Authority to reclassify lands; primary, secondary

AUTHORITY TO CLASSIFY LANDS. (G.R. No. 229983, July 29, 2019)

Preliminarily, it must be pointed out that the classification of land as agricultural constitutes a primary classification. Section 3,[1] Article XII of the Constitution provides for the primary classification of lands of the public domain into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks.

Under the Public Land Act, the responsibility over primary classification of lands of the public domain is vested in the President who exercises such power upon the recommendation of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources[2] (DENR). By virtue of PD 705,[3] otherwise known as the "Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines," the President delegated to the DENR Secretary, among others, the power to classify unclassified lands of the public domain that are needed for forest purposes as permanent forest to form part of the forest reserves.[4]

The same provision of the Constitution also provides that agricultural lands of the public domain may be further classified according to the uses to which they may be devoted. This further classification of agricultural lands is referred to as secondary classification.[5]

The authority to reclassify agricultural lands into residential, commercial or industrial is lodged, among others, in cities and municipalities[6] (LGUs). Prior to the passage of the present Local Government Code of 1991, LGUs already have the power to reclassify agricultural into non-agricultural lands pursuant to Section 3[7] of RA 2264,[8] otherwise known as the "Local Autonomy Act of 1959," which empowered municipal and/or city councils to adopt zoning and subdivision ordinances or regulations in consultation with the National Planning Commission.

When city/municipal councils approve an ordinance delineating an area or district in their cities/municipalities as residential, commercial, or industrial zone pursuant to the power granted to them under the aforesaid provision, they are, at the same time, reclassifying any agricultural lands within the zone for non-agricultural use; hence, ensuring the implementation of and compliance with their zoning ordinances.[9] Pursuant to Letter of Instructions No. 729 dated August 9, 1978, LGUs were further required to submit their existing land use plans, zoning ordinances, and enforcement systems and procedures to the Ministry of Human Settlements for review, evaluation and approval, which functions were eventually devolved upon the Human Settlements Regulatory Commission (HSRC).[10]

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[1] Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 CONSTITUTION pertinently provides: Section 3. Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands and national parks. Agricultural lands of the public domain may be further classified by law according to the uses to which they may be devoted. Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands.

[2] Section 6 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, entitled "AN ACT TO AMEND AND COMPILE THE LAWS RELATIVE TO LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN," otherwise known as "The Public Land Act" (December 1, 1936), provides: Section 6. The President, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce [(now, DENR)], shall from time to time classify the lands of the public domain into — (a) Alienable or disposable, (b) Timber, and (c) Mineral lands, and may at any time and in a like manner transfer such lands from one class to another, for the purposes of their administration and disposition. The Department of Agriculture and Commerce (DAC) is now the DENR. See < http://r7.denr.gov.ph/index.php/about-us/history > (visited July 5, 2019).

[3] Entitled "REVISING PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 389, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE FORESTRY REFORM CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES" (May 19, 1975).[4] See Republic v. Roxas, 723 Phil. 279, 302 (2013).

[5] Hermoso v. CA, 604 Phil. 420, 428 (2009), citing Agrarian Law and Jurisprudence, Department of Agrarian Reform-United Nations Development Programme, 2000 ed., p. 6.

[6] Section 20 (a) of RA 7160, entitled "AN ACT PROVIDING FOR A LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE OF 1991," otherwise known as the "LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE OF 1991" (January 1, 1992), pertinently provides: Section 20. Reclassification of Lands. - (a) A city or municipality may, through an ordinance passed by the sanggunian after conducting public hearings for the purpose, authorize the reclassification of agricultural lands and provide for the manner of their utilization or disposition in the following cases: (1) when the land ceases to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes as determined by the Department of Agriculture or (2) where the land shall have substantially greater economic value for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes, as determined by the sanggunian concerned[.]

[7] Section 3. Additional Powers of Provincial Boards, Municipal Boards or City Councils and Municipal and Regularly Organized Municipal District Councils. - x x x. x x x x Power to adopt zoning and planning ordinances. - Any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, Municipal Boards or City Councils in cities, and Municipal Councils in municipalities are hereby authorized to adopt zoning and subdivision ordinances or regulations for their respective cities and municipalities subject to the approval of the City Mayor or Municipal Mayor, as the case may be. Cities and municipalities may, however, consult the National Planning Commission on matters pertaining to planning and zoning.

[8] Entitled "AN ACT AMENDING THE LAWS GOVERNING LOCAL GOVERNMENTS BY INCREASING THEIR AUTONOMY AND REORGANIZING PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS" (June 19, 1959).

[9] Heirs of Luna v. Afable.

[10] Under Section 5 (b) of Executive Order No. 648, entitled "REORGANIZING THE HUMAN SETTLEMENTS REGULATORY COMMISSION," otherwise known as the "CHARTER OF THE HUMAN SETTLEMENTS REGULATORY Commission" (February 7, 1981), the HSRC has the power and duty to: "[r]eview, evaluate and approve or disapprove comprehensive land use development plans and zoning ordinances of local government; and the zoning component of civil works and infrastructure projects of national, regional and local governments; subdivisions, condominiums or estate development projects including industrial estates, of both the public and private sectors and urban renewal plans, programs and projects: Provided, that the Land Use Development Plans and Zoning Ordinances of Local Governments herein subject to review, evaluation and approval of the commission shall respect the classification of public lands for forest purposes as certified by the Ministry of Natural Resources: Provided, further, that the classification of specific alienable and disposable lands by the Bureau of Lands shall be in accordance with the relevant zoning ordinance of Local government where it exists: and provided, finally, that in cities and municipalities where there are as yet no zoning ordinances, the Bureau of Lands may dispose of specific alienable and disposable lands in accordance with its own classification scheme subject to the condition that the classification of these lands may be subsequently changed by the local governments in accordance with their particular zoning ordinances which may be promulgated later."

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