MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is poised to turn over responsibility for almost 60,000 hectares of untitled private agricultural lands to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), an official said.
Based on the DAR’s database, these lands are portions of some 6,414 landholdings spread more than 74,733 untitled private agricultural lands that are in excess of 12 ha.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) legal opinion recently stated that landholdings above 12 ha should revert to the state and “these can be distributed by the DENR to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries as certified jointly by the DAR and the DENR.”
In a statement, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes clarified that this does not mean that the 66,837 ha to be turned over to the DENR for possible distribution would no longer be covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms or Carper.
The change only applies to the agency in charge of acquiring and distributing such lands—in this case, the DENR.
“Thus, the bulk of the more than 74,000 ha of untitled agricultural lands will still end up with farmer-beneficiaries,” De los Reyes said, correcting earlier reports that those lands were to be removed from Carper coverage.
“Whether these lands fall under the jurisdiction of the DAR or DENR, the objective remains the same: distribute them to actual tillers or landless farmers,” he added.
The DAR is tasked with distributing private agricultural lands and government-owned lands in proclaimed settlements, while the DENR distributes alienable and disposable public lands suitable for agriculture. Included in the lands to be distributed by DAR are the untitled private agricultural lands.
But a DOJ opinion sought by the DAR indicated that the DAR was not responsible for the disposition of untitled private agricultural lands in excess of 12 ha, De los Reyes said.
Under the Constitution and the Public Lands Act, as amended, a person can claim not more than 12 ha of untitled lands, according to the DOJ opinion. “It is for this reason that a person can only claim to be a landowner of not more than 12 ha of untitled private agricultural lands. Anything beyond this is publicly owned,” under the DENR’s jurisdiction, De los Reyes said.
“In effect, the DOJ opinion states that while the DAR remains the agency responsible for distributing untitled private agricultural lands which are 12 ha and below, in cases of this class of landholdings which are beyond 12 ha, the DENR will be responsible for distributing the area in excess of 12 ha since this portion is technically public agricultural land,” he said.
However, De los Reyes said, agrarian reform beneficiaries of lands awarded by the DENR need not pay amortization and will need to shell out only a minimal payment under miscellaneous sales or sales patent.
The DAR sought the DOJ opinion after the Land Bank of the Philippines pointed out that it could not put value to portions of untitled private agricultural lands in excess of 12 ha which were being acquired by the DAR for distribution.
The balance of untitled private agricultural lands totaling 7,896 ha will continue to be acquired and distributed by the DAR.
Under Carper coverage, only five hectares of land can be retained by any individual, corporation, association or partnership currently in possession of untitled private agricultural lands that are 12 ha and below.
De los Reyes said DAR and DENR officials have agreed to meet at the soonest possible time to discuss the mechanics of distribution of untitled private agricultural lands.