UNDER our laws, foreigners or non-Philippine nationals may purchase condominiums, buildings, and enter into long-term land leases. Prior to 1935, foreigners could own land. Before World War II, Japanese land leases in Davao became a hot political issue and led to the passage of the Immigration Act, still in force today.
But since the 1935 Constitution came into force, it has been an established economic and social justice principle of all our basic laws that land ownership should be restricted to Filipinos only.
Last March, President Macapagal-Arroyo said China was interested in leasing 1.2 million hectares of land. This land area alone equals the alienable and disposable public land that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had declared, back in 1993, to have been surveyed and ready for redistribution under land reform. And the President has kept at peddling public lands for foreign leases. Last December, during her visit to Qatar, the President announced the government would explore the idea of leasing at least 100,000 hectares of agricultural land to the emirate.
The blunt global reality is this: rich countries have no space to plant food or crops for industrial uses; and so, they are aggressively leasing lands in poorer countries to secure resources for themselves. To give just two examples, Kuwait in August last year granted a $546-million loan to Cambodia in exchange for crop production; South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics in November last year announced it would invest about $6 billion to develop 1.3 million hectares in Madagascar for palm oil and corn plantations.
Talking to Focus on the Global South, Rep. Walden Bello called this development “an intersection of corrupt governments and land-hungry nations.” Bello said large government-sponsored leases are “particularly explosive in those countries where you have a high degree of landlessness, like the Philippines where seven out of 10 rural people do not have access to land.”
To compound the problem, government seems to be exercising only nominal control over the process. Recently, there were reports that Jeonnam Feedstock Ltd., a company owned by the southwestern province of South Jeolla in South Korea, had leased 94,000 hectares of farmland in Mindoro for 25 years to grow 10,000 tons of corn a year for feed production. The deal ended up bogged down in confusion. The national government confessed it didn’t know there was such a deal.
To be precise, the Philippine Agricultural Development and Commercial Corp. (PADCC) a government corporation attached to the Department of Agriculture, which is tasked with identifying suitable lands for agribusiness development and assisting prospective investors keen on forging joint venture deals with local farm groups and companies, told the Inquirer it had never heard of the deal. The best the PADCC could do was to say an alphabet soup of agencies ranging from the DENR to the National Food Authority of the DA would have to give their OK, too, if ever.
But one thing is sure: however dubious the present circumstances in Mindoro may be, the deal wouldn’t have been explored in the first place by either of the two Mindoro provincial governments if it weren’t in keeping with the declared policies of the national government. And this is a government that had to be shoved, kicking and screaming, to continue the unfinished business of land reform.
An unholy alliance of conservative landowners and radical sectoral representatives tried to derail the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) altogether; but when the proponents of Carper proved they had the votes, the radical representatives were abandoned by conservative politicians who recognized they couldn’t be seen as opposing farmers in an election year. From that perspective it’s obvious that the government hopes it can sideline land reform by leasing lands to foreign governments and corporations.This is a policy tantamount to leasing lands for foreign military bases without Senate concurrence; its implications for our food security and in terms of social justice are as deep – but this one is being pushed purely on the initiative of the chief executive.