUs are liable to sanction and penalty if they fail to implement their CLUPs.

Mary Ann De Vera, chief for policy research and legal office of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, said that measure should “take into consideration the individual situations of these LGUs,” and how they are “not similarly situated in terms of finances, manpower and resources.”

Congress may authorize the reversion of alienable and disposable land in the public domain to forest land, unless they are covered by title or are occupied.

Robert Nomar V. Leyretana, officer-in-charge administrator of the Land Registration Authority, said the bill must list the rights of owners of private property. “What will be the consequential right of these private property owners?” he told the committee. “It always has to be subject to (their) vested right.”

Mr. Leyretana proposed the creation of a single base map for the Philippines. “Conflicts in land rights largely stem from boundary conflicts because all agencies have their own base maps,” he said.

Special areas of concern listed in the bill are forest land and watersheds, coastal zones, settlement development sites, National Integrated Protected Areas System sites, agricultural land, energy resources, industrial development areas, tourism development areas, and infrastructure.

Cities or municipalities must also designate adequate land for housing or residential use “for the immediate and future needs of the local population as well as the underprivileged and homeless in their territory,” according to section 48 of the bill.

In a statement, Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said she sees the possibility of heightened conversion of lands into subdivisions or corporate housing projects instead of ensuring that land will be used for food production.

The bill protects agricultural land necessary for attaining food security will be protected from conversion, subject to review by the Department of Agriculture every six years. Conversion of land for use in basic services such as power and irrigation will be allowed on the recommendation of the Secretaries of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.

In his State of the Nation Address, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said the measure “holds owners accountable for making these lands productive and sustainable.”

The bill is included in the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council’s common legislative agenda. The House of Representatives aims to pass the bill on second reading when session resumes on May 8. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz