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Deconstructing PH land classification system.

Upon ceasing operations on April 26, Boracay will be reformed and distributed to farmers as agricultural land.

'But master plan, wala akong master plan diyan, linisin ko muna iyan kasi agricultural iyan. So maybe after that, I'll give the farmers. I-land reform ko na iyan mas mabuti pa. I tell you now,' President Duterte earlier said about Boracay. 'Well, I'm sorry but that is the law. The law says it is [sic] forestal/agricultural. Why would I deviate from that?'

'It is going to be a land reform for the Filipinos... Wala akong planong diyang casino-casino. Tama na iyan kasi sobra na. May casino dito, casino doon. Give it to the people who need it most. That is an announcement. It will be a land reform area, period.'

Duterte's declaration, however, was met with strong criticism purportedly because Boracay neither looks like agricultural land nor forested land.

It should be emphasized that in declaring Boracay as agricultural land, Duterte referred to Presidential Proclamation No. 1064, in which former President Macapagal-Arroyo classified Boracay as a forest land, and an alienable, disposable agricultural land.

Before the issuance of P.P. No. 1064, Boracay was never expressly and administratively classified in accordance with the Philippine Constitution or through any issuance by the government. Being an unclassified land, Boracay then continued to be owned by the Philippine State, pursuant to the Regalian doctrine.

In DENR Secretary v. Yap, the Supreme Court stated that, under the Regalian doctrine, all lands of the public domain belong to the State-that is, it is the source of any asserted right to ownership of land and charged with its conservation.

Moreover, all lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State.

The Supreme Court further held that necessarily, it is up to the State to determine if lands of the public domain will be disposed for private ownership. A positive act declaring land as alienable and disposable for private ownership, such as the issuance of a proclamation, executive order, administrative action, report, certification, or enactment of a statute, is required.

Thus, the government may rehabilitate Boracay as a land reform area for the farmers, by virtue of P.P. No. 1064.

Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks.

Lands that may be alienated for private ownership are limited to agricultural lands, which may further be classified by law according to the uses they may be devoted. Under the Public Land Act, agricultural lands can only be disposed of only as follows: (a) for homestead settlement; (b) by sale; (c) by lease; and (d) by confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles by: (i) judicial legalization; or (ii) administrative legalization, such as a free patent.

Forest lands include the public forest, permanent forest or forest reserves, and forest reservations, which the government seeks to protect, develop, and rehabilitate so as to ensure their continuity in productive condition.

Meanwhile, national parks refer to a forest reservation essentially of natural wilderness character which cannot be used for settlement, occupancy, or any form of exploitation, except in conformity with an approved management plan as defined under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.

In a long line of cases, the Supreme Court declared that the classification of lands of the public domain is only descriptive of its legal nature or status, and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like. For instance, a forested area classified as forest land of the public domain does not lose such classification simply because loggers or settlers may have stripped it of its forest cover.

Thus, the government may validly use and distribute portions of Boracay as agricultural lands even if they were better suited for non-agricultural uses, in view of P.P. No. 1064, which was never struck down as unconstitutional.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Apr 21, 2018
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