CREBA vs. Sec. of Agrarian Reform, GR 183409, June 18, 2010

Fact:

The Secretary of Agrarian Reform issued, on 29 October 1997, DAR AO No. 07-97,3 entitled “Omnibus Rules and Procedures Governing Conversion of Agricultural Lands to Non-Agricultural Uses,” which consolidated all existing implementing guidelines related to land use conversion. The aforesaid rules embraced all private agricultural lands regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced, and all untitled agricultural lands and agricultural lands reclassified by Local Government Units (LGUs) into non-agricultural uses after 15 June 1988. Subsequently, on 30 March 1999, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform issued DAR AO No. 01-99,4 entitled “Revised Rules and Regulations on the Conversion of Agricultural Lands to Non-agricultural Uses,” amending and updating the previous rules on land use conversion. Its coverage includes the following agricultural lands, to wit:

(1) those to be converted to residential, commercial, industrial, institutional and other non-agricultural purposes;

(2) those to be devoted to another type of agricultural activity such as livestock, poultry, and fishpond ─ the effect of which is to exempt the land from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) coverage;

(3) those to be converted to non-agricultural use other than that previously authorized; and

(4) those reclassified to residential, commercial, industrial, or other non-agricultural uses on or after the effectivity of Republic Act No. 66575 on 15 June 1988 pursuant to Section 206 of Republic Act No. 71607 and other pertinent laws and regulations, and are to be converted to such uses.

On 28 February 2002, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform issued another Administrative Order, i.e., DAR AO No. 01-02, entitled “2002 Comprehensive Rules on Land Use Conversion,” which further amended DAR AO No. 07-97 and DAR AO No. 01-99, and repealed all issuances inconsistent therewith. The aforesaid DAR AO No. 01-02 covers all applications for conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses or to another agricultural use. Thereafter, on 2 August 2007, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform amended certain provisions8 of DAR AO No. 01-02 by formulating DAR AO No. 05-07, particularly addressing land conversion in time of exigencies and calamities. To address the unabated conversion of prime agricultural lands for real estate development, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform further issued Memorandum No. 88 on 15 April 2008, which temporarily suspended the processing and approval of all land use conversion applications. By reason thereof, petitioner claims that there is an actual slow down of housing projects, which, in turn, aggravated the housing shortage, unemployment and illegal squatting problems to the substantial prejudice not only of the petitioner and its members but more so of the whole nation. Adrian Avilado Antazo

Hence, this petition.

Issues:

  1. Whether the DAR secretary has jurisdiction over lands that have been reclassified as residential, commercial, industrial, or for other non-agricultural uses.
  2. Whether the DAR secretary acted in excess of his jurisdiction and gravely abused his discretion by issuing and enforcing [DAR ao no. 01-02, as amended] which seek to regulate reclassified lands.
  3. Whether [DAR ao no. 01-02, as amended] violate[s] the local autonomy of local government units.
  4. Whether [DAR ao no. 01-02, as amended] violate[s] the due process and equal protection clause[s] of the constitution.
  5. Whether memorandum no. 88 is a valid exercise of police power.

 

Held:

  1. Yes, Executive Order No. 129-A37 vested upon the DAR the responsibility of implementing the CARP. Pursuant to the said mandate and to ensure the successful implementation of the CARP, Section 5(c) of the said executive order authorized the DAR to establish and promulgate operational policies, rules and regulations and priorities for agrarian reform implementation. Section 4(k) thereof authorized the DAR to approve or disapprove the conversion, restructuring or readjustment of agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses. Similarly, Section 5(l) of the same executive order has given the DAR the exclusive authority to approve or disapprove conversion of agricultural lands for residential, commercial, industrial, and other land uses as may be provided for by law. Section 7 of the aforesaid executive order clearly provides that “the authority and responsibility for the exercise of the mandate of the [DAR] and the discharge of its powers and functions shall be vested in the Secretary of Agrarian Reform x x x.” Under DAR AO No. 01-02, as amended, “lands not reclassified as residential, commercial, industrial or other non-agricultural uses before 15 June 1988” have been included in the definition of agricultural lands. In so doing, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform merely acted within the scope of his authority stated in the aforesaid sections of Executive Order No. 129-A, which is to promulgate rules and regulations for agrarian reform implementation and that includes the authority to define agricultural lands for purposes of land use conversion. Further, the definition of agricultural lands under DAR AO No. 01-02, as amended, merely refers to the category of agricultural lands that may be the subject for conversion to non-agricultural uses and is not in any way confined to agricultural lands in the context of land redistribution as provided for under Republic Act No. 6657.
  2. No, petitioner failed to specifically and sufficiently set forth special and important reasons to justify direct recourse to this Court and why this Court should give due course to this petition in the first instance, hereby failing to fulfill the conditions set forth in Heirs of Bertuldo Hinog v. Melicor. The present petition should have been initially filed in the Court of Appeals in strict observance of the doctrine on the hierarchy of courts. Failure to do so is sufficient cause for the dismissal of this petition. Moreover, although the instant petition is styled as a Petition for Certiorari, in essence, it seeks the declaration by this Court of the unconstitutionality or illegality of the questioned DAR AO No. 01-02, as amended, and Memorandum No. 88. It, thus, partakes of the nature of a Petition for Declaratory Relief over which this Court has only appellate, not original, jurisdiction. With that, this Petition must necessarily fail because this Court does not have original jurisdiction over a Petition for Declaratory Relief even if only questions of law are involved. Even if the petitioner has properly observed the doctrine of judicial hierarchy, the Petition is still dismissible. The special civil action for certiorari is intended for the correction of errors of jurisdiction only or grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Its principal office is only to keep the inferior court within the parameters of its jurisdiction or to prevent it from committing such a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
  3. No, the [DAR ao no. 01-02, as amended] did not violate[s] the local autonomy of local government units. It is of no moment whether the reclassification of agricultural lands to residential, commercial, industrial or other non-agricultural uses was done by the LGUs or by way of Presidential Proclamations because either way they must still undergo conversion process. It bears stressing that the act of reclassifying agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses simply specifies how agricultural lands shall be utilized for non-agricultural uses and does not automatically convert agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses or for other purposes. As explained in DAR Memorandum Circular No. 7, Series of 1994, cited in the 2009 case of Roxas & Company, Inc. v. DAMBA-NFSW and the Department of Agrarian Reform,47 reclassification of lands denotes their allocation into some specific use and providing for the manner of their utilization and disposition or the act of specifying how agricultural lands shall be utilized for non-agricultural uses such as residential, industrial, or commercial, as embodied in the land use plan. For reclassified agricultural lands, therefore, to be used for the purpose to which they are intended there is still a need to change the current use thereof through the process of conversion. The authority to do so is vested in the DAR, which is mandated to preserve and maintain agricultural lands with increased productivity. Thus, notwithstanding the reclassification of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses, they must still undergo conversion before they can be used for other purposes.
  4. No, [DAR ao no. 01-02, as amended] does not also violate the due process clause, as well as the equal protection clause of the Constitution. In providing administrative and criminal penalties in the said administrative order, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform simply implements the provisions of Sections 73 and 74 of Republic Act No. 6657.
  5. No, memorandum no. 88 is a valid exercise of police power. The petitioner’s argument that DAR Memorandum No. 88 is unconstitutional, as it suspends the land use conversion without any basis, stands on hollow ground. It bears emphasis that said Memorandum No. 88 was issued upon the instruction of the President in order to address the unabated conversion of prime agricultural lands for real estate development because of the worsening rice shortage in the country at that time. Such measure was made in order to ensure that there are enough agricultural lands in which rice cultivation and production may be carried into. The issuance of said Memorandum No. 88 was made pursuant to the general welfare of the public, thus, it cannot be argued that it was made without any basis.

 

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