Philippine solons push bill to regulate large-scale foreign investments on land

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippines' Party-list Representatives Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao and Walden Bello are pushing for a bill that regulates large scale foreign investments on land.

House Bill 6004 otherwise known as the "Large Scale Foreign Investment on Land Regulatory Act" seeks to ensure that all negotiations entered into by Filipino entities with foreign investors will be beneficial to local communities.

It proposes guidelines and criteria to regulate transactions involving vast tracts of lands and seeks to ensure that agreements with foreign investors will not jeopardize food security or result in the degradation of the environment and displacement of communities.

Bag-ao explained that "increasing interest on land investments in the Philippines fuelled by the rising global demand for food and raw materials for agro-fuel production, tourism and mining calls for a strong and fair regulatory mechanism to address the large scale land ownership by foreign investors."

She said that for the last five years the government has been involved in numerous transactions involving the lease of large tracts of land nationwide for the production of biofuel feed stocks, food crops and mariculture investments.

Such investments "has exposed the basic sectors, particularly the farmers, fisher folk and indigenous peoples, to the threat of displacement and loss of control, ownership

and possession over their lands," she explained.

Under HB 6004, all contracts, agreements, negotiations, talks and deals of foreign investments on land exceeding an aggregate of five hectares shall be publicly disclosed and should be approved by the National Regulatory Board on Foreign Land Investments before being implemented.

It covers all investment deals on land between Philippine registered private entity with a foreign entity; or with a foreign national or local government or its instrumentality; or Philippine national government or instrumentality with a foreign entity; or Philippine national government or instrumentality with a foreign national or local government or its instrumentality; or Philippine local government unit or its instrumentality with a foreign entity; or with a foreign national or local government or its instrumentality.

The bill also creates the National Regulatory Board on Foreign Land Investments directly under the Industry Development and Trade Policy Group of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which will approve and disapprove Large Scale Foreign Investment agreements on land based on its guidelines.

There will also be a Congressional Oversight Committee on Foreign Land Investments tasked to oversee the performance of the Board and propose legislative actions in relation to foreign land grabbing.

Under the bill, foreign land grabbing is prohibited and punishable with a penalty of US$1,000,000 as fine and confiscation of its assets in the Philippines.

Violators shall be penalized with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not more than 1,000,000 pesos ($23,400) or both, at the discretion of the court.

The government's intervention in large scale foreign investments on land was important, according to Bello who said that "the Filipino population, especially the basic sectors, should have preferential use of and benefit from our land resources, and that our national interest, food security, cultural integrity, healthy environment and right to self-determination be protected and upheld in any investment agreement entered into between the Philippine entity and its foreign counterpart involving the use of land in the country."

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