Following Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William D. Dar’s issuance of Administrative Order No. 18, series of 2020, the DA-Bicol Regional Technical Evaluation Committee on Land Use Matters (RTECLUM) will be implementing new guidelines on the issuance of Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands to streamline the land conversion process.

In an RTECLUM meeting held on September 15, 2020 at the DA Regional Field Office in Pili, Camarines Sur, the RTECLUM Secretariat discussed the recently signed AO, which authorizes the issuance of DA Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands pursuant to Article II and Article XII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, EO 292, series of 1987, Presidential Administrative Order No. 20, series of 1992; Executive Order No. 45, series of 2001; and other pertinent provisions of Republic Act (R.A.) 6657, known as the “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988,” R.A. 8435 or the “Agriculture and Fisheries Modenization Act of 1997” and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), and R.A. 11234 or the “Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop Act of 2019 and its IRR.

Under AO No. 18, series of 2020, applicants are directed to file their Application Folder for Land Conversion (AFLC) consisting of a duly accomplished and notarized Application for Land Conversion (ALC) Form 1 as well as two sets of documentary requirements with the DA Regional Field Office. The RTECLUM Secretariat will assess its completeness and within two days upon receipt, will issue either a Notice of Acceptance if AFLC is found to be complete or Notice of Non-Acceptance if found to be incomplete. The RTECLUM is given 15 days to issue the RTECLUM Report which contains the recommendations by the Regional Executive Director who is designated as the RTECLUM Chairperson based on the findings and initial recommendations submitted by the RTECLUM members.

The new guidelines authorize the RTECLUM Chairperson to issue the Certificate of Non-Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands for applications that cover areas evaluated as non-negotiable for conversion or areas highly restricted from conversion. He is likewise allowed to issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands for areas applied for socialized housing which are evaluated as outside of Strategic Agriculture and Fisheries Development Zones (SAFDZ) and with a total area of five hectares or below and have met the applicable criteria. The Secretariat will then forward a copy of the certificate and RTECLUM Report to the National Technical Evaluation Committee on Land Use Matters (NTECLUM) through its Secretariat.

Ten days from receipt of the RTECLUM’s Report and recommendation, the NTECLUM will convene to evaluate the application and issue recommendation through a Resolution. The NTECLUM Resolution and the complete records will be transmitted to the Office of the Secretary. Three days upon receipt of the said documents, the Secretary will now issue the Certificate of Eligibility or Non-Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands. The said certificate will be released to the applicant or his or her authorized representative through their preferred mode of receipt. The process for proposed energy-related projects applications will take 30 days while applications proposed for other non-agricultural uses will take 45 days upon receipt of complete documentary requirements.

The guidelines for the issuance of Certificate of Eligibility/Non-Eligibility for Conversion of Agricultural Lands is applicable to lands to be converted to residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, energy and other non-agricultural purposes; lands to be devoted to another type of agricultural activity including livestock, poultry and fishpond; and those reclassified to residential, industrial, or other non-agricultural uses on or after the effectivity of R.A. 6657 dated June 15, 1988 pursuant to Section 20 of R.A. 7160 and other pertinent laws and regulations and are to be converted to such uses.

The new guidelines retain the filing fee for application for land conversion of a 15-hectare area and below at P1,750. For areas above 15 hectares to 30 hectares, it is rated at P2,000 and P3,000 for areas that exceed 30 hectares. It also sets a uniform field verification fee worth P3,000 regardless of the size of the area applied for land conversion.

Agricultural lands that qualify for proposed conversion are those located outside the Network of Protected Areas for Agricultural and Agro-Industrial Development (NPAAAD), not irrigated and not irrigable lands with firm funding commitment, those that do not hamper nearby farmlands’ irrigation water or productivity, and lands with limited potential for growing agricultural crops. Also, the DA requires that the proposed use be consistent with the municipality or locality’s natural expansion based from the approved physical framework and land use plan and must be supportive to agro-industrial development and will create alternative livelihood opportunities for the affected community.

Excluded from the issuance of Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion are all irrigated lands, as delineated by the DA and/or the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), where water is available to support rice and other crop production and all irrigated lands where water is not available for rice and other crop production but are within areas programmed for irrigation facility rehabilitation by the government. All irrigable lands already covered by irrigation projects with firm funding commitments, as delineated by the DA and/or NIA as well as all agricultural lands with irrigation facilities are also considered as areas that are non-negotiable for land conversion.

Meanwhile, irrigable lands not covered by irrigation projects with firm funding commitments, agro-industrial croplands, highlands or areas located in elevation of 500 meter or above and which have the potential for growing semi-temperate or high value crops, and lands issued with notice of land valuation and acquisition, or subject of a perfected agreement between the landowner and the beneficiaries under the Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT)/Direct Payment Scheme (DPS) under the CARP are considered as areas highly restricted from conversion.

AO 18. Series of 2020 which was issued by Secretary Dar on May 18, 2020 took effect on June 25, 2020. Under the new guidelines, the RTECLUM is now composed of the RED as RTECLUM Chairperson, the RTD for Operations as Vice Chairperson, two technical staff as members and another two as Secretariat. Other DA agencies including Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority PhilFIDA, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), and National Tobacco Administration (NTA) shall be on an on-call basis, if needed. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V with reports from Gizel E. Flores, DA-Bicol RTECLUM Secretariat)