DOJ OPINION NO. 041, s. 1992
April 2, 1992
Secretary Benjamin T. Leong
Department of Agrarian Reform
Elliptical Road, Diliman
S i r :
This refers to your request for opinion regarding the application/interpretation of the fourth paragraph of Section 6 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (R.A. No. 6657), which reads:
"Upon the effectivity of this Act, any sale, disposition, lease, management contract or transfer of possession of private lands executed by the original landowner in violation of this Act shall be null and void; Provided, however, that those executed prior to this Act shall be valid only when registered with the Register of Deeds within a period of (3) months after the effectivity of this Act. Thereafter, all Registers of Deeds shall inform the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) within thirty (30) days of any transaction involving agricultural lands in excess of five (5) hectares." (Italics supplied).
You state that your office has received numerous voluntary offers to sell from landowners whose claim of ownership over the agricultural property involved is founded upon deeds of sale executed prior to June 15, 1988, the effectivity date R.A. 6657; that, however, these documents of sale have remained unregistered even after three months from the said cut-off date and by reason thereof, your Office is unable to issue the required clearance for registration; that the purpose of the aforequoted provision of law is to prevent antedating of land transactions that may circumvent coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program ("CARP"), hence if the new landowner offers his newly-acquired property, the said circumvention is averted; and that the Land Registration Authority has expressed the view that in the instance where land titles are issued after three-month period, "the titleholder may be regarded as the owner of the property because (1) the title has not been annulled, and (2) there is no intention to circumvent the law as in fact the property is freely offered for CARP coverage".
We find the above view tenable.
As you correctly pointed out, the reason behind the abovequoted statutory provision is to prevent any landowner from resorting to any alienation scheme for his land area to avoid inclusion of his property under the CARP. Thus, while a literal application of the said provision would mean that land transfers registered after the three-month period is questionable, the spirit of, and the reason behind, the statutory provision is satisfied in the instance where the said landowner offers his property for CARP coverage. For, in such a situation, the mischief sought to be avoided by the legal provision in issue does not exist and therefore and legal requirement prescribed therein does not came in to play.
Moreover, as the Land Registration Authority correctly argued in its opinion adverted to above —
"To hold otherwise will result in a complex situation where the initial sale or conveyance will have to be rescinded with both parties under the contract returning that which they received, the title to the property reverting back to the vendor who, in turn, will transfer the same to DAR. Since in the final analysis the property will end up in DAR's hands anyway, we believe that it was not the intention of the law to absolutely treat as null and void the sale or alienation of private agricultural lands executed prior to June 15, 1988 and registered beyond three months thereafter if the transferee under the sale is willing to place the land under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program".
The pertinent rules of statutory construction state —
"When the interpretation of a statute according to the exact and literal import of its words would lead to absurd and mischievous consequences, or would thwart or contravene the manifest purpose of the legislature in its enactment, it should be construed according to its spirit and reason disregarding or modifying so far as may be necessary, the strict letter of the law."
"In accordance with this principle, the courts have power to declare that a case which falls within the letter of a statute is not governed by the statute because it is not within the spirit and reason of the law and the plain intention of the legislature." (Black, Statutory Construction cited in Gonzaga, Statutes and their Construction, 1969 Ed., p. 79)
"If to construe a statute according to be exact and literal import of the words would lead to absurdity, its letter may be disregarded to follow the reason for its enactment" (Lopez vs. Court of Appeals, L-9274, February 1, 1957)
Accordingly, it is believed that it is legally proper for that Department to give clearance for the registration of titles of agricultural properties acquired prior to the effectivity of R.A. No. 6657, which were not registered within the three month period after such effectivity in cases where the said properties are voluntarily offered for sale to that Department of purposes of CARP coverage.
Very truly yours,
EDUARDO G. MONTENEGRO