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Senators back restoration of original budget for DAR land titling project

SENATORS on Monday expressed support for calls to restore funding worth P2.6 billion for the Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling (SPLIT) Project proposed by the lower house in their version of the 2022 proposed General Appropriations Bill.

During the interpellation of the 2022 budget of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Senator Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, asked fellow Senators to “deliver what rightfully belongs to our agrarian reform beneficiaries.”

DAR’s P12.3-billion proposed budget was increased by 29% from the original P8 billion. SPLIT had been allocated about P4.5 billion for the titling of 600,000 hectares in 2022, and 708,000 hectares in 2023.

In 2021 delays resulted in the completion of titling for only 60,000 hectares, requiring catch-up efforts over the next few years.

“The loan from the World Bank was finally granted which will provide a P19.24-billion financial support to the project with a P5.38 billion government counterpart, with a total of P24.6 billion,” Ms. Villar said in plenary session Monday.

“We are with you in restoring that budget,” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr. said in plenary. “We cannot use it (the loan) for any other purpose.”

Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos proposed amending the loan agreement to provide for a longer period of implementation “as long as the SPLIT program is not reduced because it is key to a very extended agrarian reform program — I believe 50 years.”

“The SPLIT project is crucial to our goal of improving land security tenure and stabilization of property rights of agrarian reform beneficiaries and achieving poverty reduction,” Ms. Villar said.

She said the project is meant to parcel out collective Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) into individual CLOAs, giving farmers their own identifiable plots.

The SPLIT project covers 1.368 million hectares, benefitting 1.14 million farmers, Ms. Villar said. Some 2.8 million farmers will have individual CLOAs, while the 2 million will have collective CLOAs.

By the end of 2023, the goal is for all agrarian reform beneficiaries to have individual CLOAs.

Separately, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said during the same session that the reduction of the proposed 2022 budget for the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) should be reconsidered.

During his interpellation, he questioned the reduction of the DoST budget by P1.12 billion to P23.79 billion for next year.

He said that while some of the reductions were related to capital outlay, there was also decreased funding for agencies responsible for research and development. “This is a little bit worrisome,” he said, noting that these agencies are crucial to the recovery.

Mr. Drilon called for the review of the department’s budget, which Senator Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva seconded.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino during the same session also proposed to strengthen the DoST’s legal department, which he said has only three lawyers and a P4-million budget.

Mr. Tolentino said the shortage of lawyers might be behind the delay in drafting Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 11037 or the Masustansyang Pagkain para sa Batang Pilipino Act passed in 2018. “This is a very important law as it institutionalizes a national program for undernourished children.”

“Per records of the DoST, (the IRR) was just promulgated on March 26. This is a very important program, especially as we navigate the post-pandemic era,” he said. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan

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