Convert farmlands? Improve existing cities instead - analyst

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 22 2022 11:21 AM | Updated as of Nov 22 2022 08:17 PM

Angelo Soriano tends to his plot in Barraca town in Ilocos Norte on Feb. 16, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
Angelo Soriano tends to his plot in Barraca town in Ilocos Norte on Feb. 16, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Develop existing cities instead of expanding them.

Lawyer and environmentalist Tony La Viña said this Tuesday amid a debate over the conversion of farmlands into residential and commercial areas.

"We don't have to expand our cities. We just have to improve our cities. Better housing, more vertical. Develop our cities including for the poor and the middle class," he told ANC's "Headstart".

La Vina cited Singapore as among those who "constantly" redevelop their neighborhoods.

"I think the problem of our developers and not just Sen. [Cynthia] Villar's company but all our developers, they're just always looking for raw land instead of redeveloping land," he said.

Even in developing countries, there are better cities, said La Viña, former dean of Ateneo School of Government,

"As long as there's a good transportation system, as long as there's good water and energy systems, you don't have to convert new lands," he said.

During Thursday's deliberations on the proposed 2023 budget of the Department of Agriculture, Senators Raffy Tulfo and Cynthia Villar clashed over the conversion of agricultural lands into subdivisions.

"Lumiliit nang lumiliit ang ating farmland, binibili po ng malalaking developer at ginagawang commercial at residential land. Ano pong ginagawa ng DA dito?" Tulfo asked.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, was tasked to defend the DA's proposed P163.7-billion budget for next year.

In response, Villar defended her family's business empire.

"Alam niyo that's our business, I want to tell you we don't buy agricultural land in the provinces... We limit ourselves in cities and capital towns," she said.

Villar and her family own Vista Land, considered the largest homebuilder in the Philippines, which operates Camella Homes, Lumina Homes, and others. The family also has an expansive interest in property development and mall chains, among others.

"They allow conversion in cities and capital towns because if they (developers) buy your land, they buy it expensive and you can reinvest the money and they will make more money than planting on those lands... It's an investment decision... You have to understand agriculture as a business also," Villar explained.

"Where will the people live if you don't build subdivisions," Villar added.

Since 1988, some 16,000 hectares of agricultural land in the country have been converted for other uses, according to data from the Department of Agrarian Reform.

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