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NATURAL RESOURCES

REGALIAN DOCTRINE

The Regalian Doctrine dictates that all lands of the public domain belong to the State, that the State is the source of any asserted right to ownership of land and charged with the conservation of such patrimony. The doctrine has been consistently adopted under the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Constitutions.

All lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. Thus, all lands that have not been acquired from the government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the State as part of the inalienable public domain.[48] Necessarily, it is up to the State to determine if lands of the public domain will be disposed of for private ownership. The government, as the agent of the state, is possessed of the plenary power as the persona in law to determine who shall be the favored recipients of public lands, as well as under what terms they may be granted such privilege, not excluding the placing of obstacles in the way of their exercise of what otherwise would be ordinary acts of ownership.

The first law governing the disposition of public lands in the Philippines under American rule was embodied in the Philippine Bill of 1902. By this law, lands of the public domain in the Philippine Islands were classified into three (3) grand divisions, to wit: agricultural, mineral, and timber or forest lands.[61] The act provided for, among others, the disposal of mineral lands by means of absolute grant (freehold system) and by lease (leasehold system). It also provided the definition by exclusion of “agricultural public lands.” Interpreting the meaning of “agricultural lands” under the Philippine Bill of 1902, the Court declared in Mapa v. Insular Government:

After the passage of the 1935 Constitution, CA No. 141 amended Act No. 2874 on December 1, 1936. To this day, CA No. 141, as amended, remains as the existing general law governing the classification and disposition of lands of the public domain other than timber and mineral lands, and privately owned lands which reverted to the State.

Section 48(b) of CA No. 141 retained the requirement under Act No. 2874 of possession and occupation of lands of the public domain since time immemorial or since July 26, 1894. However, this provision was superseded by Republic Act (RA) No. 1942, which provided for a simple thirty-year prescriptive period for judicial confirmation of imperfect title. The provision was last amended by PD No. 1073, which now provides for possession and occupation of the land applied for since June 12, 1945, or earlier.

On June 11, 1978, Act No. 496 was amended and updated by PD No. 1529, known as the Property Registration Decree. It was enacted to codify the various laws relative to registration of property. It governs registration of lands under the Torrens system as well as unregistered lands, including chattel mortgages.

A positive act declaring land as alienable and disposable is required. In keeping with the presumption of State ownership, the Court has time and again emphasized that there must be a positive act of the government, such as an official proclamation, declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes.

In fact, Section 8 of CA No. 141 limits alienable or disposable lands only to those lands which have been “officially delimited and classified.”

The burden of proof in overcoming the presumption of State ownership of the lands of the public domain is on the person applying for registration (or claiming ownership), who must prove that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable. To overcome this presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be established that the land subject of the application (or claim) is alienable or disposable. There must still be a positive act declaring land of the public domain as alienable and disposable. To prove that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable, the applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order; an administrative action; investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators; and a legislative act or a statute. The applicant may also secure a certification from the government that the land claimed to have been possessed for the required number of years is alienable and disposable.

GR 110249

G.R. No. 110249 August 21, 1997

ALFREDO TANO, BALDOMERO TANO, DANILO TANO, ROMUALDO TANO, TEOCENES MIDELLO, ANGEL DE MESA, EULOGIO TREMOCHA, FELIPE ONGONION, JR. petitioners, vs. HON. GOV. SALVADOR P. SOCRATES, MEMBERS OF SANGGUNIANG PANLALAWIGAN OF PALAWAN, namely, VICE-GOVERNOR JOEL T. REYES respondents.

DAVIDE, JR., J.:

Petitioners caption their petition as one for "Certiorari, Injunction With Preliminary and Mandatory Injunction, with Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order" and pray that this Court: (1) declare as unconstitutional: (a) Ordinance No. 15-92, dated 15 December 1992, of the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Puerto Princesa; (b) Office Order No. 23, Series of 1993, dated 22 January 1993, issued by Acting City Mayor Amado L. Lucero of Puerto Princesa City; and (c) Resolution No. 33, Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1993, dated 19 February 1993, of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan; (2) enjoin the enforcement thereof; and (3) restrain respondents Provincial and City Prosecutors of Palawan and Puerto Princesa City and Judges of the Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts 1 and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Palawan from assuming jurisdiction over and hearing cases concerning the violation of the Ordinances and of the Office Order.

More appropriately, the petition is, and shall be treated as, a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition.

The following is petitioners' summary of the factual antecedents giving rise to the petition:

1. On December 15, 1992, the Sangguniang Panlungsod ng Puerto Princesa City enacted Ordinance No. 15- 92 which took effect on January 1, 1993 entitled: "AN ORDINANCE BANNING THE SHIPMENT OF ALL LIVE FISH AND LOBSTER OUTSIDE PUERTO PRINCESA CITY FROM JANUARY 1, 1993 TO JANUARY 1, 1998 AND PROVIDING EXEMPTIONS, PENALTIES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES THEREOF", the full text of which reads as follows:

Sec. 1. Title of the Ordinance. This Ordinance is entitled: AN ORDINANCE BANNING THE SHIPMENT OF ALL LIVE FISH AND LOBSTER OUTSIDE PUERTO PRINCESA CITY FROM JANUARY 1, 1993 TO JANUARY 1, 1998 AND PROVIDING EXEMPTIONS, PENALTIES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES THEREOF.

Sec. 2. Purpose, Scope and Coverage. To effectively free our City Sea Waters from Cyanide and other Obnoxious substance[s], and shall cover all persons and/or entities operating within and outside the City of Puerto Princesa who is are (sic) directly or indirectly in the business or shipment of live fish and lobster outside the City.

Sec. 3. Definition of terms. For purpose of this Ordinance the following are hereby defined:

A. SEA BASS A kind of fish under the family of

Centropomidae, better known as APAHAP;

B. CATFISH A kind of fish under the family of Plotosidae,

better known as HITO-HITO;

C. MUDFISH A kind of fish under the family of

Orphicaphalisae better known as DALAG;

D. ALL LIVE FISH All alive, breathing not necessarily

moving of all specie[s] use[d] for food and for aquarium

purposes.

E. LIVE LOBSTER Several relatively, large marine

crusteceans [sic] of the genus Homarus that are alive and

breathing not necessarily moving.

Sec. 4. It shall be unlawful [for] any person or any business enterprise or company to ship out from Puerto Princesa City to any point of destination either via aircraft or seacraft of any live fish and lobster except SEA BASS, CATFISH, MUDFISH, AND MILKFISH FRIES.

Sec. 5. Penalty Clause. Any person/s and or business entity violating this Ordinance shall be penalized with a fine of not more than P5,000.00 or imprisonment of not more than twelve (12) months, cancellation of their permit to do business in the City of Puerto Princesa or all of the herein stated penalties, upon the discretion of the court.

Sec. 6. If the owner and/or operator of the establishment found violating the provisions of this ordinance is a corporation or a partnership, the penalty prescribed in Section 5 hereof shall be imposed upon its president and/or General Manager or Managing Partner and/or Manager, as the case maybe [sic].

Sec. 7. Any existing ordinance or any provision of any ordinance inconsistent to [sic] this ordinance is deemed repealed.

Sec. 8. This Ordinance shall take effect on January 1, 1993.

SO ORDAINED.

2. To implement said city ordinance, then Acting City Mayor Amado L. Lucero issued Office Order No. 23,

Series of 1993 dated January 22, 1993 which reads as follows:

In the interest of public service and for purposes of City Ordinance No. PD 426-14-74, otherwise known as

"AN ORDINANCE REQUIRING ANY PERSON ENGAGED OR INTENDING TO ENGAGE IN ANY BUSINESS, TRADE,

OCCUPATION, CALLING OR PROFESSION OR HAVING IN HIS POSSESSION ANY OF THE ARTICLES FOR WHICH

A PERMIT IS REQUIRED TO BE HAD, TO OBTAIN FIRST A MAYOR'S PERMIT" and "City Ordinance No. 15-92,

AN ORDINANCE BANNING THE SHIPMENT OF ALL LIVE FISH AND LOBSTER OUTSIDE PUERTO PRINCESA CITY FROM JANUARY 1, 1993 TO JANUARY 1, 1998, you are hereby authorized and directed to check or conduct necessary inspections on cargoes containing live fish and lobster being shipped out from the Puerto Princesa Airport, Puerto Princesa Wharf or at any port within the jurisdiction of the City to any point of destinations [sic] either via aircraft or seacraft.

The purpose of the inspection is to ascertain whether the shipper possessed the required Mayor's Permit issued by this Office and the shipment is covered by invoice or clearance issued by the local office of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and as to compliance with all other existing rules and regulations on the matter.

Any cargo containing live fish and lobster without the required documents as stated herein must be held for proper disposition.

In the pursuit of this Order, you are hereby authorized to coordinate with the PAL Manager, the PPA

Manager, the local PNP Station and other offices concerned for the needed support and cooperation. Further, that the usual courtesy and diplomacy must be observed at all times in the conduct of the inspection.

Please be guided accordingly.

3. On February 19, 1993, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Provincial Government of Palawan enacted

Resolution No. 33 entitled: "A RESOLUTION PROHIBITING THE CATCHING, GATHERING, POSSESSING, BUYING, SELLING AND SHIPMENT OF LIVE MARINE CORAL DWELLING AQUATIC ORGANISMS, TO WIT:

FAMILY: SCARIDAE (MAMENG), EPINE PHELUS FASCIATUS (SUNO). CROMILEPTES ALTIVELIS (PANTHER OR SENORITA), LOBSTER BELOW 200 GRAMS AND SPAWNING, TRIDACNA GIGAS (TAKLOBO), PINCTADA MARGARITEFERA (MOTHER PEARL, OYSTERS, GIANT CLAMS AND OTHER SPECIES), PENAEUS MONODON (TIGER PRAWN-BREEDER SIZE OR MOTHER), EPINEPHELUS SUILLUS (LOBA OR GREEN GROUPER) AND FAMILY: BALISTIDAE (TROPICAL AQUARIUM FISHES) FOR A PERIOD FIVE (5) YEARS IN AND COMING FROM PALAWAN WATERS", the full text of which reads as follows:

WHEREAS, scientific and factual researches [sic] and studies disclose that only five (5) percent of the corals of our province remain to be in excellent condition as [a] habitat of marine coral dwelling aquatic organisms;

WHEREAS, it cannot be gainsaid that the destruction and devastation of the corals of our province were principally due to illegal fishing activities like dynamite fishing, sodium cyanide fishing, use of other obnoxious substances and other related activities;

WHEREAS, there is an imperative and urgent need to protect and preserve the existence of the remaining excellent corals and allow the devastated ones to reinvigorate and regenerate themselves into vitality within the span of five (5) years;

WHEREAS, Sec. 468, Par. 1, Sub-Par. VI of the [sic] R.A. 7160 otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991 empowers the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to protect the environment and impose appropriate penalties [upon] acts which endanger the environment such as dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing, among others.

NOW, THEREFORE, on motion by Kagawad Nelson P. Peneyra and upon unanimous decision of all the members present;

Be it resolved as it is hereby resolved, to approve Resolution No. 33, Series of 1993 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and to enact Ordinance No. 2 for the purpose, to wit:

ORDINANCE NO. 2 Series of 1993

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE SANGGUNIANG PANLALAWIGAN IN SESSION ASSEMBLED:

Sec. 1. TITLE This Ordinance shall be known as an "Ordinance Prohibiting the catching, gathering, possessing, buying, selling and shipment of live marine coral dwelling aquatic organisms, to wit: 1. Family: Scaridae (Mameng), 2. Epinephelus Fasciatus (Suno) 3. Cromileptes altivelis (Panther or Senorita), lobster below 200 grams and spawning), 4. Tridacna Gigas (Taklobo), 5. Pinctada Margaretefera (Mother Pearl, Oysters, Giant Clams and other species), 6. Penaeus Monodon (Tiger Prawn-breeder size or mother), 7. Epinephelus Suillus (Loba or Green Grouper) and 8. Family: Balistidae (T[r]opical Aquarium Fishes) for a period of five (5) years in and coming from Palawan Waters.

Sec. II. PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS

1. Sec. 2-A (Rep. Act 7160). It is hereby declared, the policy of the state that the territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective partners in the attainment of national goals. Toward this end, the State shall provide for [a] more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization whereby local government units shall be given more powers, authority, responsibilities and resources.

2. Sec. 5-A (R.A. 7160). Any provision on a power of [a] local Government Unit shall be liberally interpreted in its favor, and in case of doubt, any question thereon shall be resolved in favor of devolution of powers and of the lower government units. "Any fair and

reasonable doubts as to the existence of the power shall be interpreted in favor of the Local Government Unit concerned."

3. Sec. 5-C (R.A. 7160). The general welfare provisions in this Code shall be liberally

interpreted to give more powers to local government units in accelerating economic

development and upgrading the quality of life for the people in the community.

4. Sec. 16 (R.A. 7160). General Welfare. Every local government unit shall exercise the

powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied therefrom, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance; and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare.

Sec. III. DECLARATION OF POLICY. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Province of Palawan to protect and conserve the marine resources of Palawan not only for the greatest good of the majority of the present generation but with [the] proper perspective and consideration of [sic] their prosperity, and to attain this end, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan henceforth declares that is (sic) shall be unlawful for any person or any business entity to engage in catching, gathering, possessing, buying, selling and shipment of live marine coral dwelling aquatic organisms as enumerated in Section 1 hereof in and coming out of Palawan Waters for a period of five (5) years;

Sec. IV. PENALTY CLAUSE. Any person and/or business entity violating this Ordinance shall be penalized with a fine of not more than Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00), Philippine Currency, and/or imprisonment of six (6) months to twelve (12) months and confiscation and forfeiture of paraphernalias [sic] and equipment in favor of the government at the discretion of the Court;

Sec. V. SEPARABILITY CLAUSE. If for any reason, a Section or provision of this Ordinance shall be held as unconditional [sic] or invalid, it shall not affect the other provisions hereof.

Sec. VI. REPEALING CLAUSE. Any existing Ordinance or a provision of any ordinance inconsistent herewith is deemed modified, amended or repealed.

Sec. VII. EFFECTIVITY This Ordinance shall take effect ten (10) days after its publication.

SO ORDAINED.

4. The respondents implemented the said ordinances, Annexes "A" and "C" hereof thereby depriving all the

fishermen of the whole province of Palawan and the City of Puerto Princesa of their only means of livelihood and the petitioners Airline Shippers Association of Palawan and other marine merchants from performing their lawful occupation and trade;

5. Petitioners Alfredo Tano, Baldomero Tano, Teocenes Midello, Angel de Mesa, Eulogio Tremocha, and

Felipe Ongonion, Jr. were even charged criminally under criminal case no. 93-05-C in the 1st Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Cuyo-Agutaya-Magsaysay, an original carbon copy of the criminal complaint dated April 12, 1993 is hereto attached as Annex "D"; while xerox copies are attached as Annex "D" to the copies of the petition;

6. Petitioners Robert Lim and Virginia Lim, on the other hand, were charged by the respondent PNP with the respondent City Prosecutor of Puerto Princess City, a xerox copy of the complaint is hereto attached as Annex "E";

Without seeking redress from the concerned local government units, prosecutor's office and courts, petitioners directly invoked our original jurisdiction by filing this petition on 4 June 1993. In sum, petitioners contend that:

First, the Ordinances deprived them of due process of law, their livelihood, and unduly restricted them from the practice of their trade, in violation of Section 2, Article XII and Sections 2 and 7 of Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution.

Second, Office Order No. 23 contained no regulation nor condition under which the Mayor's permit could be granted or denied; in other words, the Mayor had the absolute authority to determine whether or not to issue the permit.

Third, as Ordinance No. 2 of the Province of Palawan "altogether prohibited the catching, gathering, possession, buying, selling and shipping of live marine coral dwelling organisms, without any distinction whether it was caught or gathered through lawful fishing method," the Ordinance took away the right of petitioners-fishermen to earn their livelihood in lawful ways; and insofar as petitioners-members of Airline Shippers Association are concerned, they were unduly prevented from pursuing their vocation and entering "into contracts which are proper, necessary, and essential to carry out their business endeavors to a successful conclusion."

Finally, as Ordinance No. 2 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is null and void, the criminal cases based thereon against petitioners Tano and the others have to be dismissed.

In the Resolution of 15 June 1993 we required respondents to comment on the petition, and furnished the Office of the Solicitor General with a copy thereof.

In their comment filed on 13 August 1993, public respondents Governor Socrates and Members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan defended the validity of Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1993, as a valid exercise of the Provincial Government's power under the general welfare clause (Section 16 of the Local Government Code of 1991 [hereafter, LGC]), and its specific power to protect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment, such as dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing under Section

447 (a) (1) (vi), Section 458 (a) (1) (vi), and Section 468 (a) (1) (vi), of the LGC. They claimed that in the exercise of

such powers, the Province of Palawan had "the right and responsibility

where fish dwells [sic], within its territory remain healthy for the future generation." The Ordinance, they further asserted, covered only live marine coral dwelling aquatic organisms which were enumerated in the ordinance and

excluded other kinds of live marine aquatic organisms not dwelling in coral reefs; besides the prohibition was for only five (5) years to protect and preserve the pristine coral and allow those damaged to regenerate.

to insure that the remaining coral reefs,

Aforementioned respondents likewise maintained that there was no violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. As to the former, public hearings were conducted before the enactment of the Ordinance which, undoubtedly, had a lawful purpose and employed reasonable means; while as to the latter, a substantial distinction existed "between a fisherman who catches live fish with the intention of selling it live, and a fisherman who catches live fish with no intention at all of selling it live," i.e., "the former uses sodium cyanide while the latter does not." Further, the Ordinance applied equally to all those belonging to one class.

On 25 October 1993 petitioners filed an Urgent Plea for the Immediate Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order, claiming that despite the pendency of this case, Branch 50 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan was bent on proceeding with Criminal Case No. 11223 against petitioners Danilo Tano, Alfredo Tano, Eulogio Tremocha, Romualdo Tano, Baldomero Tano, Andres Linijan and Angel de Mesa for violation of Ordinance No. 2 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan. Acting on said plea, we issued on 11 November 1993 a temporary restraining order directing Judge Angel Miclat of said court to cease and desist from proceeding with the arraignment and pre-trial of Criminal Case No. 11223.

On 12 July 1994, we excused the Office of the Solicitor General from filing a comment, considering that as claimed by said office in its Manifestation of 28 June 1994, respondents were already represented by counsel.

The rest of the respondents did not file any comment on the petition.

In the resolution of 15 September 1994, we resolved to consider the comment on the petition as the Answer, gave due course to the petition and required the parties to submit their respective memoranda. 2

On 22 April 1997 we ordered impleaded as party respondents the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and required the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on their behalf. But in light of the latter's motion of 9 July 1997 for an extension of time to file the comment which would only result in further delay, we dispensed with said comment.

After due deliberation on the pleadings filed, we resolved to dismiss this petition for want of merit, and on 22 July 1997, assigned it to the ponente to write the opinion of the Court.

I

There are actually two sets of petitioners in this case. The first is composed of Alfredo Tano, Baldomero Tano, Danilo Tano, Romualdo Tano, Teocenes Midello, Angel de Mesa, Eulogio Tremocha, Felipe Ongonion, Jr., Andres Linijan, and Felimon de Mesa, who were criminally charged with violating Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution No. 33 and Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1993, of the Province of Palawan, in Criminal Case No. 93-05-C of the 1st Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Palawan; 3 and Robert Lim and Virginia Lim who were charged with violating City Ordinance No. 15-92 of Puerto Princesa City and Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1993, of the Province of Palawan before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Puerto Princesa. 4 All of them, with the exception of Teocenes Midello, Felipe Ongonion, Jr., Felimon de Mesa, Robert Lim and Virginia Lim, are likewise the accused in Criminal Case No. 11223 for the violation of Ordinance No. 2 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan, pending before Branch 50 of the Regional Trial Court of Palawan. 5

The second set of petitioners is composed of the rest of the petitioners numbering seventy-seven (77), all of whom, except the Airline Shippers Association of Palawan an alleged private association of several marine merchants are natural persons who claim to be fishermen.

The primary interest of the first set of petitioners is, of course, to prevent the prosecution, trial and determination of the criminal cases until the constitutionality or legality of the Ordinances they allegedly violated shall have been resolved. The second set of petitioners merely claim that being fishermen or marine merchants, they would be adversely affected by the ordinance's.

As to the first set of petitioners, this special civil for certiorari must fail on the ground of prematurity amounting to

a lack of cause of action. There is no showing that said petitioners, as the accused in the criminal cases, have filed motions to quash the informations therein and that the same were denied. The ground available for such motions

is that the facts charged therein do not constitute an offense because the ordinances in question are

unconstitutional. 6 It cannot then be said that the lower courts acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion to justify recourse to the extraordinary remedy of certiorari or prohibition. It must further be stressed that even if petitioners did file motions to quash, the denial thereof would not forthwith give rise to a cause of action under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The general rule is that where a motion to quash is denied, the remedy therefrom is not certiorari, but for the party aggrieved thereby to go to trial without prejudice to reiterating special defenses involved in said motion, and if, after trial on the merits an adverse decision is rendered, to appeal therefrom in the manner authorized by law. 7 And, even where in an exceptional circumstance such denial may be the subject of a special civil action for certiorari, a motion for reconsideration must have to be filed to allow the court concerned an opportunity to correct its errors, unless such motion may be dispensed with

because of existing exceptional circumstances. 8 Finally, even if a motion for reconsideration has been filed and denied, the remedy under Rule 65 is still unavailable absent any showing of the grounds provided for in Section 1 thereof. 9 For obvious reasons, the petition at bar does not, and could not have, alleged any of such grounds.

As to the second set of petitioners, the instant petition is obviously one for DECLARATORY RELIEF, i.e., for a

declaration that the Ordinances in question are a "nullity

must likewise fail, as this Court is not possessed of original jurisdiction over petitions for declaratory relief even if

only questions of law are involved, 11 it being settled that the Court merely exercises appellate jurisdiction over such petitions. 12

for being unconstitutional." 10 As such, their petition

II

Even granting arguendo that the first set of petitioners have a cause of action ripe for the extraordinary writ of certiorari, there is here a clear disregard of the hierarchy of courts, and no special and important reason or exceptional and compelling circumstance has been adduced why direct recourse to us should be allowed. While we have concurrent jurisdiction with Regional Trial courts and with the Court of Appeals to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, habeas corpus and injunction, such concurrence gives petitioners no unrestricted freedom of choice of court forum, so we held in People v. Cuaresma. 13

This concurrence of jurisdiction is not

absolute unrestrained freedom of choice of the court to which application therefor will be directed. There is after all hierarchy of courts. That hierarchy is determinative of the venue of appeals, and should also serve as a general determinant of the appropriate forum for petitions for the extraordinary writs. A becoming regard for that judicial hierarchy most certainly indicates that petitions for the issuance of extraordinary writs against first level ("inferior") courts should be filed with the Regional Trial Court, and those against the latter, with the Court of Appeals. A direct invocation of the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction to issue these writs should be allowed only when there are special and important reasons therefor, clearly and specifically set out in the petition. This is established policy. It is a policy necessary to prevent inordinate demands upon the Court's time and attention which are better devoted to those matters within its exclusive jurisdiction, and to prevent further over-crowding of the Court's

to be taken as according to parties seeking any of the writs an

The Court feels the need to reaffirm that policy at this time, and to enjoin strict adherence thereto in the light of what it perceives to be a growing tendency on the part of litigants and lawyers to have their applications for the so-called extraordinary writs, and sometimes even their appeals, passed upon and adjudicated directly and immediately by the highest tribunal of the

In Santiago v. Vasquez, 14 this Court forcefully expressed that the propensity of litigants and lawyers to disregard the hierarchy of courts must be put to a halt, not only because of the imposition upon the precious time of this Court, but also because of the inevitable and resultant delay, intended or otherwise, in the adjudication of the case which often has to be remanded or referred to the lower court, the proper forum under the rules of procedure, or as better equipped to resolve the issues since this Court is not a trier of facts. We reiterated "the judicial policy that this Court will not entertain direct resort to it unless the redress desired cannot be obtained in the appropriate courts or where exceptional and compelling circumstances justify availment of a remedy within and calling for the exercise of [its] primary jurisdiction."

III

Notwithstanding the foregoing procedural obstacles against the first set of petitioners, we opt to resolve this case on its merits considering that the lifetime of the challenged Ordinances is about to end. Ordinance No. 15-92 of the City of Puerto Princesa is effective only up to 1 January 1998, while Ordinance No. 2 of the Province of Palawan, enacted on 19 February 1993, is effective for only five (5) years. Besides, these Ordinances were undoubtedly enacted in the exercise of powers under the new LGC relative to the protection and preservation of the environment and are thus novel and of paramount importance. No further delay then may be allowed in the resolution of the issues raised.

It is of course settled that laws (including ordinances enacted by local government units) enjoy the presumption of constitutionality. 15 To overthrow this presumption, there must be a clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not merely a doubtful or argumentative contradiction. In short, the conflict with the Constitution must be shown beyond reasonable doubt. 16 Where doubt exists, even if well-founded, there can be no finding of unconstitutionality. To doubt is to sustain. 17

After a scrutiny of the challenged Ordinances and the provisions of the Constitution petitioners claim to have been violated, we find petitioners' contentions baseless and so hold that the former do not suffer from any infirmity, both under the Constitution and applicable laws.

Petitioners specifically point to Section 2, Article XII and Sections 2 and 7, Article XIII of the Constitution as having been transgressed by the Ordinances.

The pertinent portion of Section 2 of Article XII reads:

Sec.

The State shall protect the nation's marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.

The Congress may, by law, allow small-scale utilization of natural resources by Filipino citizens, as well as cooperative fish farming, with priority to subsistence fishermen and fishworkers in rivers, lakes, bays, and lagoons.

Sections 2 and 7 of Article XIII provide:

Sec. 2. The promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.

Sec. 7. The State shall protect the rights of subsistence fishermen, especially of local communities, to the preferential use of the communal marine and fishing resources, both inland and offshore. It shall provide support to such fishermen through appropriate technology and research, adequate financial, production, and marketing assistance, and other services. The State shall also protect, develop, and conserve such resources. The protection shall extend to offshore fishing grounds of subsistence fishermen against foreign intrusion. Fishworkers shall receive a just share from their labor in the utilization of marine and fishing resources.

There is absolutely no showing that any of the petitioners qualifies as a subsistence or marginal fisherman. In their petition, petitioner Airline Shippers Association of Palawan is self-described as "a private association composed of Marine Merchants;" petitioners Robert Lim and Virginia Lim, as "merchants;" while the rest of the petitioners claim to be "fishermen," without any qualification, however, as to their status.

Since the Constitution does not specifically provide a definition of the terms "subsistence" or "marginal" fishermen, 18 they should be construed in their general and ordinary sense. A marginal fisherman is an individual engaged in fishing whose margin of return or reward in his harvest of fish as measured by existing price levels is barely sufficient to yield a profit or cover the cost of gathering the fish, 19 while a subsistence fisherman is one whose catch yields but the irreducible minimum for his livelihood. 20 Section 131(p) of the LGC (R.A. No. 7160) defines a marginal farmer or fisherman as "an individual engaged in subsistence farming or fishing which shall be limited to the sale, barter or exchange of agricultural or marine products produced by himself and his immediate family." It bears repeating that nothing in the record supports a finding that any petitioner falls within these definitions.

Besides, Section 2 of Article XII aims primarily not to bestow any right to subsistence fishermen, but to lay stress on the duty of the State to protect the nation's marine wealth. What the provision merely recognizes is that the State may allow, by law, cooperative fish farming, with priority to subsistence fishermen and fishworkers in rivers, lakes, bays and lagoons. Our survey of the statute books reveals that the only provision of law which speaks of a preferential right of marginal fishermen is Section 149 of the LGC, which pertinently provides:

Sec. 149. Fishery Rentals, Fees and Charges.

(b)

The sangguniang bayan may:

(1)

Grant fishery privileges to erect fish corrals, oyster, mussels or

other aquatic beds or bangus fry areas, within a definite zone of the municipal waters, as determined by it: Provided, however, That duly registered organizations and cooperatives of marginal fishermen shall have the preferential right to such fishery privileges .

.

.

.

In a Joint Administrative Order No. 3 dated 25 April 1996, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government prescribed guidelines concerning the preferential treatment of small fisherfolk relative to the fishery right mentioned in Section 149. This case, however, does not involve such fishery right.

Anent Section 7 of Article XIII, it speaks not only of the use of communal marine and fishing resources, but of their protection, development and conservation. As hereafter shown, the ordinances in question are meant precisely to protect and conserve our marine resources to the end that their enjoyment may be guaranteed not only for the present generation, but also for the generations to come.

The so-called "preferential right" of subsistence or marginal fishermen to the use of marine resources is not at all absolute. In accordance with the Regalian Doctrine, marine resources belong to the State, and,

pursuant to the first paragraph of Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution, their "exploration, development

and utilization

protection, development and conservation as necessarily recognized by the framers of the Constitution, imply certain restrictions on whatever right of enjoyment there may be in favor of anyone. Thus, as to the

curtailment of the preferential treatment of marginal fishermen, the following exchange between Commissioner Francisco Rodrigo and Commissioner Jose F.S. Bengzon, Jr., took place at the plenary session of the Constitutional Commission:

shall be under the full control and supervision of the State." Moreover, their mandated

MR. RODRIGO:

 

Let us discuss the implementation of this because I would not raise the hopes of our people, and afterwards fail in the implementation. How will this be implemented? Will there be a licensing or giving of permits so that government officials will know that one is really a marginal fisherman? Or if policeman say that a person is not a marginal fisherman, he can show his permit, to prove that indeed he is one.

MR. BENGZON:

 

Certainly, there will be some mode of licensing insofar as this is concerned and this particular question could be tackled when we discuss the Article on Local Governments whether we will leave to the local governments or to Congress on how these things will be implemented. But certainly, I think our congressmen and our local officials will not be bereft of ideas on how to implement this mandate.

MR. RODRIGO:

 

So, once one is licensed as a marginal fisherman, he can go anywhere in the Philippines and fish in any fishing grounds.

MR. BENGZON:

Subject to whatever rules and regulations and local laws that may be passed, may be existing or will be passed. 21 (emphasis supplied)

What must likewise be borne in mind is the state policy enshrined in the Constitution regarding the duty of the State to protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. 22 On this score, in Oposa v. Factoran, 23 this Court declared:

While the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be found under the Declaration of Principles the State Policies and not under the Bill of Rights, it does not follow that it is less important than any of the civil and political rights enumerated in the latter. Such a right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self- perpetuation aptly and fittingly stressed by the petitioners the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and constitutions. As a matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as state policies by the Constitution itself, thereby highlighting their continuing importance and imposing upon the state a solemn obligation to preserve the first and protect and advance the second, the day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.

The right to a balanced and healthful ecology carries with it a correlative duty to refrain from impairing the

The LGC provisions invoked by private respondents merely seek to give flesh and blood to the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology. In fact, the General Welfare Clause, expressly mentions this right:

Sec. 16. General Welfare. Every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied therefrom, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare. Within their respective territorial jurisdictions, local government units shall ensure and support, among other things, the preservation and enrichment of culture, promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology, encourage and support the development of appropriate and self-reliant scientific and technological capabilities, improve public morals, enhance economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants. (emphasis supplied).

Moreover, Section 5(c) of the LGC explicitly mandates that the general welfare provisions of the LGC "shall be liberally interpreted to give more powers to the local government units in accelerating economic development and upgrading the quality of life for the people of the community."

The LGC vests municipalities with the power to grant fishery privileges in municipal waters and impose

rentals, fees or charges therefor; to penalize, by appropriate ordinances, the use of explosives, noxious or poisonous substances, electricity, muro-ami, and other deleterious methods of fishing; and to prosecute any violation of the provisions of applicable fishery laws. 24 Further, the sangguniang bayan, the sangguniang panlungsod and the sangguniang panlalawigan are directed to enact ordinances for the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants, which shall include, inter alia, ordinances that "[p]rotect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment

such as dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing

pollution, acceleration of eutrophication of rivers and lakes, or of ecological imbalance." 25

and such other activities which result in

Finally, the centerpiece of LGC is the system of decentralization 26 as expressly mandated by the Constitution. 27 Indispensable to decentralization is devolution and the LGC expressly provides that "[a]ny provision on a power of a local government unit shall be liberally interpreted in its favor, and in case of doubt, any question thereon shall be resolved in favor of devolution of powers and of the lower local government unit. Any fair and reasonable doubt as to the existence of the power shall be interpreted in favor of the local government unit concerned." 28 Devolution refers to the act by which the National Government confers power and authority upon the various local government units to perform specific functions and responsibilities. 29

One of the devolved powers enumerated in the section of the LGC on devolution is the enforcement of fishery laws in municipal waters including the conservation of mangroves. 30 This necessarily includes the enactment of ordinances to effectively carry out such fishery laws within the municipal waters.

The term "municipal waters," in turn, includes not only streams, lakes, and tidal waters within the municipality, not being the subject of private ownership and not comprised within the national parks, public forest, timber lands, forest reserves, or fishery reserves, but also marine waters included between two lines drawn perpendicularly to the general coastline from points where the boundary lines of the municipality or city touch the sea at low tide and a third line parallel with the general coastline and fifteen kilometers from it. 31 Under P.D. No. 704, the marine waters included in municipal waters is limited to three nautical miles from the general coastline using the above perpendicular lines and a third parallel line.

These "fishery laws" which local government units may enforce under Section 17(b)(2)(i) in municipal waters include: (1) P.D. No. 704; (2) P.D. No. 1015 which, inter alia, authorizes the establishment of a "closed season" in any Philippine water if necessary for conservation or ecological purposes; (3) P.D. No. 1219 which provides for the exploration, exploitation, utilization and conservation of coral resources; (4) R.A. No. 5474, as amended by B.P. Blg. 58, which makes it unlawful for any person, association or corporation to catch or cause to be caught, sell, offer to sell, purchase, or have in possession any of the fish specie called gobiidae or "ipon" during closed season; and (5) R.A. No. 6451 which prohibits and punishes electrofishing, as well as various issuances of the BFAR.

To those specifically devolved insofar as the control and regulation of fishing in municipal waters and the protection of its marine environment are concerned, must be added the following:

1. Issuance of permits to construct fish cages within municipal waters;

2. Issuance of permits to gather aquarium fishes within municipal waters;

3. Issuance of permits to gather kapis shells within municipal waters;

4. Issuance of permits to gather/culture shelled mollusks within municipal waters;

5. Issuance of licenses to establish seaweed farms within municipal waters;

6. Issuance of licenses to establish culture pearls within municipal waters;

8. Establishment of "closed season" in municipal waters.

These functions are covered in the Memorandum of Agreement of 5 April 1994 between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

In light then of the principles of decentralization and devolution enshrined in the LGC and the powers granted therein to local government units under Section 16 (the General Welfare Clause), and under Sections 149, 447(a) (1) (vi), 458 (a) (1) (vi) and 468 (a) (1) (vi), which unquestionably involve the exercise of police power, the validity of the questioned Ordinances cannot be doubted.

Parenthetically, we wish to add that these Ordinances find full support under R.A. No. 7611, otherwise known as the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act, approved on 19 June 1992. This statute adopts a "comprehensive framework for the sustainable development of Palawan compatible with protecting and enhancing the natural resources and endangered environment of the province," which "shall serve to guide the local government of Palawan and the government agencies concerned in the formulation and implementation of plans, programs and projects affecting said province." 32

At this time then, it would be appropriate to determine the relation between the assailed Ordinances and the aforesaid powers of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of the City of Puerto Princesa and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Palawan to protect the environment. To begin, we ascertain the purpose of the Ordinances as set forth in the statement of purposes or declaration of policies quoted earlier.

It is clear to the Court that both Ordinances have two principal objectives or purposes: (1) to establish a "closed season" for the species of fish or aquatic animals covered therein for a period of five years; and (2) to protect the coral in the marine waters of the City of Puerto Princesa and the Province of Palawan from further destruction due to illegal fishing activities.

The accomplishment of the first objective is well within the devolved power to enforce fishery laws in municipal waters, such as P.D. No. 1015, which allows the establishment of "closed seasons." The devolution of such power has been expressly confirmed in the Memorandum of Agreement of 5 April 1994 between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

The realization of the second objective clearly falls within both the general welfare clause of the LGC and the express mandate thereunder to cities and provinces to protect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment. 33

The destruction of coral reefs results in serious, if not irreparable, ecological imbalance, for coral reefs are among nature's life-support systems. 34 They collect, retain and recycle nutrients for adjacent nearshore areas such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and reef flats; provide food for marine plants and animals; and serve as a protective shelter for aquatic organisms. 35 It is said that "[e]cologically, the reefs are to the oceans what forests are to continents: they are shelter and breeding grounds for fish and plant species that will disappear without them." 36

The prohibition against catching live fish stems, in part, from the modern phenomenon of live-fish trade which entails the catching of so-called exotic species of tropical fish, not only for aquarium use in the West, but also for "the market for live banquet fish [which] is virtually insatiable in ever more affluent Asia. 37 These exotic species are coral-dwellers, and fishermen catch them by "diving in shallow water with

corraline habitats and squirting sodium cyanide poison at passing fish directly or onto coral crevices; once affected the fish are immobilized [merely stunned] and then scooped by hand." 38 The diver then surfaces and dumps his catch into a submerged net attached to the skiff. Twenty minutes later, the fish can swim normally. Back on shore, they are placed in holding pens, and within a few weeks, they expel the cyanide from their system and are ready to be hauled. They are then placed in saltwater tanks or packaged in plastic bags filled with seawater for shipment by air freight to major markets for live food fish. 39 While the fish are meant to survive, the opposite holds true for their former home as "[a]fter the fisherman squirts the cyanide, the first thing to perish is the reef algae, on which fish feed. Days later, the living coral starts to expire. Soon the reef loses its function as habitat for the fish, which eat both the algae and invertebrates that cling to the coral. The reef becomes an underwater graveyard, its skeletal remains brittle, bleached of all color and vulnerable to erosion from the pounding of the waves." 40 It has been found that cyanide fishing kills most hard and soft corals within three months of repeated application. 41

The nexus then between the activities barred by Ordinance No. 15-92 of the City of Puerto Princesa and the prohibited acts provided in Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1993 of the Province of Palawan, on one hand, and the use of sodium cyanide, on the other, is painfully obvious. In sum, the public purpose and reasonableness of the Ordinances may not then be controverted.

As to Office Order No. 23, Series of 1993, issued by Acting City Mayor Amado L. Lucero of the City of Puerto Princesa, we find nothing therein violative of any constitutional or statutory provision. The Order refers to the implementation of the challenged ordinance and is not the Mayor's Permit.

The dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Josue N. Bellosillo relies upon the lack of authority on the part of the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Puerto Princesa to enact Ordinance No. 15, Series of 1992, on the theory that the subject thereof is within the jurisdiction and responsibility of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) under P.D. No. 704, otherwise known as the Fisheries Decree of 1975; and that, in any event, the Ordinance is unenforceable for lack of approval by the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), likewise in accordance with P.D. No. 704.

The majority is unable to accommodate this view. The jurisdiction and responsibility of the BFAR under P.D. No. 704, over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization and disposition of all fishery and aquatic resources of the country is not all-encompassing. First, Section 4 thereof excludes from such jurisdiction and responsibility municipal waters, which shall be under the municipal or city government concerned, except insofar as fishpens and seaweed culture in municipal centers are concerned. This section provides, however, that all municipal or city ordinances and resolutions affecting fishing and fisheries and any disposition thereunder shall be submitted to the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources for appropriate action and shall have full force and effect only upon his approval. 42

Second, it must at once be pointed out that the BFAR is no longer under the Department of Natural Resources (now Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Executive Order No. 967 of 30 June 1984 transferred the BFAR from the control and supervision of the Minister (formerly Secretary) Of Natural Resources to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF) and converted it into a mere staff agency thereof, integrating its functions with the regional offices of the MAF.

In Executive Order No. 116 of 30 January 1987, which reorganized the MAF, the BFAR was retained as an attached agency of the MAF. And under the Administrative Code of 1987, 43 the BFAR is placed under the Title concerning the Department of Agriculture. 44

Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the challenged Ordinance of the City of Puerto Princesa is invalid or unenforceable because it was not approved by the Secretary of the DENR. If at all, the approval that should be sought would be that of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. However, the requirement of approval by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (not DENR) of municipal ordinances affecting fishing and fisheries in municipal waters has been dispensed with in view of the following reasons:

(1) Section 534 (Repealing Clause) of the LGC expressly repeals or amends Sections 16 and 29 of P.D. No. 704 45 insofar as they are inconsistent with the provisions of the LGC.

(2) As discussed earlier, under the general welfare clause of the LGC, local government units have the power, inter alia, to enact ordinances to enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology. It likewise specifically vests municipalities with the power to grant fishery privileges in municipal waters, and impose rentals, fees or charges therefor; to penalize, by appropriate ordinances, the use of explosives, noxious or poisonous substances, electricity, muro-ami, and other deleterious methods of fishing; and to prosecute

any violation of the provisions of applicable fishery laws. 46 Finally, it imposes upon the sangguniang bayan, the sangguniang panlungsod, and the sangguniang panlalawigan the duty to enact ordinances to "[p]rotect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment such as

dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing

pollution, acceleration of eutrophication of rivers and lakes or of ecological imbalance." 47

and such other activities which result in

In closing, we commend the Sangguniang Panlungsod of the City of Puerto Princesa and Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Palawan for exercising the requisite political will to enact urgently needed legislation to protect and enhance the marine environment, thereby sharing in the herculean task of arresting the tide of ecological destruction. We hope that other local government units shall now be roused from their lethargy and adopt a more vigilant stand in the battle against the decimation of our legacy to future generations. At this time, the repercussions of any further delay in their response may prove disastrous, if not, irreversible.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit and the temporary restraining order issued on 11 November 1993 is LIFTED.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Romero, Melo, Vitug, Francisco Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

Regalado, J., is on leave.

G.R. No. 167707

THE SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES, THE

EN BANC

G.R. No. 167707

REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DENR-REGION VI, REGIONAL TECHNICAL DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, LANDS MANAGEMENT BUREAU, REGION VI PROVINCIAL ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES OFFICER OF KALIBO, AKLAN, REGISTER OF DEEDS, DIRECTOR OF LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY, DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM SECRETARY, DIRECTOR OF PHILIPPINE TOURISM AUTHORITY,

Present:

PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA,* CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA,** REYES,

Petitioners,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, and

BRION, JJ.

-

versus

-

MAYOR JOSE S. YAP, LIBERTAD TALAPIAN, MILA Y. SUMNDAD, and ANICETO YAP, in their behalf and

in behalf of all those similarly situated, Respondents.

Promulgated:

October 8, 2008

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DR. ORLANDO SACAY and WILFREDO GELITO, joined by THE LANDOWNERS OF BORACAY SIMILARLY SITUATED NAMED IN A LIST, ANNEX “A” OF THIS PETITION,

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G.R. No. 173775

Petitioners,

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versus

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THE SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES, THE REGIONAL TECHNICAL

DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, LANDS MANAGEMENT BUREAU, REGION VI, PROVINCIAL ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES OFFICER, KALIBO, AKLAN,

x - - -

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REYES, R.T., J.:

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Respondents.

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D E C I S I O N

AT stake in these consolidated cases is the right of the present occupants of Boracay Island to secure titles over their

occupied lands.

There are two consolidated petitions. The first is G.R. No. 167707, a petition for review on certiorari of the

Decision1[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) affirming that2[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Kalibo, Aklan, which granted the

petition for declaratory relief filed by respondents-claimants Mayor Jose Yap, et al. and ordered the survey of Boracay for

titling purposes. The second is G.R. No. 173775, a petition for prohibition, mandamus, and nullification of Proclamation No.

10643[3] issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo classifying Boracay into reserved forest and agricultural land.

The Antecedents

G.R. No. 167707

Boracay Island in the Municipality of Malay, Aklan, with its powdery white sand beaches and warm crystalline waters, is reputedly a premier Philippine tourist destination. The island is also home to 12,003 inhabitants4[4] who live in the bone- shaped island’s three barangays.5[5]

On April 14, 1976, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Reservation Survey of Boracay

(DENR) approved

the

National

Island,6[6] which identified several lots as being occupied or claimed by named persons.7[7]

On November 10, 1978, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation No. 18018[8] declaring Boracay Island, among other islands, caves and peninsulas in the Philippines, as tourist zones and marine reserves under the administration of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). President Marcos later approved the issuance of PTA Circular 3-829[9] dated September 3, 1982, to implement Proclamation No. 1801.

Claiming that Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No 3-82 precluded them from filing an application for judicial confirmation of imperfect title or survey of land for titling purposes, respondents-claimants

Mayor Jose S. Yap, Jr., Libertad Talapian, Mila Y. Sumndad, and Aniceto Yap filed a petition for declaratory relief with the RTC in Kalibo, Aklan.

In their petition, respondents-claimants alleged that Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 raised doubts on their right to secure titles over their occupied lands. They declared that they themselves, or through their predecessors-in-interest, had been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation in Boracay since June 12, 1945, or earlier since time immemorial. They declared their lands for tax purposes and paid realty taxes on them.10[10]

Respondents-claimants posited that Proclamation No. 1801 and its implementing Circular did not place Boracay beyond the commerce of man. Since the Island was classified as a tourist zone, it was susceptible of private ownership. Under Section 48(b) of Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 141, otherwise known as the Public Land Act, they had the right to have the lots registered in their names through judicial confirmation of imperfect titles.

The Republic, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), opposed the petition for declaratory relief. The OSG countered that Boracay Island was an unclassified land of the public domain. It formed part of the mass of lands classified as “public forest,” which was not available for disposition pursuant to Section 3(a) of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 705 or the Revised Forestry Code,11[11] as amended.

The OSG maintained that respondents-claimants’ reliance on PD No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 was misplaced. Their right to judicial confirmation of title was governed by CA No. 141 and PD No. 705. Since Boracay Island had not been classified as alienable and disposable, whatever possession they had cannot ripen into ownership.

During pre-trial, respondents-claimants and the OSG stipulated on the following facts: (1) respondents-claimants were presently in possession of parcels of land in Boracay Island; (2) these parcels of land were planted with coconut trees and other natural growing trees; (3) the coconut trees had heights of more or less twenty (20) meters and were planted more or less fifty (50) years ago; and (4) respondents-claimants declared the land they were occupying for tax purposes.12[12]

The parties also agreed that the principal issue for resolution was purely legal: whether Proclamation No. 1801 posed any legal

hindrance or impediment to the titling of the lands in Boracay. They decided to forego with the trial and to submit the case for

resolution upon submission of their respective memoranda.13[13]

The RTC took judicial notice14[14] that certain parcels of land in Boracay Island, more particularly Lots 1 and 30, Plan PSU-

5344, were covered by Original Certificate of Title No. 19502 (RO 2222) in the name of the Heirs of Ciriaco S. Tirol. These lots

were involved in Civil Case Nos. 5222 and 5262 filed before the RTC of Kalibo, Aklan.15[15] The titles were issued on

August 7, 1933.16[16]

RTC and CA Dispositions

On July 14, 1999, the RTC rendered a decision in favor of respondents-claimants, with a fallo reading:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court declares that Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 pose no legal obstacle to the petitioners and those similarly situated to acquire title to their lands in Boracay, in accordance with the applicable laws and in the manner prescribed therein; and to have their lands surveyed and approved by respondent Regional Technical Director of Lands as the approved survey does not in itself constitute a title to the land.

SO ORDERED.17[17]

The RTC upheld respondents-claimants’ right to have their occupied lands titled in their name. It ruled that neither

Proclamation No. 1801 nor PTA Circular No. 3-82 mentioned that lands in Boracay were inalienable or could not be the subject

of disposition.18[18] The Circular itself recognized private ownership of lands.19[19] The trial court cited Sections 8720[20]

and 5321[21] of the Public Land Act as basis for acknowledging private ownership of lands in Boracay and that only those

forested areas in public lands were declared as part of the forest reserve.22[22]

The OSG moved for reconsideration but its motion was denied.23[23] The Republic then appealed to the CA.

On December 9, 2004, the appellate court affirmed in toto the RTC decision, disposing as follows:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing premises, judgment is hereby rendered by us DENYING the appeal filed in this case and AFFIRMING the decision of the lower court.24[24]

The CA held that respondents-claimants could not be prejudiced by a declaration that the lands they occupied since time

immemorial were part of a forest reserve.

Again, the OSG sought reconsideration but it was similarly denied.25[25] Hence, the present petition under Rule 45.

G.R. No. 173775

On May 22, 2006, during the pendency of G.R. No. 167707, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No.

106426[26] classifying Boracay Island into four hundred (400) hectares of reserved forest land (protection purposes) and six

hundred twenty-eight and 96/100 (628.96) hectares of agricultural land (alienable and disposable). The Proclamation likewise

provided for a fifteen-meter buffer zone on each side of the centerline of roads and trails, reserved for right-of-way and which

shall form part of the area reserved for forest land protection purposes.

On August 10, 2006, petitioners-claimants Dr. Orlando Sacay,27[27] Wilfredo Gelito,28[28] and other landowners29[29] in Boracay filed with this Court an original petition for prohibition, mandamus, and nullification of Proclamation No. 1064.30[30] They allege that the Proclamation infringed on their “prior vested rights” over portions of Boracay. They have been in continued possession of their respective lots in Boracay since time immemorial. They have also invested billions of pesos in developing their lands and building internationally renowned first class resorts on their lots.31[31]

Being

classified as neither mineral nor timber land, the island is deemed agricultural pursuant to the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Act

No. 926, known as the first Public Land Act.32[32] Thus, their possession in the concept of owner for the required period entitled them to judicial confirmation of imperfect title.

Petitioners-claimants contended that there is no need for a proclamation reclassifying Boracay into agricultural land.

Opposing the petition, the OSG argued that petitioners-claimants do not have a vested right over their occupied portions in the island. Boracay is an unclassified public forest land pursuant to Section 3(a) of PD No. 705. Being public forest, the claimed portions of the island are inalienable and cannot be the subject of judicial confirmation of imperfect title. It is only the executive department, not the courts, which has authority to reclassify lands of the public domain into alienable and disposable lands. There is a need for a positive government act in order to release the lots for disposition.

On November 21, 2006, this Court ordered the consolidation of the two petitions as they principally involve the same issues on the land classification of Boracay Island.33[33]

Issues

G.R. No. 167707

The OSG raises the lone issue of whether Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 pose any legal obstacle for

respondents, and all those similarly situated, to acquire title to their occupied lands in Boracay Island.34[34]

G.R. No. 173775

Petitioners-claimants hoist five (5) issues, namely:

I.

AT THE TIME OF THE ESTABLISHED POSSESSION OF PETITIONERS IN CONCEPT OF OWNER OVER THEIR RESPECTIVE AREAS IN BORACAY, SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL OR AT THE LATEST SINCE 30 YRS. PRIOR TO THE FILING OF THE PETITION FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF ON NOV. 19, 1997, WERE THE AREAS OCCUPIED BY THEM PUBLIC AGRICULTURAL LANDS AS DEFINED BY LAWS THEN ON JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION OF IMPERFECT TITLES OR PUBLIC FOREST AS DEFINED BY SEC. 3a, PD 705?

II.

HAVE PETITIONERS OCCUPANTS ACQUIRED PRIOR VESTED RIGHT OF PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OVER THEIR OCCUPIED PORTIONS OF BORACAY LAND, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE NOT APPLIED YET FOR

JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION OF IMPERFECT TITLE?

III.

IS THE EXECUTIVE DECLARATION OF THEIR AREAS AS ALIENABLE AND DISPOSABLE UNDER SEC 6, CA 141 [AN]

INDISPENSABLE PRE-REQUISITE FOR PETITIONERS TO OBTAIN TITLE UNDER THE TORRENS SYSTEM?

IV.

IS THE ISSUANCE OF PROCLAMATION 1064 ON MAY 22, 2006, VIOLATIVE OF THE PRIOR VESTED RIGHTS TO PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF PETITIONERS OVER THEIR LANDS IN BORACAY, PROTECTED BY THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION OR IS PROCLAMATION 1064 CONTRARY TO SEC. 8, CA 141, OR SEC. 4(a) OF RA 6657.

V.

CAN RESPONDENTS BE COMPELLED BY MANDAMUS TO ALLOW THE SURVEY AND TO APPROVE THE SURVEY PLANS FOR PURPOSES OF THE APPLICATION FOR TITLING OF THE LANDS OF PETITIONERS IN BORACAY?35[35] (Underscoring supplied)

In capsule, the main issue is whether private claimants (respondents-claimants in G.R. No. 167707 and petitioners-claimants in

G.R. No. 173775) have a right to secure titles over their occupied portions in Boracay. The twin petitions pertain to their right,

if any, to judicial confirmation of imperfect title under CA No. 141, as amended. They do not involve their right to secure title

under other pertinent laws.

Our Ruling

Regalian Doctrine and power of the executive

to reclassify lands of the public domain

Private claimants rely on three (3) laws and executive acts in their bid for judicial confirmation of imperfect title, namely: (a) Philippine Bill of 190236[36] in relation to Act No. 926, later amended and/or superseded by Act No. 2874 and CA No. 141;37[37] (b) Proclamation No. 180138[38] issued by then President Marcos; and (c) Proclamation No. 106439[39] issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We shall proceed to determine their rights to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title under these laws and executive acts.

But first, a peek at the Regalian principle and the power of the executive to reclassify lands of the public domain.

The 1935 Constitution classified lands of the public domain into agricultural, forest or timber.40[40] Meanwhile, the 1973 Constitution provided the following divisions: agricultural, industrial or commercial, residential, resettlement, mineral, timber or forest and grazing lands, and such other classes as may be provided by law,41[41] giving the government great leeway for classification.42[42] Then the 1987 Constitution reverted to the 1935 Constitution classification with one addition:

national parks.43[43] Of these, only agricultural lands may be alienated.44[44] Prior to Proclamation No. 1064 of May 22, 2006, Boracay Island had never been expressly and administratively classified under any of these grand divisions. Boracay was an unclassified land of the public domain.

The Regalian Doctrine dictates that all lands of the public domain belong to the State, that the State is the source of any asserted right to ownership of land and charged with the conservation of such patrimony.45[45] The doctrine has been consistently adopted under the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Constitutions.46[46]

All lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State.47[47] Thus, all lands that have not been acquired from the government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the State as part of the inalienable public domain.48[48] Necessarily, it is up to the State to determine if lands of the public domain will be disposed of for private ownership. The government, as the agent of the state, is possessed of the plenary power as the persona in law to determine who shall be the favored recipients of public lands, as well as under what terms they may be granted such privilege, not excluding the placing of obstacles in the way of their exercise of what otherwise would be ordinary acts of

ownership.49[49]

Our present land law traces its roots to the Regalian Doctrine. Upon the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, ownership of all lands, territories and possessions in the Philippines passed to the Spanish Crown.50[50] The Regalian doctrine was first introduced in the Philippines through the Laws of the Indies and the Royal Cedulas, which laid the foundation that “all lands that were not acquired from the Government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the public domain.”51[51]

The Laws of the Indies was followed by the Ley Hipotecaria or the Mortgage Law of 1893. The Spanish Mortgage Law provided for the systematic registration of titles and deeds as well as possessory claims.52[52]

The Royal Decree of 1894 or the Maura Law53[53] partly amended the Spanish Mortgage Law and the Laws of the Indies. It established possessory information as the method of legalizing possession of vacant Crown land, under certain conditions which were set forth in said decree.54[54] Under Section 393 of the Maura Law, an informacion posesoria or possessory information title,55[55] when duly inscribed in the Registry of Property, is converted into a title of ownership only after the lapse of twenty (20) years of uninterrupted possession which must be actual, public, and adverse,56[56] from the date of its inscription.57[57] However, possessory information title had to be perfected one year after the promulgation of the Maura Law, or until April 17, 1895. Otherwise, the lands would revert to the State.58[58]

In sum, private ownership of land under the Spanish regime could only be founded

on royal concessions which took various

forms, namely: (1) titulo real or royal grant; (2) concesion especial or special grant; (3) composicion con el estado or adjustment title; (4) titulo de compra or title by purchase; and (5) informacion posesoria or possessory information title.59[59]

The first law governing the disposition of public lands in the Philippines under American rule was embodied in the Philippine Bill of 1902.60[60] By this law, lands of the public domain in the Philippine Islands were classified into three (3) grand divisions, to wit: agricultural, mineral, and timber or forest lands.61[61] The act provided for, among others, the disposal of mineral lands by means of absolute grant (freehold system) and by lease (leasehold system).62[62] It also provided the definition by

exclusion of “agricultural public lands.”63[63] Interpreting the meaning of “agricultural lands” under the Philippine Bill of

1902, the Court declared in Mapa v. Insular Government:64[64]

x x x In other words, that the phrase “agricultural land” as used in Act No. 926 means those public lands acquired from Spain which are not timber or mineral lands. x x x65[65] (Emphasis Ours)

On February 1, 1903, the Philippine Legislature passed Act No. 496, otherwise known as the Land Registration Act.

The act established a system of registration by which recorded title becomes absolute, indefeasible, and imprescriptible. This

is known as the Torrens system.66[66]

Concurrently, on October 7, 1903, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 926, which was the first Public Land Act.

The Act introduced the homestead system and made provisions for judicial and administrative confirmation of imperfect titles

and for the sale or lease of public lands. It permitted corporations regardless of the nationality of persons owning the

controlling stock to lease or purchase lands of the public domain.67[67] Under the Act, open, continuous, exclusive, and

notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands for the next ten (10) years preceding July 26, 1904 was sufficient for

judicial confirmation of imperfect title.68[68]

On November 29, 1919, Act No. 926 was superseded by Act No. 2874, otherwise known as the second Public Land

Act. This new, more comprehensive law limited the exploitation of agricultural lands to Filipinos and Americans and citizens of

other countries which gave Filipinos the same privileges. For judicial confirmation of title, possession and occupation en concepto dueño since time immemorial, or since July 26, 1894, was required.69[69]

After the passage of the 1935 Constitution, CA No. 141 amended Act No. 2874 on December 1, 1936. To this day, CA No. 141, as amended, remains as the existing general law governing the classification and disposition of lands of the public domain other than timber and mineral lands,70[70] and privately owned lands which reverted to the State.71[71]

Section 48(b) of CA No. 141 retained the requirement under Act No. 2874 of possession and occupation of lands of the public domain since time immemorial or since July 26, 1894. However, this provision was superseded by Republic Act (RA) No. 1942,72[72] which provided for a simple thirty-year prescriptive period for judicial confirmation of imperfect title. The provision was last amended by PD No. 1073,73[73] which now provides for possession and occupation of the land applied for since June 12, 1945, or earlier.74[74]

The issuance of PD No. 89275[75] on February 16, 1976 discontinued the use of Spanish titles as evidence in land registration proceedings.76[76] Under the decree, all holders of Spanish titles or grants should apply for registration of their lands under Act No. 496 within six (6) months from the effectivity of the decree on February 16, 1976. Thereafter, the

recording of all unregistered lands77[77] shall be governed by Section 194 of the Revised Administrative Code, as amended by Act No. 3344.

On June 11, 1978, Act No. 496 was amended and updated by PD No. 1529, known as the Property Registration Decree. It was enacted to codify the various laws relative to registration of property.78[78] It governs registration of lands under the Torrens system as well as unregistered lands, including chattel mortgages.79[79]

A positive act declaring land as alienable and disposable is required. In keeping with the presumption of State ownership, the Court has time and again emphasized that there must be a positive act of the government, such as an official proclamation,80[80] declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes.81[81] In fact, Section 8 of CA No. 141 limits alienable or disposable lands only to those lands which have been “officially delimited and

classified.”82[82]

The burden of proof in overcoming the presumption of State ownership of the lands of the public domain is on the person applying for registration (or claiming ownership), who must prove that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable.83[83] To overcome this presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be established that the land subject of the application (or claim) is alienable or disposable.84[84] There must still be a positive act declaring land of the public domain as alienable and disposable. To prove that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable, the applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order; an

administrative action; investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators; and a legislative act or a statute.85[85] The applicant may also secure a certification from the government that the land claimed to have been possessed for the required number of years is alienable and disposable.86[86]

In the case at bar, no such proclamation, executive order, administrative action, report, statute, or certification was presented to the Court. The records are bereft of evidence showing that, prior to 2006, the portions of Boracay occupied by private claimants were subject of a government proclamation that the land is alienable and disposable. Absent such well-nigh incontrovertible evidence, the Court cannot accept the submission that lands occupied by private claimants were already open to disposition before 2006. Matters of land classification or reclassification cannot be assumed. They call for proof.87[87]

Ankron and De Aldecoa did not make the whole of Boracay Island, or portions of it, agricultural lands. Private claimants posit that Boracay was already an agricultural land pursuant to the old cases Ankron v. Government of the Philippine Islands (1919)88[88] and De Aldecoa v. The Insular Government (1909).89[89] These cases were decided under the provisions of the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Act No. 926. There is a statement in these old cases that “in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that in each case the lands are agricultural lands until the contrary is shown.”90[90]

Private claimants’ reliance on Ankron and De Aldecoa is misplaced. These cases did not have the effect of converting the whole of Boracay Island or portions of it into agricultural lands. It should be stressed that the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Act No. 926 merely provided the manner through which land registration courts would classify lands of the public domain. Whether the land would be classified as timber, mineral, or agricultural depended on proof presented in each case.

Ankron and De Aldecoa were decided at a time when the President of the Philippines had no power to classify lands of

the public domain into mineral, timber, and agricultural. At that time, the courts were free to make corresponding

classifications in justiciable cases, or were vested with implicit power to do so, depending upon the preponderance of the

evidence.91[91] This was the Court’s ruling in Heirs of the Late Spouses Pedro S. Palanca and Soterranea Rafols Vda. De

Palanca v. Republic,92[92] in which it stated, through Justice Adolfo Azcuna, viz.:

x x x Petitioners furthermore insist that a particular land need not be formally released by an act of the Executive before it can be deemed open to private ownership, citing the cases of Ramos v. Director of Lands and Ankron v. Government of the Philippine Islands.

x x x x

Petitioner’s reliance upon Ramos v. Director of Lands and Ankron v. Government is misplaced. These cases were decided under the Philippine Bill of 1902 and the first Public Land Act No. 926 enacted by the Philippine Commission on October 7, 1926, under which there was no legal provision vesting in the Chief Executive or President of the Philippines the power to classify lands of the public domain into mineral, timber and agricultural so that the courts then were free to make corresponding classifications in justiciable cases, or were vested with implicit power to do so, depending upon the preponderance of the evidence.93[93]

To aid the courts in resolving land registration cases under Act No. 926, it was then necessary to devise a presumption

on land classification. Thus evolved the dictum in Ankron that “the courts have a right to presume, in the absence of evidence

to the contrary, that in each case the lands are agricultural lands until the contrary is shown.”94[94]

But We cannot unduly expand the presumption in Ankron and De Aldecoa to an argument that all lands of the public

domain had been automatically reclassified as disposable and alienable agricultural lands. By no stretch of imagination did the

presumption convert all lands of the public domain into agricultural lands.

If We accept the position of private claimants, the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Act No. 926 would have automatically

made all lands in the Philippines, except those already classified as timber or mineral land, alienable and disposable lands.

That would take these lands out of State ownership and worse, would be utterly inconsistent with and totally repugnant to the

long-entrenched Regalian doctrine.

The presumption in Ankron and De Aldecoa attaches only to land registration cases brought under the provisions of

Act No. 926, or more specifically those cases dealing with judicial and administrative confirmation of imperfect titles. The

presumption applies to an applicant for judicial or administrative conformation of imperfect title under Act No. 926. It

certainly cannot apply to landowners, such as private claimants or their predecessors-in-interest, who failed to avail

themselves of the benefits of Act No. 926. As to them, their land remained unclassified and, by virtue of the Regalian doctrine,

continued to be owned by the State.

In any case, the assumption in Ankron and De Aldecoa was not absolute. Land classification was, in the end,

dependent on proof. If there was proof that the land was better suited for non-agricultural uses, the courts could adjudge it

as a mineral or timber land despite the presumption. In Ankron, this Court stated:

In the case of Jocson vs. Director of Forestry (supra), the Attorney-General admitted in effect that whether the particular land in question belongs to one class or another is a question of fact. The mere fact that a tract of land has trees upon it or has mineral within it is not of itself sufficient to declare that one is forestry land and the other, mineral land. There must be some proof of the extent and present or future value of the forestry and of the minerals. While, as we have just said, many definitions have been given for “agriculture,” “forestry,” and “mineral” lands, and that in each case it is a question of fact, we think it is safe to say that in order to be forestry or mineral land the proof must show that it is more valuable for the forestry or the mineral which it contains than it is for agricultural purposes. (Sec. 7, Act No. 1148.) It is not sufficient to show that there exists some trees upon the land or that it bears some mineral. Land may be classified as forestry or mineral today, and, by reason of the exhaustion of the timber or mineral, be classified as agricultural land tomorrow. And vice-versa, by reason of the rapid growth of timber or the discovery of valuable minerals, lands classified as agricultural today may be differently classified tomorrow. Each case must be decided upon the proof in that particular case, having regard for its present or future value for one

or the other purposes. We believe, however, considering the fact that it is a matter of public knowledge that

a majority of the lands in the Philippine Islands are agricultural lands that the courts have a right to presume,

in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that in each case the lands are agricultural lands until the contrary

is shown. Whatever the land involved in a particular land registration case is forestry or mineral land must,

therefore, be a matter of proof. Its superior value for one purpose or the other is a question of fact to be settled by the proof in each particular case. The fact that the land is a manglar [mangrove swamp] is not sufficient for the courts to decide whether it is agricultural, forestry, or mineral land. It may perchance belong to one or the other of said classes of land. The Government, in the first instance, under the provisions of Act No. 1148, may, by reservation, decide for itself what portions of public land shall be considered forestry land, unless private interests have intervened before such reservation is made. In the latter case, whether the land is agricultural, forestry, or mineral, is a question of proof. Until private interests have intervened, the Government, by virtue of the terms of said Act (No. 1148), may decide for itself what portions of the “public domain” shall be set aside and reserved as forestry or mineral land. (Ramos vs. Director of Lands, 39 Phil. 175; Jocson vs. Director of Forestry, supra)95[95] (Emphasis ours)

Since 1919, courts were no longer free to determine the classification of lands from the facts of each case, except

those that have already became private lands.96[96] Act No. 2874, promulgated in 1919 and reproduced in Section 6 of CA

No. 141, gave the Executive Department, through the President, the exclusive prerogative to classify or reclassify public lands

into alienable or disposable, mineral or forest.96-a Since then, courts no longer had the authority, whether express or implied,

to determine the classification of lands of the public domain.97[97]

Here, private claimants, unlike the Heirs of Ciriaco Tirol who were issued their title in 1933,98[98] did not present a justiciable

case for determination by the land registration court of the property’s land classification. Simply put, there was no opportunity

for the courts then to resolve if the land the Boracay occupants are now claiming were agricultural lands. When Act No. 926

was supplanted by Act No. 2874 in 1919, without an application for judicial confirmation having been filed by private claimants

or their predecessors-in-interest, the courts were no longer authorized to determine the property’s land classification. Hence,

private claimants cannot bank on Act No. 926.

We note that the RTC decision99[99] in G.R. No. 167707 mentioned Krivenko v. Register of Deeds of Manila,100[100] which

was decided in 1947 when CA No. 141, vesting the Executive with the sole power to classify lands of the public domain was

already in effect. Krivenko cited the old cases Mapa v. Insular Government,101[101] De Aldecoa v. The Insular

Government,102[102] and Ankron v. Government of the Philippine Islands.103[103]

Krivenko, however, is not controlling here because it involved a totally different issue. The pertinent issue in Krivenko was

whether residential lots were included in the general classification of agricultural lands; and if so, whether an alien could

acquire a residential lot. This Court ruled that as an alien, Krivenko was prohibited by the 1935 Constitution104[104] from

acquiring agricultural land, which included residential lots. Here, the issue is whether unclassified lands of the public domain

are automatically deemed agricultural.

Notably, the definition of “agricultural public lands” mentioned in Krivenko relied on the old cases decided prior to the

enactment of Act No. 2874, including Ankron and De Aldecoa.105[105] As We have already stated, those cases cannot apply

here, since they were decided when the Executive did not have the authority to classify lands as agricultural, timber, or

mineral.

Private claimants’ continued possession under Act No. 926 does not create a presumption that the land is alienable. Private

claimants also contend that their continued possession of portions of Boracay Island for the requisite period of ten (10) years

under Act No. 926106[106] ipso facto converted the island into private ownership. name.

Hence, they may apply for a title in their

A similar argument was squarely rejected by the Court in Collado v. Court of Appeals.107[107]

Collado, citing the separate

opinion of now Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno in Cruz v. Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources,107-a ruled:

“Act No. 926, the first Public Land Act, was passed in pursuance of the provisions of the Philippine Bill of 1902. The law governed the disposition of lands of the public domain. It prescribed rules and regulations for the homesteading, selling and leasing of portions of the public domain of the Philippine Islands, and prescribed the terms and conditions to enable persons to perfect their titles to public lands in the Islands. It also provided for the “issuance of patents to certain native settlers upon public lands,” for the establishment of town sites and sale of lots therein, for the completion of imperfect titles, and for the cancellation or confirmation of Spanish concessions and grants in the Islands.” In short, the Public Land Act operated on the assumption that title to public lands in the Philippine Islands remained in the government; and that the government’s title to public land sprung from the Treaty of Paris and other subsequent treaties between Spain and the United States. The term “public land” referred to all lands of the public domain whose title still remained in the government and are thrown open to private appropriation and settlement, and excluded the patrimonial property of the government and the friar lands.”

Thus, it is plain error for petitioners to argue that under the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Public Land Act No. 926, mere possession by private individuals of lands creates the legal presumption that the lands are alienable and disposable.108[108] (Emphasis Ours)

Except for lands already covered by existing titles, Boracay was an unclassified land of the public domain prior to

Proclamation No. 1064. Such unclassified lands are considered public forest under PD No. 705. The DENR109[109] and the

National Mapping and Resource Information Authority110[110] certify that Boracay Island is an unclassified land of the public

domain.

PD No. 705 issued by President Marcos categorized all unclassified lands of the public domain as public forest. Section 3(a) of

PD No. 705 defines a public forest as “a mass of lands of the public domain which has not been the subject of the present

system of classification for the determination of which lands are needed for forest purpose and which are not.” Applying PD

No. 705, all unclassified lands, including those in Boracay Island, are ipso facto considered public forests. PD No. 705, however,

respects titles already existing prior to its effectivity.

The Court notes that the classification of Boracay as a forest land under PD No. 705 may seem to be out of touch with the

present realities in the island. Boracay, no doubt, has been partly stripped of its forest cover to pave the way for commercial

developments. As a premier tourist destination for local and foreign tourists, Boracay appears more of a commercial island

resort, rather than a forest land.

Nevertheless, that the occupants of Boracay have built multi-million peso beach resorts on the island;111[111] that the island

has already been stripped of its forest cover; or that the implementation of Proclamation No. 1064 will destroy the island’s

tourism industry, do not negate its character as public forest.

Forests, in the context of both the Public Land Act and the Constitution112[112] classifying lands of the public domain into

agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks,” do not necessarily refer to large tracts of wooded land or

expanses covered by dense growths of trees and underbrushes.113[113] The discussion in Heirs of Amunategui v. Director of

Forestry114[114] is particularly instructive:

A forested area classified as forest land of the public domain does not lose such classification simply because loggers or settlers may have stripped it of its forest cover. Parcels of land classified as forest land may actually be covered with grass or planted to crops by kaingin cultivators or other farmers. “Forest lands” do not have to be on mountains or in out of the way places. Swampy areas covered by mangrove trees, nipa palms, and other trees growing in brackish or sea water may also be classified as forest land. The classification is descriptive of its legal nature or status and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like. Unless and until the land classified as “forest” is released in an official proclamation to that effect so that it may form part of the disposable agricultural lands of the public domain, the rules on confirmation of imperfect title do not apply.115[115] (Emphasis supplied)

There is a big difference between “forest” as defined in a dictionary and “forest or timber land” as a classification of lands of

the public domain as appearing in our statutes. One is descriptive of what appears on the land while the other is a legal status,

a classification for legal purposes.116[116] At any rate, the Court is tasked to determine the legal status of Boracay Island, and

not look into its physical layout. Hence, even if its forest cover has been replaced by beach resorts, restaurants and other

commercial establishments, it has not been automatically converted from public forest to alienable agricultural land.

Private claimants cannot rely on Proclamation No. 1801 as basis for judicial confirmation of imperfect title. The

proclamation did not convert Boracay into an agricultural land. However, private claimants argue that Proclamation No.

1801 issued by then President Marcos in 1978 entitles them to judicial confirmation of imperfect title. The Proclamation

classified Boracay, among other islands, as a tourist zone. Private claimants assert that, as a tourist spot, the island is

susceptible of private ownership.

Proclamation No. 1801 or PTA Circular No. 3-82 did not convert the whole of Boracay into an agricultural land. There is

nothing in the law or the Circular which made Boracay Island an agricultural land. The reference in Circular No. 3-82 to “private

lands”117[117] and “areas declared as alienable and disposable”118[118] does not by itself classify the entire island as

agricultural. Notably, Circular No. 3-82 makes reference not only to private lands and areas but also to public forested lands.

Rule VIII, Section 3 provides:

No trees in forested private lands may be cut without prior authority from the PTA. areas in public lands are declared forest reserves. (Emphasis supplied)

All forested

Clearly, the reference in the Circular to both private and public lands merely recognizes that the island can be

classified by the Executive department pursuant to its powers under CA No. 141. In fact, Section 5 of the Circular recognizes

the then Bureau of Forest Development’s authority to declare areas in the island as alienable and disposable when it provides:

Subsistence farming, in areas declared Development.

as alienable and disposable by the Bureau of Forest

Therefore, Proclamation No. 1801 cannot be deemed the positive act needed to classify Boracay Island as alienable and

disposable land. If President Marcos intended to classify the island as alienable and disposable or forest, or both, he would

have identified the specific limits of each, as President Arroyo did in Proclamation No. 1064. This was not done in Proclamation

No. 1801.

The Whereas clauses of Proclamation No. 1801 also explain the rationale behind the declaration of Boracay Island, together

with other islands, caves and peninsulas in the Philippines, as a tourist zone and marine reserve to be administered by the PTA

to ensure the concentrated efforts of the public and private sectors in the development of the areas’ tourism potential with

due regard for ecological balance in the marine environment. Simply put, the proclamation is aimed at administering the islands for tourism and ecological purposes. It does not address the areas’ alienability.119[119]

More importantly, Proclamation No. 1801 covers not only Boracay Island, but sixty-four (64) other islands, coves, and peninsulas in the Philippines, such as Fortune and Verde Islands in Batangas, Port Galera in Oriental Mindoro, Panglao and Balicasag Islands in Bohol, Coron Island, Puerto Princesa and surrounding areas in Palawan, Camiguin Island in Cagayan de Oro, and Misamis Oriental, to name a few. If the designation of Boracay Island as tourist zone makes it alienable and disposable by virtue of Proclamation No. 1801, all the other areas mentioned would likewise be declared wide open for private disposition. That could not have been, and is clearly beyond, the intent of the proclamation.

It was Proclamation No. 1064 of 2006 which positively declared part of Boracay as alienable and opened the same to private ownership. Sections 6 and 7 of CA No. 141120[120] provide that it is only the President, upon the recommendation of the proper department head, who has the authority to classify the lands of the public domain into alienable or disposable, timber and mineral lands.121[121]

In issuing Proclamation No. 1064, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo merely exercised the authority granted to her to classify lands of the public domain, presumably subject to existing vested rights. Classification of public lands is the exclusive prerogative of the Executive Department, through the Office of the President. Courts have no authority to do so.122[122] Absent such classification, the land remains unclassified until released and rendered open to disposition.123[123]

Proclamation No. 1064 classifies Boracay into 400 hectares of reserved forest land and 628.96 hectares of agricultural land. The Proclamation likewise provides for a 15-meter buffer zone on each side of the center line of roads and trails, which are reserved for right of way and which shall form part of the area reserved for forest land protection purposes.

Contrary to private claimants’ argument, there was nothing invalid or irregular, much less unconstitutional, about the classification of Boracay Island made by the President through Proclamation No. 1064. It was within her authority to make such classification, subject to existing vested rights.

Proclamation No. 1064 does not violate the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. Private claimants further assert that

Proclamation No. 1064 violates the provision of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) or RA No. 6657 barring

conversion of public forests into agricultural lands. They claim that since Boracay is a public forest under PD No. 705, President

Arroyo can no longer convert it into an agricultural land without running afoul of Section 4(a) of RA No. 6657, thus:

SEC. 4. Scope. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 shall cover, regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced, all public and private agricultural lands as provided in Proclamation No. 131 and Executive Order No. 229, including other lands of the public domain suitable for agriculture.

More specifically, the following lands are covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program:

(a) All alienable and disposable lands of the public domain devoted to or suitable for agriculture. No reclassification of forest or mineral lands to agricultural lands shall be undertaken after the approval of this Act until Congress, taking into account ecological, developmental and equity considerations, shall have determined by law, the specific limits of the public domain.

That Boracay Island was classified as a public forest under PD No. 705 did not bar the Executive from later converting

it into agricultural land. Boracay Island still remained an unclassified land of the public domain despite PD No. 705.

In Heirs of the Late Spouses Pedro S. Palanca and Soterranea Rafols v. Republic,124[124] the Court stated that

unclassified lands are public forests.

While it is true that the land classification map does not categorically state that the islands are public forests, the fact that they were unclassified lands leads to the same result. In the absence of the classification as mineral or timber land, the land remains unclassified land until released and rendered open to disposition.125[125] (Emphasis supplied)

If the land had never been previously

classified, as in the case of Boracay, there can be no prohibited reclassification under the agrarian law. We agree with the

opinion of the Department of Justicei[126] on this point:

Moreover, the prohibition under the CARL applies only to a “reclassification” of land.

Indeed, the key word to the correct application of the prohibition in Section 4(a) is the word “reclassification.” Where there has been no previous classification of public forest [referring, we repeat, to the mass of the public domain which has not been the subject of the present system of classification for purposes of determining which are needed for forest purposes and which are not] into permanent forest or forest reserves or some other forest uses under the Revised Forestry Code, there can be no “reclassification of forest lands” to speak of within the meaning of Section 4(a).

Thus, obviously, the prohibition in Section 4(a) of the CARL against the reclassification of forest lands to agricultural lands without a prior law delimiting the limits of the public domain, does not, and cannot, apply to those lands of the public domain, denominated as “public forest” under the Revised Forestry Code, which have not been previously determined, or classified, as needed for forest purposes in accordance with the provisions of the Revised Forestry Code.ii[127]

Private claimants are not entitled to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title under CA No. 141. Neither do they

have vested rights over the occupied lands under the said law. There are two requisites for judicial confirmation of imperfect

or incomplete title under CA No. 141, namely: (1) open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the

subject land by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest under a bona fide claim of ownership since time immemorial or

from June 12, 1945; and (2) the classification of the land as alienable and disposable land of the public domain.126[128]

As discussed, the Philippine Bill of 1902, Act No. 926, and Proclamation No. 1801 did not convert portions of Boracay Island

into an agricultural land. The island remained an unclassified land of the public domain and, applying the Regalian doctrine, is

considered State property.

Private claimants’ bid for judicial confirmation of imperfect title, relying on the Philippine Bill of 1902, Act No. 926, and

Proclamation No. 1801, must fail because of the absence of the second element of alienable and disposable land. Their

entitlement to a government grant under our present Public Land Act presupposes that the land possessed and applied for is

already alienable and disposable. This is clear from the wording of the law itself.127[129] Where the land is not alienable and

disposable, possession of the land, no matter how long, cannot confer ownership or possessory rights.128[130]

Neither may private claimants apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title under Proclamation No. 1064, with respect to

those lands which were classified as agricultural lands. Private claimants failed to prove the first element of open, continuous,

exclusive, and notorious possession of their lands in Boracay since June 12, 1945.

We cannot sustain the CA and RTC conclusion in the petition for declaratory relief that private claimants complied with the

requisite period of possession.

The tax declarations in the name of private claimants are insufficient to prove the first element of possession. We note that the earliest of the tax declarations in the name of private claimants were issued in 1993. Being of recent dates, the tax

declarations are not sufficient to convince this Court

1945.

that the period of possession and occupation commenced on June 12,

Private claimants insist that they have a vested right in Boracay, having been in possession of the island for a long time. They have invested millions of pesos in developing the island into a tourist spot. They say their continued possession and investments give them a vested right which cannot be unilaterally rescinded by Proclamation No. 1064.

The continued possession and considerable investment of private claimants do not automatically give them a vested right in Boracay. Nor do these give them a right to apply for a title to the land they are presently occupying. This Court is constitutionally bound to decide cases based on the evidence presented and the laws applicable. As the law and jurisprudence stand, private claimants are ineligible to apply for a judicial confirmation of title over their occupied portions in Boracay even with their continued possession and considerable investment in the island.

One Last Note

The Court is aware that millions of pesos have been invested for the development of Boracay Island, making it a by-word in the local and international tourism industry. The Court also notes that for a number of years, thousands of people have called the island their home. While the Court commiserates with private claimants’ plight, We are bound to apply the law strictly and judiciously. This is the law and it should prevail. Ito ang batas at ito ang dapat umiral.

All is not lost, however, for private claimants. While they may not be eligible to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title under Section 48(b) of CA No. 141, as amended, this does not denote their automatic ouster from the residential, commercial, and other areas they possess now classified as agricultural. Neither will this mean the loss of their substantial investments on their occupied alienable lands. Lack of title does not necessarily mean lack of right to possess. For one thing, those with lawful possession may claim good faith as builders of improvements. They can take steps to preserve or protect their possession. For another, they may look into other modes of applying for original registration of title, such as by homestead129[131] or sales patent,iii[132] subject to the conditions imposed by law.

More realistically, Congress may enact a law to entitle private claimants to acquire title to their occupied lots or to exempt them from certain requirements under the present land laws. There is one such billiv[133] now pending in the House of Representatives. Whether that bill or a similar bill will become a law is for Congress to decide.

In issuing Proclamation No. 1064, the government has taken the step necessary to open up the island to private ownership.

This gesture may not be sufficient to appease some sectors which view the classification of the island partially into a forest

reserve as absurd. That the island is no longer overrun by trees, however, does not becloud the vision to protect its remaining

forest cover and to strike a healthy balance between progress and ecology. Ecological conservation is as important as

economic progress.

Their promotion and protection are not just fancy rhetoric

for politicians and activists. These are needs that become more urgent as destruction of our environment gets prevalent and

difficult to control. As aptly observed by Justice Conrado Sanchez in 1968 in Director of Forestry v. Munoz:v[134]

To be sure, forest lands are fundamental to our nation’s survival.

The view this Court takes of the cases at bar is but in adherence to public policy that should be followed with respect to forest lands. Many have written much, and many more have spoken, and quite often, about the pressing need for forest preservation, conservation, protection, development and reforestation. Not without justification. For, forests constitute a vital segment of any country's natural resources. It is of common knowledge by now that absence of the necessary green cover on our lands produces a number of adverse or ill effects of serious proportions. Without the trees, watersheds dry up; rivers and lakes which they supply are emptied of their contents. The fish disappear. Denuded areas become dust bowls. As waterfalls cease to function, so will hydroelectric plants. With the rains, the fertile topsoil is washed away; geological erosion results. With erosion come the dreaded floods that wreak havoc and destruction to property crops, livestock, houses, and highways not to mention precious human lives. Indeed, the foregoing observations should be written down in a lumberman’s decalogue.vi[135]

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered as follows:

1. The petition for certiorari in G.R. No. 167707 is GRANTED and the Court of Appeals Decision in CA-G.R. CV No.

71118 REVERSED AND SET ASIDE.

2. The petition for certiorari in G.R. No. 173775 is DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

RUBEN T. REYES

Associate Justice

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court

G.R. No. 146030

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, petitioner, vs. HEIRS OF FELIPE ALEJAGA SR., represented by ROQUETA ALEJAGA, FELIPE ALEJAGA JR., MARIA DULLA ALEJAGA, FELIPE ALEJAGA III, ROQUETA ALEJAGA, JENNIFER ALEJAGA, EVERETTE CAPUNDAN, AND LYNETTE ALEJAGA; THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK and THE REGISTER OF DEEDS OF ROXAS CITY, respondents.

PANGANIBAN, J.:

D E C I S I O N

We reiterate the familiar doctrine that a free patent obtained through fraud or misrepresentation is void. Furthermore, the one-year prescriptive period provided in the Public Land Act does not bar the State from asking for the reversion of property acquired through such means.

Statement of the Case

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the November 15, 2000 Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR CV No. 44568. The decretal portion of the challenged Decision reads as follows:

"WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby REVERSED, SET ASIDE and RECALLED." 2

The Facts

The factual antecedents of the case are summarized by the CA thus:

"On December 28, 1978, [Respondent] Felipe Alejaga, Sr. x x x filed with the District Land Office, Roxas City, Free Patent Application No. (VI-2) 8442 covering a parcel of land identified as Lot 1, Mli-06-000020-D, with an area of .3899 hectares, more or less located at Dumolog, Roxas City (Exh. "A"; Exh "9"). It appears that on December 27, 1978, when the application was executed under oath, Efren L. Recio, Land Inspector, submitted a report of his investigation and verification of the land to the District Land Office, Bureau of Lands, City of Roxas. On March 14, 1979, the District Land Officer of Roxas City approved the application and the issuance of [a] Free Patent to the applicant. On March 16, 1979, the patent was also ordered to be issued and the patent was forwarded to defendant Register of Deeds, City of Roxas, for registration and issuance of the corresponding Certificate of Title. Thereafter, Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 Free Patent No. (VI-2) 3358 was issued to [respondent] by defendant Register of Deeds.

"On April 4, 1979, the heirs of Ignacio Arrobang, through counsel in a letter-complaint requested the Director of Lands, Manila, for an investigation of the District Land Officer, Roxas City, and the Regional Office, Region VI, Iloilo City, for irregularities in the issuance of the title of a foreshore land in favor of

[respondent]. Isagani Cartagena, Supervising Special Investigator, Legal Division, Land Management Bureau (formerly Bureau of Lands) submitted his Report dated April 17, 1989. The Chief, Legal Division, Land Management Bureau, Manila, recommended to the Director of Lands appropriate civil proceeding for the cancellation of Free Patent Title No. (VI-2) 3358 and the corresponding Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 in the name of [respondent].

"In the meantime, [respondent] obtained a NACIDA loan under the Cottage Industry Guarantee and Loan Fund by the defendant Philippine National Bank (hereinafter referred to as PNB) executed in Cebu City in the amount of P100,000.00 on August 18, 1981. The loan was secured by a real estate mortgage in favor of defendant PNB. The promissory note of appellant was annotated at the back of the title.

"On April 18, 1990, the government through the Solicitor General instituted an action for Annulment/Cancellation of Patent and Title and Reversion against [respondent], the PNB of Roxas City and defendant Register of Deeds of Roxas City covering Free Patent Application (VI-2) 8442 of the parcel of land with an area of .3899 hectares more or less located at Dumolog, Roxas City.

"On November 17, 1990, while the case is pending hearing, [respondent] died. He was substituted by his wife Roqueta Alejaga and his children, namely: Everette Alejaga, Lynnette Alejaga, Felipe Alejaga, Jr., Maria Dulla Alejaga. Roqueta Alejaga, Jennifer Alejaga and Felipe Alejaga III.

x x x

x x x

x x x

"After hearing, the [trial] court in its dispositive portion decreed as follows:

‘WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered declaring that the approval of Free Patent Application No. 3358 and issuance of Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 in the name of Felipe Alejaga is by means of fraud hence, null and void ab initio and the court orders:

‘a) the cancellation of the approval of the application No. (VI-2) 8442 covering Lot No. 1, Mli-06- 000020-D with an area of .3899 hectares, more or less, located at Dumulog, Roxas City;

‘b) the cancellation of Original Certificate of Title No. P-15, Free Patent No. (VI-2) 3358 in the name of Felipe Alejaga;

‘c) the land covered thereby as above described is reverted to the mass of the public domain;

‘d) the defendants, Heirs of Felipe Alejaga Sr. or defendant, Philippine National Bank, Roxas City Branch, to surrender the owner’s duplicate copy of above described Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 to the Register of Deeds (now Registries of Land Titles and Deeds), Roxas City;

‘e) the defendant, Register of Deeds, Roxas City, to cancel Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 and the owner’s duplicate copy of said title surrendered by above stated defendants;

‘f) defendant’s, Philippine National Bank, cross-claim is dismissed.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

In reversing the RTC, the CA ruled that petitioner failed to prove its allegation that respondents had obtained the free patent and the Certificate of Title through fraud and misrepresentation. 4 The appellate court likewise held that, assuming there was misrepresentation or fraud as claimed by petitioner, the action for reversion should have been brought within one (1) year from the registration of the patent with the Registry of Deeds. 5

Further, the CA brushed aside as hearsay Isagani Cartagena’s testimony that Land Inspector Efren L. Recio had not conducted an investigation on the free patent application of Felipe Alejaga Sr. 6 The CA added that petitioner had failed to support its claim that the lot covered by respondent’s free patent and title was foreshore land. 7

Hence, this Petition. 8

Issues

Petitioner raises the following issues for this Court’s consideration:

"I

The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in not finding that the case is already final and executory as against respondent PNB.

"II

The Court of Appeals erred in not considering that petitioner has proven the allegations to the Complaint.

"III

The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in declaring that the action for reversion is unavailing." 9

Simply stated, the issues can be summed up into two: (1) the efficacy of the grant of the free patent and (2) the indefeasibility of the Certificate of Title issued in consequence thereof.

The Petition is meritorious.

This Court’s Ruling

First Issue:

Efficacy of the Grant

Petitioner argues that it has proven fraud in the issuance of Respondent Alejagas’ free patent and Certificate of Title. 10 It also avers that Respondent PNB has failed to file a timely Notice of Appeal.

On the other hand, the Alejagas contend that they have acquired a vested right over the parcel of land covered by OCT No. P-15 by virtue of their proven open, actual, exclusive and undisputed possession of the land for more than 30 years. 11

At the outset, we must immediately clarify that the records show receipt by Respondent PNB of a copy of the Decision on October 27, not on October 3, 1993 as alleged by petitioner. 12 Further, the bank filed its Notice of Appeal on November 9, 1993, within the 15-day reglementary period.

In addition, we must point out that the essential issue raised in this Petition -- the presence of fraud -- is factual. As a general rule, this Court does not review factual matters. 13 However, the instant case falls under one of the exceptions, because the findings of the CA conflict with those of the RTC and with the evidence on record. 14

We begin our resolution of this issue with the well-settled rule that the party alleging fraud or mistake in a transaction bears the burden of proof. 15 The circumstances evidencing fraud are as varied as the people who perpetrate it in each case. 16 It may assume different shapes and forms; it may be committed in as many different ways. 17 Thus, the law requires that it be established by clear and convincing evidence. 18

In the case before us, we find that petitioner has adduced a preponderance of evidence before the trial court, showing manifest fraud in procuring the patent. 19 This Court agrees with the RTC that in obtaining a free patent over the lot under scrutiny, petitioner had resorted to misrepresentation or fraud, signs of which were 20 ignored by the Court of Appeals. 21

First, the issuance of the free patent was not made in accordance with the procedure laid down by Commonwealth Act No. 141, otherwise known as the Public Land Act. 22 Under Section 91 thereof, an investigation should be conducted for the purpose of ascertaining whether the material facts set out in the application are true. 23

Further, after the filing of the application, the law requires sufficient notice to the municipality and the barrio where the land is located, in order to give adverse claimants the opportunity to present their claims. 24 Note that this notice and the verification and investigation of the parcel of land are to be conducted after an application for free patent has been filed with the Bureau of Lands.

In this case, however, Felipe Alejaga Sr.’s Application for Free Patent 25 was dated and filed on December 28, 1978. On the other hand, the Investigation & Verification Report 26 prepared by Land Inspector Elfren L. Recio of the District Land Office of the Bureau of Lands of Roxas City was dated December 27, 1978. In that Report, he stated that he had conducted the "necessary investigation and verification in the presence of the applicant." Even if we accept this statement as gospel truth, the violation of the rule cannot be condoned because, obviously, the required notice to adverse claimants was not served.

Evidently, the filing of the application and the verification and investigation allegedly conducted by Recio were precipitate and beyond the pale of the Public Land Act. 27 As correctly pointed out by the trial court, investigation and verification should have been done only after the filing of the application. Hence, it would have been highly anomalous for Recio to conduct his own investigation and verification on December 27, 1998, a day before Felipe Alejaga Sr. filed the Application for Free Patent. 28 It must also be noted that while the Alejagas insist that an investigation was conducted, they do not dispute the fact that it preceded the filing of the application. 29

Second, the claim of the Alejagas that an actual investigation was conducted is not sustained by the Verification & Investigation Report itself, which bears no signature. 30 Their reliance on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty 31 is thus misplaced. Since Recio’s signature does not appear on the December 27, 1978 Report, there can be no presumption that an investigation and verification of the parcel of land was actually conducted. Strangely, respondents do not proffer any explanation why the Verification & Investigation Report was not signed by Recio. Even more important and as will later on be explained, this alleged presumption of regularity -- assuming it ever existed -- is overcome by the evidence presented by petitioner.

Third, the report of Special Investigator Isagani P. Cartagena has not been successfully rebutted. In that report, Recio supposedly admitted that he had not actually conducted an investigation and ocular inspection of the parcel of land. Cartagena’s statement on Recio’s alleged admission may be considered as "independently relevant." A witness may testify as to the state of mind of another person -- the latter’s knowledge, belief, or good or bad faith - - and the former’s statements may then be regarded as independently relevant without violating the hearsay rule. 32

Thus, because Cartagena took the witness stand and opened himself to cross-examination, the Investigation Report 33 he had submitted to the director of the Bureau of Lands constitutes part of his testimony. Those portions of the report that consisted of his personal knowledge, perceptions and conclusions are not hearsay. 34 On the other hand, the part referring to the statement made by Recio may be considered as independently relevant. 35

The doctrine on independently relevant statements holds that conversations communicated to a witness by a third person may be admitted as proof that, regardless of their truth or falsity, they were actually made. Evidence as to the making of such statements is not secondary but primary, for in itself it (a) constitutes a fact in issue 36 or (b) is circumstantially relevant to the existence of such fact. 37

Since Cartagena’s testimony was based on the report of the investigation he had conducted, his testimony was not hearsay and was, hence, properly admitted by the trial court. 38

Based on the foregoing badges of fraud, we sustain petitioner’s contention that the free patent granted to Felipe Alejaga Sr. is void. 39 Such fraud is a ground for impugning the validity of the Certificate of Title. 40 The invalidity of the patent is sufficient basis for nullifying the Certificate of Title issued in consequence thereof, since the latter is merely evidence of the former. 41 Verily, we must uphold petitioner’s claim that the issuance of the Alejagas’ patent and title was tainted with fraud. 42

Second Issue:

Indefeasibility of Title

Petitioner contends that the State has an imprescriptible right to cause the reversion of a piece of property belonging to the public domain. 43 On the other hand, the Alejagas claim that, pursuant to Section 32 of PD 1529 44 -- otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree -- the one-year period for reversion has already lapsed. 45 Thus, the State’s Complaint for reversion should be dismissed.

We agree with petitioner.

True, once a patent is registered and the corresponding certificate of title issued, the land covered by them ceases to be part of the public domain and becomes private property. Further, the Torrens Title issued pursuant to the

patent becomes indefeasible a year after the issuance of the latter. 46 However, this indefeasibility of a title does not attach to titles secured by fraud and misrepresentation. 47 Well-settled is the doctrine that the registration of a patent under the Torrens System does not by itself vest title; it merely confirms the registrant’s already existing one. Verily, registration under the Torrens System is not a mode of acquiring ownership. 48

Therefore, under Section 101 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, 49 the State -- even after the lapse of one year -- may still bring an action for the reversion to the public domain of land that has been fraudulently granted to private individuals. 50 Further, this indefeasibility cannot be a bar to an investigation by the State as to how the title has been acquired, if the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether fraud has in fact been committed in securing the title. 51

In the case before us, the indefeasibility of a certificate of title cannot be invoked by the Alejagas, whose forebear obtained the title by means of fraud. 52 Public policy demands that those who have done so should not be allowed to benefit from their misdeed. 53 Thus, prescription and laches will not bar actions filed by the State to recover its own property acquired through fraud by private individuals. 54 This is settled law. 55

Prohibition Against Alienation or Encumbrance

Assuming arguendo that the Alejagas’ title was validly issued, there is another basis for the cancellation of the grant and the reversion of the land to the public domain. Section 118 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 56 proscribes the encumbrance of a parcel of land acquired under a free patent or homestead within five years from its grant. 57 The prohibition against any alienation or encumbrance of the land grant is a proviso attached to the approval of every application. 58

Further, corporations are expressly forbidden by law to have any right or title to, or interest in, lands that are granted under free or homestead patents; or any improvements thereon. They are forbidden from enjoying such right, title or interest, if they have not secured the consent of the grantee and the approval of the secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and if such lands are to be devoted to purposes other than education, charity, or easement of way. 59

In the case at bar, Free Patent No. (VI-2) 3358 60 was approved and issued on March 14, 1979. Corresponding Original Certificate of Title No. P-15 61 was issued on the same date. On August 18, 1981, or two (2) years after the grant of the free patent, Felipe Alejaga Sr. obtained from Respondent PNB a loan 62 in the amount of P100,000. Despite the statement on the title certificate itself that the land granted under the free patent shall be inalienable for five (5) years from the grant, a real estate mortgage was nonetheless constituted on the parcel of land covered by OCT No. P-15. 63 In his testimony, Gabriel D. Aranas Jr., then Cashier III of respondent bank, even admitted that the PNB was aware of such restriction.

"COURT You testified Mr. Aranas that you inspected the title also when you credit investigated the loan applicant Felipe Alejaga and you have personally examined this?

A Yes, your Honor.

COURT Do you conclude that this Original Certificate of Title is a [free] patent?

A Yes, your Honor.

COURT And this [free] patent was granted on March 19, 1979.

A Yes, your honor.

COURT And as such [free] patent it cannot be alienated except [to] the government or within five years from its issuance?

A Yes, your honor.

COURT Why did you recommend the loan?

A Because it is just a mortgage." 64

Thus, the mortgage executed by Respondent Felipe Alejaga Sr. falls squarely within the term encumbrance proscribed by Section 118 of the Public Land Act. 65 A mortgage constitutes a legal limitation on the estate, and the foreclosure of the mortgage would necessarily result in the auction of the property. 66

As early as Pascua v. Talens, 67 we have explained the rationale for the prohibition against the encumbrance of a homestead -- its lease and mortgage included -- an encumbrance which, by analogy, applies to a free patent. We ruled as follows:

"It is well-known that the homestead laws were designed to distribute disposable agricultural lots of the State to land-destitute citizens for their home and cultivation. Pursuant to such benevolent intention the State prohibits the sale or encumbrance of the homestead (Section 116) within five years after the grant of the patent."

Further, an encumbrance on a parcel of land acquired through free patent constitutes sufficient ground for the nullification of such grant, as provided under Commonwealth Act No. 141, which we quote:

"SEC. 124. Any acquisition, conveyance, alienation, transfer, or other contract made or executed in violation of any of the provisions of sections one hundred and eighteen, one hundred and twenty, one hundred and twenty-one, one hundred and twenty-two, and one hundred and twenty-three of this Act shall be unlawful and null and void from its execution and shall produce the effect of annulling and canceling the grant, title, patent, or permit originally issued, recognized or confirmed, actually or presumptively, and cause the reversion of the property and its improvements to the State."

Mortgage over a parcel of land acquired through a free patent grant nullifies the award and constitutes a cause for the reversion of the property to the state, as we held in Republic v. Court of Appeals: 68

"The foregoing legal provisions clearly proscribe the encumbrance of a parcel of land acquired under a free patent or homestead within five years from the grant of such patent. Furthermore, such encumbrance results in the cancellation of the grant and the reversion of the land to the public domain." 69

To comply with the condition for the grant of the free patent, within five years from its issuance, Felipe Alejaga Sr. should not have encumbered the parcel land granted to him. The mortgage he made over the land violated that condition. 70 Hence, the property must necessarily revert to the public domain, pursuant to Section 124 of the Public Land Act.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED and the assailed Decision SET ASIDE. The Decision of the RTC of Roxas City (Branch 15) dated October 27, 1993 is REINSTATED. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur. Puno, (Chairman), J., abroad on official business .

G.R. Nos. 120865-71

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE HERCULANO TECH, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 70, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF BINANGONAN RIZAL; FLEET DEVELOPMENT, INC. and CARLITO ARROYO; THE MUNICIPALITY OF BINANGONAN and/or MAYOR ISIDRO B. PACIS, respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE AURELIO C. TRAMPE, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 163, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF PASIG; MANILA MARINE LIFE BUSINESS RESOURCES, INC. represented by, MR. TOBIAS REYNALD M. TIANGCO; MUNICIPALITY OF TAGUIG, METRO MANILA and/or MAYOR RICARDO D. PAPA, JR., respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE ALEJANDRO A. MARQUEZ, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 79, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF MORONG, RIZAL; GREENFIELD VENTURES INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION and R. J. ORION DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION; MUNICIPALITY OF JALA-JALA and/or MAYOR WALFREDO M. DE LA VEGA, respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE MANUEL S. PADOLINA, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 162, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF PASIG, METRO MANILA; IRMA FISHING & TRADING CORP.; ARTM FISHING CORP.; BDR CORPORATION, MIRT CORPORATION and TRIM CORPORATION; MUNICIPALITY OF BINANGONAN and/or MAYOR ISIDRO B. PACIS, respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE ARTURO A. MARAVE, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 78, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF MORONG, RIZAL; BLUE LAGOON FISHING CORP. and ALCRIS CHICKEN GROWERS, INC.; MUNICIPALITY OF JALA-JALA and/or MAYOR WALFREDO M. DE LA VEGA, respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE ARTURO A. MARAVE, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 78, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF MORONG, RIZAL; AGP FISH VENTURES, INC., represented by its PRESIDENT ALFONSO PUYAT; MUNICIPALITY OF JALA-JALA and/or MAYOR WALFREDO M. DE LA VEGA, respondents.

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; HON. JUDGE EUGENIO S. LABITORIA, PRESIDING JUDGE, BRANCH 161, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF PASIG, METRO MANILA; SEA MAR TRADING CO. INC.; EASTERN LAGOON FISHING CORP.; MINAMAR FISHING CORP.; MUNICIPALITY OF BINANGONAN and/or MAYOR ISIDRO B. PACIS, respondents.

HERMOSISIMA, JR., J.:

It is difficult for a man, scavenging on the garbage dump created by affluence and profligate consumption and extravagance of the rich or fishing in the murky waters of the Pasig River and the Laguna Lake or making a clearing in the forest so that he can produce food for his family, to understand why protecting birds, fish, and trees is more important than protecting him and keeping his family alive.

How do we strike a balance between environmental protection, on the one hand, and the individual personal interests of people, on the other?

Towards environmental protection and ecology, navigational safety, and sustainable development, Republic Act No. 4850 created the "Laguna Lake Development Authority." This Government Agency is supposed to carry out and effectuate the aforesaid declared policy, so as to accelerate the development and balanced growth of the Laguna Lake area and the surrounding provinces, cities and towns, in the act clearly named, within the context of the national and regional plans and policies for social and economic development.

Presidential Decree No. 813 of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos amended certain sections of Republic Act No. 4850 because of the concern for the rapid expansion of Metropolitan Manila, the suburbs and the lakeshore towns of Laguna de Bay, combined with current and prospective uses of the lake for municipal-industrial water supply, irrigation, fisheries, and the like. Concern on the part of the Government and the general public over: the environment impact of development on the water quality and ecology of the lake and its related river systems; the inflow of polluted water from the Pasig River, industrial, domestic and agricultural wastes from developed areas around the lake; the increasing urbanization which induced the deterioration of the lake, since water quality studies have shown that the lake will deteriorate further if steps are not taken to check the same; and the floods in Metropolitan Manila area and the lakeshore towns which will influence the hydraulic system of Laguna de Bay, since any scheme of controlling the floods will necessarily involve the lake and its river systems, likewise gave impetus to the creation of the Authority.

Section 1 of Republic Act No. 4850 was amended to read as follows:

Sec. 1. Declaration of Policy. It is hereby declared to be the national policy to promote, and accelerate the development and balanced growth of the Laguna Lake area and the surrounding provinces, cities and towns hereinafter referred to as the region, within the context of the national and regional plans and policies for social and economic development and to carry out the development of the Laguna Lake region with due regard and adequate provisions for environmental management and control, preservation of the quality of human life and ecological systems, and the prevention of undue ecological disturbances, deterioration and pollution. 1

Special powers of the Authority, pertinent to the issues in this case, include:

Sec. 3. Section 4 of the same Act is hereby further amended by adding thereto seven new paragraphs to be known as paragraphs (j), (k), (l), (m), (n), (o), and (p) which shall read as follows:

xxx xxx xxx

(j) The provisions of existing laws to the contrary notwithstanding, to engage in fish production and other aqua-culture projects in Laguna de Bay and other bodies of water within its jurisdiction and in pursuance thereof to conduct studies and make experiments, whenever necessary, with the collaboration and assistance of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, with the end in view of improving present techniques and practices. Provided, that until modified, altered or amended by the procedure provided in the following sub-paragraph, the present laws, rules and permits or authorizations remain in force;

(k) For the purpose of effectively regulating and monitoring activities in Laguna de Bay, the Authority shall have exclusive jurisdiction to issue new permit for the use of the lake waters for any projects or activities in or affecting the said lake including navigation, construction, and operation of fishpens, fish enclosures, fish corrals and the like, and to impose necessary

safeguards for lake quality control and management and to collect necessary fees for said activities and projects: Provided, That the fees collected for fisheries may be shared between the Authority and other government agencies and political sub-divisions in such proportion as may be determined by the President of the Philippines upon recommendation of the Authority's Board: Provided, further, That the Authority's Board may determine new areas of fishery development or activities which it may place under the supervision of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources taking into account the overall development plans and programs for Laguna de Bay and related bodies of water: Provided, finally, That the Authority shall subject to the approval of the President of the Philippines promulgate such rules and regulations which shall govern fisheries development activities in Laguna de Bay which shall take into consideration among others the following: socio- economic amelioration of bonafide resident fishermen whether individually or collectively in the form of cooperatives, lakeshore town development, a master plan for fishpen construction and operation, communal fishing ground for lake shore town residents, and preference to lake shore town residents in hiring laborer for fishery projects;

(l) To require the cities and municipalities embraced within the region to pass appropriate zoning ordinances and other regulatory measures necessary to carry out the objectives of the Authority and enforce the same with the assistance of the Authority;

(m) The provisions of existing laws to the contrary notwithstanding, to exercise water rights over public waters within the Laguna de Bay region whenever necessary to carry out the Authority's projects;

(n) To act in coordination with existing governmental agencies in establishing water quality standards for industrial, agricultural and municipal waste discharges into the lake and to cooperate with said existing agencies of the government of the Philippines in enforcing such standards, or to separately pursue enforcement and penalty actions as provided for in Section 4 (d) and Section 39-A of this Act: Provided, That in case of conflict on the appropriate water quality standard to be enforced such conflict shall be resolved thru the NEDA Board. 2

To more effectively perform the role of the Authority under Republic Act No. 4850, as though Presidential Decree No. 813 were not thought to be completely effective, the Chief Executive, feeling that the land and waters of the Laguna Lake Region are limited natural resources requiring judicious management to their optimal utilization to insure renewability and to preserve the ecological balance, the competing options for the use of such resources and conflicting jurisdictions over such uses having created undue constraints on the institutional capabilities of the Authority in the light of the limited powers vested in it by its charter, Executive Order No. 927 further defined and enlarged the functions and powers of the Authority and named and enumerated the towns, cities and provinces encompassed by the term "Laguna de Bay Region".

Also, pertinent to the issues in this case are the following provisions of Executive Order No. 927 which include in particular the sharing of fees:

Sec 2. Water Rights Over Laguna de Bay and Other Bodies of Water within the Lake Region: To effectively regulate and monitor activities in the Laguna de Bay region, the Authority shall have exclusive jurisdiction to issue permit for the use of all surface water for any projects or activities in or affecting the said region including navigation, construction, and operation of fishpens, fish enclosures, fish corrals and the like.

For the purpose of this Executive Order, the term "Laguna de Bay Region" shall refer to the Provinces of Rizal and Laguna; the Cities of San Pablo, Pasay, Caloocan, Quezon, Manila and Tagaytay; the towns of Tanauan,

Sto. Tomas and Malvar in Batangas Province; the towns of Silang and Carmona in Cavite Province; the town of Lucban in Quezon Province; and the towns of Marikina, Pasig, Taguig, Muntinlupa, and Pateros in Metro Manila.

Sec 3. Collection of Fees. The Authority is hereby empowered to collect fees for the use of the lake water and its tributaries for all beneficial purposes including but not limited to fisheries, recreation, municipal, industrial, agricultural, navigation, irrigation, and waste disposal purpose; Provided, that the rates of the fees to be collected, and the sharing with other government agencies and political subdivisions, if necessary, shall be subject to the approval of the President of the Philippines upon recommendation of the Authority's Board, except fishpen fee, which will be shared in the following manner; 20 percent of the fee shall go to the lakeshore local governments, 5 percent shall go to the Project Development Fund which shall be administered by a Council and the remaining 75 percent shall constitute the share of LLDA. However, after the implementation within the three-year period of the Laguna Lake Fishery Zoning and Management Plan, the sharing will be modified as follows: 35 percent of the fishpen fee goes to the lakeshore local governments, 5 percent goes to the Project Development Fund and the remaining 60 percent shall be retained by LLDA; Provided, however, that the share of LLDA shall form part of its corporate funds and shall not be remitted to the National Treasury as an exception to the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1234. (Emphasis supplied)

It is important to note that Section 29 of Presidential Decree No. 813 defined the term "Laguna Lake" in this manner:

Sec 41. Definition of Terms.

(11) Laguna Lake or Lake. Whenever Laguna Lake or lake is used in this Act, the same shall refer to Laguna de Bay which is that area covered by the lake water when it is at the average annual maximum lake level of elevation 12.50 meters, as referred to a datum 10.00 meters below mean lower low water (M.L.L.W). Lands located at and below such elevation are public lands which form part of the bed of said lake.

Then came Republic Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991. The municipalities in the Laguna Lake Region interpreted the provisions of this law to mean that the newly passed law gave municipal governments the exclusive jurisdiction to issue fishing privileges within their municipal waters because R.A. 7160 provides:

Sec. 149. Fishery Rentals, Fees and Charges.

(a) Municipalities shall have the exclusive authority to grant fishery privileges in the municipal waters and

impose rental fees or charges therefor in accordance with the provisions of this Section.

(b) The Sangguniang Bayan may:

(1) Grant fishing privileges to erect fish corrals, oyster, mussel or other aquatic beds or bangus fry areas, within a definite zone of the municipal waters, as determined by it;

(2) Grant privilege to gather, take or catch bangus fry, prawn fry or kawag-kawag or fry of other species and fish from the municipal waters by nets, traps or other fishing gears to marginal fishermen free from any rental fee, charges or any other imposition whatsoever.

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Sec. 447. Power, Duties, Functions and

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(XI) Subject to the provisions of Book II of this Code, grant exclusive privileges of constructing fish corrals or fishpens, or the taking or catching of bangus fry, prawn fry or kawag-kawag or fry of any species or fish within the municipal waters.

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Municipal governments thereupon assumed the authority to issue fishing privileges and fishpen permits. Big fishpen operators took advantage of the occasion to establish fishpens and fishcages to the consternation of the Authority. Unregulated fishpens and fishcages, as of July, 1995, occupied almost one-third of the entire lake water surface area, increasing the occupation drastically from 7,000 hectares in 1990 to almost 21,000 hectares in 1995. The Mayor's permit to construct fishpens and fishcages were all undertaken in violation of the policies adopted by the Authority on fishpen zoning and the Laguna Lake carrying capacity.

To be sure, the implementation by the lakeshore municipalities of separate independent policies in the operation of fishpens and fishcages within their claimed territorial municipal waters in the lake and their indiscriminate grant of fishpen permits have already saturated the lake area with fishpens, thereby aggravating the current environmental problems and ecological stress of Laguna Lake.

In view of the foregoing circumstances, the Authority served notice to the general public that:

In compliance with the instructions of His Excellency PRESIDENT FIDEL V. RAMOS given on June 23, 1993 at Pila, Laguna pursuant to Republic Act 4850 as amended by Presidential Decree 813 and Executive Order 927 series of 1983 and in line with the policies and programs of the Presidential Task Force on Illegal Fishpens and Illegal Fishing, the general public is hereby notified that:

1. All fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures in the Laguna de Bay Region, which were not

registered or to which no application for registration and/or permit has been filed with Laguna Lake

Development Authority as of March 31, 1993 are hereby declared outrightly as illegal.

2. All fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures so declared as illegal shall be subject to

demolition which shall be undertaken by the Presidential Task Force for Illegal Fishpen and Illegal Fishing.

3. Owners of fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures declared as illegal shall, without prejudice

to demolition of their structures be criminally charged in accordance with Section 39-A of Republic Act 4850

as amended by P.D. 813 for violation of the same laws. Violations of these laws carries a penalty of imprisonment of not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Pesos or both at the discretion of the court.

All operators of fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures declared as illegal in accordance with the foregoing Notice shall have one (1) month on or before 27 October 1993 to show cause before the LLDA why their said fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures should not be demolished/dismantled.

One month, thereafter, the Authority sent notices to the concerned owners of the illegally constructed fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures advising them to dismantle their respective structures within 10 days from receipt thereof, otherwise, demolition shall be effected.

Reacting thereto, the affected fishpen owners filed injunction cases against the Authority before various regional trial courts, to wit: (a) Civil Case No. 759-B, for Prohibition, Injunction and Damages, Regional Trial Court, Branch 70, Binangonan, Rizal, filed by Fleet Development, Inc. and Carlito Arroyo; (b) Civil Case No. 64049, for Injunction, Regional Trial Court, Branch 162, Pasig, filed by IRMA Fishing and Trading Corp., ARTM Fishing Corp., BDR Corp., MIRT Corp. and TRIM Corp.; (c) Civil Case No.

566, for Declaratory Relief and Injunction, Regional Trial Court, Branch 163, Pasig, filed by Manila Marine Life Business Resources, Inc. and Tobias Reynaldo M. Tianco; (d) Civil Case No. 556-M, for Prohibition, Injunction and Damages, Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, Morong, Rizal, filed by AGP Fishing Ventures, Inc.; (e) Civil Case No. 522-M, for Prohibition, Injunction and Damages, Regional Trial Court, Branch 78, Morong, Rizal, filed by Blue Lagoon and Alcris Chicken Growers, Inc.; (f) Civil Case No. 554-, for Certiorari and Prohibition, Regional Trial Court, Branch 79, Morong, Rizal, filed by Greenfields Ventures Industrial Corp. and R.J. Orion Development Corp.; and (g) Civil Case No. 64124, for Injunction, Regional Trial Court, Branch 15, Pasig, filed by SEA-MAR Trading Co., Inc. and Eastern Lagoon Fishing Corp. and Minamar Fishing Corporation.

The Authority filed motions to dismiss the cases against it on jurisdictional grounds. The motions to dismiss were invariably denied. Meanwhile, temporary restraining order/writs of preliminary mandatory injunction were issued in Civil Cases Nos. 64124, 759 and 566 enjoining the Authority from demolishing the fishpens and similar structures in question.

Hence, the herein petition for certiorari, prohibition and injunction, G.R. Nos. 120865-71, were filed by the Authority with this court. Impleaded as parties-respondents are concerned regional trial courts and respective private parties, and the municipalities and/or respective Mayors of Binangonan, Taguig and Jala-jala, who issued permits for the construction and operation of fishpens in Laguna de Bay. The Authority sought the following reliefs, viz.:

(A) Nullification of the temporary restraining order/writs of preliminary injunction issued in Civil Cases Nos.

64125, 759 and 566;

(B) Permanent prohibition against the regional trial courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases involving

the Authority which is a co-equal body;

(C) Judicial pronouncement that R.A. 7610 (Local Government Code of 1991) did not repeal, alter or modify

the provisions of R.A. 4850, as amended, empowering the Authority to issue permits for fishpens, fishcages

and other aqua-culture structures in Laguna de Bay and that, the Authority the government agency vested with exclusive authority to issue said permits.

By this Court's resolution of May 2, 1994, the Authority's consolidated petitions were referred to the Court of Appeals.

In a Decision, dated June 29, 1995, the Court of Appeals dismissed the Authority's consolidated petitions, the Court of Appeals holding that: (A) LLDA is not among those quasi-judicial agencies of government whose decision or order are appealable only to the Court of Appeals; (B) the LLDA charter does vest LLDA with quasi-judicial functions insofar as fishpens are concerned; (C) the provisions of the LLDA charter insofar as fishing privileges in Laguna de Bay are concerned had been repealed by the Local Government Code of 1991; (D) in view of the aforesaid repeal, the power to grant permits devolved to and is now vested with their respective local government units concerned.

Not satisfied with the Court of Appeals decision, the Authority has returned to this Court charging the following errors:

1. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS PROBABLY COMMITTED AN ERROR WHEN IT RULED THAT THE

LAGUNA LAKE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY IS NOT A QUASI-JUDICIAL AGENCY.

2. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR WHEN IT RULED THAT R.A. 4850 AS

AMENDED BY P.D. 813 AND E.O. 927 SERIES OF 1983 HAS BEEN REPEALED BY REPUBLIC ACT 7160. THE SAID

RULING IS CONTRARY TO ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES AND JURISPRUDENCE OF STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.

3. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED SERIOUS ERROR WHEN IT RULED THAT THE POWER TO

ISSUE FISHPEN PERMITS IN LAGUNA DE BAY HAS BEEN DEVOLVED TO CONCERNED (LAKESHORE) LOCAL

GOVERNMENT UNITS.

We take a simplistic view of the controversy. Actually, the main and only issue posed is: Which agency of the Government the Laguna Lake Development Authority or the towns and municipalities comprising the region should exercise jurisdiction over the Laguna Lake and its environs insofar as the issuance of permits for fishery privileges is concerned?

Section 4 (k) of the charter of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, Republic Act No. 4850, the provisions of Presidential Decree No. 813, and Section 2 of Executive Order No. 927, cited above, specifically provide that the Laguna Lake Development Authority shall have exclusive jurisdiction to issue permits for the use of all surface water for any projects or activities in or affecting the said region, including navigation, construction, and operation of fishpens, fish enclosures, fish corrals and the like. On the other hand, Republic Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991, has granted to the municipalities the exclusive authority to grant fishery privileges in municipal waters. The Sangguniang Bayan may grant fishery privileges to erect fish corrals, oyster, mussels or other aquatic beds or bangus fry area within a definite zone of the municipal waters.

We hold that the provisions of Republic Act No. 7160 do not necessarily repeal the aforementioned laws creating the Laguna Lake Development Authority and granting the latter water rights authority over Laguna de Bay and the lake region.

The Local Government Code of 1991 does not contain any express provision which categorically expressly repeal the charter of the Authority. It has to be conceded that there was no intent on the part of the legislature to repeal Republic Act No. 4850 and its amendments. The repeal of laws should be made clear and expressed.

It has to be conceded that the charter of the Laguna Lake Development Authority constitutes a special law. Republic Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code of 1991, is a general law. It is basic in statutory construction that the enactment of a later legislation which is a general law cannot be construed to have repealed a special law. It is a well-settled rule in this jurisdiction that "a special statute, provided for a particular case or class of cases, is not repealed by a subsequent statute, general in its terms, provisions and application, unless the intent to repeal or alter is manifest, although the terms of the general law are broad enough to include the cases embraced in the special law." 3

Where there is a conflict between a general law and a special statute, the special statute should prevail since it evinces the legislative intent more clearly than the general statute. The special law is to be taken as an exception to the general law in the absence of special circumstances forcing a contrary conclusion. This is because implied repeals are not favored and as much as possible, effect must be given to all enactments of the legislature. A special law cannot be repealed, amended or altered by a subsequent general law by mere implication. 4

Thus, it has to be concluded that the charter of the Authority should prevail over the Local Government Code of 1991.

Considering the reasons behind the establishment of the Authority, which are environmental protection, navigational safety, and sustainable development, there is every indication that the legislative intent is for the Authority to proceed with its mission.

We are on all fours with the manifestation of petitioner Laguna Lake Development Authority that "Laguna de Bay, like any other single body of water has its own unique natural ecosystem. The 900 km² lake surface water, the eight (8) major river tributaries and several other smaller rivers that drain into the lake, the 2,920 km² basin or watershed transcending the boundaries of Laguna and Rizal provinces, greater portion of Metro Manila, parts of Cavite, Batangas, and Quezon provinces, constitute one integrated delicate natural ecosystem that needs to be protected with uniform set of policies; if we are to be serious in our aims of attaining sustainable development. This is an exhaustible natural resource a very limited one which requires judicious management and optimal utilization to ensure renewability and preserve its ecological integrity and balance."

"Managing the lake resources would mean the implementation of a national policy geared towards the protection, conservation, balanced growth and sustainable development of the region with due regard to the inter-generational use of its

resources by the inhabitants in this part of the earth. The authors of Republic Act 4850 have foreseen this need when they passed this LLDA law the special law designed to govern the management of our Laguna de Bay lake resources."

"Laguna de Bay therefore cannot be subjected to fragmented concepts of management policies where lakeshore local government units exercise exclusive dominion over specific portions of the lake water. The garbage thrown or sewage discharged into the lake, abstraction of water therefrom or construction of fishpens by enclosing its certain area, affect not only that specific portion but the entire 900 km² of lake water. The implementation of a cohesive and integrated lake water resource management policy, therefore, is necessary to conserve, protect and sustainably develop Laguna de Bay." 5

The power of the local government units to issue fishing privileges was clearly granted for revenue purposes. This is evident from the fact that Section 149 of the New Local Government Code empowering local governments to issue fishing permits is embodied in Chapter 2, Book II, of Republic Act No. 7160 under the heading, "Specific Provisions On The Taxing And Other Revenue Raising Power Of Local Government Units."

On the other hand, the power of the Authority to grant permits for fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures is for the purpose of effectively regulating and monitoring activities in the Laguna de Bay region (Section 2, Executive Order No. 927) and for lake quality control and management. 6 It does partake of the nature of police power which is the most pervasive, the least limitable and the most demanding of all State powers including the power of taxation. Accordingly, the charter of the Authority which embodies a valid exercise of police power should prevail over the Local Government Code of 1991 on matters affecting Laguna de Bay.

There should be no quarrel over permit fees for fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures in the Laguna de Bay area. Section 3 of Executive Order No. 927 provides for the proper sharing of fees collected.

In respect to the question as to whether the Authority is a quasi-judicial agency or not, it is our holding that, considering the provisions of Section 4 of Republic Act No. 4850 and Section 4 of Executive Order No. 927, series of 1983, and the ruling of this Court in Laguna Lake Development Authority vs. Court of Appeals, 231 SCRA 304, 306, which we quote:

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As a general rule, the adjudication of pollution cases generally pertains to the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB), except in cases where the special law provides for another forum. It must be recognized in this regard that the LLDA, as a specialized administrative agency, is specifically mandated under Republic Act No. 4850 and its amendatory laws to carry out and make effective the declared national policy of promoting and accelerating the development and balanced growth of the Laguna Lake area and the surrounding provinces of Rizal and Laguna and the cities of San Pablo, Manila, Pasay, Quezon and Caloocan with due regard and adequate provisions for environmental management and control, preservation of the quality of human life and ecological systems, and the prevention of undue ecological disturbances, deterioration and pollution. Under such a broad grant of power and authority, the LLDA, by virtue of its special charter, obviously has the responsibility to protect the inhabitants of the Laguna Lake region from the deleterious effects of pollutants emanating from the discharge of wastes from the surrounding areas. In carrying out the aforementioned declared policy, the LLDA is mandated, among others, to pass upon and approve or disapprove all plans, programs, and projects proposed by local government offices/agencies within the region, public corporations, and private persons or enterprises where such plans, programs and/or projects are related to those of the LLDA for the development of the region.

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While it is a fundamental rule that an administrative agency has only such powers as are expressly granted to it by law, it is likewise a settled rule that an administrative agency has also such powers as are

necessarily implied in the exercise of its express powers. In the exercise, therefore, of its express powers under its charter, as a regulatory and quasi-judicial body with respect to pollution cases in the Laguna Lake region, the authority of the LLDA to issue a "cease and desist order" is, perforce, implied. Otherwise, it may well be reduced to a "toothless" paper agency.

there is no question that the Authority has express powers as a regulatory and quasi-judicial body in respect to pollution cases with authority to issue a "cease and desist order" and on matters affecting the construction of illegal fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures in Laguna de Bay. The Authority's pretense, however, that it is co-equal to the Regional Trial Courts such that all actions against it may only be instituted before the Court of Appeals cannot be sustained. On actions necessitating the resolution of legal questions affecting the powers of the Authority as provided for in its charter, the Regional Trial Courts have jurisdiction.

In view of the foregoing, this Court holds that Section 149 of Republic Act No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, has not repealed the provisions of the charter of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, Republic Act No. 4850, as amended. Thus, the Authority has the exclusive jurisdiction to issue permits for the enjoyment of fishery privileges in Laguna de Bay to the exclusion of municipalities situated therein and the authority to exercise such powers as are by its charter vested on it.

Removal from the Authority of the aforesaid licensing authority will render nugatory its avowed purpose of protecting and developing the Laguna Lake Region. Otherwise stated, the abrogation of this power would render useless its reason for being and will in effect denigrate, if not abolish, the Laguna Lake Development Authority. This, the Local Government Code of 1991 had never intended to do.

WHEREFORE, the petitions for prohibition, certiorari and injunction are hereby granted, insofar as they relate to the authority of the Laguna Lake Development Authority to grant fishing privileges within the Laguna Lake Region.

The restraining orders and/or writs of injunction issued by Judge Arturo Marave, RTC, Branch 78, Morong, Rizal; Judge Herculano Tech, RTC, Branch 70, Binangonan, Rizal; and Judge Aurelio Trampe, RTC, Branch 163, Pasig, Metro Manila, are hereby declared null and void and ordered set aside for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion.

The Municipal Mayors of the Laguna Lake Region are hereby prohibited from issuing permits to construct and operate fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures within the Laguna Lake Region, their previous issuances being declared null and void. Thus, the fishing permits issued by Mayors Isidro B. Pacis, Municipality of Binangonan; Ricardo D. Papa, Municipality of Taguig; and Walfredo M. de la Vega, Municipality of Jala-jala, specifically, are likewise declared null and void and ordered cancelled.

The fishpens, fishcages and other aqua-culture structures put up by operators by virtue of permits issued by Municipal Mayors within the Laguna Lake Region, specifically, permits issued to Fleet Development, Inc. and Carlito Arroyo; Manila Marine Life Business Resources, Inc., represented by, Mr. Tobias Reynald M. Tiangco; Greenfield Ventures Industrial Development Corporation and R.J. Orion Development Corporation; IRMA Fishing And Trading Corporation, ARTM Fishing Corporation, BDR Corporation, Mirt Corporation and Trim Corporation; Blue Lagoon Fishing Corporation and ALCRIS Chicken Growers, Inc.; AGP Fish Ventures, Inc., represented by its President Alfonso Puyat; SEA MAR Trading Co., Inc., Eastern Lagoon Fishing Corporation, and MINAMAR Fishing Corporation, are hereby declared illegal structures subject to demolition by the Laguna Lake Development Authority.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., Bellosillo and Kapunan, JJ., concur.

Separate Opinions

PADILLA, J., concurring:

I fully concur with the decision written by Mr. Justice R. Hermosisima, Jr

states, i.e., that the local government units in the Laguna Lake area are not precluded from imposing permits on fishery operations for revenue raising purposes of such local government units. In other words, while the exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether or not projects or activities in the lake area should be allowed, as well as their regulation, is with the Laguna Lake Development Authority, once the Authority grants a permit, the permittee may still be subjected to an additional local permit or license for revenue purposes of the local government units concerned. This approach would clearly harmonize the special law, Rep. Act No. 4850, as amended, with Rep. Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code. It will also enable small towns and municipalities in the lake area, like Jala-Jala, to rise to some level of economic viability.

I would only like to stress what the decision already

Separate Opinions

PADILLA, J., concurring:

I fully concur with the decision written by Mr. Justice R. Hermosisima, Jr

states, i.e., that the local government units in the Laguna Lake area are not precluded from imposing permits on fishery operations for revenue raising purposes of such local government units. In other words, while the exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether or not projects or activities in the lake area should be allowed, as well as their regulation, is with the Laguna Lake Development Authority, once the Authority grants a permit, the permittee may still be subjected to an additional local permit or license for revenue purposes of the local government units concerned. This approach would clearly harmonize the special law, Rep. Act No. 4850, as amended, with Rep. Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code. It will also enable small towns and municipalities in the lake area, like Jala-Jala, to rise to some level of economic viability.

I would only like to stress what the decision already