Solon on PEZA plan to lease farmlands: food security and jobs for Filipinos should be priority

“Tread lightly.”

This was the advice of Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora to Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito B. Plaza on the authority’s plan to lease millions of hectares of idle land for agro-forestry and agro-industrial zones, energy centers and refineries as well as industrial cities to foreign investors from the Middle East. According to Rocamora PEZA should first thoroughly study the plan and if it pushes through undertake measures to ensure that Filipinos will not be left at the losing end.

“Our prime consideration is to secure our lands, especially prime agricultural lands, for our own country’s benefit. There are dangers of leasing huge tracts of farmlands to plant food that will be exported. I think we have to think this thoroughly and be mindful of its possible impact on our own food security and the livelihood of our farmers,” according to Rocamora.

 “I agree that idle lands should be put to good use. I believe that a good measure to know if our lands are maximized is if it translates to creating local jobs and addresses food needs here in our own country,” Rocamora added.

“Another consideration is how it will affect the landless farmers in the country who are still fighting to have their piece of land. I think any plans involving leasing out our agricultural areas should not be in conflict with the current administration’s efforts to give the support and assistance to our farmers. If it does, our farmers must be the priority,” he also stressed.

Land utilization should be in accordance with a National Land Use Law

Rep. Rocamora also said that a National Land Use Law will be needed to better plan the usage of all lands, idle or not . He said that under such a law can provide for the proper mechanism for identifying and utilization of lands for a specific purpose and to safeguard against wholesale conversions of lands.

“This can help prevent possible conflicts that may arise because of a lack of proper land use and planning,” Rocamora said.

PEZA’s plan also calls for a lease period of up to 75 years as provided by Philippine laws. Aside from the agriculture economic zones, they are also looking to convert the islands into cities. PEZA cited Pres. Duterte’s plan to utilize all of the country’s islands.

PEZA will also conduct an inventory of all the islands and vacant lands that can be offered to investors, who are mainly interested in the islands where they are planning to set up oil storage terminals and refineries as well. PEZA, which has already coordinated with the necessary agencies, expects to come up with a list by January next year.

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