Moratorium on farmland conversion opposed by real estate developers

​THE GOVERNMENT should consider allowing the development of farm lands into tourism-related projects, mass housing and other purposes that could spur growth in the countryside alongside agriculture, according to property developers.

In separate interviews last week, Alliance Global Group, Inc. (AGI) and 8990 Holdings, Inc. expressed opposition to a blanket moratorium on the conversion of agricultural lands across the country. 

The government should exempt developers of tourism estates from the moratorium, AGI President and Chief Operating Officer Kingson U. Sian said after an annual stockholders meeting in Quezon City on Thursday. 

8990 Holdings wants the government to exempt mass housing developers from the prohibition on land-use conversion as well, its President and Chief Executive Officer Januario Jesus B. Atencio III told reporters on Friday.

The Department of Agrarian Reform is seeking a two-year moratorium on the conversion of prime agricultural lands in order to ensure food security.

The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council approved on Sept. 12 the moratorium. President Rodrigo R. Duterte, however, has yet to sign the executive order seeking to halt the processing and approval of applications for conversion of agricultural lands.

“What we hope is that for those tourism-oriented (projects), probably [they] should continue to be supported by the government,” Mr. Sian said.

“The multiplier there is huge and unlike, let’s say, other industries, the local value added content is probably 100% or close to 100% because you buy the food, the labor [and] the services are all local,” the AGI official added. 

In this light, the parent of urban township developer Megaworld Corp. and tourism estate company Global-Estate Resorts, Inc. pushed for an exemption that would allow for the conversion of certain agricultural lands into tourism estates.

“Most of the tourism sites are actually outside of the city, far from the city centers, where the development is much need. Maybe in the past, these were fishing towns and the environment was later neglected,” Mr. Sian said. 

Developing the tourism industry supposedly aligns with government efforts to develop the provinces and subsequently attract more investments, create employment and alleviate poverty.

“That is also why infrastructure development is needed. The government should build maybe airports, roads or facilities so we can access those tourism sites and then have the private sector, like us, go in and develop it,” Mr. Sian said. 

The tourism-related developments, in turn, will supposedly provide communities “meaningful jobs right at the backyard of the people.”

8990 Holdings’ Mr. Atencio, meanwhile, deemed agrarian reform and mass housing as “siblings” in the sense that both pave the way for Filipinos to have real properties and support the government’s thrust to develop the provinces.

“At the end of the day, housing and agrarian reform establishes the same thing — a wider dispersal of property ownership in a country where 50% more or less of adults do not keep real property,” he added.

The moratorium is expected to stifle the expansion of property developers in the provinces and subsequently hinder government efforts to develop the countryside. 

“If you want to spread development to the countryside, you’ve got to encourage more housing, more investments and more commerce in the provinces. A moratorium will not help there,” Mr. Atencio noted. 

“Then you are back to concentrating development in the city, thereby, adding more congestion, more traffic, and more stress on the local government and cities when it would have been very easy for developers to actually help in the spreading of development in the countryside,” he added.

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