Last Updated on
Both the Executive and Legislative Departments of the Philippines have been pushing for the passage of the proposed National Land Use Act for many years. Passing it would mean keeping the country’s lands from further misuse and degradation.
June is Philippine Environment Month, and this year’s theme is “Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level.” At this current climate, it is essential that environmental action be taken seriously by everyone, but particularly by large industries that implement projects that have a considerable ecological impact. This brings to mind the National Land Use Act (NLUA), a proposed bill that aims to promote and enforce sustainable practices to protect the country’s natural environment. Passing this would provide further safeguards to biodiversity and clearer guidelines for infrastructure development.
It is important to finally establish NLUA; President Rodrigo Duterte himself has been pushing for this necessity.
Reiteration in SONA 2017
Almost a year has passed since the chief executive of the Philippines implored legislators to make this bill into a law. It was the first priority bill of the six that President Duterte mentioned during his State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. The speech underscores its primary importance not only for the present administration but to the country as a whole.
The President alluded to climate change as one of the reasons for the promulgation of the NLUA. Mindanao, he said, has been experiencing uncommonly warm weather. Food agencies were also asked to examine it and proceed as necessary.
The National Land Use Act is not a new issue
It seems as if the passing of the NLAU requires more than the urging from a chief executive. The proposed bill has been going around in the Philippine Senate for years. Former President Benigno Aquino III also called for its enactment. This was back in February 1, 2013, when he certified the matter as urgent. It was previously known as Senate Bill No. 3091 in the 15th Congress and was awaiting its Third Reading in the Senate. Prior to this, however, the NLAU has had numerous appearances in the previous Philippine Congresses, possibly going back two decades.
At the time of President Duterte’s 2017 SONA, the NLAU was introduced under the First Session of the 17th Congress by Senator Loren Legarda on June 30, 2016. Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri then reintroduced it in the Second Session of the 17th Congress on July 26, 2017 as Senate Bill No. 1522. This was just a few days after the SONA. It has been read on its First Reading and passed on to appropriate Senate Committees.
Only time will tell when it will eventually become law. For now, it seems legislators need all the support they can get to help their Filipino countrymen benefit from its passage.
Why it is necessary
The unchecked use of land makes the Philippines even more susceptible to natural disasters. It is a tropical country that has been historically prone to harsh weather conditions and calamities. The 2016 World Risk Index report even ranked it 3rd among 171 countries most vulnerable to natural hazards. It has since improved its ranking for 2018 by coming in 69th over 173 countries. The main aspects analyzed in the study are exposure, susceptibility, coping capacity, and adaptive capacity.
When speaking of exposure, the study looks into the degree of threat that earthquakes, cyclones or typhoons, floods, droughts, and sea level rise have on the population. Balancing these dangers out are some competencies in public infrastructure (susceptibility), government and disaster preparedness (coping capacity), and ecosystem protection (adaptive capacity).
Exposure is unavoidable, as the country notoriously experiences typhoons and floods on an annual basis. It can, however, improve on its public infrastructure, land use, and ecosystem protection. The NLAU’s passage can help with that. It can provide better safeguards for communities, especially in the Philippine countryside where land use regulation is required the most.
A preview of the NLAU
Senate Bill No. 1522 of the Second Session of the 17th Congress focuses on the “just allocation, utilization, management and development of our land resources.”
An excerpt of Section 2 of the said Senate Bill gives some of its main guidelines:
SEC. 2. Declaration of Principles and Policies. – All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, fora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the state. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated.
Pursuant to the constitutional provision or mandate, it is the policy of the State to provide for a rational, holistic, and just allocation, utilization, management, and development of the country’s land to ensure their optimum use, consistent with the principle of sustainable development.
The State shall recognize the need for rational, optimal and sustainable settlements development, consistent with the principles of environmental management and equitable access to land and security.
Section 14 provides for the creation of its highest agency, the National Land Use Commission:
SEC. 14. Creation of the National Land Use Commission (NLUC). – The National Land Use Commission, hereinafter referred to as NLUC, is hereby created as a Commission under the Office of the President. It shall exercise the powers and responsibilities of the current National Land Use Committee which is hereby abolished. The NLUC shall act as the highest policy making body on land use and resolve land use policy conflicts between or among agencies, branches, or levels of the government. It shall integrate efforts, monitor developments relating to land use and the evolution of policies. It may also establish Regional Offices.
Meanwhile, the body ensures that land is properly utilized and classified according to the general purposes of conservation, food production, and residential and infrastructure development.
Under Chapter 12 (Article 2, Sections 57 to 64), Senate Bill No. 1522 lists sanctions against those who violate the Act. The Department of Agrarian Reform will impose these fines. For instance, if a landowner fails to commence the conversion of their agricultural land within a year of receiving an Approved Order of Conversion, they need to pay a fine.
Public officials, regardless of their position, may also be held accountable for negligence of duties. It would merit forfeiture of their salaries and suspension from office from three to nine months.
Those found guilty of Abetting Illegal Conversion could potentially suffer imprisonment of seven to twelve years, as well as a fine of Php 100,000 or above. Those who Reclassify Protected Agricultural Lands or Exceed the Limits for its Reclassification receive a higher penalty. It would result in twelve years imprisonment and a fine of Php 100,000 or above.
Main photo via Depositphotos