DOJ OPINION NO. 136, s. 1993
September 22, 1993
Hon. Ernesto D. Garilao
Department of Agrarian Reform
Elliptical Road, Quezon City
S i r :
This refers to your Memorandum to the President on the recommendations of the Task Force created to investigate the report of the Cavite Christian Mission regarding the alleged illegal conversion of agricultural lands and harassment of farmers in Cavite. Among the recommendations is for this Department "to review, revise or overturn" its Opinion No. 44, series of 1990, which has been considered to the cause of the "mounting application for exemption from agrarian reform" on the part of the landowners.
Opinion No. 44, series of 1990 of this Department rules that authority of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to approve conversions of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses may be exercised from the date of the law's effectivity on June 15, 1988. Prior to said date, the exercise of such authority was a "coordinated effort" of all concerned agencies, namely, the Department of Local Governments and Community Development, the Human Settlements Commission and the DAR.
It is quite unfortunate that you attribute to Opinion No. 44, series of 1990 the alleged "mounting application for exemption from agrarian reform."
Assuming there is such "mounting application for exemption", we wish to put on record the following:
1. Opinion No. 44, series of 1990 is based on our interpretation of the law, which interpretation was confirmed by the Supreme Court in the case of Natalia Realty, Inc. vs. Department of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 103302, promulgated on August 12, 1993, which held:
"Indeed, lands not devoted to agricultural activity are outside the coverage of CARL. These include lands previously converted to non-agricultural uses prior to the effectivity of CARL by government agencies other than respondent DAR.
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"Since the NATALIA lands were converted prior to 15 June 1988, respondent DAR is bound by such conversion. It was therefore error to include the undeveloped portions of the Antipolo Hills Subdivision within the coverage of CARL." (Emphasis supplied.)
2. On the basis of his own understanding of the law, then Secretary Florencio Abad, in an inter-agency meeting held on 8 February 1990 at the Hotel Intercontinental Manila, expressly exempted from the coverage of the CARP lands falling under the following categories:
a. lands which have ceased to the feasible/sound for agricultural purposes as determined by DA/DENR;
b. lands which conform to the zoning classification of the HLURB as non-agricultural as of June 15, 1988; and
c. lands within the retention limits of land owners.
It was on the basis of Secretary Abad's view, and the Department's own interpretation of the law, that Opinion No. 44 was rendered.
We understand that some DAR officials are not in conformity with the foregoing policy of the law as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the Natalia Realty Inc. vs. DAR and the Department of Justice in Opinion No. 44, series of 1990.
We wish to remind that Congress, not the Department of Justice, nor any department in the executive branch, nor even the Supreme Court, sets the policy; the policy is in the law.
Very truly yours,
FRANKLIN M. DRILON