DOJ OPINION NO. 011, s. 2004
February 3, 2004
Hon. Roberto Pagdanganan
Department of Agrarian Reform
Elliptical Road, Diliman
S i r :
This has reference to your request for clarification/definitive opinion on issues in connection with the official Position of the Department of Justice on House Resolution No. 1165 entitled, "Resolution Directing the Committee on Natural Resources, the Committee on Agrarian Reform and Other Appropriate Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Inquiry, in Aid of Legislation into an Intended Distribution of 1,700 Hectares of Timberland Located at the Inagawan Sub-Colony of Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, without any Congressional Action to Convert the Subject Land from Timberland into Alienable and Disposable Land in Violation of Other Pertinent Environmental Laws."
Specifically, clarification/opinion is requested on the following issues:
1. Whether the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is right in interpreting that only the timberland component of the 1,700 hectares (i.e., watershed area with high density acacia trees) may not be covered under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as quoted in DAR's Position Paper.
2. Is there still a need to convert or reclassify the 1,700-hectare subject landholding into alienable or disposable land for agricultural purposes by another specific act of the President or Congress notwithstanding that there are already Presidential Issuances to that effect, that is Executive Order No. 407, as amended by E.O. Nos. 448 and 506, and, that, no less than the Department of Justice itself, pursuant to said Executive issuances, had executed a Memorandum of Agreement and Deed of Transfer in favor of DAR for the distribution of the 1,700-hectare landholding to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries?
3. If the answer in No. 2 above is in the affirmative, what will happen now to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and Deed of Transfer (DOT) executed by and between the DOJ and DAR on 14 March 1994 pursuant to Executive Order Nos. 407, 448 and 506 where it was agreed upon that the 1,700-hectare portion of the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm be transferred to DAR for distribution to qualified Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries under the CARP (with priority to former inmates and retired employees of the Bureau of Corrections, if qualified)? Will they be rendered inoperative/nugatory and/or null and void? We believe they should not.
We answer the first query in the negative.
First and foremost, it bears emphasis that in the said letter dated 23 June 2003, which spells out the official Position of this Department on the subject matter at hand, we specifically cited the pertinent provisions of the 1987 Constitution which read:
"SEC. 2. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. . . .
SEC. 3. Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands and national parks. Agricultural lands of public domain may further be classified by law according to the uses to which they may be devoted. Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands . . ."
Thus, we opined, and hereby reiterate our official position that —
"[A]s could be gleaned from the above-quoted constitutional provisions, only agricultural lands of the public domain may be alienated. All others are inalienable. These same constitutional provisions, with particular reference to forest land have been interpreted by the Supreme Court in that land must be first released from its classification as forest and reclassified as agricultural land. The classification of public land is an executive prerogative of the executive department of the government. A property continues to be part of the public domain, not available for private appropriation or ownership until there is a formal declaration on the part of the government to withdraw it from being such. A positive act of the government is needed to declassify a forest into alienable and disposable for agricultural or other purposes.
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It bears emphasis that even the amendatory Executive Order No. 506, supra, does not include national parks and other protected areas, and all existing and proposed National Parks, Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuaries, Wildlife Reserves, Wilderness Areas and Other Protected Areas, including old growth or virgin forests, and all forests above 1,000 meters or above 50 percent slope from the segregation, acquisition and distribution procedures as originally contemplated in E.O. No. 407. It only goes to show that it is not the intention of the said Presidential Issuance to include such natural resources in its coverage, which necessarily include timberland." (Emphasis supplied)
Regarding the second query, it is believed that the issue embraced therein had been sufficiently addressed in our aforementioned official Position on the matter, thus —
"While E.O. No. 448, which appears or may be considered to be the executive fiat as required by law, effectively withdrew from the reservation, the lands or portions of the Inagawan Sub colony of Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, it did not, however, have the effect of converting automatically the timberland component as an agricultural land. It bears emphasis that the withdrawal from the reservation pertains only to lands or portions of the reservations suitable for agriculture and no longer actually, directly and exclusively used or necessary for the purpose for which they have been reserved. The classification of the land is descriptive of its legal nature or status and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like. Hence, the fact that the timberland component of the subject reservation may look like or appear to be suited for agricultural purposes does not in any way affect its present classification as timberland, unless there is clear and convincing basis that the same has been withdrawn from its present classification. The said E.O., therefore, is not sufficient and cannot be taken to have converted the subject timberland into agricultural land." (Emphasis supplied)
In the light of the foregoing, there is no need to answer the third query. However, and for purposes of clarification, we find it necessary to reiterate the pertinent portions of the official Position of this Department, viz.:
"In Sta. Rosa Realty Development Corporation vs. Court of Appeals 1, the High Court has emphasized the importance of natural resources in the following fashion:
'Sta. Rosa Realty gives us a glimpse of the dangers posed by the misuse of natural resources such as watershed reservations which all akin to forest zones. Population growth and industrialization have taken a heavy toll on the environment. Environmental degradation and unchecked human activities could wreak havoc on the lives of the present and future generations. Hence, by constitutional fiat, natural resources remain to this day inalienable properties of the State.' (Emphasis supplied)
Moreover, to allow the distribution of the timberland component would be contrary to or inconsistent with the policy declared under Republic Act No. 7611 2, to wit:
'Section 2. Declaration of Policy. — It is hereby declared the policy of the State to protect, develop and conserve its natural resources. Towards this end, it shall assist and support the implementation of plans, programs and projects formulated to preserve and enhance the environment, and at the same time pursue socio-economic development goals of the country.
It shall support and promote the sustainable development goals for the province through proper conservation, utilization, and development of natural resources to provide optimum yields on a continuing basis. With specific reference to forest resources, the State shall pursue and implement forest conservation and protection through the imposition of a total commercial logging ban as hereinafter provided.' (Emphasis supplied)
The said law adopts a comprehensive framework for the sustainable development of Palawan compatible with protecting and enhancing the natural resources and endangered environment of the province. Such framework, known as the "Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan", shall serve as a guide for the local government of Palawan and the government agencies concerned in the formulation and implementation of plans, programs and projects affecting said province.
It is likewise noteworthy that R.A. No. 6657, supra, has suspended the authority of the President to reclassify forest or mineral lands into agricultural lands. It specifically provides that, "[N]o reclassification of forest or mineral lands to agricultural lands shall be undertaken after the approval of this Act until Congress, taking into account ecological, development and equity considerations shall have delimited by law, the specific limits of the public domain."
The limitations imposed upon the power of the President to reclassify lands of the public domain under R.A. No. 6657 is consistent with the provisions of the Constitution which states that:
'The Congress shall, as soon as possible, determine by law the specific limits of forest lands and national parks, marking clearly their boundaries on the ground. Thereafter, such forest lands and national parks shall be conserved and may not be increased or diminished. The Congress shall provide, for such periods as it may determine, measures to prohibit logging in endangered forests and watershed areas."' 3
Please be guided accordingly.
Very truly yours,
(SGD.) MA. MERCEDITAS N. GUTIERREZ
1. G.R. No. 112526, October 12, 2001
2. "An Act Adopting the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan, Creating the Administrative Machinery for its Implementation, Converting the Palawan Integrated Area Development Project Office to its Support Staff, Providing Funds Therefore, and For Other Purposes."
3. Section 4, Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony)