Gov't identifies initial 15 hectares in Boracay for distribution to farmers

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FILE. The Aboitiz Group, through its social development arm Aboitiz Foundation, has entered into a partnership deal with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the rehabilitation of Wetland 4 in Boracay.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 3) — Around 15 hectares in Boracay Island are ready for distribution to farmer beneficiaries, Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones said Thursday.

"There are patches of land that don't have any structures anymore-which can immediately be subjected to (the) agrarian reform program. This would probably be around 15 hectares," he told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Castriciones said around 80 farmer beneficiaries have been identified. Under the law, each beneficiary can own up to three hectares of land. This means the 15 hectares up for distribution could only benefit at least five farmers.

Under Republic Acts 6657 and 9700, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and its amending law, beneficiaries must be at least 15 years old and directly tilling or managing the farm. Castriciones said the government will be prioritizing indigenous peoples in the land dsitribution program.

Castriciones said his department has verified the 80 beneficiaries, as a number of indigenous people have relocated to the mainland.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) previously announced around 400 hectares of land in Boracay, or less than half of the island, is "alienable and disposable" or areas that can be disposed to private persons. The island had a land area of 1,006 hectares.

Castriciones said all of the island, save for a few recognized titles, is owne by the State.

However, municipal executive assistant for Boracay affairs Rowen Aguirre had expressed doubt that agrarian reform would be feasible as the island has no irrigation system.

"Boracay never has any significant farm land. Merong kakaunti [There are a few], but I don't think it will produce enough even to supply the whole island of Boracay," said Aguirre.

He said residents previously grew coconut, corn, and other root crops, but they have since turned to the more lucrative tourism industry.

However, Castriciones insisted the land was fertile.

"It's open to all kinds of plants that are high-yielding, like mangoes or coconut," he said. "That land is suitable for different kinds of plants."

Boracay has been shutdown since April 26. The six-month closure will usher in the island's rehabilitation.

President Rodrigo Duterte has floated the idea of converting the world-class tourist destination to a farm land.

Meanwhile, Castriociones said the Agrarian Reform Department is looking into distributing around half a million hectares of land across the country.

Watch the full interview with Castriciones here.

CNN Philippines' correspondent Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.