Gov't to act on overlapping land titles
MANILA, Philippines – Environment Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio called it a "breakthrough."
Finally, two years after a Joint Administrative Order was signed, the government will start making an inventory of all land under overlapping land documents issued by different agencies.
The ball first started rolling two weeks ago when Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio De Los Reyes visited the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to propose that the relevant agencies sit down and put their documents together, Ignacio told reporters on Tuesday, October 21.
"Before, we used to just talk about this problem. Now we are going to take action. We will get all the records. We will put them together and identify all those that overlap, nationwide, in a map," he said.
Overlapping land titles pose a major obstacle to government programs. For instance, land declared by DENR as a Protected Area cannot be managed as one if there is a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) from the Department of Agrarian Reform stating that it is agricultural land.
An agrarian reform beneficiary with a CLOA won't be able to start farming his land if somebody else produces a tax declaration putting the land under residential property.
There can be as many as 5 different documents overlapping on a single piece of land, said Ignacio.
One is the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP). Another is the DAR-issued CLOA. Third are patents from the DENR for forestlands. Fourth are judicial titles issued by the court. Fifth are tax declarations issued by the local government units to private persons.
Sorting through the mess
The DAR also offered to fund the effort through their collective CLOA budget, Secretary De Los Reyes told Rappler.
The DAR was not able to meet the June 30, 2014 deadline for putting all agricultural land under the agrarian reform program and is now waiting for Congress to pass a bill extending the deadline.
The agency previously cited problems with documents, including overlapping titles, as reasons for the delay. Government land supposedly ready for distribution, for example, may be forested land which automatically disqualifies it from distribution.
"Many or majority of collective CLOAs emanated from government land. These conflicts arose from land that may not be alienable and disposable. We really need to review these CLOAs," he told Rappler.
The initiative from the DAR now makes more government records available for compilation and, later on, comparison. Before, the involved agencies were not willing to provide their records, said Ignacio.
Aside from providing a record of patents, the DENR is also able to produce the judicial titles because they were the ones who conducted the land survey on which they are based.
The NCIP and Land Registration Authority (LRA) have also said that they will make their records available. However, the LRA is not yet able to give their documents because they are all still with a contractor they hired to create an online database, said Ignacio.
DENR will serve as the compiling agency because of its mandate and capability to map out land, he added.
With all the records, the agencies can begin making an inventory. Once the overlaps are identified, the agencies will then discuss how to resolve the conflicts.
Though the resolution will vary in each situation, there are some definite guidelines that dictate which title prevails over the other.
For instance, previously declared forested land cannot be covered by a CLOA. If there is an existing CLOA, a case will be filed in court to revert the titled land to forest land, explained Ignacio.
Indigenous peoples most affected
The task will be tedious and difficult because of the huge number of documents already issued by the various government agencies. This does not even count the fraudulent documents that abound, said Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr.
Baguilat, the congressman who first called for the Joint Administrative Order back in 2010 as chairman of the House Committee on Indigenous Peoples, said that at least 68 areas had been identified as "hotspots" for overlapping land documents.
Those identified back in 2010 include Mindoro (CLOA and CADT overlapping) and Pampanga (DENR patent and CADT overlapping), and some areas in Mindanao where mining permits clashed with CADTs.
Indigenous peoples suffer the most from overlapping land titles, he said.
Tribes are often heavily dependent on their ancestral domain for food, livelihood and their cultural and religious practices. Government documents like mining permits or CLOAs, when they overlap with the tribe's CADT, put at risk their entire way of life.
Many times, the CADT is not respected by government officials who still stand by the Regalian doctrine, the belief that all lands and the natural resources they hold are owned by the state.
"But the IPs think the opposite. The IPs believe that their land was theirs from the beginning and the government is just recognizing it now," said Baguilat.
According to NCIP chairperson Leonor Oralde-Quintayo, of the 162 CADTs issued covering around 5 million hectares of land nationwide, a majority face the problem of overlapping land titles.
Baguilat cautioned that before recognizing CLOAs or other documents as prevailing over other documents, the government agencies have to survey how things stand on the ground.
For example, land with CLOAs should be checked to see if they are really being used for agriculture. This would lessen the chances of land going to the wrong people with fake documents. – Rappler.com
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