Land governance policy overhaul to prevent spread of Metro Manila’s ‘urban nightmare,’ says Dominguez

Feb 9, 2017

by Paola Alvarez

 

Metro Manila’s “urban nightmare” underscores the urgency of overhauling the country’s obsolete land governance policies to prevent this severe case of poor land administration from spreading all over the country, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.

 

Dominguez said that unless the government acts swiftly to upgrade its land governance policies, other areas of the country will suffer the same fate as that of Metro Manila, where high land costs and the lack of provisions for road expansions inhibit the government’s response to the worsening problems related to urban congestion.

 

“Metro Manila presents us with the most severe case of poor land governance. This is an urban nightmare, a metropolis that grew without planning. Right now, high land costs prevent us from acquiring property to build schools and hospitals. Right-of-way has become a costly proposition for public works. No provisions were put in place for road widening,” Dominguez said in his keynote speech at the Conference on Sustainable Governance organized by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

 

The two-day conference held recently at the Diamond Hotel in Manila aimed to bring together a multi-sectoral coalition from the national and local governments, business, civil society and other groups that will pursue a common agenda to improve sustainable land governance and thereby address the country’s land sector development concerns.

 

Dominguez said the Department of Finance (DOF) on his watch has been doing its part in “bringing coherence” to the country’s land governance by moving to reduce estate taxes to encourage the documentation of land assets and free them up for productive use.

 

Moreover, Dominguez said the DOF is also  encouraging  local government units to update their land valuations as a measure not just to raise revenues but also to discourage owners of prime  land in their respective localities from keeping these assets idle or non-productive. 

 

He acknowledged that policies on land governance are “in urgent need of updating,” with the proposed National Land Use Plan “sitting in the legislative mill, with little indication it will be passed into law any time soon.”

 

“So many of our settlements are vulnerable. Our cities are congested. Our forested areas have been stripped to make way for human habitation. We are truly facing a land governance crisis and we must respond decisively to this,” Dominguez said.

 

Further underscoring the necessity of    passing  a National Land Use Plan, Dominguez said the government needs to harmonize conflicting provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and existing property rights, clarify rules on habitation in danger zones, and rethink agrarian reform in light of the “continuing backwardness of our agriculture.”

 

 “The Philippines, being an archipelago, has less arable land per unit of population than Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. Our farms and cities are built in narrow strips between shore and mountainside. Our farms are small. Our cities are congested. There is severe shortage of land to build homes. A happy compromise will have to be found between the demands of agriculture and the requirements of an increasingly urban population,” Dominguez said.

 

“As our population increased rapidly over the last few decades, with our land policies hardly keeping pace, the phenomenon of landlessness has become more severe. Settlements are pushed to the most perilous places: steep slopes prone to landslides; shorelines prone to storm surges; and riverbanks that have become clogged. We need to plan for our settlements, addressing a housing backlog estimated at well over three million units,” he added.

 

He pointed out that unless the government updates its land governance policies, land prices will likely spiral as commercial developers, agricultural estates, industrial and export-processing zones and the extractive industries compete for the use of the country’s  scarce land resources.

 

“If land becomes too expensive, it will be inaccessible to the homeless and raise the costs of production thereby diminishing our competitiveness,” Dominguez said.

 

Dominguez cited  Metro Manila as a supreme example of poor land governance and called on the conference participants to share their recommendations on what can be done immediately to prevent this from being replicated in other parts of the country.

 

“I hope the policymakers attending this meeting will learn from the experiences of others and help upgrade our own land governance capacity,” he said.

 

Dominguez also hoped that the conference participants could “arrive at a set of practical recommendations on what can be done immediately. Many of our settlements are vulnerable. Our cities are congested. We are truly facing a land governance crisis and must respond decisively to this.”

 

 

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