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‘Paeng’ deaths, devastation revive call for speedy passage of national land use act

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Business Mirror

‘Paeng’ deaths, devastation revive call for speedy passage of national land use act

A lawmaker has called for the urgency of instituting a national policy that would ensure the efficient and sustainable use of the country’s land and physical resources as a means to provide long-term safeguards to communities vulnerable to climate change.

This developed as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that severe tropical storm “Paeng” has left 110 dead from flooding and landslides, which also displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.

About 2.4 million individuals were affected, including 866,000 forced to flee homes in one of the most destructive storms that hit the country, the NDRRMC said on Tuesday. Agriculture losses, on the other hand, were estimated at P1.3 billion, while the cost of damaged to infrastructure was about P760 million, it said. The death toll has risen from 98 reported on Monday.

Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte, in a news statement, said the recent destruction wrought by Paeng in Maguindanao, which resulted in scores of deaths caused mostly by landslides, demonstrated the direct impact of proper planning and use of land resources on saving people’s lives.

Along with Benguet Rep. Eric Yap and two other lawmakers, Duterte has filed House Bill (HB) 3956 which aims to establish clear parameters on the utilization of all land and physical resources in the country by institutionalizing a National Land Use Policy.

The bill outlines land use policies to determine areas allocated for agricultural production, housing and settlements, energy development, industries and other economically productive sites and protected zones for environmental sustainability.

Duterte said the bill and other similar measures filed in Congress seek to “end the current degradation of the country’s land resources, and optimize balanced development.”

He said one key aspect of passing the National Land Use Act (NLUA) that has often been understated or overlooked is its importance in protecting communities from the destructive effects of climate change.

“We often mention the National Land Use Act in the context of ensuring food security by, for one, preventing the conversion of agricultural lands to housing and commercial projects. But the rational and efficient planning and use of our land resources is also vital in ensuring that we get to identify high-risk and danger-prone locations in our communities,” Duterte said.

HB 3956 states that “priority shall be given to life and safety, and thus to identifying hazard prone areas and corresponding risk reduction measures as part of the DRR [disaster risk reduction] and CCA [climate change adaptation] objective.”

“Given the country’s approximate land area of 300,000 square kilometers, there is a need for a comprehensive and responsive land use policy to address the impact of deforestation and urbanization on food, housing, business, health and the environment,” the bill’s authors said.

Duterte said the bill and other similar measures should be approved at the soonest possible time by Congress to protect future generations of Filipinos, and enable them to adapt better to climate change and respond to the growing needs of the population for food, shelter and jobs.

He recalled that the passage of the NLUA has been certified as urgent by the previous administration of his father, former President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who had said the law “will address our competing land requirements for food, housing business, and environmental conservation.”

On top of addressing these needs, the Davao City lawmaker said a national land use policy would also assist local government units (LGUs) in mapping out their climate-resilient development plans.

The bill also mandates the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned government agencies and bodies to delineate and continuously update the mapping of hazard prone and vulnerable areas in the country.

“These maps shall be shared and disseminated to LGUs, which shall subsequently guide them in the preparation of their own hazards-constrained development and physical framework and land use plans,” the bill states.

HB 3956 also calls for the creation of National Land Use Policy Council (NLUC), which will serve as the highest policy-making body in all matters pertaining to land use and management.

The NLUC, which will be chaired by the Secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) is authorized under the bill to resolve land use policy conflicts. It is also tasked to integrate efforts and monitor developments relating to land use and the evolution of policies.

Several versions of the NLUA have been filed in the 17th and 18th Congresses. The current administration has also urged Congress to swiftly pass the NLUA.

Last week, Neda called on Congress to immediately pass the Marcos administration’s priority measure, the proposed  Nalua.

During the first briefing of the House Special Committee on Land Use, Neda Undersecretary Carlos Abad Santos reiterated the need to harmonize various policies on land use, such those in agriculture, agrarian reform, ancestral domain, protected areas, and housing and urban development.

“By harmonizing these various policies we will be able to have proper allocation of land and reduce disaster risk to proper land use planning and various development,” he said.

According to Abad Santos, the 13 Nalua bills filed in the lower chamber have similar components with the Neda Board-approved version.

Three of these 13 bills, he said, are similar to the Neda Board-approved version—House Bill 420 of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, HB 3611 of Ilocos Sur Rep. Kristine Singson Meehan and HB 3956 of Davao Rep. Paolo Duterte.

Abad Santos said proposed Nalua seeks to address urban sprawl or uncontrolled development that encroaches on prime agricultural lands and other fragile areas.     He said it would also address indiscriminate conversion of prime agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses, which has an impact on food security.

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