Solons shoot down plan to place Boracay under agrarian reform

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Senator Cynthia Villar (Photo: www.newsfeed.ph

By Daniel LLanto
FilAm Star Correspondent

Some senators questioned President Duterte’s plan to declare Boracay under agrarian reform when the world-famous tourist destination has hardly any agricultural land at an inquiry.

In rejecting the plan, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, said Duterte’s declaration placing Boracay under agrarian reform “is not feasible, it scares long-time residents and discourages investors.”“

The people, long-time residents, and investors are afraid with this (agrarian reform) declaration, what will happen to them? There are no agricultural lands there,” Villar said.

Boracay is on its second month of a six-month shutdown ordered by Duterte to rehabilitate the island that he called a “cesspool” brought about by corruption and overdevelopment, among others.

Of the 1,000-hectare land area of Boracay, Villar said 628 hectares are commercial areas, 189 hectares are residential lots, 39 hectares are owned or controlled by government agencies while 6.9 hectares are populated by indigenous peoples (IPs).

She said the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and other concerned agencies should just proceed with processing applications for titling of privately owned lands, especially those held by long-time residents, and the IPs.

Villar said instead of placing the entire island under agrarian reform, the government should instead declare Boracay an eco-tourism site, adding tourism would bring more revenues to more families in the area.

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Luis Meinrado Pangulayan said Duterte’s declaration did not come from DAR but even so, the agency has been implementing its mandate on placing certain lands under agrarian reform.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who is pushing for the creation of the multi-sectoral Boracay Island Council, said many are confused over the DAR’s position on the matter. He warned putting Boracay under agrarian reform could create instability in the investment plans particularly for tourism.

“I don’t believe that is feasible. Can you imagine putting top soil so it will be suited for agriculture? Even the representatives of the DAR disowned the undersecretary who said that. There are confusions,” Drilon said.

Dr. Henry Chusuey, chairman of the Boracay Foundation, said since then President Ferdinand Marcos declared the island a tourist zone and marine reserve, Boracay has been a tourism area for the past 40 years.

Chusuey also said the Supreme Court upheld then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Proclamation 1064 in 2008 proclaiming Boracay’s agricultural land as “alienable and disposable.” He said DAR found only four hectares of arable land in Boracay and these would have to be divided by many families.

“This is probably also the reason why topsoil is even needed to turn Boracay into productive agricultural farmlands,” he said.

But Duterte justified his decision to declare the entire island of Boracay a land reform area, saying beneficiaries can sell the land for profit, presumably when they can legally do so after 10 years. He reiterated that he wants the Boracay “natives” and not business owners to benefit from the land.

Duterte said land reform failed in Mindanao because the residents had no capital and ended up selling the land. Under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) cannot sell the land for 10 years after awarding.

Duterte said that the ARBs then sold the land for up to PHP 1 million and the laborers ended up having around PHP 500,000 to PHP 1 million earnings, which he said is what he wants for Boracay residents.

“Para sa akin, tabla na. At least nakatikim lahat. ‘Yun ang gusto kong mangyari,” Duterte added.

“That is why i-land reform ko ‘yan. Not really to benefit anybody except the people there.

Ibigay ko sa kanila ‘yan. Inyo ‘yan eh, ‘yung mga Mangyans. Inyo ‘yan. Balang araw, ipagbili ninyo. Maybe your daughters and sons will reap at least konting pera makatikim kayo,” he said.

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