DOJ OPINION NO. 044, s. 1990
March 16, 1990
Secretary Florencio Abad
Department of Agrarian Reform
Diliman, Quezon City
S i r :
This refers to your letter of the 13th instant stating your "position that prior to the passage of R.A. 6657, the Department of Agrarian Reform had the authority to classify and declare which agricultural lands are suitable for non-agricultural purposes, and to approve or disapprove applications for conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses."
In support of the foregoing view, you contend that under R.A. No. 3844, as amended, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is empowered to "determine and declare an agricultural land to be suited for residential, commercial, industrial or some other urban purpose" and to "convert agricultural land from agricultural to non-agricultural purposes"; that P.D. No. 583, as amended by P.D. No. 815 "affirms that the conversion of agricultural lands shall be allowed only upon previous authorization of the [DAR]; with respect to tenanted rice and corn lands"; that a Memorandum of Agreement dated May 13, 1977 between the DAR, the Department of Local Government and Community Development and the then Human Settlements Commission "further affirms the authority of the [DAR] to allow or disallow conversion of agricultural lands"; that E.O. No. 129-A expressly invests the DAR with exclusive authority to approve or disapprove conversion of agricultural lands for residential, commercial, industrial and other land uses'; and that while in the final version of House Bill 400, Section 9 thereof provided that lands devoted to "residential, housing, commercial and industrial sites classified as such by the municipal and city development councils as already approved by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, in their respective zoning development plans" be exempted from the coverage of the Agrarian Reform program, this clause was deleted from Section 10 of the final version of the consolidated bill stating the exemptions from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
We take it that your query has been prompted by the study previously made by this Department for Executive Secretary Catalino Macaraig Jr. and Secretary Vicente Jayme (Memorandum dated February 14, 1990) which upheld the authority of the DAR to authorize conversions of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses as of June 15, 1988, the date of effectivity of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (R.A. No. 6657). it is your position that the authority of DAR to authorize such conversion existed even prior to June 15, 1988 or as early as 1963 under the Agricultural Land Reform Code (R.A. No. 3844; as amended).
It should be made clear at the outset that the aforementioned study of this Department was based on facts and issues arising from the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). While there is no specific and express authority given to DAR in the CARP law to approve or disapprove conversion of agricultural lands to non- agricultural uses, because Section 65 only refers to conversions effected after five years from date of the award, we opined that the authority of the DAR to approve or disapprove conversions of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses applies only to conversions made on or after June 15, 1988, the date of effectivity of R.A. No. 6657, solely on the basis of our interpretation of DAR's mandate and the comprehensive coverage of the land reform program. Thus, we said:
"Being vested with exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, it is believed to be the agrarian reform law's intention that any conversion of a private agricultural land to non- agricultural uses should be cleared beforehand by the DAR. True, the DAR's express power over land use conversion is limited to cases in which agricultural lands already awarded have, after five years, ceased to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes, or the locality has become urbanized and the land will have a greater economic value for residential, commercial or industrial purposes. But to suggest that these are the only instances when the DAR can require conversion clearances would open a loophole in the R.A. No. 6657, which every landowner may use to evade compliance with the agrarian reform program. Hence, it should logically follow from the said department's express duty and function to execute and enforce the said statute that any reclassification of a private land as a residential, commercial or industrial property should first be cleared by the DAR."
It is conceded that under the laws in force prior to the enactment and effective date of R.A. No. 6657, the DAR had likewise the authority, to authorize conversions of agricultural lands to other uses, but always in coordination with other concerned agencies. Under R.A. No. 3344, as amended by R.A. No. 6389, an agricultural lessee may, by order of the court, be dispossessed of his landholding if after due hearing, it is shown that the "landholding is declared by the [DAR] upon the recommendation of the National Planning Commission to be suited for residential, commercial, industrial or some other urban purposes."
Likewise, under various Presidential Decrees (P.D. Nos. 583, 815 and 946) which were issued to give teeth to the implementation of the agrarian reform program decreed in P.D. No. 27, the DAR was empowered to authorize conversions of tenanted agricultural lands, specifically those planted to rice and/or corn, to other agricultural or to non-agricultural uses, "subject to studies on zoning of the Human Settlements Commissions" (HSC). This non-exclusive authority of the DAR under the aforesaid laws was, as you have correctly pointed out, recognized and reaffirmed by other concerned agencies, such as the Department of Local Government and Community Development (DLGCD) and the then Human Settlements Commission (HSC) in a Memorandum of Agreement executed by the DAR and these two agencies on May 13, 1977, which is an admission that with respect to land use planning and conversions, the authority is not exclusive to any particular agency but is a coordinated effort of all concerned agencies.
It is significant to mention that in 1978, the then Ministry of Human Settlements was granted authority to review and ratify land use plans and zoning ordinance of local governments and to approve development proposals which include land use conversions (see LOI No. 729 ). This was followed by P.D. No. 648 (1981) which conferred upon the Human Settlements Regulatory Commission (the predecessors of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board [HLURB] the authority to promulgate zoning and other land use control standards and guidelines which shall govern land use plans and zoning ordinances of local governments, subdivision or estate development projects of both the public and private sector and urban renewal plans, programs and projects; as well as to review, evaluate and approve or disapprove comprehensive land use development plans and zoning components of civil works and infrastructure projects, of national, regional and local governments, subdivisions, condominiums or estate development projects including industrial estates.
P.D. No. 583, as amended by P.D. No. 815, and the 1977 Memorandum of Agreement, abovementioned, cannot therefore, be construed as sources of authority of the DAR; these issuances merely affirmed whatever power DAR had at the time of their adoption.
With respect to your observation that E.O. No. 129-A also empowered the DAR to approve or disapprove conversions of agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses as of July 22, 1987, it is our view that E.O. No. 129-A likewise did not provide a new source of power of DAR with respect to conversion but it merely recognized and reaffirmed the existence of such power as granted under existing laws. This is clearly inferrable from the following provision of E.O. No. 129-A to wit:
"Sec. 5. Powers and Functions. Pursuant to the mandate of the Department, and in order to ensure the successful implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the Department is hereby authorized to:
1) Have exclusive authority to approve or disapprove conversion of agricultural lands for residential, commercial, industrial and other land uses as may be provided by law" (Emphasis supplied.)
Anent the observation regarding the alleged deletion of residential, housing, commercial and industrial sites classified by the HLURB in the final version of the CARP bill, we fail to see how this circumstances could substantiate your position that DAR's authority to reclassify or approve conversions of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses already existed prior to June 15, 1988. Surely, it is clear that the alleged deletion was necessary to avoid a redundancy in the CARP law whose coverage is expressly limited to "all public and private agricultural lands" and "other lands of the public domain suitable for agriculture" (Sec. 4, R.A. No. 6657). Section 3(c) of R.A. No. 6657 defines "agricultural land" as that "devoted to agricultural activity as defined in the Act and not classified as mineral forest, residential, commercial or industrial land."
Based on the foregoing premises, we reiterate the view that with respect to conversions of agricultural lands covered by R.A. No. 6657 to non-agricultural uses, the authority of DAR to approve such conversions may be exercised from the date of the law's effectivity on June 15, 1988. This conclusion is based on a liberal interpretation of R.A. No. 6657 in the light of DAR's mandate and the extensive coverage of the agrarian reform program.
Very truly yours,
FRANKLIN M. DRILON