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OJ OPINION NO. 100, s.

2012
November 13, 2012

Secretary Virgilio R. delos Reyes


Department of Agrarian Reform
Elliptical Road, Diliman
Quezon City
Dear Secretary Delos Reyes :
This refers to your request for opinion on the queries stated therein relating to the legal
character of lands in excess of the twelve (12)-hectare titling limit.
Specifically, your queries are as follows:
"A.

Considering that Commonwealth Act No. 141 1 (C.A. 141) limits the area
of land for which a person may secure a Torrens certificate of title,
either through judicial confirmation of imperfect title or through
administrative legalization, to only twelve (12) hectares, does
ownership still vest on a claimant as to the area in excess of such 12
hectares although the same remains untitled (that is, unregistered under
Presidential Decree No. 1529) 2 ?

characterizes the status of untitled private agricultural lands (UPALs) which are in excess of
the 12 hectares constitutional limit. TEHIaA
You also state that the CARP law, as amended, covers, for purposes of acquisition and
distribution, all public and private agricultural lands; that the implementation of the CARP is
undertaken jointly by the DAR and the DENR depending on whether the land is private or
public; that EO No. 129-A empowers the DAR to acquire private agricultural lands, whether
titled or untitled, for purposes of distribution under the CARP; and that the DENR is tasked
with the implementation of the CARP insofar as public agricultural lands are concerned
pursuant to its exclusive authority over all lands in the public domain.
You further state that there are approximately 26,440 hectares involving an estimated 15,760
farmer beneficiaries, and around 1,237 private claimants; and that a determination of the land's
legal status would thus not only have a direct bearing on which government agency shall
exercise jurisdiction in the distribution of the same under CARP but would serve as guide as
well to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) in the payment, if need be, for these untitled
private agricultural lands.
In answering your queries, we take the assumption that the untitled lands currently in
possession of the claimants are public agricultural lands which have already been declared as
disposable and alienable lands of the public domain in accordance with existing laws, rules
and regulations.
We answer your first query in the negative.

"1.

If the answer to the first query is in the affirmative, which agency has the
authority to determine who the owner is of the excess untitled area
obtained by acquisitive prescription in the context of the agrarian
reform process? Specifically, can such agency proceed with the
Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) coverage of such
property? DCcHAa

The provisions of the CA No. 141 or the Public Land Act, as amended, insofar as pertinent,
state: DcHSEa
"TITLE II
Agricultural Public Lands

"2.

"B.

If the answer to the immediately preceding query is in the affirmative,


will such agency likewise have the authority to recognize the ownership
of a possessor claiming ownership under Section 48(b) of C.A. 141,
considering that the doctrine in Heirs of Mario Malabanan v.
Republic 3 recognizes the right of ownership of such possessor upon the
lapse of thirty (30) years of possession and upon declaration of the
government that such land is alienable and disposable?
If the answer to the first query is in the negative, can the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) turn over the excess area
to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) as governmentowned/public land for distribution to CARP beneficiaries?"

You state that the 1987 Constitution 4 imposed an absolute limit of twelve (12) hectares of
public lands that may be acquired by private individuals; that Congress enacted Republic Act
(RA) No. 6940 on 28 March 1990 which provided for a limit of 12 hectares for the titling of
lands through judicial or administrative legalization of imperfect or incomplete title; that the
"doctrine of vested rights" under Balboa 5 and other cases 6 recognizes the grant of right of
ownership over the land, which may have an area exceeding 12 hectares, possessed and
occupied by a person for which he has complied with all the requirements for disposition
under the Public Land Act; and that there is no law or jurisprudence that decisively

"CHAPTER III
Forms of Concession of Agricultural Lands
"SECTION 11.
Public lands suitable for agricultural purposes can
be disposed of only as follows, and not otherwise:
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
(a)
(b)

For homestead settlement


By sale
By lease
By confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles:
By judicial legalization
By administrative legalization (free patent)."

In Martinez v. CA, 7 the Supreme Court explained that one claiming private rights as basis of
ownership must prove compliance with the Public Land Act which prescribes the substantive
as well as the procedural requirements for acquisition of public lands. 8
Each mode of disposition is appropriately covered by a separate chapter of the Public Land
Act and there are specific requirements and application procedures for every mode. Chapter

VII deals with administrative confirmation of imperfect title or free patents while Chapter VIII
deals with judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles.
As regards judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles, any citizen of the
Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such lands or an
interest therein may apply with the Regional Trial Court of the province where the land is
located for confirmation of his/her claim and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor under
the Property Registration Decree. Such applicants must, by themselves or through their
predecessors in interest, have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession
and occupation of alienable and disposable agricultural lands of the public domain, under
a bona fide claim of acquisition or ownership, since 12 June 1945, except when prevented by
war or force majeure, shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions
essential to a Government grant. 9
Under R.A. 9176, applications for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles must
be filed prior to 31 December 2020 10 and limited only to 12 hectares,consistent with Section
3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution that a private individual may only acquire not more
than 12 hectares of alienable and disposable land. This means that any application in excess of
12 hectares would be contrary to law and thus void ab initio. 11
As regards administrative confirmation of imperfect title, the law provides that the applicant
must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who is not the owner of more than 12
hectares and who, for at least 30 years prior to the effectivity of Republic Act No. 6940
amending the Public Land Act, has continuously occupied and cultivated, either by himself or
through his predecessor-in-interest, a tract or tracts of agricultural public land subject to
disposition, who shall have paid the real estate tax thereon while the same has not been
occupied by any person shall be entitled to a free patent over such land/s not to exceed 12
hectares. 12 TCSEcI
It must be stressed, at this juncture, that the acquisition of public land is subject to the
requirements 13 as well as limitations and maximum limit imposed under Sections 31 and 122
of the Public Land Act, thus:
"SECTION 31.
No person, corporation, association, or partnership
shall be permitted, after the approval of this Act, to acquire the title to
or possess as owner any lands of the public domain if such lands, added
to other lands belonging to such person, corporation, association, or
partnership shall give a total area greater than the area the acquisition of
which by purchase is authorized under this Act. Any excess in area over
this maximum and all right, title, interest, claim or action held by any
person, corporation, association, or partnership resulting directly or
indirectly in such excess shall revert to the State.
"xxx

xxx

transfer, assignment, or lease made in violation hereof, shall be null and


void."
xxx

xxx

xxx" 14

When the conditions specified in Section 48 (b) 15 of the Public Land Act are complied with,
the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, without the
necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public
domain, and beyond the authority of the director of lands to dispose of.The application for
confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the
title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of
said patent. 16 This means that once title to alienable public land passes to a private individual,
it is segregated from the lands of the public domain and becomes private land subject to the
rights of private ownership. Nevertheless, for reasons of public interest, the state may follow
such lands into private hands and impose limitations on them. One such limitation is found in
Section 122,supra, of the Public Land Act. 17
The Supreme Court held that Section 122 of the Public Land Act which allowed an individual
to acquire a maximum of 144 hectares of alienable public land has been amended by Section
11, Article XVI of the 1973 Constitution by reducing the said area to not more than 24
hectares. 18 This limitation has been further reduced to 12 hectares pursuant to Section 3,
Article XII of the Constitution and R.A. No. 9176. The constitutional intent, under the 1973
and 1987 Constitutions, is to transfer ownership of only a limited area of alienable land of the
public domain to a qualified individual. DICcTa
Having settled that the limitation is now 12 hectares, Section 31, supra, of the Public Land Act
is the applicable provision on the treatment of the excess area. To repeat, Section 31 provides
that any excess in area over this maximum and all right, title, interest, claim or action held by
any person, corporation, association, or partnership resulting directly or indirectly in such
excess shall revert to the State. This interpretation is in accord with the Regalian doctrine and
its concomitant assumption that all lands owned by the State, although declared alienable or
disposable, remain as such and ought to be used only by the Government. 19
In answer to your second query, we have held in the past 20 that the mode for distribution of
public agricultural lands that falls within the coverage of CARP is found in Section 15 of E.O.
No. 229, which is suppletory in application to R.A. No. 6657. Said provision states:
"SECTION 15.
Distribution and Utilization of Public Lands. All
alienable and disposable lands of the public domain suitable for
agriculture and outside proclaimed settlements shall be distributed by
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to
qualified beneficiaries as certified to jointly by the DAR and the
DENR."

xxx

"SECTION 122. Except in cases of hereditary succession, no land or


any portion thereof originally acquired under the free patent,
homestead, or individual sale provisions of this Act, or any permanent
improvement on such land, shall be transferred or assigned to any
individual, nor shall such land or any permanent improvement thereon
be leased to such individual, when the area of said land, added to that
of his own, shall exceed one hundred and forty-four hectares. Any

It appearing that it is the DENR which is clothed with the power to distribute the public
agricultural lands, we suggest that the DAR coordinate with the DENR on how to distribute
these lands to CARP beneficiaries.
Please be guided accordingly.

OPINION NO. 023, Series of 1995


March 17, 1995
Assistant Secretary Romulo D. San Juan
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Visayas Avenue, Diliman
Quezon City

a prior law delimiting the limits of the public domain, does not, and cannot, apply to those
lands of the public domain, denominated as "public forest" under the Revised Forestry Code,
which have not been previously determined, or classied, as needed for forest purposes
in accordance with the provisions of the Revised Forestry Code.Based on the foregoing
consideration, Opinion No. 169, s. 1993 is hereby claried accordingly.

Very truly yours,


DEMETRIO G. DEMETRIAActing Secretary

Sir:
This has reference to your request for reconsideration of this Department's Opinion No.
169, s. 1993 which answered in the afrmative the query raised by that Department as to
whether the prohibition in Section 4(a) of R.A. No. 6657 ("Comprehensive Agrarian
Reform Law [CARL] of 1988") against the reclassication of forest lands applies to
"unclassied public forest". This Department's aforesaid opinion is based on the premise
that since the CARL made reference to "forest lands" without any qualication and
considering that "forest lands" under the Revised Forestry Code (P.D. No. 705, as amended)
include public forest, forest reserves and permanent forest, the prohibition against the
reclassication of "forest lands" under the CARL should apply to unclassied public
forest. By way of reconsideration, however, you request us to take a second look stating that
under the Revised Forestry Code, the term "public forest" refers to the mass of the public
domain which has not been the subject of the present system of classication for the
determination of which lands are needed for forest purposes and which are not, and that
our Opinion No. 169, s. 1993 could not have obviously treated unclassied public forest
"as being included in the prohibition under the CARL" which is a prohibition against a
reclassication of forest lands, and not against a classication in the rst instance". We nd
your observations well-taken. The broad sweep of Opinion No. 169, s. 1993 needs to be
claried to obviate any misunderstanding as to its applicability.
Section 4(a) of the CARL provides: "Sec. 4(a) . . . No reclassication of forest or
mineral lands to agricultural lands shall be undertaken after the approval of this Act
until Congress, taking into account ecological, developmental and equity considerations,
shall have determined by law, the specic limits of the public domain The above quoted
provision prohibits the reclassication of forest lands (or mineral lands) to agricultural
lands until after Congress shall have, by law, determined the specic limits of the public
domain.Indeed, the key word to the correct application of the prohibition in Section 4(a) is the
word "reclassication". Where there has been no previous classication of public forest
[referring, we repeat, to the mass of the public domain which has not been the subject of
the present system of classication for purposes of determining which are needed for
forest purposes and which are not] into permanent forest or forest reserves or some other
forest uses under the Revised Forestry Code, there can be no "reclassication of forest lands"
to speak of within the meaning of Section 4(a).Thus, obviously, the prohibition in Section
4(a) of the CARL against the reclassication of forest lands to agricultural lands without