Valenzuela City Congressman Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian warned of a likely increase in unemployment should the constitutional limits on land ownership be lifted to attract foreign investments.
Gatchalian issued the warning as plenary debates on the proposal to ease economic restrictions in some industries are set to start today at the House of Representatives.
House Resolution No. 1, authored by House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr., seeks to add the phrase “unless otherwise amended by law” to constitutional provisions on ownership of land and certain businesses.
The resolution passed the committee level last March.
Although revising the 60-40 ownership rule will indeed draw more foreign businessmen to invest in local companies and in turn generate more employment, Gatchalian said altering the provisions on land ownership will leave farmers with nothing to till on.
“Farmers will be enticed to sell their land to foreigners who can offer high valuations for their agricultural land. However, our country has very limited resources for social protection. So in the long run, without adequate social protection, these farmers will be unemployed and will seek refuge in the overcrowded cities,” explained Gatchalian.
“What will happen to our farmers if they have no more land? The issue here is security of land tenure. The government must recognize the importance of the agricultural sector and protect the interests of workers in that sector. The provision on land ownership should remain untouched,” the lawmaker added.
The 1987 Constitution prohibits foreign ownership of land but it does allow foreigners to lease land for up to 50 years, renewable for another 25 years.
Gatchalian also noted the agriculture sector’s potential to generate much-needed jobs as the sector itself is labor-intensive.
“If we aid our farmers by investing in agriculture like providing loans and building vital infrastructure, we will not only help them sustain their livelihood but create jobs as well,” he said.
According to the World Bank, access to land, as well as water and human capital, “critically determine the ability of households to participate in agricultural markets, secure livelihoods in subsistence farming, compete as entrepreneurs in the rural non-farm economy, and find employment in skilled occupations.”
South Africa is now seeking to restrict foreign land ownership and instead offer a 30-year minimum lease to foreign investors, as 87% of commercial farmland belongs to the white minority two decades after apartheid ended, a Reuters report showed. (Monica Cantilero)