Jurisdiction over applications for exemption (DOJ opinion No. 44, s. 1990)

JURISDICTION OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM (DAR) SECRETARY OVER APPLICATIONS FOR EXEMPTION PURSUANT TO DOJ OPINION NO. 44, SERIES OF 1990. (G.R. No. 229983, July 29, 2019)

It is settled that jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred by law.

The determination of the land's classification as agricultural or non-agricultural (e.g., industrial, residential, commercial, etc.) and, in turn, whether or not the land falls under agrarian reform exemption, must be preliminarily threshed out before the DAR,[1] particularly, the DAR Secretary,[2] pursuant to DAR AO No. 6, Series of 1994.[3]

Verily, issues of exclusion or exemption partake the nature of Agrarian Law Implementation (ALI) cases which are well within the competence and jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary. Towards this end, the latter is ordained to exercise his legal mandate of excluding or exempting a property from CARP coverage based on the factual circumstances of each case and in accordance with the law and applicable jurisprudence. Thus, considering too his technical expertise on the matter, courts cannot simply brush aside his pronouncements regarding the status of the land in dispute, i.e., as to whether or not it falls under CARP coverage.[4]

DAR AO No. 6, Series of 1994 vests in the DAR Secretary the authority to grant or deny the issuance of exemption clearances on the basis of Section 3 (c) of RA 6657, as amended, and DOJ Opinion No. 44, Series of 1990.

Section 3 (c) of RA 6657, as amended defines agricultural land, thus:

(c) Agricultural Land refers to land devoted to agricultural activity as defined in this Act and not classified as mineral, forest, residential, commercial or industrial land. (Underscoring supplied)On the other hand, DOJ Opinion No. 44, Series of 1990 provides that all lands that have already been classified as commercial, industrial or residential before June 15, 1988 no longer need any conversion clearance from the DAR in order to be exempt from CARP coverage.[5] However, an exemption clearance from the DAR, pursuant to DAR AO No. 6, Series of 1994, is still necessary to confirm or declare their exempt status.[6]

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[1] See DAR v. CA, 718 Phil. 232, 248 (2013). See also Section 2, Rule I of DAR AO No. 03, Series of 2003, Re: 2003 Rules for Agrarian Law Implementation Cases, known as the "2003 RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR ALI CASES" (2003 ALI Rules), issued on January 16, 2003.

[2] Under DAR AO No. 6, Series of 1994, the application is filed with the proper DAR Regional Office which shall thereafter conduct a joint investigation with the duly authorized representatives of the Provincial and Municipal Offices of the DAR that have jurisdiction over the property. The investigation report shall then be forwarded to the Regional Director who shall prepare the Order for denial or grant of the exemption clearance. The exemption folder, together with the draft order, shall, in turn, be forwarded to the Legal Affairs Office of the DAR Central Office for its review, and then transmitted to the Office of the Secretary for signing.

[3] Section 12, Rule III of the 2003 ALI Rules excepts applications for land use conversion and exemption/exclusion from CARP coverage, and specified that they shall be" governed by the special procedures therefor, which in this case is DAR AO No. 6, Series of 1994.

[4] See DAR v. CA, supra note 53, at 248.

[5] In Natalia Realty, Inc. v. DAR (G.R. No. 103302, August 12, 1993, 225 SCRA 278, 283), the Court ruled that lands already classified for residential, commercial or industrial use in town plans and zoning ordinances as approved by the HLURB and its precursor agencies prior to June 15, 1988 are outside the coverage of the CARP.

[6] See Agrarian Reform Law and Jurisprudence (A DAR-UNDP SARDIC Publication). < http://www.lis.dar.gov.ph/documents/9269 > (visited July 5, 2019).
In Heirs of Lima v. Afable (702 Phil. 146, 170 [2013]), the Court had the occasion to declare that:

Such exemption clearance does not mean that the DAR Secretary is exempting the land from CARL [(Referring to RA 6657)] coverage, with the implication that the land was previously covered; it simply means that the CARL itself has, from the start, excluded the land from CARL coverage, and the DAR Secretary is only affirming such fact.

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