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LGUs' power to reclassify

land helps landowners

evade CARP
Posted at Apr 14 2008 11:39 AM | Updated as of Apr 14 2008 07:39 PM

Newsbreak Investigative Reporting Fellow 2007
Im not a saint, a councilor in a municipality in Cavite said in Tagalog, I must admit we
often receive something for the boys.
The three-term councilor, who doesnt want to be identified, heads the committee on land
use of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB), which approves the applications of landowners and
developers to reclassify agricultural lands to commercial or residential use.
The bribe causes less guilt in the councilor because it would only come after the
application for reclassification has been approved. Its therefore just an act of gratitude,
the local official said, because the local legislators expedited the approval of the
developers applications.
It will be difficult to justify taking this the land reclassification powers lightly if one would
look at the numbers. In Dasmarias, almost 90 percent of applications for land
reclassification in the municipality are approved, according to Moises Menguito, zoning
officer of the Municipal Planning and Development Coordination (MPDC). This has left
Dasmarias, originally an agricultural town, with only 30 percent of its lands classified as
The reclassification will pave the way for land conversion.
Biggest Conversions

Going by Dasmariass experience, the area of land that has been taken away from
potential farmer-beneficiaries could be enough to make the governments Comprehensive
Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) a failure.
The province of Cavite, where Dasmarias is located, has the second largest total area of
land that has been converted from agricultural use or completely exempted from agrarian
reform. The province with the largest land area taken away from CARP coverage is
Cavite and Laguna are in Region 4-A, which is second only to Central Luzon in the
expanse of land that was excused from agrarian reform.
The Local Government Code of 1991, in Section 20, gives local government units (LGUs)
the power to reclassify lands in their jurisdiction. This paved the way for the urbanization of
agricultural communities and, as a consequence, has driven farmers away from their land
and their main source of livelihood.
Under Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), farmers
have the right to oppose the conversion of the lands they till. Experience has shown,
however, that local and higher courts, even the Supreme Court, usually uphold the
reclassification orders given by LGUs. Farmers have no option but to leave the lands they
till in exchange for disturbance compensation.
Reclassification Process

Menguito of Dasmarias said in an interview that the reclassification process starts with a
land use plan prepared by the MPDC and the committee on land use of the Sangguniang
Bayan. This will be presented to the SB, which, in turn, will pass a zoning ordinance
covering a given period.
Once the zoning ordinance is approved in the municipality level, it will be elevated to the
Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP), which will approve the land use plan with finality. Only
after the approval of the provincial board can the landowners or developers apply for
reclassification of their agricultural land.
The application is approved by the mayor and SB, which is chaired by the vice mayor.
The reclassified land will then be applied for conversion to other uses, or for exemption
from agrarian reform. The application should be filed with the Department of Agrarian
Reform (DAR).
All lands reclassified before June 15, 1988the effectivity of CARPshall apply for
DOJ Opinion

The process of conversion was made easier by Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon during
President Corazon Aquinos time. In 1990, Drilon issued Department of Justice (DOJ)
Opinion No. 44 that says all lands reclassified before the effectivity of CARP shall be
exempted from coverage. On the other hand, all lands reclassified after the effectivity of
CARP shall be applied for conversion. (Click here to read DOJ Opinion No. 44 Series of
Marcelita Ramos, Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) of Dasmarias, said the
DAR has approved the exemption of 1,109.721 hectares and the conversion of 63.8146
hectares in their municipality from 1990 to 2007.
Statistics from the DARs Center for Land Use Policy, Planning and Implementation
(CLUPPI) shows that 2,439.4748 hectares in Cavite have been approved for exemption,
while 5,647.3643 hectares have been approved for conversion as of December 2007.
CLUPPI identified Central Luzon (covering the provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan,
Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales) and Calabarzon (covering the provinces
of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) as the two regions with the most number
of hectares exempted from the agrarian reform program.
In these regions, according to CLUPPI records, 22,900.3421 hectares of agricultural lands
have been exempted from CARP coverage by virtue of DOJ Opinion No. 44.
The two regions proximity to Metro Manila explains the large tracts of land exempted from
CARP, said lawyer Ma. Liza Resurreccion, CLUPPI secretariat head. The lands have been
converted to either residential or commercial use because the two regions are host to
special economic zones, low and medium cost subdivisions, and major highways.
Agrarian reform lawyer Jobert Pahilga, however, said that actual use of the land is not
given much weight in land reclassification and this often leads to controversy and legal
conflict. Landholdings actually used for agricultural purposes are excluded from CARP
coverage simply because they have been reclassified prior to the effectivity of the agrarian
reform law, he said.
Higher Value

Menguito admits that commercial and residential properties are more profitable compared
to agricultural lands.
Thelma de Leon, assistant assessor in Cavite, said that, from 2006 to 2007, the highly
urbanized municipalities of Dasmarias and General Trias had the highest revenues in
terms of assessed land value. The municipality of General Aguinaldo had the lowest
assessed land value.
In 1997, the lowest market value of land in Dasmarias stood at P205/sq.m. while the
highest was at P1,000/ sq.m., as compared to the municipality of General Aguinaldo,
where the lowest value only stood at P60/sq. m. while the highest was only P205/sq.m.
In 2000, the lowest market value of land in Dasmarias stood at P255/sq. m. while the
highest was at P1,500/sq. m., as compared to General Aguinaldo, where the lowest value
per square meter only stood at P65, while the highest was only P210/sq. m.
Farmers lose Cases

Expectedly, farmers who are occupying and tilling the lands reject the lands exclusions
from CARP coverage.
Section 16 of DAR Administrative Order No. 1 Series of 2002 (Comprehensive Rules on
Land Use Conversion) provides that persons affected by the land conversion may file a
written protest against the application.
Agrarian lawyer Annalyn Dolor Jubillo, former Agrarian Reform Officer II in Cavite and Trial
Attorney 5 in the province of Quezon, however, said that most of the cases involving
reclassification have been decided in favor of the landowners. In fact, in all the cases that
Ive handled, the farmers lost, she said in an interview.
Jubillo worked for DAR for 14 years since 1989.
The land use plan of the province of Cavite for 2010 confirms this. Section 15.2.1 (Land
Use Issues) states that conversion of prime lots to urban and industrial uses has resulted
in limited land devoted to agricultural production. Farmers also lament of the high cost of
production while farm gate prices tend to be low especially during peak months of
harvesting, thus making farming a less profitable economic activity. This is also one
reason of the farmers to sell their land and shift to other sources of livelihood.
Jubillo said that even the DAR has influenced the farmers to abandon their lands and just
demand higher disturbance compensation fees from the landowners or developers. This
happened during the term of DAR Sec. Ernesto Garillao who, Jubillo said, had asked for
amounts ranging from P500,000 to P1.5 million per hectare in disturbance compensation.
In Dasmarias alone, the MARO said, 578.6228 were exempted while 24.6574 hectares
were converted during Garilaos term (1992 to 1998), affecting 337 farmers. As of July
2007, the total 603.2802 hectares affected during Garilaos term is more than half of the
total 1173.536 hectares exempted and converted in the province. Some 480 farmers will
be affected.
High Court Approval

When reclassification or conversion cases are brought to the Supreme Court, these are
generally decided in favor of the landowners and business interests.
Six cases decided by the high court from June 2000 to March 2006 resulted in the
conversion of some 5,308 hectares in Batangas, Rizal, Davao, Masbate, Laguna, and
In Nasugbu, Batangas, 1,837 hectares were excluded from CARP when, in June 2000,
the high court upheld earlier orders of two DAR secretaries that the landholdings have
been reclassified as tourist zones and thus were beyond land reform coverage.
In Jala-jala, Rizal, 112 hectares were awarded to a private entity when, in October 2000,
the high court upheld a decision of the Court of Appeals denying coverage by virtue of
DAR Administrative Order No. 6, series of 1994, and DOJ Opinion No. 44.
In October 2005, in Aroroy, Masbate, 3,020 hectares were excluded from CARP when the
high court ruled that DAR Administrative Order No. 9, series of 1993, is unconstitutional.
The decision followed an earlier landmark decision (Luz Farms vs. DAR Secretary)
excluding land holdings being used for livestock production from the scope of CARP.
In the Cavite and Laguna cases, the reclassification and subsequent exclusion of the land
holdings in question was upheld by the high court.