Slow land-use conversion provokes Duterte ‘outburst’

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Rodrigo R. Duterte
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte presides over the 34th Cabinet Meeting at the Malacañang Palace on Feb. 6. -- RICHARD MADELO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MALACAÑANG said Thursday that President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants the processing of land-use conversion applications fast-tracked.

In a briefing on Thursday, the President’s spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said the President, during the 34th Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, expressed his disappointment over the slow processing of land-use conversion applications.

“The President was so frustrated, he spent I think half an hour saying that he was so frustrated about the requirements… he was dismayed (about an instance) that took two years without making progress on conversion. It emerged that there were many requirements — from the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), local governments… it’s becoming a problem for the people in the various departments. So they are trying to streamline that… the President said that there are many corrupt officials who do not move on applications without grease money. So he’s looking into that,” Mr. Panelo said.

He also said the President stepped out of the Cabinet meeting after his outburst. “In fact he excused himself. He excused himself… and took a break in the holding room,” he said.

Mr. Panelo said the streamlining of the land-use conversion process was the first item discussed at the meeting.

“The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Undersecretary for Legal Affairs talked about streamlining of internal processes of all agencies involved in conversion, including the imposition of definite timelines for its processing such as the provision of government permits,” he said.

Mr. Panelo said there were two formal proposals by DAR and local government units on the matter which were not presented because of the President’s “outburst.”

DAR Secretary John R. Castriciones was asked for comment but had yet to reply at deadline time.

Section 65 of Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program provides that “[a]fter the lapse of five (5) years from its award, when the land ceases to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes, or the locality has become urbanized and the land will have a greater economic value for residential, commercial or industrial purposes, the DAR, upon application of the beneficiary or the landowner, with due notice to the affected parties, and subject to existing laws, may authorize the reclassification or conversion of the land and its disposition: Provided, that the beneficiary shall have fully paid his obligation.”

DAR Administrative Order No. 01-02 or the 2002 Comprehensive Rules on Land Use Conversion details the procedures for land-use conversion.

Persons who can apply for conversion are “owners of private agricultural lands or other persons duly authorized by the landowner; beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program after the lapse of five (5) years from award, reckoned from the date of the issuance of the Certificate of Landownership Award (CLOA), and who have fully paid their obligations and are qualified under these Rules, or persons duly authorized by them; and government agencies, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and LGUs, which own agricultural lands as their patrimonial property.”

Applications are filed at the “Regional Center for Land Use Policy Planning and Implementation (for applications involving lands with an area less than or equal to five (5) hectares, or a fraction above five (5) hectares. The Regional Director shall be the approving authority for such applications); and at the Center for Land Use Policy Planning and Implementation (for applications involving lands with an area larger than five (5) hectares. The Secretary shall be the approving authority for such applications and may delegate the same authority to any Undersecretary.” — Arjay L. Balinbin