SONA Fact Check: Accurate land registries by 2015 ‘realistic’

MANILA, Philippines – In his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Benigno Aquino III promised that the National Cadastral Survey Program will be completed by 2015.

Once completed, the project is expected to boost the government's agrarian reform program since the mapping will aid in making land registries more accurate. Land registries are necessary for establishing who has claims on the land and which lands can be distributed. 

"In 2015, after 102 years, the Cadastral Survey will finally be completed," Aquino said.

This is a realistic time frame, Lensy Bunuen of the National Cadastral Program Coordinating Office (NCPCO) told Rappler.

A priority project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the cadastral survey delineates and demarcates land boundaries of local government units. It is vital for defining parcels of land for registration in a land registry, making it a critical component for agrarian reform.

From 1913 to June 30, 2014, the NCPCO has completed cadastral survey of 978 municipalities out of 1,634 – around 60%.

Out of the remaining LGUs, 118 municipalities are in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The instability in the region has made it difficult for surveyors to complete the surveys in those towns, according to the Land Management Bureau. 

'Difficult' agrarian reform cases

The President defended his government against criticism that it missed the deadline last June 30 to complete land distribution under the agrarian reform program.

"Another problem is that the previous administration had distributed land that was easy enough to distribute – like government-owned land, or land already settled between the farmers and the deed-holders. We were left with land that came with too many complications that only spawned endless debates and legal disputes," Aquino said.

Before the SONA, this sentiment was also expressed by Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Parungao and Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, author of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. That's why the performance of the DAR under Aquino is said to be an "acid test" for genuine agrarian reform.

But agrarian reform advocacy groups say that weak DAR leadership is also largely responsible for the backlog of undistributed land. 

“Since Secretary Delos Reyes became DAR chief in 2010, the agency never met its CARP target even if the landholdings were workable or had no legal, technical, or cadastral problems that would hinder the department from acquiring and distributing the farms to beneficiaries,” said Alberto Jayme, president of the Negros chapter of Task Force Mapalad.

Though DAR aimed to distribute around 180,000 hectares a year, the agency was only able to distribute an average of 120,000 hectares a year.

As of June 30, 2014, there were 41,500 hectares of land yet to be placed under the agrarian reform program.

"This year, we will once again submit to Congress a bill extending the filing of Notices of Coverage, which could not be completed precisely because of these problems that we first needed to solve. We are hopeful that, the moment we file that bill, Congress will pass it in the soonest possible time," the President said.

Aquino earlier certified as urgent Senate and House bills extending the deadline for putting parcels of land under Notices of Coverage up to June 30, 2016. But the first Congress session closed before the bills could be passed.  

Some lawmakers have committed to work for the passage of the bill during the second session, which opened on July 28, the day Aquino gave his SONA. (WATCH: What's next after the land reform deadline?– 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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