A simpler land titling system

Published August 29, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Senator Sonny Angara


Senator Sonny Angara

The Duterte administration has enacted several decisive measures aimed at making government processes simpler, more efficient, and more responsive to the Filipino peoples’ needs. One was signed last July — R.A. 11573, which simplified our land titling system by improving the confirmation process of so-called imperfect titles or those that do not convey full legal transfer of a parcel of land or real estate onto its bearer.

Many like the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) have rightfully pointed out that land tenure problems are among the major factors that have kept our agricultural sector stunted. Though farmers were generally free to subsist from their landholdings, they haven’t been able to meaningfully benefit from these assets because of land tenure issues, among others. And where land titling is crucial to the protection of one’s property rights and critical for making full use of one’s landholdings, unfortunately, this has long been problematic in our country.

According to two of our major land laws namely the Public Land Act of 1936 (Commonwealth Act No. 141) and the Property Registration Decree (PD No. 1529), farmers could justifiably acquire land titles by applying for an agricultural free patent with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) or by judicial confirmation proceedings, which involves the courts.

Both processes were so burdensome for farmers that it was at times easier for them to turn to the informal market if ever they needed to sell or borrow against their land. RA 11573, which we principally authored in the Senate and which was sponsored by Senator Richard Gordon, sought to alleviate these procedural burdens.

Agricultural free patents are public land grants from the government — in contrast to Certificates of Land Ownership (CLOAs), which are parceled out from private lands under the country’s agrarian reform program — to citizens who can prove that for 30 years they’ve possessed and cultivated the lands in question and have paid the required taxes throughout the same period.

With the enactment of RA 11573, the requirement has been reduced to only 20 years.  Furthermore, where the deadline for applications of these free patents was previously set to last December 31, 2020, the newly enacted law extended the application period indefinitely.

Estimates from the DENR-Land Management Bureau and the FEF show that anywhere from two million to 4.8 million parcels of land could still be covered by free patents because of the indefinite extension of the deadline.  This means that as many as 4.8 million families (assuming one family per parcel of land), who are longtime occupants of alienable and disposable lands, could stand to benefit with less pressure to transact their lands in the informal market.

When it came to judicial confirmation, the previous system — by virtue of some strict and literal interpretations of our land laws — required applicants to present a bonafide claim of acquisition of ownership since June 12, 1945.  This means claimants needed to somehow show proof that they were already making a claim to the land for close to eight decades.

Furthermore, claimants also needed to present certification that the lands in question were alien and disposable (A&D) signed by the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), as well as a certified true copy of the original declaration. For one, the DENR Secretary serves a cabinet position, making it very difficult for his or her office to handle the voluminous requests for such certifications.  Secondly,  considering that in the intervening period so much has happened to the country and government records have been destroyed or lost, it would be very difficult to secure original copies of the documents needed, let alone have them certified as such.

According to research from FEF, judicial confirmation of land registration had become so tedious that in the last decade or so, only 5,174 titles, with an “all time low” of 140 passed in 2017, were confirmed by courts.

With RA 11573, claimants just now need to show that they or their “predecessors-in-interest” have continuously possessed, occupied and cultivated the certified alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bonafide claim of ownership for at least 20 years. Then A&D certification of the land can now come from a duly designated geodetic engineer of the DENR, and no longer from the DENR Secretary.

These amendments increase tenurial security, and encourage farmers to secure land titles. And given that titles are the most common collateral used in the capital scarce countryside, the result would be a more vibrant rural land market, with the land theoretically going to the most productive use. We believe RA 11573 will have a positive impact on the lives of many Filipinos, particularly by allowing those in the countryside to truly benefit from their land.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years.  He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

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