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DAR vs Sarangani G.R. No.

165547, January 24, 2007 Petitioner: DAR Respondents: Sarangani Agricultural Co Inc, ACIL Corporation, Nicasio Alcantara and Tomas Alcantara Ponente: Azcuna Facts: The Sangguniang Bayan of Alabel, Sarangani passed Resolution No. 97-08 adopting a 10 year comprehensive development plan of the municipality and its land use. On January 30, 1998, pursuant to Municipal Zoning Ordinance No. 08, Series of 1997, and to accelerate the development and urbanization of Alabel, the Sangguniang Bayan of Alabel passed Resolution No. 98-03 reclassifying lots that were located within the built-up areas, based on the 1995-2005 Land Use Plan of the municipality, from agricultural to nonagricultural uses. Later, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Sarangani approved Resolution No. 98-018 or the Resolution Adopting the Ten-Year Municipal Comprehensive Development Plan (MCDP 1995-2205) and the Land Use Development Plan and Zoning Ordinance of the Municipality of Alabel, Sarangani Per Resolution No. 97-08 and Municipal Ordinance No. 97-08, S. of 1997 of the Sangguniang Bayan of Alabel. A portion of the area involving 376.5424 hectares, however, was covered by the CARP commercial farms deferment scheme. The Zoning Certification issued by the office of the Municipal Planning and Development Council (MPDC) showed that respondents properties located at Barangay Maribulan, Alabel were among those reclassified from agricultural and pasture land to residential, commercial institutional, light industrial and open space in the 1995-2005 land use plan of Alabel. The respondent then field an application for land use conversion of certain parcels of land. Meanwhile, members of the Sarangani Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (SARBAI) sent a letterpetition to the DAR Secretary oppposing the application for land use conversion filed by SACI. SARBAI alleged that its members were merely forced to sign the waiver of rights, considering that the commercial farm deferment period ended on June 15, 1998. Later, the PLUTC agreed to recommend the disapproval of a portion of a property which was still viable for agriculture. The conversion was deferred subject to the submission of certain requirements. Later, the DAR Secretary denied SACI s application for land use conversion. On November 9, 2000, DAR Secretary Horacio R. Morales, Jr. denied SACI s application for land use conversion. SACI appealed to the Office of the President. The Office of the President dismissed the appeal and affirmed in toto the challenged DAR Orders. Respondents motion for reconsideration was denied, so they filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for review raising substantially the same issues. The CA granted the petition and ordred DAR to issue a conversion order. As to the deferred portion, DAR was directed to expedite the processing and evaluation of petitioner s application. Issue: WON a notice of coverage is an indispensable requirement for the acquisition of land Held: No, Under the circumstances, a notice of coverage is not an indispensable requirement before DAR can acquire the subject lots or commercial farms, which are covered by a deferment period under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) or R.A. No 6657 upon its effectivity on June 15, 1998 Issue: WON the DAR should use the comprehensive land use plans and ordinance of the local sanggunian as primary reference Held: Yes, Section 20 of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, empowers the local government units to reclassify agricultural lands. Memorandum Circular No. 54 Prescribing the Guidelines Governing Section 20 of R.A. No. 7160 Otherwise Known as the Local Government Code of 1991 Authorizing Cities and Municipalities to Reclassify Agricultural Lands Into Non-Agricultural Uses issued by President Ramos on June 8, 1993 specified the scope and limitations on the power of the cities and

municipalities to reclassify agricultural lands into other uses. It provided that all ordinances authorizing reclassification of agricultural lands shall be subject to the review and approval of the province in the case of component cities or municipalities, or by the HLURB for highly urbanized or independent component cities in accordance with Executive Order No. 72, Series of 1993. Hence, with regard to agricultural lands that have been reclassified for non-agricultural uses by the local government unit concerned, the CA is correct in declaring that DAR should refer to the comprehensive land use plans and the ordinances of the Sanggunian in assessing land use conversion applications, thus:
Construing Sec. 20 of the Local Government Code and the subsequent administrative issuances implementing the same, we are of the opinion that while the DAR retains the responsibility for approving or disapproving applications for land use conversion filed by individual landowners on their landholdings, the exercise of such authority should be confined to compliance with the requirements and limitations under existing laws and regulations, such as the allowable percentage of agricultural [area] to be reclassified, ensuring sufficient food production, areas non-negotiable for conversion and those falling under environmentally critical areas or highly restricted for conversion under the NIPAS law. Definitely, the DAR s power in such cases may not be exercised in such a manner as to defeat the very purpose of the LGU concerned in reclassifying certain areas to achieve social and economic benefits in pursuit of its mandate towards the general welfare. Precisely, therefore, the DAR is required to use the comprehensive land use plans and accompanying ordinances of the local Sanggunian as primary references in evaluating applications for land use conversion filed by individual landowners. In this case, petitioners have already complied with the standard requirements laid down under the applicable rules and regulations of the DAR....

The conversion of agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses shall be strictly regulated and may be allowed only when the conditions prescribed under R.A. No. 6657 are present. In this regard, the Court agrees with the ratiocination of the CA that DAR s scope of authority in assessing land use conversion applications is limited to examining whether the requirements prescribed by law and existing rules and regulations have been complied with. This holds true in the present case where, because of the creation of the Province of Sarangani and in view of its thrust to urbanize, particularly its provincial capital which is the Municipality of Alabel, the local government has reclassified certain portions of its land area from agricultural to non-agricultural. Thus, to reiterate, in accordance with E.O. No. 72, Series of 1993, and subject to the limitations prescribed by law, DAR should utilize the comprehensive land use plans in evaluating the land use conversion application of respondents whose lands have already been reclassified by the local government for non-agricultural uses. This is not to say, however, that every property of respondents which is included in the comprehensive land use plan of the Municipality of Alabel shall be automatically granted non-coverage. As mentioned earlier, said application is subject to the limitations and conditions prescribed by law. One such limitation that is present here is that a portion of respondents property of 376.5424 hectares, a portion totaling 154.622 [or 154.1622] hectares which are planted to bananas and coconuts, are covered by CARL s ten-year deferment scheme, which has expired on June 15, 1998. By law, these lands are subject to redistribution to CARP beneficiaries upon the lapse of the ten-year period, counted from the date of the effectivity of the CARL or R.A. No. 6657 on June 15, 1988, which was way before the creation of the Province of Sarangani and the eventual reclassification of the agricultural lands into non-agricultural in the Municipality of Alabel where respondents properties are located. In short, the creation of the new Province of Sarangani, and the reclassification that was effected by the Municipality of Alabel did not operate to supersede the applicable provisions of R.A. No. 6657. Moreover, Section 20 of the LGC of 1991 on the reclassification of lands explicitly states that [n]othing in this section shall be construed as repealing, amending or modifying in any manner the provisions of R.A. No. 6657. Thus, where the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no room for interpretation. There is only room for application.