A MEASURE adding regulatory hurdles to the conversion of irrigated and irrigable agricultural land to residential, industrial and commercial zoning has been filed in the Senate.

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, with Senate Bill No. 256, or the proposed “Agricultural Land Conversion Ban Act,” said he was seeking to preserve farmland to ensure food security.

Mr. Pangilinan said some 100,000 hectares worth of agricultural land has been converted between 1988, when Republic Act (RA) 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, was implemented, and 2016.

He cited data from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) showing that 80.6% of approved land conversions were in Luzon; 7.8% in the Visayas, and 11.6 in Mindanao.

“We need farmers to feed the country. Farmers need farmland to feed the country,” he said in a statement Sunday.

The bill amends RA 7160, or Local Government Code, by requiring applicants to obtain certifications from the Department of Agriculture (DA), DAR, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units.

“This additional requirement before the grant of a conversion permit is to ensure the suitability of the conversion of an agriculture lot. This is timely due to the unbridled land conversion, legal or otherwise,” Mr. Pangilinan said.

The certification from the DA should include a finding that the land has ceased to be economically feasible for agricultural purposes.

The DAR, for its part, will certify that the land is not due for distribution or programmed for distribution to agrarian reform beneficiaries; while the DENR will indicate if the proposed reclassification is ecologically sound.

At present, the Law only provides that agricultural land be reclassified by the LGUs through an ordinance, or by the President, upon recommendation of the National Economic and Development Authority.

The new measure will also penalize violations with fines ranging from P150,000 to P300,000; and imprisonment of not less than six years.

For already-completed buildings or infrastructure, the property is liable to b confiscated for public use or auction. — Charmaine A. Tadalan