THE DEPARTMENT of Agrarian Reform (DAR) said it will begin talks with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on the turnover of agricultural land on Boracay island.
Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones told BusinessWorld that both departments will be discussing the turnover at the next interagency meeting on the Boracay rehabilitation.
“As of now, there’s no marching orders yet to subject the agricultural land to a land reform program,” Mr. Castriciones said during the panel discussion.
“But we are anticipating that if the president so orders, we will immediately implement a land reform program on Boracay […] because there is valid and legal grounds for us to implement land reform.”
Once the Palace gives the order, Mr. Castriciones said DAR can award land to beneficiaries within 121 days, which excludes demolition and clearing out by other agencies if necessary.
However, Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Research David D. Erro said that the DENR needs to formally hand over agricultural land to DAR.
Citing two executive orders, Mr. Erro said that all agricultural land owned by government agencies and unused land should be turned over to DAR for land reform.
“There has to be a positive act coming from DENR to turn over the land for us to place it under agrarian reform,” he added.
“Until DENR transfers the land to us, we have no jurisdiction even if those are agricultural.”
The DAR on Monday said 15.5 hectares (ha) of agricultural land can be immediately processed for land reform after Mr. Castriciones and other DAR officials conducted an inspection last week.
Another 408.51 ha can also be repurposed for farming after government clears out all illegally built structures.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte last month said that he wants Boracay island to be turned over to land reform beneficiaries.
Mr. Erro during the briefing said that by virtue of presidential proclamation 1064, the 628.96 ha. of land in Boracay island is considered as “alienable and disposable,” which can be used for agriculture, while 377.68 ha. has been classified as forest land.
Mr. Erro said proposed farmer beneficiaries are mostly indigenous Atis who used to farm the island before being driven off to make way for development.
Assistant Secretary for field operations Lucius G. Malsi told BusinessWorld that the search for beneficiaries has turned up 48 Ati families composed of 165 individuals.
“Out of 165 [individuals], 70 to 80 were above 15 years old. One way to qualify as a farmer beneficiary is to be at least 15 years old,” he added. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato