As land use act stalls, Duterte to issue executive order instead

MANILA, Philippines – With a National Land Use Act (NLUA) languishing in Congress, President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to issue an executive order related to land use in the meantime, said Malacañang.

"The President approved the suggestion that the administration first come up with an executive order for the purpose," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Tuesday, December 3.

Duterte arrived at this decision during a Cabinet meeting on Monday evening during which he "stressed the importance" of the passage of the NLUA, a piece of legislation he has called on Congress to pass in his last 3 State of the Nation Addresses.

During the Cabinet meeting, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia had presented his agency's draft bill.

What will the EO do? Panelo did not elaborate on the EO, but a major concern will be how the EO will affect the powers of local government units over land classification.

Right now, the local governments  have the authority to regulate land use in their jurisdictions. This power is vested in them by a law, the Local Government Code of 1991 (Republic Act No 7160). A mere EO cannot override this law.

Economists, environmentalists, and food security experts have long called for a national land use policy which lays down a comprehensive plan on how land use resources will be allocated, used, and managed.

The policy would include how much land to set aside for food production, residential use, environmental protection, among others.

Argument against NLUA. In the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives managed to pass its version of the bill, House Bill No 5240. But the Senate failed to pass a similar measure.

Efforts stalled in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar, a Duterte administration ally. In July, she aired her apprehensions about a NLUA. 

Decisions on how to utilize land must remain with local governments and not be handled by any central authority, she said. A NLUA would earn lawmakers and the national government the "ire" of mayors.

Villar’s family is into the real estate and land use business. Her husband is real estate tycoon Manny Villar. Their family owns the Philippines' biggest homebuilder Vista Land and shopping-center developer Starmalls Incorporated. They also own Golden Bria, a housing and condominium developer. In 2019, Manny was declared the richest man in the country, with a net worth of $5.5 billion.

Efforts to pass a NLUA began in 1994, during the administration of Fidel Ramos. It was certified as urgent in 2013 by then-president Benigno Aquino III.

Duterte, in his 2019 SONA, said he wanted a NLUA passed by the end of 2019. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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