20 November 2013

Opening Speech in the Special Committee on Land Use Hearing

Dinagat Rep. Kaka Bag-ao delivered this opening speech in the 20 November 2013 hearing of the Special Committee on Land Use where the consolidated National Land Use Act was approved. She is a principal author of this proposed legislative measure.

The aftermath of Yolanda, Typhoon Haiyan to the world, left the Filipino nation with so many questions, especially for us here who have the mandate to translate into law the State policies “to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”; “to recognize and promote the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development” and to protect such rights by practicing “intergenerational responsibility.” Where did we commit lapses? Focusing on disaster preparedness is a quick fix and comes from the wrong premise that every natural phenomenon would necessarily result in a disaster, with people dying, infrastructure damaged, and crops destroyed.

It is easy to point fingers, blame government authorities, and treat casualties as statistics post-disaster. However, what we need is to become proactive and responsible policy-makers during more sober times. This is the time for that. This is our chance to consolidate efforts towards protecting our people from loss of lives and livelihood, integrating the concerns of affected sectors, and putting our foot down to say no to complacency and neglect.

Under the proposed National Land Use Act, critical watersheds and forest are delineated and categorized as “Protection Land Use” which means that they should be rehabilitated and preserved, and no conversion or any other disposition should be made on the same outside its determined limits. Activities that reduce riverine habitat and alter flood patterns such as large scale irrigation and river channelization should be applied in critical areas.  Risk reduction and mitigating measures should be provided in areas considered as high risk and danger zones, especially those where large settlements of communities are found.

The objective of the National Land Use Act is not only to prepare us for calamities.  Equally important is the mitigation of climate change which is the primary cause for the aggravation of these calamities.  The lessons of Yolanda, Pablo, Sendong, and Ondoy should not take a backseat. The great thing about it is that this will be our concrete contribution for the protection of our nation and peoples, this is a long-term solution and we are putting it in place even before the next calamity leaves us clueless. Because we have the answers, we won’t stop at raising questions.

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