DOJ OPINION NO. 077, s. 1962
July 9, 1962
Respectfully returned to the Executive Secretary, Malacañang, Manila. It appears that the Tondo Foreshore Land was reclaimed before the war by the Bureau of Public Works for the specific purpose of handling the increasing domestic shipping activities in the Port of Manila. As reclaimed land, it was entirely subject to the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in pursuance of the provisions of the Public Land Act.
However, in 1956, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 1597 which provides that —
"Notwithstanding the provisions of the Public Land Act, as amended, and Proclamation Numbered One hundred eighty-seven of the President of the Philippines, dated June seventeen, nineteen hundred fifty, the Director of Lands, under the direction of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is hereby authorized and directed to survey and subdivide immediately the lands in the District of Tondo, City of Manila, comprising what is known a the "Tondo Foreshore Land," which is bounded on the North by the Philippine Manufacturing Company compound up to Vitas (Government Tenement Houses); on the East by privately-owned parcels of land from the present Azcarraga Street extension to the Philippine Manufacturing Company compound at Bankusay Street extending to Vitas (Government Tenement Houses); on the south by the present Azcarraga Street extension; and on the west by that portion of the land three hundred meters from the pier line to the East, with the exception of such areas as are reserved by the Government for port facilities, roads and other public uses, into lots in such a manner that every lessee of any lot in said land or bona fide occupant of any parcel thereof will not be deprived of any part of the same, should he decide to buy it under this act. The Director of Land is hereby further directed to complete such survey and subdivision within one year from the date of the approval of this Act, after which said Director shall turn over all the pertinent records or papers of said survey and subdivision to the Land Tenure Administration which is hereby Authorized and directed to sell without delay and without the necessity of public the lots as subdivided to their respective lessees and bona fide occupants if they are duly qualified to acquired public lands at the time of the approval of Republic Act Numbered Five hundred fifty-nine, or, in the case of vacant lots, to persons who are not disqualified to acquire public lands' Provided, That those lessees and bona fide occupants who will be deprived of their lots or parcels of land by reason of the opening or widening of streets and alleys by virtue of the subdivision provided, shall be given preference, in the order mentioned, in the award or sale of the vacant lots' . . ." (Section 2)
Subsequently, by Republic Act No. 2439, the area to be subdivided was enlarged by pushing its western boundary toward the pier line, that is, "one hundred meters from the pier line to the East".
In the meantime, the Bureau of Lands commenced the survey and subdivision of the Tondo Foreshore Land, and leased an unsurveyed portion thereof, about 200 meters distant from the pier line, to the General Shipping Company.
The Land Tenure Administration having assailed the validity of the lease, opinion is now requested as to "what office, whether the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) or the Land Tenure Administration (LTA), has jurisdiction over the area alleged to be reserved as North Harbor Customs Zone (comprising a segment of the Tondo Foreshore Land extending up to 330 meters from the pier line) . . . and whether the Department has authority to lease a portion thereof to the General Shipping Company".
Resolution of these questions revolves around the meeting of the exception in the Tondo Foreshore Land Act, to wit' "with the exception of such areas as are reserved by the Government for port facilities, roads and other public uses". In this connection, one of three possible interpretations may be adopted.
1st Interpretation: That the exception covers such areas as were already formally reserved by the Government as of the time of the enactment of the Tondo Foreshore Land Act. This is the stand of the Land Tenure Administration.
2nd Interpretation: That the exception covers the entire portion of the Tondo Foreshore Land extending up to 330 meters from the pier line. This is the stand of the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Public Works.
3rd Interpretation: That the exception refers to areas (beyond 100 meters from the pier line) which may be reserved by the Government for port facilities, roads and other public uses.
The first interpretation does not seem to be warranted. For the time of the enactment of Republic Act No. 1597 in 1956 or its amendment in 1959, there was no existing reservation of any part of the Tondo Foreshore Land for port facilities, roads and other public uses. Said interpretation would therefore render the exception meaningless and inoperative, and would defeat the manifest intention of the law to leave out areas needed for the port facilities, roads and other public uses. Moreover, it should be noted that areas needed for port facilities and other public uses are placed under the same category as those areas needed for roads. As they law says, "with the exception of such areas as are reserved by the Government for port facilities, roads and other public uses". Now, if no area beyond 100 meters from the pier line can be retained for "port facilities" and "other public uses" on account of the absence of a formal reservation by the Government of said purposes when aforesaid laws were enacted , it should follow, for like reason, that even areas required for roads must be surveyed and turned over to the LTA for disposal. This however is absurd because a subdivision indispensably requires provision for roads.
Neither is there merit in the second interpretation. To construe the exception as referring to the entire portion of the Tondo Foreshore Land extending up to 330 meters from the pier line would be a clear subversion of the spirit behind the enactment of Republic Act Nos. 1597 and 2439, which were indubitably intended to enlarge the area to be sold to the tenants and occupants of the Tondo Foreshore Land.
I am therefore inclined to believe that the third interpretation is more in consonance with law. It is in keeping with the twin, basic objectives of the legislature in enacting Republic Acts No. 1597 and 2439, namely' to make provision for port facilities, roads and other public uses; and, at the same time, to broaden the area that will be made available to the LTA for sale to the landless. Incidentally, this interpretation was apparently adopted by the Office of the President when, in 1961, Proclamation No. 788 was issued reserving a part of the Tondo Foreshore Land "for the site of the Bonifacio Memorial Stadium".
In line with this view, the President, under the provisions of Section 83 of the Public Land Act, should determine and reserve the area beyond 100 meters from the pier line which are needed for port facilities, roads and other public uses. All areas thus reserved will remain under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands, which may deal with them in accordance with the provisions of the Public Land Act. The areas so reserved may not, however, be leased because under Section 88 of the Public Land Act, such reserved lands "shall be non-alienable and shall not be subject to occupation, entry, sale, lease, or other disposition until again declared alienable under the provisions of this Act or by proclamation of the President". On the other hand, all areas not so reserved will be under the jurisdiction of the Land Tenure Administration, if already surveyed and subdivided; otherwise, they will remain under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands but only for the limited purpose of surveying and subdividing them, without power to lease.
In the meantime, i.e., before such reservation is made by the President, jurisdiction over such areas as have not yet been surveyed and turned over to the LTA should be deemed to belong to the Bureau of Lands. Such jurisdiction however does not automatically carry with it the power to lease because under Section 61 of the Public Land Act, reclaimed lands become subject to lease only "as soon as the President, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, shall declare that the same are not necessary for public service ? are open to disposition under this chapter". Inasmuch as no such declaration was ever made by the President, the Tondo Foreshore Land has never become open to disposition under the Public Land Act, and accordingly, the lease of a portion thereof to the General Shipping Company must be deemed to have been made without authority of law and may be disregarded.
The questions are answered accordingly.
(SGD.) JUAN R. LIWAG
Secretary of Justice