DEPARTMENT of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano proposed last week a two-year moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands to subdivisions and other purposes. The department immediately stopped – temporarily, it claimed – the processing and approving of applications for land-use conversion.
The proposal may help the government’s efforts for food security, but it impacts on so many other programs of the government that it needs the widest possible study and discussion. It affects plans, for example, for a housing program for the millions of Filipinos who are homeless to this day, plans that require subdivision sites all over the country.
It affects the programs of the commercial real estate and construction industry who contribute a considerable portion of the taxes that are collected for the budget needed for the operations of government. Congress is now studying the tax system with a view to rationalizing it and making it more equitable but it is making sure the reforms will not reduce the government’s income.
The DAR move also affects plans to get more foreign investors to come to the country and set up factories. This would in turn affect employment programs seeking to reduce mass poverty in the country, said to be the most critical problem in the country today.
All these problems are inter-related and one cannot be solved in isolation to the exclusion of the others. The DAR’s solution of immediately banning the conversion of agricultural lands to other purposes appears good at first blush, as it will help push forward the goal of food security, but it merits wider discussion that will consider other national interests, such as those now being pushed by the Departments of Finance, of Trade and Industry, of Labor and Employment, and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. The Department of Agriculture should not be left out of the discussions.
Ultimately, all problems of the country wind up on the desk of President Duterte. He appreciates action plans of his Cabinet men, but with his wider point of view of the nation as a whole and its myriad concerns and problems, he and the other officials would appreciate a more thorough study of a plan and its implications before it is put into action.