DAR to further streamline process in land conversion

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will be making changes to further streamline the distribution of land titles and the process of land conversion after President Rodrigo Duterte's recent "outburst" over reported delays.

During a press conference on Wednesday, February 13, the agency confirmed a task force was formed to further expedite the process of converting agricultural lands for residential, commercial, and industrial use, and submit a report on the anomalies in the conversion process. 

DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Meinardo Pañgulayan said the agency has a backlog of 73 cases pending for conversion.

"[Out of the 73 cases], 46 are pending before DAR, waiting for submission of government permits from government agencies, or problems with feasibility study [if the land can really be converted]," he added.

Pañgulayan clarified that the conversion process will be revoked for parcels of land that go beyond 5 years without being developed for residential or commercial use. 

Among the pending cases, it would be resolved if those applying for the conversion complied with all the necessary requirements.

It was only in 2009 when the government eased rules and farmer-beneficiaries did not have to wait until they have paid off their 30-year amortization to apply for land conversion, making the process faster.

However, due to the numerous requirements farmers had to go through, there remains to be a hurdle. 

To prevent further delays, Pañgulayan said that once all the requirements needed from other government agencies are already cleared, DAR itself only has 30 days to either deny or grant the conversion of the land. 

With most of the country's land still considered for agricultural use, the agency clarified that it is not pro-conversion. But it will still have to study and consider some parcels of land for conversion, as part of the President's instructions. 

Investigating irregularities 

Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones told Rappler that the agency has always had a task force to investigate its internal offices in case of irregularities.  

"[T]here's always a continuing process in the DAR investigating all allegations of corruption, any irregularities for that matter," he added, referring to DAR Anti-Corruption Task Force.

"So they [report to us], they recommend to me, and if there's a cross-disciplinary action, if there's a recommendation, I cannot remove them because they're third-level officials – I can recommend to the president for removal." 

Last Friday, February 8, DAR announced that it has formed a special task force to investigate the anomalies in Pampanga and Tarlac, after stakeholders in those provinces raised their concern on the delays in awarding land titles. 

However, Castriciones noted there won't be any immediate results of the investigation, as it will have to go through due process. 

New targets

Bureau of Land Tenure Improvement Director Leandro Caymo also reported during the press conference that the agency's target for 2019 is to distribute only 41,077 hectares (ha) of land to farmer-beneficiaries. 

"Last year actually, our target for distribution is 46,644 hectares, and we were able to accomplish 60,279 hectares. This year, we have a target of...almost the same level [as before], but as we said, we will be working over and above to reach the target early," he added.

"In fact, by March we will be able to surpass already the target for this year – if the planned distribution would push through." 

Last Monday, February 11, DAR distributed certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs) to some 780 farmers in Maguindanao, covering 1,740 ha of land.

The agency will also distribute CLOAs to farmers at Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental, and at Hacienda Luisita, Barangay Bantog, Tarlac City, which Castriciones noted to be "controversial" places. (READ: 9 farmers killed at Negros Occidental hacienda)

During the press conference, Castriciones said that with the rate of distribution, they may reach up to 70,000 ha of distributed land for 2019. 

Aside from this, Castriciones also affirmed that the agency will be veering away from distributing collective CLOA altogether, a move that he said will be supported by other Cabinet secretaries.

"In fact, last year, we have distributed [mostly] individual CLOAs. The only collective CLOA was distributed in Boracay because the people [who] are involved in Boracay [belong] to the IPs (Indigenous Peoples)...the Atis," he added. – Rappler.com