WASHINGTON (Mabuhay) – At a House Foreign Affairs Full Committee hearing on U.S. Foreign Assistance in FY 2015, Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) Wednesday questioned USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on the lack of land rights in developing nations, in particular, the concerning issues of land grabbing in the Philippines.
Chairman Royce is a long-time champion of property rights and has fought land grabbing throughout the world, particularly in the Philippines. He has raised the issue with senior government officials in the Philippines, including President Benigno Aquino and Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario.
Chairman Royce commented: “Mister Administrator, the lack of land rights in developing nations remains a significant barrier to sustainable development and long-term economic prosperity. The issue of land grabbing is well-known and well publicized. In fact, last year, in December, the Huffington Post ran an insightful article about this issue, titled “Lessons from the Past: Securing Land Rights in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan.”
“The article quoted a USAID official saying that unequal access to land is a central issue that cuts across both rural and urban sectors in the Philippines. I submit that unequal access to land is a significant issue that occurs worldwide – we know of significant land grabbing in Cambodia, in China, and in Peru,” Royce emphasized.
“My question Administrator Shah, is this: What is USAID doing to urge the Government of the Philippines to address the issue of land grabbing? Most importantly, what about the rampant corruption that enables land grabbing to occur? I’ve heard over and over again that the Philippines is making progress on fighting corruption; however, even Philippine anti-corruption officials will admit that corruption “is like rats – it’s everywhere,” Royce said.
“With all the assistance funding we’re providing to Manila, isn’t it time that USAID and the administration focused on this issue given what’s at stake? For three years, I’ve asked the administration to make land grabbing a priority, and for three years, I’ve received emphatic support verbally. Three years later, I see no progress. Will this year be the year where we finally make a difference?” he added.
In reply to Royce, Administrator Shah said, “It will. We believe it is a critical issue as I have seen personally; in efforts were I handed out land titles to Columbian farmers who were returning to their farms after conflict that has lasted, as you know, decades. The power of respecting property rights, providing title, giving the people the basis to seek financing to invest in their own future is an extra ordinary powerful strategy to reduce poverty and extreme poverty.”
“In the Philippines, 46% of the 24.2 million parcels are titled. And even amongst those a high degree of corruption and ineffective respect for those title hamper the ability of many poor families to secure their future,” he added.
Shah said that he is thrilled that both Royce and him have been working together on this issue.
He also thanked the Chairman for his specific visits to the Philippines and his works with USAID program.
In ending, Shah emphasized that “USAID could commit FY’14 resources to engage an effort that will help both work with the government on corruption issues enforcement, community policing, and support for their land management office, as well as with local communities to help address this challenge.” (MNS)