The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) recently announced major changes in its land conversion policies and rules in order to facilitate economic recovery in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
Pangulayan said the changes significantly shorten the period for processing applications, by removing the requirement for clearances and certifications of the Department of Agriculture (DA), National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
These requirements represent chokepoints that delay the processing of conversion applications. For instance, according to Pangulayan, the DA certification alone takes more than a year to obtain.
Under the new rules, the DAR will be the only agency that will examine the conversion applicant’s documents.
The applicant will no longer have to obtain a DA certificate of eligibility for conversion, which involved going through the processes of the DA’s sub-agencies such as Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Sugar Regulatory Authority (SRA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and the RTECLUM/NTECLUM.
The new rules also dispense with the NIA certification of absence of irrigated and irrigable lands within the area applied for conversion. Instead, the DAR will rely on the NIA’s consolidated report of the location of such lands, which the NIA is now required to submit to the DAR. However, the DAR’s onsite field investigation teams will still conduct ocular inspection to validate whether the land is irrigated or irrigable and therefore non-negotiable for conversion.
Pangulayan cited NIA Memorandum Circular No. 24 series of 2019, wherein all of the following land attributes must concur for the land to be identified as irrigable:
- Physical features show inherent potential for the development of an irrigation system, such as soil depth, soil texture, field terrain, slope and other relevant characteristics;
- Potential for quality water supply which can be sourced though a distribution system;
- Part of a serviceable area which is within an actual funded irrigation system or which can be serviced with existing and operating irrigation activities;
- Within an area where the approved CLUP for surrounding or contiguous landholdings encourages or agrees to the conduct of agricultural activities; and
- Presence of qualified farmer beneficiaries or tenants/lessees willing to till the land and raise crops therein.
In addition, the new rules also dispense with the requirement to submit an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) from the DENR together with the conversion application. According to Pangulayan, the ECC will be a post-approval condition, meaning that the applicant’s failure to obtain an ECC prior to commencing project development will result in revocation of the conversion grant.
The new rules also identify special projects that are considered critically important and are therefore subject to a different set of requirements for conversion. The types of critically important projects are:
- Agro industrial
- Low cost or socialized housing;
- Resettlement sites for disaster-stricken areas;
- Energy projects such as power distribution or generation;
- Water generation;
- Telecommunications; and
- Lands acquired as national project sites under RA 10752.
For these types of projects, in addition to the waived certifications by the DA, NIA and DENR, the rules also waive the requirement for submission of the LGU’s comprehensive land use plan (CLUP) and zoning ordinance (ZO).
However, in the case of socialized housing projects, a certification that it is a priority housing project must be issued by either the DHSUD, NHA, NHMFC or an LGHU involved in the project.
Pangulayan stressed that the changes are not meant to encourage conversion, but only to streamline the process.
Applications will continue to be strictly evaluated based on the merits, subject to tiller’s rights, food security and statutory requirements, Pangulayan said.
Pangulayan revealed that out of the 4.8 million hectares placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), only 10% have been approved for conversion so far.
Pangulayan also stressed that under the new rules, any of the following will be sufficient to constitute proof of illegal conversion:
- When the agricultural land is developed without a conversion order;
- When the agricultural land being converted is irrigated or irrigable;
- When there are farmers, farmworkers or tenants on the landholding who are adversely affected by the conversion;
- When there is land activity such as, but not limited to, construction of perimeter fence, earth filling/dumping or moving/digging, and quarrying; and
- Other analogous activities.
When asked about the pronouncement of presidential candidate Francisco “Isko’ Moreno that he will impose a conversion moratorium if elected, Pangulayan expressed the personal view that a conversion moratorium may not be effective because conversion is needed in specific instances.
“The nemesis of the program is not conversion per se, but illegal conversion. We must put up a fight against illegal conversion”, Pangulayan said.