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[G.R. No. 135385.

December 6, 2000]

ISAGANI CRUZ and CESAR EUROPA, petitioners, vs. SECRETARY OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES, SECRETARY OF BUDGET AND MANAGEMENT and CHAIRMAN and COMMISSIONERS OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, respondents. HON. JUAN M .FLAVIER, HON. PONCIANO BENNAGEN, BAYANI ASCARRAGA, EDTAMI MANSAYANGAN, BASILIO WANDAG, EVELYN DUNUAN, YAOM TUGAS, ALFREMO CARPIANO, LIBERATO A. GABIN, MATERNIDAD M. COLAS, NARCISA M. DALUPINES, BAI KIRAM-CONNIE SATURNO, BAE MLOMO-BEATRIZ T. ABASALA, DATU BALITUNGTUNG-ANTONIO D. LUMANDONG, DATU MANTUMUKAW TEOFISTO SABASALES, DATU EDUAARDO BANDA, DATU JOEL UNAD, DATU RAMON BAYAAN, TIMUAY JOSE ANOY, TIMUAY MACARIO D. SALACAO, TIMUAY EDWIN B. ENDING, DATU SAHAMPONG MALANAW VI, DATU BEN PENDAO CABIGON, BAI NANAPNAY-LIZA SAWAY, BAY INAY DAYA-MELINDA S. REYMUNDO, BAI TINANGHAGA HELINITA T. PANGAN, DATU MAKAPUKAW ADOLINO L. SAWAY, DATU MAUDAYAWCRISPEN SAWAY, VICKY MAKAY, LOURDES D. AMOS, GILBERT P. HOGGANG, TERESA GASPAR, MANUEL S. ONALAN, MIA GRACE L. GIRON, ROSEMARIE G. PE, BENITO CARINO, JOSEPH JUDE CARANTES, LYNETTE CARANTES-VIVAL, LANGLEY SEGUNDO, SATUR S. BUGNAY, CARLING DOMULOT, ANDRES MENDIOGRIN, LEOPOLDO ABUGAN, VIRGILIO CAYETANO, CONCHITA G. DESCAGA, LEVY ESTEVES, ODETTE G. ESTEVEZ, RODOLFO C. AGUILAR, MAURO VALONES, PEPE H. ATONG, OFELIA T. DAVI, PERFECTO B. GUINOSAO, WALTER N. TIMOL, MANUEL T. SELEN, OSCAR DALUNHAY, RICO O. SULATAN, RAFFY MALINDA, ALFREDO ABILLANOS, JESSIE ANDILAB, MIRLANDO H. MANGKULINTAS, SAMIE SATURNO, ROMEO A. LINDAHAY, ROEL S. MANSANG-CAGAN, PAQUITO S. LIESES, FILIPE G. SAWAY, HERMINIA S. SAWAY, JULIUS S. SAWAY, LEONARDA SAWAY, JIMMY UGYUB, SALVADOR TIONGSON, VENANCIO APANG, MADION MALID, SUKIM MALID, NENENG MALID, MANGKATADONG AUGUSTO DIANO, JOSEPHINE M. ALBESO, MORENO MALID, MARIO MANGCAL, FELAY DIAMILING, SALOME P. SARZA, FELIPE P. BAGON, SAMMY SALNUNGAN, ANTONIO D. EMBA, NORMA MAPANSAGONOS, ROMEO SALIGA, SR., JERSON P. GERADA, RENATO T. BAGON, JR., SARING MASALONG, SOLEDAD M. GERARDA, ELIZABETH L. MENDI, MORANTE S. TIWAN, DANILO M. MALUDAO, MINORS MARICEL MALID, represented by her father CORNELIO MALID, MARCELINO M. LADRA, represented by her father MONICO D. LADRA, JENNYLYN MALID, represented by her father TONY MALID, ARIEL M. EVANGELISTA, represented by her mother LINAY BALBUENA, EDWARD M. EMUY, SR., SUSAN BOLANIO, OND, PULA BATO BLAAN TRIBAL FARMERS ASSOCIATION, INTERPEOPLES EXCHANGE, INC. and GREEN FORUM-WESTERN VISAYAS, intervenors. COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, intervenor. IKALAHAN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE and HARIBON FOUNDATION FOR THE CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES, INC., intervenor. RESOLUTION PER CURIAM:

Petitioners Isagani Cruz and Cesar Europa brought this suit for prohibition and mandamus as citizens and taxpayers, assailing the constitutionality of certain provisions of Republic Act No. 8371 (R.A. 8371), otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA), and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (Implementing Rules).

In its resolution of September 29, 1998, the Court required respondents to comment.[1] In compliance, respondents Chairperson and Commissioners of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the government agency created under the IPRA to implement its provisions, filed on October 13, 1998 their Comment to the Petition, in which they defend the constitutionality of the IPRA and pray that the petition be dismissed for lack of merit.

On October 19, 1998, respondents Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) filed through the Solicitor General a consolidated Comment. The Solicitor General is of the view that the IPRA is partly unconstitutional on the ground that it grants ownership over natural resources to indigenous peoples and prays that the petition be granted in part.

On November 10, 1998, a group of intervenors, composed of Sen. Juan Flavier, one of the authors of the IPRA, Mr. Ponciano Bennagen, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, and the leaders and members of 112 groups of indigenous peoples (Flavier, et. al), filed their Motion for Leave to Intervene. They join the NCIP in defending the constitutionality of IPRA and praying for the dismissal of the petition.

On March 22, 1999, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) likewise filed a Motion to Intervene and/or to Appear as Amicus Curiae. The CHR asserts that IPRA is an expression of the principle of parens patriae and that the State has the responsibility to protect and guarantee the rights of those who are at a serious disadvantage like indigenous peoples. For this reason it prays that the petition be dismissed.

On March 23, 1999, another group, composed of the Ikalahan Indigenous People and the Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, Inc. (Haribon, et al.), filed a motion to Intervene with attached Comment-in-Intervention. They agree with the NCIP and Flavier, et al. that IPRA is consistent with the Constitution and pray that the petition for prohibition and mandamus be dismissed.

The motions for intervention of the aforesaid groups and organizations were granted.

Oral arguments were heard on April 13, 1999. Thereafter, the parties and intervenors filed their respective memoranda in which they reiterate the arguments adduced in their earlier pleadings and during the hearing.

Petitioners assail the constitutionality of the following provisions of the IPRA and its Implementing Rules on the ground that they amount to an unlawful deprivation of the States ownership over lands of the public domain as well as minerals and other natural resources therein, in violation of the regalian doctrine embodied in Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution:

(1) Section 3(a) which defines the extent and coverage of ancestral domains, and Section 3(b) which, in turn, defines ancestral lands;

(2) Section 5, in relation to section 3(a), which provides that ancestral domains including inalienable public lands, bodies of water, mineral and other resources found within ancestral domains are private but community property of the indigenous peoples;

(3) Section 6 in relation to section 3(a) and 3(b) which defines the composition of ancestral domains and ancestral lands;

(4) Section 7 which recognizes and enumerates the rights of the indigenous peoples over the ancestral domains;

(5) Section 8 which recognizes and enumerates the rights of the indigenous peoples over the ancestral lands;

(6) Section 57 which provides for priority rights of the indigenous peoples in the harvesting, extraction, development or exploration of minerals and other natural resources within the areas claimed to be their ancestral domains, and the right to enter into agreements with nonindigenous peoples for the

development and utilization of natural resources therein for a period not exceeding 25 years, renewable for not more than 25 years; and

(7) Section 58 which gives the indigenous peoples the responsibility to maintain, develop, protect and conserve the ancestral domains and portions thereof which are found to be necessary for critical watersheds, mangroves, wildlife sanctuaries, wilderness, protected areas, forest cover or reforestation.*2+

Petitioners also content that, by providing for an all-encompassing definition of ancestral domains and ancestral lands which might even include private lands found within said areas, Sections 3(a) and 3(b) violate the rights of private landowners.[3]

In addition, petitioners question the provisions of the IPRA defining the powers and jurisdiction of the NCIP and making customary law applicable to the settlement of disputes involving ancestral domains and ancestral lands on the ground that these provisions violate the due process clause of the Constitution.[4]

These provisions are:

(1) sections 51 to 53 and 59 which detail the process of delineation and recognition of ancestral domains and which vest on the NCIP the sole authority to delineate ancestral domains and ancestral lands;

(2) Section 52*i+ which provides that upon certification by the NCIP that a particular area is an ancestral domain and upon notification to the following officials, namely, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Secretary of Interior and Local Governments, Secretary of Justice and Commissioner of the National Development Corporation, the jurisdiction of said officials over said area terminates;

(3) Section 63 which provides the customary law, traditions and practices of indigenous peoples shall be applied first with respect to property rights, claims of ownership, hereditary succession and settlement of land disputes, and that any doubt or ambiguity in the interpretation thereof shall be resolved in favor of the indigenous peoples;

(4) Section 65 which states that customary laws and practices shall be used to resolve disputes involving indigenous peoples; and

(5) Section 66 which vests on the NCIP the jurisdiction over all claims and disputes involving rights of the indigenous peoples.*5+

Finally, petitioners assail the validity of Rule VII, Part II, Section 1 of the NCIP Administrative Order No. 1, series of 1998, which provides that the administrative relationship of the NCIP to the Office of the President is characterized as a lateral but autonomous relationship for purposes of policy and program coordination. They contend that said Rule infringes upon the Presidents power of control over executive departments under Section 17, Article VII of the Constitution.[6]

Petitioners pray for the following:

(1) A declaration that Sections 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 52*I+, 57, 58, 59, 63, 65 and 66 and other related provisions of R.A. 8371 are unconstitutional and invalid;

(2) The issuance of a writ of prohibition directing the Chairperson and Commissioners of the NCIP to cease and desist from implementing the assailed provisions of R.A. 8371 and its Implementing Rules;

(3) The issuance of a writ of prohibition directing the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to cease and desist from implementing Department of Environment and Natural Resources Circular No. 2, series of 1998;

(4) The issuance of a writ of prohibition directing the Secretary of Budget and Management to cease and desist from disbursing public funds for the implementation of the assailed provisions of R.A. 8371; and

(5) The issuance of a writ of mandamus commanding the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to comply with his duty of carrying out the States constitutional mandate to control and supervise the exploration, development, utilization and conservation of Philippine natural resources.*7+

After due deliberation on the petition, the members of the Court voted as follows:

Seven (7) voted to dismiss the petition. Justice Kapunan filed an opinion, which the Chief Justice and Justices Bellosillo, Quisumbing, and Santiago join, sustaining the validity of the challenged provisions of R.A. 8371. Justice Puno also filed a separate opinion sustaining all challenged provisions of the law with the exception of Section 1, Part II, Rule III of NCIP Administrative Order No. 1, series of 1998, the Rules and Regulations Implementing the IPRA, and Section 57 of the IPRA which he contends should be interpreted as dealing with the large-scale exploitation of natural resources and should be read in conjunction with Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution. On the other hand, Justice Mendoza voted to dismiss the petition solely on the ground that it does not raise a justiciable controversy and petitioners do not have standing to question the constitutionality of R.A. 8371.

Seven (7) other members of the Court voted to grant the petition. Justice Panganiban filed a separate opinion expressing the view that Sections 3 (a)(b), 5, 6, 7 (a)(b), 8, and related provisions of R.A. 8371 are unconstitutional. He reserves judgment on the constitutionality of Sections 58, 59, 65, and 66 of the law, which he believes must await the filing of specific cases by those whose rights may have been violated by the IPRA. Justice Vitug also filed a separate opinion expressing the view that Sections 3(a), 7, and 57 of R.A. 8371 are unconstitutional. Justices Melo, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, and De Leon join in the separate opinions of Justices Panganiban and Vitug.

As the votes were equally divided (7 to 7) and the necessary majority was not obtained, the case was redeliberated upon. However, after redeliberation, the voting remained the same. Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 56, Section 7 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, the petition is DISMISSED.

Attached hereto and made integral parts thereof are the separate opinions of Justices Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, and Panganiban.

SO ORDERED.

ANICETO YAP, in their behalf and

Promulgated:

in behalf of all those similarly situated, Respondents. October 8, 2008

x--------------------------------------------------x

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

G.R. No. 173775

- versus -

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, Respondents.

x--------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

REYES, R.T., J.:

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 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) affirming that[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. 1064[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 inhabitants[4] who live in the bone-shaped islands three barangays.*5+

On April 14, 1976, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) approved the National Reservation Survey of Boracay Island,[6] which identified several lots as being occupied or claimed by named persons.[7]

On November 10, 1978, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1801[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 3-82[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]

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] 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) respondentsclaimants 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]

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]

The RTC took judicial notice[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] The titles were issued on August 7, 1933.[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]

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] The Circular itself recognized private ownership of lands.[19] The trial court cited Sections 87[20] and 53[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]

The OSG moved for reconsideration but its motion was denied.[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]

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] 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. 1064[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] Wilfredo Gelito,[28] and other landowners[29] in Boracay filed with this Court an original petition for prohibition, mandamus, and nullification of Proclamation No. 1064.*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]

Petitioners-claimants contended that there is no need for a proclamation reclassifying Boracay into agricultural land. 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] Thus, their possession in the concept of owner for the required period entitled them to judicial confirmation of imperfect title.

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]

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]

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] (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 1902[36] in relation to Act No. 926, later amended and/or superseded by Act No. 2874 and CA No. 141;[37] (b) Proclamation No. 1801[38] issued by then President Marcos; and (c) Proclamation No. 1064[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] 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] giving the government great leeway for classification.[42] Then the 1987 Constitution reverted to the 1935 Constitution classification with one addition: national parks.[43] Of these, only agricultural lands may be alienated.[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] The doctrine has been consistently adopted under the 1935, 1973, and 1987 Constitutions.[46]

All lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State.[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] 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]

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] 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+

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]

The Royal Decree of 1894 or the Maura Law[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] Under Section 393 of the Maura Law, an informacion posesoria or possessory information title,[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] from the date of its inscription.[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]

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]

The first law governing the disposition of public lands in the Philippines under American rule was embodied in the Philippine Bill of 1902.[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] The act provided for, among others, the disposal of mineral lands by means of absolute grant (freehold system) and by lease (leasehold system).[62] It also provided the definition by exclusion of agricultural public lands.*63+ Interpreting the meaning of agricultural lands under the Philippine Bill of 1902, the Court declared in Mapa v. Insular Government:[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 x[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]

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] 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]

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 dueo since time immemorial, or since July 26, 1894, was required.[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] and privately owned lands which reverted to the State.[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] 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] which now provides for possession and occupation of the land applied for since June 12, 1945, or earlier.[74]

The issuance of PD No. 892[75] on February 16, 1976 discontinued the use of Spanish titles as evidence in land registration proceedings.[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 lands[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] It governs registration of lands under the Torrens system as well as unregistered lands, including chattel mortgages.[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] declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes.[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+

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] To overcome this presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be established that the land subject of the application (or claim) is alienable or disposable.[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] 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]

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]

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] and De Aldecoa v. The Insular Government (1909).[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+

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+ This was the Courts ruling in Heirs of the Late Spouses Pedro S. Palanca and Soterranea Rafols Vda. De Palanca v. Republic,[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.

xxxx

Petitioners 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]

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+

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] (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] 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]

Here, private claimants, unlike the Heirs of Ciriaco Tirol who were issued their title in 1933,[98] did not present a justiciable case for determination by the land registration court of the propertys 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 propertys land classification. Hence, private claimants cannot bank on Act No. 926.

We note that the RTC decision[99] in G.R. No. 167707 mentioned Krivenko v. Register of Deeds of Manila,[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] De Aldecoa v. The Insular Government,[102] and Ankron v. Government of the Philippine Islands.[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 Constitution[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] 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. 926[106] ipso facto converted the island into private ownership. Hence, they may apply for a title in their name.

A similar argument was squarely rejected by the Court in Collado v. Court of Appeals.[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 governments 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] (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 DENR[109] and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority[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] that the island has already been stripped of its forest cover; or that the implementation of Proclamation No. 1064 will destroy the islands tourism industry, do not negate its character as public forest.

Forests, in the context of both the Public Land Act and the Constitution[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] The discussion in Heirs of Amunategui v. Director of Forestry[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] (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] 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+ and areas declared as alienable and disposable*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. All forested areas in public lands are declared forest reserves. (Emphasis supplied)

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 Developments authority to declare areas in the island as alienable and disposable when it provides:

Subsistence farming, in areas declared as alienable and disposable by the Bureau of Forest Development.

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]

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. 141[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]

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] Absent such classification, the land remains unclassified until released and rendered open to disposition.[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] 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] (Emphasis supplied)

Moreover, the prohibition under the CARL applies only to a reclassification of land. 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 Justice[126] on this point:

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.[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.[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.[129] Where the land is not alienable and disposable, possession of the land, no matter how long, cannot confer ownership or possessory rights.[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 that the period of possession and occupation commenced on June 12, 1945.

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 homestead[131] or sales patent,[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 bill[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.

To be sure, forest lands are fundamental to our nations survival. 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:[134]

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 lumbermans decalogue.[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.

[19] Id.; PTA Circular No. 3-82, Rule VIII, Sec. 1(3) states: No trees in forested private lands may be cut without prior authority from the PTA. All forested areas in public lands are declared forest reserves. [20] Sec. 87. If all the lands included in the proclamation of the President are not registered under the Land Registration Act, the Solicitor-General, if requested to do so by the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, shall proceed in accordance with the provisions of section fifty-three of this Act. [21] Sec. 53. It shall be lawful for the Director of Lands, whenever in the opinion of the President the public interests shall require it, to cause to be filed in the proper Court of First Instance, through the

Solicitor General or the officer acting in his stead, a petition against the holder, claimant, possessor, or occupant of any land who shall not have voluntarily come in under the provisions of this chapter or of the Land Registration Act, stating in substance that the title of such holder, claimant, possessor, or occupant is open to discussion; or that the boundaries of any such land which has not been brought into court as aforesaid are open to question; or that it is advisable that the title to such land be settled and adjudicated, and praying that the title to any such land or the boundaries thereof or the right to occupancy thereof be settled and adjudicated. The judicial proceedings under this section shall be in accordance with the laws on adjudication of title in cadastral proceedings. [63] The provisions relevant to the definition are: Sec. 13. That the Government of the Philippine Islands, subject to the provisions of this Act and except as herein provided, shall classify according to its agricultural character and productiveness, and shall immediately make rules and regulations for the lease, sale, or other disposition of the public lands other than timber or mineral lands, but such rules and regulations shall not go into effect or have the force of law until they have received the approval of the President, and when approved by the President they shall be submitted by him to Congress at the beginning of the next ensuing session thereof and unless disapproved or amended by Congress at said session they shall at the close of such period have the force and effect of law in the Philippine Islands: Provided, That a single homestead entry shall not exceed sixteen hectares in extent. Sec. 14. That the Government of the Philippine Islands is hereby authorized and empowered to enact rules and regulations and to prescribe terms and conditions to enable persons to perfect their title to public lands in said Islands, who, prior to the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to the United States, had fulfilled all or some of the conditions required by the Spanish laws and royal decrees of the Kingdom of Spain for the acquisition of legal title thereto, yet failed to secure conveyance of title; and the Philippine Commission is authorized to issue patents, without compensation, to any native of said Islands, conveying title to any tract of land not more than sixteen hectares in extent, which were public lands and had been actually occupied by such native or his ancestors prior to and on the thirteenth of August, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight. Sec. 15. That the Government of the Philippine Islands is hereby authorized and empowered, on such terms as it may prescribe, by general legislation, to provide for the granting or sale and conveyance to actual occupants and settlers and other citizens of said Islands such parts and portions of the public domain, other than timber and mineral lands, of the United States in said Islands as it may deem wise, not exceeding sixteen hectares to any one person and for the sale and conveyance of not more than one thousand and twenty-four hectares to any corporation or association of persons: Provided, That the grant or sale of such lands, whether the purchase price be paid at once or in partial payments, shall be conditioned upon actual and continued occupancy, improvement, and cultivation of the premises sold for a period of not less than five years, during which time the purchaser or grantee can not alienate or encumber said land or the title thereto; but such restriction shall not apply to transfers of rights and title of inheritance under the laws for the distribution of the estates of decedents.

[106] Act No. 926, Sec. 54, par. 6 states: SEC. 54. The following described persons or their legal successors in right, occupying lands in the Philippines, or claiming to own any such land or interest therein but whose titles to such land have not been perfected may apply to the Court of Land Registration of the Philippine Islands for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor to wit xxxx (6) All persons who by themselves or their predecessors in interest have been in the open, continuous exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural public lands, as defined by said Act of Congress of July first, nineteen hundred and two, under a bona fide claim of ownership except as against the Government, for a period of ten years next preceding the taking effect of this act, except when prevented by war, or force majeure, shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and to have received the same, and shall be entitled to a certificate of title to such land under the provisions of this chapter. [117] Sec. 3 provides: Establishment of or low-density human settlements in private lands, or subdivisions, if any, subject to prior approval by the Ministry of Human Settlements, PTA and local building officials; Provided, that no structures shall be constructed within 30 meters from the shorelines. [118] Sec. 5 states: Subsistence farming, in areas declared as alienable and disposable by the Bureau of Forest Development. [119] Pars. 3-4. [120] SEC. 6. The President, upon recommendation of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce (now the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources), shall from time to time classify lands of the public domain into (a) (b) (c) Alienable or disposable, Timber, and Mineral lands,

And may at any time and in a like manner transfer such lands from one class to another, for the purposes of their administration and disposition. SEC. 7. For the purposes of administration and disposition of alienable or disposable public lands, the President, upon recommendation by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce (now the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources), shall from time to time declare what lands are open to disposition or concession under this Act.

EN BANC [G. R. No. 133250. May 6, 2003]

FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, petitioner, vs. PUBLIC ESTATES AUTHORITY and AMARI COASTAL BAY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, respondents. RESOLUTION CARPIO, J.:

For resolution of the Court are the following motions: (1) Motion to Inhibit and for Re-Deliberation filed by respondent Amari Coastal Bay Development Corporation (Amari for brevity) on September 13, 2002; (2) Motion to Set Case for Hearing on Oral Argument filed by Amari on August 20, 2002; (3) Motion for Reconsideration and Supplement to Motion for Reconsideration filed by Amari on July 26, 2002 and August 20, 2002, respectively; (4) Motion for Reconsideration and Supplement to Motion for Reconsideration filed by respondent Public Estates Authority (PEA for brevity) on July 26, 2002 and August 8, 2002, respectively; and (5) Motion for Reconsideration and/or Clarification filed by the Office of the Solicitor General on July 25, 2002. Petitioner Francisco I. Chavez filed on November 13, 2002 his Consolidated Opposition to the main and supplemental motions for reconsideration.

To recall, the Courts decision of July 9, 2002 (Decision for brevity) on the instant case states in its summary:

We can now summarize our conclusions as follows:

1. The 157.84 hectares of reclaimed lands comprising the Freedom Islands, now covered by certificates of title in the name of PEA, are alienable lands of the public domain. PEA may lease these lands to private corporations but may not sell or transfer ownership of these lands to private corporations. PEA may only sell these lands to Philippine citizens, subject to the ownership limitations in the 1987 Constitution and existing laws.

2. The 592.15 hectares of submerged areas of Manila Bay remain inalienable natural resources of the public domain until classified as alienable or disposable lands open to disposition and declared no longer needed for public service. The government can make such classification and declaration only after PEA

has reclaimed these submerged areas. Only then can these lands qualify as agricultural lands of the public domain, which are the only natural resources the government can alienate. In their present state, the 592.15 hectares of submerged areas are inalienable and outside the commerce of man.

3. Since the Amended JVA seeks to transfer to AMARI, a private corporation, ownership of 77.34 hectares of the Freedom Islands, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain.

4. Since the Amended JVA also seeks to transfer to AMARI ownership of 290.156 hectares of still submerged areas of Manila Bay, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits the alienation of natural resources other than agricultural lands of the public domain. PEA may reclaim these submerged areas. Thereafter, the government can classify the reclaimed lands as alienable or disposable, and further declare them no longer needed for public service. Still, the transfer of such reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain to AMARI will be void in view of Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain.

Clearly, the Amended JVA violates glaringly Sections 2 and 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution. Under Article 1409 of the Civil Code, contracts whose object or purpose is contrary to law, or whose object is outside the commerce of men, are inexistent and void from the beginning. The Court must perform its duty to defend and uphold the Constitution, and therefore declares the Amended JVA null and void ab initio.

Amari seeks the inhibition of Justice Antonio T. Carpio, ponente of the Decision, on the ground that Justice Carpio, before his appointment to the Court, wrote in his Manila Times column of July 1, 1997, I have always maintained that the law requires the public bidding of reclamation projects. Justice Carpio, then a private law practitioner, also stated in the same column, The Amari-PEA reclamation contract is legally flawed because it was not bid out by the PEA. Amari claims that because of these statements Justice Carpio should inhibit himself on the grounds of bias and prejudgment and that the instant case should be re-deliberated after being assigned to a new ponente.

The motion to inhibit Justice Carpio must be denied for three reasons. First, the motion to inhibit came after Justice Carpio had already rendered his opinion on the merits of the case. The rule is that a motion to inhibit must be denied if filed after a member of the Court had already given an opinion on the merits

of the case,*1+ the rationale being that a litigant cannot be permitted to speculate upon the action of the Court xxx (only to) raise an objection of this sort after a decision has been rendered. Second, as can be readily gleaned from the summary of the Decision quoted above, the absence of public bidding is not one of the ratio decidendi of the Decision which is anchored on violation of specific provisions of the Constitution. The absence of public bidding was not raised as an issue by the parties. The absence of public bidding was mentioned in the Decision only to complete the discussion on the law affecting reclamation contracts for the guidance of public officials. At any rate, the Office of the Solicitor General in its Motion for Reconsideration concedes that the absence of public bidding in the disposition of the Freedom Islands rendered the Amended JVA null and void.[2] Third, judges and justices are not disqualified from participating in a case just because they have written legal articles on the law involved in the case. As stated by the Court in Republic v. Cocofed,[3] -

The mere fact that, as a former columnist, Justice Carpio has written on the coconut levy will not disqualify him, in the same manner that jurists will not be disqualified just because they may have given their opinions as textbook writers on the question involved in a case.

Besides, the subject and title of the column in question was The CCP reclamation project and the column referred to the Amari-PEA contract only in passing in one sentence.

Amaris motion to set the case for oral argument must also be denied since the pleadings of the parties have discussed exhaustively the issues involved in the case.

The motions for reconsideration reiterate mainly the arguments already discussed in the Decision. We shall consider in this Resolution only the new arguments raised by respondents.

In its Supplement to Motion for Reconsideration, Amari argues that the Decision should be made to apply prospectively, not retroactively to cover the Amended JVA. Amari argues that the existence of a statute or executive order prior to its being adjudged void is an operative fact to which legal consequences are attached, citing De Agbayani v. PNB,[4] thus:

x x x. It does not admit of doubt that prior to the declaration of nullity such challenged legislative or executive act must have been in force and had to be complied with. This is so as until after the judiciary, in an appropriate case, declares its invalidity, it is entitled to obedience and respect. Parties may have acted under it and may have changed their positions. What could be more fitting than that in a

subsequent litigation regard be had to what has been done while such legislative or executive act was in operation and presumed to be valid in all respects. It is now accepted as a doctrine that prior to its being nullified, its existence as a fact must be reckoned with. This is merely to reflect awareness that precisely because the judiciary is the governmental organ which has the final say on whether or not a legislative or executive measure is valid, a period of time may have elapsed before it can exercise the power of judicial review that may lead to a declaration of nullity. It would be to deprive the law of its quality of fairness and justice then, if there be no recognition of what had transpired prior to such adjudication.

In the language of an American Supreme Court decision: "The actual existence of a statute, prior to such a determination [of unconstitutionality], is an operative fact and may have consequences which cannot justly be ignored. The past cannot always be erased by a new judicial declaration. The effect of the subsequent ruling as to invalidity may have to be considered in various aspects, - with respect to particular relations, individual and corporate, and particular conduct, private and official." This language has been quoted with approval in a resolution in Araneta v. Hill and the decision in Manila Motor Co., Inc. v. Flores. x x x.

xxx

x x x That before the decision they were not constitutionally infirm was admitted expressly. There is all the more reason then to yield assent to the now prevailing principle that the existence of a statute or executive order prior to its being adjudged void is an operative fact to which legal consequences are attached.

Amari now claims that assuming arguendo that Presidential Decree Nos. 1084 and 1085, and Executive Order Nos. 525 and 654 are inconsistent with the 1987 Constitution, the limitation imposed by the Decision on these decrees and executive orders should only be applied prospectively from the finality of the Decision.

Amari likewise asserts that a new doctrine of the Court cannot operate retroactively if it impairs vested rights. Amari maintains that the new doctrine embodied in the Decision cannot apply retroactively on those who relied on the old doctrine in good faith, citing Spouses Benzonan v. Court of Appeals,[5] thus:

At that time, the prevailing jurisprudence interpreting section 119 of R.A. 141 as amended was that enunciated in Monge and Tupas cited above. The petitioners Benzonan and respondent Pe and the DBP

are bound by these decisions for pursuant to Article 8 of the Civil Code "judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines." But while our decisions form part of the law of the land, they are also subject to Article 4 of the Civil Code which provides that "laws shall have no retroactive effect unless the contrary is provided." This is expressed in the familiar legal maxim lex prospicit, non respicit, the law looks forward not backward. The rationale against retroactivity is easy to perceive. The retroactive application of a law usually divests rights that have already become vested or impairs the obligations of contract and hence, is unconstitutional (Francisco v. Certeza, 3 SCRA 565 [1961]).

The same consideration underlies our rulings giving only prospective effect to decisions enunciating new doctrines. Thus, we emphasized in People v. Jabinal, 55 SCRA 607 [1974] "x x x when a doctrine of this Court is overruled and a different view is adopted, the new doctrine should be applied prospectively and should not apply to parties who had relied on the old doctrine and acted on the faith thereof.

There may be special cases where weighty considerations of equity and social justice will warrant a retroactive application of doctrine to temper the harshness of statutory law as it applies to poor farmers or their widows and orphans. In the present petitions, however, we find no such equitable considerations. Not only did the private respondent apply for free agricultural land when he did not need it and he had no intentions of applying it to the noble purposes behind the law, he would now repurchase for only P327,995.00, the property purchased by the petitioners in good faith for P1,650,000.00 in 1979 and which, because of improvements and the appreciating value of land must be worth more than that amount now.

The buyers in good faith from DBP had a right to rely on our rulings in Monge and Tupas when they purchased the property from DBP in 1979 or thirteen (13) years ago. Under the rulings in these two cases, the period to repurchase the disputed lot given to respondent Pe expired on June 18, 1982. He failed to exercise his right. His lost right cannot be revived by relying on the 1988 case of Belisario. The right of petitioners over the subject lot had already become vested as of that time and cannot be impaired by the retroactive application of the Belisario ruling.

Amaris reliance on De Agbayani and Spouses Benzonan is misplaced. These cases would apply if the prevailing law or doctrine at the time of the signing of the Amended JVA was that a private corporation could acquire alienable lands of the public domain, and the Decision annulled the law or reversed this doctrine. Obviously, this is not the case here.

Under the 1935 Constitution, private corporations were allowed to acquire alienable lands of the public domain. But since the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution, private corporations were banned from holding, except by lease, alienable lands of the public domain. The 1987 Constitution continued this constitutional prohibition. The prevailing law before, during and after the signing of the Amended JVA is that private corporations cannot hold, except by lease, alienable lands of the public domain. The Decision has not annulled or in any way changed the law on this matter. The Decision, whether made retroactive or not, does not change the law since the Decision merely reiterates the law that prevailed since the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution. Thus, De Agbayani, which refers to a law that is invalidated by a decision of the Court, has no application to the instant case.

Likewise, Spouses Benzonan is inapplicable because it refers to a doctrine of the Court that is overruled by a subsequent decision which adopts a new doctrine. In the instant case, there is no previous doctrine that is overruled by the Decision. Since the case of Manila Electric Company v. Judge CastroBartolome,[6] decided on June 29, 1982, the Court has applied consistently the constitutional provision that private corporations cannot hold, except by lease, alienable lands of the public domain. The Court reiterated this in numerous cases, and the only dispute in the application of this constitutional provision is whether the land in question had already become private property before the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution.[7] If the land was already private land before the 1973 Constitution because the corporation had possessed it openly, continuously, exclusively and adversely for at least thirty years since June 12, 1945 or earlier, then the corporation could apply for judicial confirmation of its imperfect title. But if the land remained public land upon the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution, then the corporation could never hold, except by lease, such public land. Indisputably, the Decision does not overrule any previous doctrine of the Court.

The prevailing doctrine before, during and after the signing of the Amended JVA is that private corporations cannot hold, except by lease, alienable lands of the public domain. This is one of the two main reasons why the Decision annulled the Amended JVA. The other main reason is that submerged areas of Manila Bay, being part of the sea, are inalienable and beyond the commerce of man, a doctrine that has remained immutable since the Spanish Law on Waters of 1886. Clearly, the Decision merely reiterates, and does not overrule, any existing judicial doctrine.

Even on the characterization of foreshore lands reclaimed by the government, the Decision does not overrule existing law or doctrine. Since the adoption of the Regalian doctrine in this jurisdiction, the sea and its foreshore areas have always been part of the public domain. And since the enactment of Act No. 1654 on May 18, 1907 until the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution, statutory law never allowed foreshore lands reclaimed by the government to be sold to private corporations. The 1973 and 1987 Constitution enshrined and expanded the ban to include any alienable land of the public domain.

There are, of course, decisions of the Court which, while recognizing a violation of the law or Constitution, hold that the sale or transfer of the land may no longer be invalidated because of weighty considerations of equity and social justice.*8+ The invalidation of the sale or transfer may also be superfluous if the purpose of the statutory or constitutional ban has been achieved. But none of these cases apply to Amari.

Thus, the Court has ruled consistently that where a Filipino citizen sells land to an alien who later sells the land to a Filipino, the invalidity of the first transfer is corrected by the subsequent sale to a citizen.[9] Similarly, where the alien who buys the land subsequently acquires Philippine citizenship, the sale is validated since the purpose of the constitutional ban to limit land ownership to Filipinos has been achieved.[10] In short, the law disregards the constitutional disqualification of the buyer to hold land if the land is subsequently transferred to a qualified party, or the buyer himself becomes a qualified party. In the instant case, however, Amari has not transferred the Freedom Islands, or any portion of it, to any qualified party. In fact, Amari admits that title to the Freedom Islands still remains with PEA.[11]

The Court has also ruled consistently that a sale or transfer of the land may no longer be questioned under the principle of res judicata, provided the requisites for res judicata are present.[12] Under this principle, the courts and the parties are bound by a prior final decision, otherwise there will be no end to litigation. As the Court declared in Toledo-Banaga v. Court of Appeals,*13+ once a judgement has become final and executory, it can no longer be disturbed no matter how erroneous it may be. In the instant case, there is no prior final decision adjudicating the Freedom Islands to Amari.

There are, moreover, special circumstances that disqualify Amari from invoking equity principles. Amari cannot claim good faith because even before Amari signed the Amended JVA on March 30, 1999, petitioner had already filed the instant case on April 27, 1998 questioning precisely the qualification of Amari to acquire the Freedom Islands. Even before the filing of this petition, two Senate Committees[14] had already approved on September 16, 1997 Senate Committee Report No. 560. This Report concluded, after a well-publicized investigation into PEAs sale of the Freedom Islands to Amari, that the Freedom Islands are inalienable lands of the public domain. Thus, Amari signed the Amended JVA knowing and assuming all the attendant risks, including the annulment of the Amended JVA.

Amari has also not paid to PEA the full reimbursement cost incurred by PEA in reclaiming the Freedom Islands. Amari states that it has paid PEA only P300,000,000.00[15] out of the P1,894,129,200.00 total reimbursement cost agreed upon in the Amended JVA. Moreover, Amari does not claim to have even initiated the reclamation of the 592.15 hectares of submerged areas covered in the Amended JVA, or to

have started to construct any permanent infrastructure on the Freedom Islands. In short, Amari does not claim to have introduced any physical improvement or development on the reclamation project that is the subject of the Amended JVA. And yet Amari claims that it had already spent a whopping P9,876,108,638.00 as its total development cost as of June 30, 2002.[16] Amari does not explain how it spent the rest of the P9,876,108,638.00 total project cost after paying PEA P300,000,000.00. Certainly, Amari cannot claim to be an innocent purchaser in good faith and for value.

In its Supplement to Motion for Reconsideration, PEA claims that it is similarly situated as the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) which under R.A. No. 7227 is tasked to sell portions of the Metro Manila military camps and other military reservations. PEAs comparison is incorrect. The Decision states as follows:

As the central implementing agency tasked to undertake reclamation projects nationwide, with authority to sell reclaimed lands, PEA took the place of DENR as the government agency charged with leasing or selling reclaimed lands of the public domain. The reclaimed lands being leased or sold by PEA are not private lands, in the same manner that DENR, when it disposes of other alienable lands, does not dispose of private lands but alienable lands of the public domain. Only when qualified private parties acquire these lands will the lands become private lands. In the hands of the government agency tasked and authorized to dispose of alienable or disposable lands of the public domain, these lands are still public, not private lands.

PEA is the central implementing agency tasked to undertake reclamation projects nationwide. PEA took the place of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR for brevity) as the government agency charged with leasing or selling all reclaimed lands of the public domain. In the hands of PEA, which took over the leasing and selling functions of DENR, reclaimed foreshore lands are public lands in the same manner that these same lands would have been public lands in the hands of DENR. BCDA is an entirely different government entity. BCDA is authorized by law to sell specific government lands that have long been declared by presidential proclamations as military reservations for use by the different services of the armed forces under the Department of National Defense. BCDAs mandate is specific and limited in area, while PEAs mandate is general and national. BCDA holds government lands that have been granted to end-user government entities the military services of the armed forces. In contrast, under Executive Order No. 525, PEA holds the reclaimed public lands, not as an end-user entity, but as the government agency primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government.

In Laurel v. Garcia,[17] cited in the Decision, the Court ruled that land devoted to public use by the Department of Foreign Affairs, when no longer needed for public use, may be declared patrimonial property for sale to private parties provided there is a law authorizing such act. Well-settled is the doctrine that public land granted to an end-user government agency for a specific public use may subsequently be withdrawn by Congress from public use and declared patrimonial property to be sold to private parties. R.A. No. 7227 creating the BCDA is a law that declares specific military reservations no longer needed for defense or military purposes and reclassifies such lands as patrimonial property for sale to private parties.

Government owned lands, as long they are patrimonial property, can be sold to private parties, whether Filipino citizens or qualified private corporations. Thus, the so-called Friar Lands acquired by the government under Act No. 1120 are patrimonial property[18] which even private corporations can acquire by purchase. Likewise, reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain if sold or transferred to a public or municipal corporation for a monetary consideration become patrimonial property in the hands of the public or municipal corporation. Once converted to patrimonial property, the land may be sold by the public or municipal corporation to private parties, whether Filipino citizens or qualified private corporations.

We reiterate what we stated in the Decision is the rationale for treating PEA in the same manner as DENR with respect to reclaimed foreshore lands, thus:

To allow vast areas of reclaimed lands of the public domain to be transferred to PEA as private lands will sanction a gross violation of the constitutional ban on private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain. PEA will simply turn around, as PEA has now done under the Amended JVA, and transfer several hundreds of hectares of these reclaimed and still to be reclaimed lands to a single private corporation in only one transaction. This scheme will effectively nullify the constitutional ban in Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which was intended to diffuse equitably the ownership of alienable lands of the public domain among Filipinos, now numbering over 80 million strong.

This scheme, if allowed, can even be applied to alienable agricultural lands of the public domain since PEA can acquire x x x any and all kinds of lands. This will open the floodgates to corporations and even individuals acquiring hundreds, if not thousands, of hectares of alienable lands of the public domain under the guise that in the hands of PEA these lands are private lands. This will result in corporations amassing huge landholdings never before seen in this country - creating the very evil that the constitutional ban was designed to prevent. This will completely reverse the clear direction of

constitutional development in this country. The 1935 Constitution allowed private corporations to acquire not more than 1,024 hectares of public lands. The 1973 Constitution prohibited private corporations from acquiring any kind of public land, and the 1987 Constitution has unequivocally reiterated this prohibition.

Finally, the Office of the Solicitor General and PEA argue that the cost of reclaiming deeply submerged areas is enormous and it would be difficult for PEA to accomplish such project without the participation of private corporations.*19+ The Decision does not bar private corporations from participating in reclamation projects and being paid for their services in reclaiming lands. What the Decision prohibits, following the explicit constitutional mandate, is for private corporations to acquire reclaimed lands of the public domain. There is no prohibition on the directors, officers and stockholders of private corporations, if they are Filipino citizens, from acquiring at public auction reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain. They can acquire not more than 12 hectares per individual, and the land thus acquired becomes private land.

Despite the nullity of the Amended JVA, Amari is not precluded from recovering from PEA in the proper proceedings, on a quantum meruit basis, whatever Amari may have incurred in implementing the Amended JVA prior to its declaration of nullity.

WHEREFORE, finding the Motions for Reconsideration to be without merit, the same are hereby DENIED with FINALITY. The Motion to Inhibit and for Re-Deliberation and the Motion to Set Case for Hearing on Oral Argument are likewise DENIED.

SO ORDERED. EN BANC

FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, Petitioner,

G.R. No. 164527

Present:

PUNO, CJ, QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, - versus CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, GARCIA, NATIONAL HOUSING AUTHORITY, R-II BUILDERS, INC., R-II HOLDINGS, INC., HARBOUR CENTRE PORT TERMINAL, INC., and MR. REGHIS ROMERO II, Respondents. August 15, 2007 Promulgated: VELASCO, NACHURA, and REYES, JJ.

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

VELASCO, JR., J.:

In this Petition for Prohibition and Mandamus with Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction under Rule 65, petitioner, in his capacity as taxpayer, seeks:

to declare NULL AND VOID the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) dated March 9, 1993 between the National Housing Authority and R-II Builders, Inc. and the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project embodied therein; the subsequent amendments to the said JVA; and all other agreements signed and executed in relation thereto including, but not limited to the Smokey Mountain Asset Pool Agreement dated 26 September 1994 and the separate agreements for Phase I and Phase II of the Projectas well as all other transactions which emanated therefrom, for being UNCONSTITUTIONAL and INVALID;

to enjoin respondentsparticularly respondent NHAfrom further implementing and/or enforcing the said project and other agreements related thereto, and from further deriving and/or enjoying any rights, privileges and interest therefrom x x x; and

to compel respondents to disclose all documents and information relating to the projectincluding, but not limited to, any subsequent agreements with respect to the different phases of the project, the revisions over the original plan, the additional works incurred thereon, the current financial condition of respondent R-II Builders, Inc., and the transactions made respecting the project.[1]

The Facts

On March 1, 1988, then President Corazon C. Aquino issued Memorandum Order No. (MO) 161[2] approving and directing the implementation of the Comprehensive and Integrated Metropolitan Manila Waste Management Plan (the Plan). The Metro Manila Commission, in coordination with various government agencies, was tasked as the lead agency to implement the Plan as formulated by the Presidential Task Force on Waste Management created by Memorandum Circular No. 39. A day after, on March 2, 1988, MO 161-A[3] was issued, containing the guidelines which prescribed the functions and responsibilities of fifteen (15) various government departments and offices tasked to implement the Plan, namely: Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Transportation and Communication, Department of Budget and Management, National Economic and Development

Authority (NEDA), Philippine Constabulary Integrated National Police, Philippine Information Agency and the Local Government Unit (referring to the City of Manila), Department of Social Welfare and Development, Presidential Commission for Urban Poor, National Housing Authority (NHA), Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Education, Culture and Sports (now Department of Education), and Presidential Management Staff.

Specifically, respondent NHA was ordered to conduct feasibility studies and develop low-cost housing projects at the dumpsite and absorb scavengers in NHA resettlement/low-cost housing projects.*4+ On the other hand, the DENR was tasked to review and evaluate proposed projects under the Plan with regard to their environmental impact, conduct regular monitoring of activities of the Plan to ensure compliance with environmental standards and assist DOH in the conduct of the study on hospital waste management.*5+

At the time MO 161-A was issued by President Aquino, Smokey Mountain was a wasteland in Balut, Tondo, Manila, where numerous Filipinos resided in subhuman conditions, collecting items that may have some monetary value from the garbage. The Smokey Mountain dumpsite is bounded on the north by the Estero Marala, on the south by the property of the National Government, on the east by the property of B and I Realty Co., and on the west by Radial Road 10 (R-10).

Pursuant to MO 161-A, NHA prepared the feasibility studies of the Smokey Mountain low-cost housing project which resulted in the formulation of the Smokey Mountain Development Plan and Reclamation of the Area Across R-10 or the Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMDRP; the Project). The Project aimed to convert the Smokey Mountain dumpsite into a habitable housing project, inclusive of the reclamation of the area across R-10, adjacent to the Smokey Mountain as the enabling component of the project.[6] Once finalized, the Plan was submitted to President Aquino for her approval.

On July 9, 1990, the Build-Operate-and-Transfer (BOT) Law (Republic Act No. [RA] 6957) was enacted.*7+ Its declared policy under Section 1 is *t+o recognize the indispensable role of the private sector as the main engine for national growth and development and provide the most appropriate favorable incentives to mobilize private resources for the purpose. Sec. 3 authorized and empowered *a+ll government infrastructure agencies, including government-owned and controlled corporations and local government units x x x to enter into contract with any duly pre-qualified private contractor for the financing, construction, operation and maintenance of any financially viable infrastructure facilities through the build-operate-transfer or build and transfer scheme.

RA 6957 defined build-and-transfer scheme as *a+ contractual arrangement whereby the contractor undertakes the construction, including financing, of a given infrastructure facility, and its turnover after the completion to the government agency or local government unit concerned which shall pay the contractor its total investment expended on the project, plus reasonable rate of return thereon. The last paragraph of Sec. 6 of the BOT Law provides that the repayment scheme in the case of land reclamation or the building of industrial estates may consist of *t+he grant of a portion or percentage of the reclaimed land or industrial estate built, subject to the constitutional requirements with respect to the ownership of lands.

On February 10, 1992, Joint Resolution No. 03[8] was passed by both houses of Congress. Sec. 1 of this resolution provided, among other things, that:

Section 1. There is hereby approved the following national infrastructure projects for implementation under the provisions of Republic Act No. 6957 and its implementing rules and regulations:

xxxx

(d) facilities;

Port infrastructure like piers, wharves, quays, storage handling, ferry service and related

xxxx

(k)

Land reclamation, dredging and other related development facilities;

(l) Industrial estates, regional industrial centers and export processing zones including steel mills, iron-making and petrochemical complexes and related infrastructure and utilities;

xxxx

(p) Environmental and solid waste management-related facilities such as collection equipment, composting plants, incinerators, landfill and tidal barriers, among others; and

(q)

Development of new townsites and communities and related facilities.

This resolution complied with and conformed to Sec. 4 of the BOT Law requiring the approval of all national infrastructure projects by the Congress.

On January 17, 1992, President Aquino proclaimed MO 415[9] approving and directing the implementation of the SMDRP. Secs. 3 and 4 of the Memorandum Order stated:

Section 3. The National Housing Authority is hereby directed to implement the Smokey Mountain Development Plan and Reclamation of the Area Across R-10 through a private sector joint venture scheme at the least cost to the government.

Section 4. The land area covered by the Smokey Mountain dumpsite is hereby conveyed to the National Housing Authority as well as the area to be reclaimed across R-10. (Emphasis supplied.)

In addition, the Public Estates Authority (PEA) was directed to assist in the evaluation of proposals regarding the technical feasibility of reclamation, while the DENR was directed to (1) facilitate titling of Smokey Mountain and of the area to be reclaimed and (2) assist in the technical evaluation of proposals regarding environmental impact statements.[10]

In the same MO 415, President Aquino created an Executive Committee (EXECOM) to oversee the implementation of the Plan, chaired by the National Capital Region-Cabinet Officer for Regional Development (NCR-CORD) with the heads of the NHA, City of Manila, DPWH, PEA, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), DENR, and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) as members.[11] The NEDA subsequently became a member of the EXECOM. Notably, in a September 2, 1994 Letter,[12] PEA

General Manager Amado Lagdameo approved the plans for the reclamation project prepared by the NHA.

In conformity with Sec. 5 of MO 415, an inter-agency technical committee (TECHCOM) was created composed of the technical representatives of the EXECOM *t+o assist the NHA in the evaluation of the project proposals, assist in the resolution of all issues and problems in the project to ensure that all aspects of the development from squatter relocation, waste management, reclamation, environmental protection, land and house construction meet governing regulation of the region and to facilitate the completion of the project.*13+

Subsequently, the TECHCOM put out the Public Notice and Notice to Pre-Qualify and Bid for the right to become NHAs joint venture partner in the implementation of the SMDRP. The notices were published in newspapers of general circulation on January 23 and 26 and February 1, 14, 16, and 23, 1992, respectively. Out of the thirteen (13) contractors who responded, only five (5) contractors fully complied with the required pre-qualification documents. Based on the evaluation of the prequalification documents, the EXECOM declared the New San Jose Builders, Inc. and R-II Builders, Inc. (RBI) as the top two contractors.[14]

Thereafter, the TECHCOM evaluated the bids (which include the Pre-feasibility Study and Financing Plan) of the top two (2) contractors in this manner:

(1)

The DBP, as financial advisor to the Project, evaluated their Financial Proposals;

(2) The DPWH, PPA, PEA and NHA evaluated the Technical Proposals for the Housing Construction and Reclamation;

(3) The DENR evaluated Technical Proposals on Waste Management and Disposal by conducting the Environmental Impact Analysis; and

(4) The NHA and the City of Manila evaluated the socio-economic benefits presented by the proposals.

On June 30, 1992, Fidel V. Ramos assumed the Office of the President (OP) of the Philippines.

On August 31, 1992, the TECHCOM submitted its recommendation to the EXECOM to approve the R-II Builders, Inc. (RBI) proposal which garnered the highest score of 88.475%.

Subsequently, the EXECOM made a Project briefing to President Ramos. As a result, President Ramos issued Proclamation No. 39[15] on September 9, 1992, which reads:

WHEREAS, the National Housing Authority has presented a viable conceptual plan to convert the Smokey Mountain dumpsite into a habitable housing project, inclusive of the reclamation of the area across Road Radial 10 (R-10) adjacent to the Smokey Mountain as the enabling component of the project;

xxxx

These parcels of land of public domain are hereby placed under the administration and disposition of the National Housing Authority to develop, subdivide and dispose to qualified beneficiaries, as well as its development for mix land use (commercial/industrial) to provide employment opportunities to on-site families and additional areas for port-related activities.

In order to facilitate the early development of the area for disposition, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through the Lands and Management Bureau, is hereby directed to approve the boundary and subdivision survey and to issue a special patent and title in the name of the National Housing Authority, subject to final survey and private rights, if any there be. (Emphasis supplied.)

On October 7, 1992, President Ramos authorized NHA to enter into a Joint Venture Agreement with RBI *s+ubject to final review and approval of the Joint Venture Agreement by the Office of the President.*16+

On March 19, 1993, the NHA and RBI entered into a Joint Venture Agreement[17] (JVA) for the development of the Smokey Mountain dumpsite and the reclamation of the area across R-10 based on Presidential Decree No. (PD) 757*18+ which mandated NHA *t+o undertake the physical and socioeconomic upgrading and development of lands of the public domain identified for housing, MO 161-A which required NHA to conduct the feasibility studies and develop a low-cost housing project at the Smokey Mountain, and MO 415 as amended by MO 415-A which approved the Conceptual Plan for Smokey Mountain and creation of the EXECOM and TECHCOM. Under the JVA, the Project involves the clearing of Smokey Mountain for eventual development into a low cost medium rise housing complex and industrial/commercial site with the reclamation of the area directly across [R-10] to act as the enabling component of the Project.*19+ The JVA covered a lot in Tondo, Manila with an area of two hundred twelve thousand two hundred thirty-four (212,234) square meters and another lot to be reclaimed also in Tondo with an area of four hundred thousand (400,000) square meters.

The Scope of Work of RBI under Article II of the JVA is as follows:

a) To fully finance all aspects of development of Smokey Mountain and reclamation of no more than 40 hectares of Manila Bay area across Radial Road 10.

b) To immediately commence on the preparation of feasibility report and detailed engineering with emphasis to the expedient acquisition of the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) from the DENR.

c)

The construction activities will only commence after the acquisition of the ECC, and

d) Final details of the contract, including construction, duration and delivery timetables, shall be based on the approved feasibility report and detailed engineering.

Other obligations of RBI are as follows:

2.02 The [RBI] shall develop the PROJECT based on the Final Report and Detailed Engineering as approved by the Office of the President. All costs and expenses for hiring technical personnel, date gathering, permits, licenses, appraisals, clearances, testing and similar undertaking shall be for the account of the [RBI].

2.03 The [RBI] shall undertake the construction of 3,500 temporary housing units complete with basic amenities such as plumbing, electrical and sewerage facilities within the temporary housing project as staging area to temporarily house the squatter families from the Smokey Mountain while development is being undertaken. These temporary housing units shall be turned over to the [NHA] for disposition.

2.04 The [RBI] shall construct 3,500 medium rise low cost permanent housing units on the leveled Smokey Mountain complete with basic utilities and amenities, in accordance with the plans and specifications set forth in the Final Report approved by the [NHA]. Completed units ready for mortgage take out shall be turned over by the [RBI] to NHA on agreed schedule.

2.05 The [RBI] shall reclaim forty (40) hectares of Manila Bay area directly across [R-10] as contained in Proclamation No. 39 as the enabling component of the project and payment to the [RBI] as its asset share.

2.06 The [RBI] shall likewise furnish all labor materials and equipment necessary to complete all herein development works to be undertaken on a phase to phase basis in accordance with the work program stipulated therein.

The profit sharing shall be based on the approved pre-feasibility report submitted to the EXECOM, viz:

For the developer (RBI):

1.

To own the forty (40) hectares of reclaimed land.

2.

To own the commercial area at the Smokey Mountain area composed of 1.3 hectares, and

3. To own all the constructed units of medium rise low cost permanent housing units beyond the 3,500 units share of the [NHA].

For the NHA:

1.

To own the temporary housing consisting of 3,500 units.

2. To own the cleared and fenced incinerator site consisting of 5 hectares situated at the Smokey Mountain area.

3. To own the 3,500 units of permanent housing to be constructed by [RBI] at the Smokey Mountain area to be awarded to qualified on site residents.

4.

To own the Industrial Area site consisting of 3.2 hectares, and

5.

To own the open spaces, roads and facilities within the Smokey Mountain area.

In the event of extraordinary increase in labor, materials, fuel and non-recoverability of total project expenses,*20+ the OP, upon recommendation of the NHA, may approve a corresponding adjustment in the enabling component.

The functions and responsibilities of RBI and NHA are as follows:

For RBI:

4.01 Immediately commence on the preparation of the FINAL REPORT with emphasis to the expedient acquisition, with the assistance of the [NHA] of Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the [DENR]. Construction shall only commence after the acquisition of the ECC. The Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) shall form part of the FINAL REPORT.

The FINAL REPORT shall provide the necessary subdivision and housing plans, detailed engineering and architectural drawings, technical specifications and other related and required documents relative to the Smokey Mountain area.

With respect to the 40-hectare reclamation area, the [RBI] shall have the discretion to develop the same in a manner that it deems necessary to recover the *RBIs+ investment, subject to environmental and zoning rules.

4.02 Finance the total project cost for land development, housing construction and reclamation of the PROJECT.

4.03 REPORT.

Warrant that all developments shall be in compliance with the requirements of the FINAL

4.04 Provide all administrative resources for the submission of project accomplishment reports to the [NHA] for proper evaluation and supervision on the actual implementation.

4.05 Negotiate and secure, with the assistance of the [NHA] the grant of rights of way to the PROJECT, from the owners of the adjacent lots for access road, water, electrical power connections and drainage facilities.

4.06 Provide temporary field office and transportation vehicles (2 units), one (1) complete set of computer and one (1) unit electric typewriter for the *NHAs+ field personnel to be charged to the PROJECT.

For the NHA:

4.07 The [NHA] shall be responsible for the removal and relocation of all squatters within Smokey Mountain to the Temporary Housing Complex or to other areas prepared as relocation areas with the assistance of the [RBI]. The [RBI] shall be responsible in releasing the funds allocated and committed for relocation as detailed in the FINAL REPORT.

4.08 Assist the [RBI] and shall endorse granting of exemption fees in the acquisition of all necessary permits, licenses, appraisals, clearances and accreditations for the PROJECT subject to existing laws, rules and regulations.

4.09 The [NHA] shall inspect, evaluate and monitor all works at the Smokey Mountain and Reclamation Area while the land development and construction of housing units are in progress to determine whether the development and construction works are undertaken in accordance with the FINAL REPORT. If in its judgment, the PROJECT is not pursued in accordance with the FINAL REPORT, the [NHA] shall require the [RBI] to undertake necessary remedial works. All expenses, charges and penalties incurred for such remedial, if any, shall be for the account of the [RBI].

4.10

The [NHA] shall assist the [RBI] in the complete electrification of the PROJECT. x x x

4.11 Handle the processing and documentation of all sales transactions related to its assets shares from the venture such as the 3,500 units of permanent housing and the allotted industrial area of 3.2 hectares.

4.12 All advances outside of project costs made by the [RBI] to the [NHA] shall be deducted from the proceeds due to the [NHA].

4.13 The [NHA] shall be responsible for the acquisition of the Mother Title for the Smokey Mountain and Reclamation Area within 90 days upon submission of Survey returns to the Land Management Sector. The land titles to the 40-hectare reclaimed land, the 1.3 hectare commercial area at the Smokey Mountain area and the constructed units of medium-rise permanent housing units beyond the 3,500 units share of the [NHA] shall be issued in the name of the [RBI] upon completion of the project. However, the [RBI] shall have the authority to pre-sell its share as indicated in this agreement.

The final details of the JVA, which will include the construction duration, costs, extent of reclamation, and delivery timetables, shall be based on the FINAL REPORT which will be contained in a Supplemental Agreement to be executed later by the parties.

The JVA may be modified or revised by written agreement between the NHA and RBI specifying the clauses to be revised or modified and the corresponding amendments.

If the Project is revoked or terminated by the Government through no fault of RBI or by mutual agreement, the Government shall compensate RBI for its actual expenses incurred in the Project plus a reasonable rate of return not exceeding that stated in the feasibility study and in the contract as of the date of such revocation, cancellation, or termination on a schedule to be agreed upon by both parties.

As a preliminary step in the project implementation, consultations and dialogues were conducted with the settlers of the Smokey Mountain Dumpsite Area. At the same time, DENR started processing the application for the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) of the SMDRP. As a result however of the consultative dialogues, public hearings, the report on the on-site field conditions, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) published on April 29 and May 12, 1993 as required by the Environmental Management Bureau of DENR, the evaluation of the DENR, and the recommendations from other government agencies, it was discovered that design changes and additional work have to be undertaken to successfully implement the Project.[21]

Thus, on February 21, 1994, the parties entered into another agreement denominated as the Amended and Restated Joint Venture Agreement[22] (ARJVA) which delineated the different phases of the Project. Phase I of the Project involves the construction of temporary housing units for the current

residents of the Smokey Mountain dumpsite, the clearing and leveling-off of the dumpsite, and the construction of medium-rise low-cost housing units at the cleared and leveled dumpsite.[23] Phase II of the Project involves the construction of an incineration area for the on-site disposal of the garbage at the dumpsite.[24] The enabling component or consideration for Phase I of the Project was increased from 40 hectares of reclaimed lands across R-10 to 79 hectares.[25] The revision also provided for the enabling component for Phase II of 119 hectares of reclaimed lands contiguous to the 79 hectares of reclaimed lands for Phase I.[26] Furthermore, the amended contract delineated the scope of works and the terms and conditions of Phases I and II, thus:

The PROJECT shall consist of Phase I and Phase II.

Phase I shall involve the following:

a. the construction of 2,992 units of temporary housing for the affected residents while clearing and development of Smokey Mountain [are] being undertaken

b. the clearing of Smokey Mountain and the subsequent construction of 3,520 units of medium rise housing and the development of the industrial/commercial site within the Smokey Mountain area

c. the reclamation and development of a 79 hectare area directly across Radial Road 10 to serve as the enabling component of Phase I

Phase II shall involve the following:

a. the construction and operation of an incinerator plant that will standards of the DENR

conform to the emission

b. the reclamation and development of 119-hectare area contiguous to that to be reclaimed under Phase I to serve as the enabling component of Phase II.

Under the ARJVA, RBI shall construct 2,992 temporary housing units, a reduction from 3,500 units under the JVA.[27] However, it was required to construct 3,520 medium-rise low-cost permanent housing units instead of 3,500 units under the JVA. There was a substantial change in the design of the permanent housing units such that a loft shall be incorporated in each unit so as to increase the living space from 20 to 32 square meters. The additions and changes in the Original Project Component are as follows:

ORIGINAL

CHANGES/REVISIONS

1. TEMPORARY HOUSING

Wood/Plywood, ga. 31 G.I. Concrete/Steel Frame Structure Sheet usable life of 3 years, gauge 26 G.I. roofing sheets future 12 SM floor area. use as permanent structures for factory and warehouses mixed 17 sm & 12 sm floor area.

2. MEDIUM RISE MASS HOUSING

Box type precast Shelter Conventional and precast component 20 square meter concrete structures, 32 square floor area with 2.4 meter meter floor area with loft floor height; bare type, 160 units/ (sleeping quarter) 3.6 m. floor building. height, painted and improved architectural faade, 80 units/ building.

3. MITIGATING MEASURES

3.1 For reclamation work Use of clean dredgefill material below the MLLW and SM material mixed with dredgefill above MLLW.

a. 100% use of Smokey Mountain material as dredgefill Use of Steel Sheet Piles needed for longer depth of embedment. b. Concrete Sheet Piles short depth of embedment

c. Silt removal approximately 1.0 meter only

Need to remove more than 3.0 meters of silt after sub-soil investigation.[28]

These material and substantial modifications served as justifications for the increase in the share of RBI from 40 hectares to 79 hectares of reclaimed land.

Under the JVA, the specific costs of the Project were not stipulated but under the ARJVA, the stipulated cost for Phase I was pegged at six billion six hundred ninety-three million three hundred eighty-seven thousand three hundred sixty-four pesos (PhP 6,693,387,364).

In his February 10, 1994 Memorandum, the Chairperson of the SMDRP EXECOM submitted the ARJVA for approval by the OP. After review of said agreement, the OP directed that certain terms and conditions of the ARJVA be further clarified or amended preparatory to its approval. Pursuant to the Presidents directive, the parties reached an agreement on the clarifications and amendments required to be made on the ARJVA.

On August 11, 1994, the NHA and RBI executed an Amendment To the Amended and Restated Joint Venture Agreement (AARJVA)[29] clarifying certain terms and condition of the ARJVA, which was submitted to President Ramos for approval, to wit:

Phase II shall involve the following:

a. the construction and operation of an incinerator plant that will conform to the emission standards of the DENR

b. the reclamation and development of 119-hectare area contiguous to that to be reclaimed under Phase I to serve as the enabling component of Phase II, the exact size and configuration of which shall be approved by the SMDRP Committee[30]

Other substantial amendments are the following:

4. Paragraph 2.05 of Article II of the ARJVA is hereby amended to read as follows:

2.05. The DEVELOPER shall reclaim seventy nine (79) hectares of the Manila Bay area directly across Radial Road 10 (R-10) to serve as payment to the DEVELOPER as its asset share for Phase I and to develop such land into commercial area with port facilities; provided, that the port plan shall be integrated with the Philippine Port Authoritys North Harbor plan for the Manila Bay area and provided further, that the final reclamation and port plan for said reclaimed area shall be submitted for approval by the Public Estates Authority and the Philippine Ports Authority, respectively: provided finally, that subject to par. 2.02 above, actual reclamation work may commence upon approval of the final reclamation plan by the Public Estates Authority.

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9. A new paragraph to be numbered 5.05 shall be added to Article V of the ARJVA, and shall read as follows:

5.05. In the event this Agreement is revoked, cancelled or terminated by the AUTHORITY through no fault of the DEVELOPER, the AUTHORITY shall compensate the DEVELOPER for the value of the completed portions of, and actual expenditures on the PROJECT plus a reasonable rate of return thereon, not exceeding that stated in the Cost Estimates of Items of Work previously approved by the SMDRP Executive Committee and the AUTHORITY and stated in this Agreement, as of the date of such revocation, cancellation, or termination, on a schedule to be agreed upon by the parties, provided that said completed portions of Phase I are in accordance with the approved FINAL REPORT.

Afterwards, President Ramos issued Proclamation No. 465 dated August 31, 1994[31] increasing the proposed area for reclamation across R-10 from 40 hectares to 79 hectares,[32] to wit:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FIDEL V. RAMOS, President of the Republic of the Philippines, by virtue of the powers vested in me by the law, and as recommended by the SMDRP Executive Committee, do hereby authorize the increase of the area of foreshore or submerged lands of Manila Bay to be reclaimed, as previously authorized under Proclamation No. 39 (s. 1992) and Memorandum Order No. 415 (s. 1992), from Four Hundred Thousand (400,000) square meters, more or less, to Seven Hundred Ninety Thousand (790,000) square meters, more or less.

On September 1, 1994, pursuant to Proclamation No. 39, the DENR issued Special Patent No. 3591 conveying in favor of NHA an area of 211,975 square meters covering the Smokey Mountain Dumpsite.

In its September 7, 1994 letter to the EXECOM, the OP through then Executive Secretary Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr., approved the ARJVA as amended by the AARJVA.

On September 8, 1994, the DENR issued Special Patent 3592 pursuant to Proclamation No. 39, conveying in favor of NHA a 401,485-square meter area.

On September 26, 1994, the NHA, RBI, Home Insurance and Guaranty Corporation (HIGC), now known as the Home Guaranty Corporation, and the Philippine National Bank (PNB)[33] executed the Smokey

Mountain Asset Pool Formation Trust Agreement (Asset Pool Agreement).[34] Thereafter, a Guaranty Contract was entered into by NHA, RBI, and HIGC.

On June 23, 1994, the Legislature passed the Clean Air Act.[35] The Act made the establishment of an incinerator illegal and effectively barred the implementation of the planned incinerator project under Phase II. Thus, the off-site disposal of the garbage at the Smokey Mountain became necessary.[36]

The land reclamation was completed in August 1996.[37]

Sometime later in 1996, pursuant likewise to Proclamation No. 39, the DENR issued Special Patent No. 3598 conveying in favor of NHA an additional 390,000 square meter area.

During the actual construction and implementation of Phase I of the SMDRP, the Inter-Agency Technical Committee found and recommended to the EXECOM on December 17, 1997 that additional works were necessary for the completion and viability of the Project. The EXECOM approved the recommendation and so, NHA instructed RBI to implement the change orders or necessary works.[38]

Such necessary works comprised more than 25% of the original contract price and as a result, the Asset Pool incurred direct and indirect costs. Based on C1 12 A of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of PD 1594, a supplemental agreement is required for all change orders and extra work orders, the total aggregate cost of which being more than twenty-five (25%) of the escalated original contract price.

The EXECOM requested an opinion from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine whether a bidding was required for the change orders and/or necessary works. The DOJ, through DOJ Opinion Nos. 119 and 155 dated August 26, 1993 and November 12, 1993, opined that a rebidding, pursuant to the aforequoted provisions of the implementing rules (referring to PD 1594) would not be necessary where the change orders inseparable from the original scope of the project, in which case, a negotiation with the incumbent contractor may be allowed.

Thus, on February 19, 1998, the EXECOM issued a resolution directing NHA to enter into a supplemental agreement covering said necessary works.

On March 20, 1998, the NHA and RBI entered into a Supplemental Agreement covering the aforementioned necessary works and submitted it to the President on March 24, 1998 for approval.

Outgoing President Ramos decided to endorse the consideration of the Supplemental Agreement to incoming President Joseph E. Estrada. On June 30, 1998, Estrada became the 13th Philippine President.

However, the approval of the Supplemental Agreement was unacted upon for five months. As a result, the utilities and the road networks were constructed to cover only the 79-hectare original enabling component granted under the ARJVA. The 220-hectare extension of the 79-hectare area was no longer technically feasible. Moreover, the financial crises and unreliable real estate situation made it difficult to sell the remaining reclaimed lots. The devaluation of the peso and the increase in interest cost led to the substantial increase in the cost of reclamation.

On August 1, 1998, the NHA granted RBIs request to suspend work on the SMDRP due to the delay in the approval of the Supplemental Agreement, the consequent absence of an enabling component to cover the cost of the necessary works for the project, and the resulting inability to replenish the Asset Pool funds partially used for the completion of the necessary works.*39]

As of August 1, 1998 when the project was suspended, RBI had already accomplished a portion of the necessary works and change orders which resulted in [RBI] and the Asset Pool incurring advances for direct and indirect cost which amount can no longer be covered by the 79-hectare enabling component under the ARJVA.*40+

Repeated demands were made by RBI in its own capacity and on behalf of the asset pool on NHA for payment for the advances for direct and indirect costs subject to NHA validation.

In November 1998, President Estrada issued Memorandum Order No. 33 reconstituting the SMDRP EXECOM and further directed it to review the Supplemental Agreement and submit its recommendation on the completion of the SMDRP.

The reconstituted EXECOM conducted a review of the project and recommended the amendment of the March 20, 1998 Supplemental Agreement to make it more feasible and to identify and provide new

sources of funds for the project and provide for a new enabling component to cover the payment for the necessary works that cannot be covered by the 79-hectare enabling component under the ARJVA.*41+

The EXECOM passed Resolution Nos. 99-16-01 and 99-16-02[42] which approved the modification of the Supplemental Agreement, to wit:

a) Approval of 150 hectares additional reclamation in order to part of the enabling component.

make the reclamation feasible as

b) The conveyance of the 15-hectare NHA Vitas property (actually surveys) to the SMDRP Asset Pool.

17 hectares based on

c) The inclusion in the total development cost of other additional, necessary and indispensable infrastructure works and the revision of the original cost stated in the Supplemental Agreement dated March 20, 1998 from PhP 2,953,984,941.40 to PhP 2,969,134,053.13.

d)

Revision in the sharing agreement between the parties.

In the March 23, 2000 OP Memorandum, the EXECOM was authorized to proceed and complete the SMDRP subject to certain guidelines and directives.

After the parties in the case at bar had complied with the March 23, 2000 Memorandum, the NHA November 9, 2000 Resolution No. 4323 approved the conveyance of the 17-hectare Vitas property in favor of the existing or a newly created Asset Pool of the project to be developed into a mixed commercial-industrial area, subject to certain conditions.

On January 20, 2001, then President Estrada was considered resigned. On the same day, President Gloria M. Arroyo took her oath as the 14th President of the Philippines.

As of February 28, 2001, the estimated total project cost of the SMDRP has reached P8.65 billion comprising of P4.78 billion in direct cost and P3.87 billion in indirect cost,*43+ subject to validation by the NHA.

On August 28, 2001, NHA issued Resolution No. 4436 to pay for the various necessary works/change orders to SMDRP, to effect the corresponding enabling component consisting of the conveyance of the NHAs Vitas Property and an additional 150-hectare reclamation area and to authorize the release by NHA of PhP 480 million as advance to the project to make the Permanent Housing habitable, subject to reimbursement from the proceeds of the expanded enabling component.*44+

On November 19, 2001, the Amended Supplemental Agreement (ASA) was signed by the parties, and on February 28, 2002, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) submitted the agreement to the OP for approval. In the July 20, 2002 Cabinet Meeting, HUDCC was directed to submit the works covered by the PhP 480 million *advance to the Project+ and the ASA to public bidding.*45+ On August 28, 2002, the HUDCC informed RBI of the decision of the Cabinet.

In its September 2, 2002 letter to the HUDCC Chairman, RBI lamented the decision of the government to bid out the remaining works under the ASA thereby unilaterally terminating the Project with RBI and all the agreements related thereto. RBI demanded the payment of just compensation for all accomplishments and costs incurred in developing the SMDRP plus a reasonable rate of return thereon pursuant to Section 5.05 of the ARJVA and Section 6.2 of the ASA.*46+

Consequently, the parties negotiated the terms of the termination of the JVA and other subsequent agreements.

On August 27, 2003, the NHA and RBI executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) whereby both parties agreed to terminate the JVA and other subsequent agreements, thus:

1. TERMINATION

1.1 In compliance with the Cabinet directive dated 30 July 2002 to submit the works covered by the P480 Million and the ASA to public bidding, the following agreements executed by and between the NHA and the DEVELOPER are hereby terminated, to wit:

a. b. c. d. e. xxxx

Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) dated 19 March 1993 Amended and Restated Joint Venture Agreement (ARJVA) dated 21 February 1994 Amendment and Restated Joint Venture Agreement dated 11 August 1994 Supplemental Agreement dated 24 March 1998 Amended Supplemental Agreement (ASA) dated 19 November 2001.

5. SETTLEMENT OF CLAIMS

5.1 Subject to the validation of the DEVELOPERs claims, the NHA hereby agrees to initially compensate the Developer for the abovementioned costs as follows:

a.

Direct payment to DEVELOPER of the amounts herein listed in the following manner:

a.1 P250 Million in cash from the escrow account in accordance with Section 2 herewith;

a.2 Conveyance of a 3 hectare portion of the Vitas Industrial area immediately after joint determination of the appraised value of the said property in accordance with the procedure herein set forth in the last paragraph of Section 5.3. For purposes of all payments to be made through conveyance of real properties, the parties shall secure from the NHA Board of Directors all documents necessary and sufficient to effect the transfer of title over the properties to be conveyed to RBI, which documents shall be issued within a reasonable period.

5.2 Any unpaid balance of the DEVELOPERS claims determined after the validation process referred to in Section 4 hereof, may be paid in cash, bonds or through the conveyance of properties or any

combination thereof. The manner, terms and conditions of payment of the balance shall be specified and agreed upon later within a period of three months from the time a substantial amount representing the unpaid balance has been validated pursuant hereto including, but not limited to the programming of quarterly cash payments to be sourced by the NHA from its budget for debt servicing, from its income or from any other sources.

5.3 In any case the unpaid balance is agreed to be paid, either partially or totally through conveyance of properties, the parties shall agree on which properties shall be subject to conveyance. The NHA and DEVELOPER hereby agree to determine the valuation of the properties to be conveyed by getting the average of the appraisals to be made by two (2) mutually acceptable independent appraisers.

Meanwhile, respondent Harbour Centre Port Terminal, Inc. (HCPTI) entered into an agreement with the asset pool for the development and operations of a port in the Smokey Mountain Area which is a major component of SMDRP to provide a source of livelihood and employment for Smokey Mountain residents and spur economic growth. A Subscription Agreement was executed between the Asset Pool and HCPTI whereby the asset pool subscribed to 607 million common shares and 1,143 million preferred shares of HCPTI. The HCPTI preferred shares had a premium and penalty interest of 7.5% per annum and a mandatory redemption feature. The asset pool paid the subscription by conveying to HCPTI a 10hectare land which it acquired from the NHA being a portion of the reclaimed land of the SMDRP. Corresponding certificates of titles were issued to HCPTI, namely: TCT Nos. 251355, 251356, 251357, and 251358.

Due to HCPTIs failure to obtain a license to handle foreign containerized cargo from PPA, it suffered a net income loss of PhP 132,621,548 in 2002 and a net loss of PhP 15,540,063 in 2003. The Project Governing Board of the Asset Pool later conveyed by way of dacion en pago a number of HCPTI shares to RBI in lieu of cash payment for the latters work in SMDRP.

On August 5, 2004, former Solicitor General Francisco I. Chavez, filed the instant petition which impleaded as respondents the NHA, RBI, R-II Holdings, Inc. (RHI), HCPTI, and Mr. Reghis Romero II, raising constitutional issues.

The NHA reported that thirty-four (34) temporary housing structures and twenty-one (21) permanent housing structures had been turned over by respondent RBI. It claimed that 2,510

beneficiary-families belonging to the poorest of the poor had been transferred to their permanent homes and benefited from the Project.

The Issues

The grounds presented in the instant petition are: I

NEITHER RESPONDENT NHA NOR RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS MAY VALIDLY RECLAIM FORESHORE AND SUBMERGED LAND BECAUSE:

1. RESPONDENT NHA AND R-II BUILDERS WERE NEVER GRANTED ANY POWER AND AUTHORITY TO RECLAIM LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN AS THIS POWER IS VESTED EXCLUSIVELY WITH THE PEA.

2. EVEN ASSUMING THAT RESPONDENTS NHA AND R-II BUILDERS WERE GIVEN THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO RECLAIM FORESHORE AND SUBMERGED LAND, THEY WERE NEVER GIVEN THE AUTHORITY BY THE DENR TO DO SO.

II

RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS CANNOT ACQUIRE THE RECLAIMED FORESHORE AND SUBMERGED LAND AREAS BECAUSE:

1. THE RECLAIMED FORESHORE AND SUBMERGED PARCELS OF LAND ARE INALIENABLE PUBLIC LANDS WHICH ARE BEYOND THE COMMERCE OF MAN.

2. ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT THE SUBJECT RECLAIMED FORESHORE AND SUBMERGED PARCELS OF LAND WERE ALREADY DECLARED ALIENABLE LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS STILL COULD NOT ACQUIRE THE SAME BECAUSE THERE WAS NEVER ANY DECLARATION THAT THE SAID LANDS WERE NO LONGER NEEDED FOR PUBLIC USE.

3. EVEN ASSUMING THAT THE SUBJECT RECLAIMED LANDS ARE ALIENABLE AND NO LONGER NEEDED FOR PUBLIC USE, RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS STILL CANNOT ACQUIRE THE SAME BECAUSE THERE WAS NEVER ANY LAW AUTHORIZING THE SALE THEREOF.

4. THERE WAS NEVER ANY PUBLIC BIDDING AWARDING RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS.

OWNERSHIP OF THE SUBJECT LAND TO

5. ASSUMING THAT ALL THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A VALID TRANSFER OF ALIENABLE PUBLIC HAD BEEN PERFORMED, RESPONDENT R-II BUILDERS, BEING PRIVATE CORPORATION IS NONETHELESS EXPRESSLYPROHIBITED BY THE PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION TO ACQUIRE LANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

III

RESPONDENT HARBOUR, BEING A PRIVATE CORPORATION WHOSE MAJORITY STOCKS ARE OWNED AND CONTROLLED BY RESPONDENT ROMEROS CORPORATIONS R-II BUILDERS AND R-II HOLDINGS IS DISQUALIFIED FROM BEING A TRANSFEREE OF PUBLIC LAND.

IV

RESPONDENTS MUST BE COMPELLED TO DISCLOSE ALL INFORMATION RELATED TO THE SMOKEY MOUNTAIN DEVELOPMENT AND RECLAMATION PROJECT.

The Courts Ruling

Before we delve into the substantive issues raised in this petition, we will first deal with several procedural matters raised by respondents.

Whether petitioner has the requisite locus standi to file this case

Respondents argue that petitioner Chavez has no legal standing to file the petition.

Only a person who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit or entitled to the avails of the suit can file a complaint or petition.[47] Respondents claim that petitioner is not a proper partyin-interest as he was unable to show that he has sustained or is in immediate or imminent danger of sustaining some direct and personal injury as a result of the execution and enforcement of the assailed contracts or agreements.*48+ Moreover, they assert that not all government contracts can justify a taxpayers suit especially when no public funds were utilized in contravention of the Constitution or a law. We explicated in Chavez v. PCGG[49] that in cases where issues of transcendental public importance are presented, there is no necessity to show that petitioner has experienced or is in actual danger of suffering direct and personal injury as the requisite injury is assumed. We find our ruling in Chavez v. PEA[50] as conclusive authority on locus standi in the case at bar since the issues raised in this petition are averred to be in breach of the fair diffusion of the countrys natural resources and the constitutional right of a citizen to information which have been declared to be matters of transcendental public importance. Moreover, the pleadings especially those of respondents readily reveal that public funds have been indirectly utilized in the Project by means of Smokey Mountain Project Participation Certificates (SMPPCs) bought by some government agencies.

Hence, petitioner, as a taxpayer, is a proper party to the instant petition before the court.

Whether petitioners direct recourse to this Court was proper

Respondents are one in asserting that petitioner circumvents the principle of hierarchy of courts in his petition. Judicial hierarchy was made clear in the case of People v. Cuaresma, thus:

There is after all a 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 Courts 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 that is necessary to prevent inordinate demands upon the Courts time and attention which are better devoted to those matters within its exclusive jurisdiction, and to prevent further over-crowding of the Courts docket.*51+ x x x

The OSG claims that the jurisdiction over petitions for prohibition and mandamus is concurrent with other lower courts like the Regional Trial Courts and the Court of Appeals. Respondent NHA argues that the instant petition is misfiled because it does not introduce special and important reasons or exceptional and compelling circumstances to warrant direct recourse to this Court and that the lower courts are more equipped for factual issues since this Court is not a trier of facts. Respondents RBI and RHI question the filing of the petition as this Court should not be unduly burdened with repetitions, invocation of jurisdiction over constitutional questions it had previously resolved and settled.

In the light of existing jurisprudence, we find paucity of merit in respondents postulation.

While direct recourse to this Court is generally frowned upon and discouraged, we have however ruled in Santiago v. Vasquez that such resort to us may be allowed in certain situations, wherein this Court ruled that petitions for certiorari, prohibition, or mandamus, though cognizable by other courts, may directly be filed with us if the redress desired cannot be obtained in the appropriate courts or where exceptional compelling circumstances justify availment of a remedy within and calling for the exercise of [this Courts+ primary jurisdiction.*52+

The instant petition challenges the constitutionality and legality of the SMDRP involving several hectares of government land and hundreds of millions of funds of several government agencies. Moreover, serious constitutional challenges are made on the different aspects of the Project which allegedly affect the right of Filipinos to the distribution of natural resources in the country and the right to information of a citizenmatters which have been considered to be of extraordinary significance and grave consequence to the public in general. These concerns in the instant action compel us to turn a blind eye to the judicial structure meant to provide an orderly dispensation of justice and consider the instant petition as a justified deviation from an established precept.

Core factual matters undisputed

Respondents next challenge the projected review by this Court of the alleged factual issues intertwined in the issues propounded by petitioner. They listed a copious number of questions seemingly factual in nature which would make this Court a trier of facts.[53]

We find the position of respondents bereft of merit.

For one, we already gave due course to the instant petition in our January 18, 2005 Resolution.[54] In said issuance, the parties were required to make clear and concise statements of established facts upon which our decision will be based.

Secondly, we agree with petitioner that there is no necessity for us to make any factual findings since the facts needed to decide the instant petition are well established from the admissions of the parties in their pleadings[55] and those derived from the documents appended to said submissions. Indeed, the core facts which are the subject matter of the numerous issues raised in this petition are undisputed.

Now we will tackle the issues that prop up the instant petition.

Since petitioner has cited our decision in PEA as basis for his postulations in a number of issues, we first resolve the queryis PEA applicable to the case at bar?

A juxtaposition of the facts in the two cases constrains the Court to rule in the negative.

The Court finds that PEA is not a binding precedent to the instant petition because the facts in said case are substantially different from the facts and circumstances in the case at bar, thus:

(1) The reclamation project in PEA was undertaken through a JVA entered into between PEA and AMARI. The reclamation project in the instant NHA case was undertaken by the NHA, a national government agency in consultation with PEA and with the approval of two Philippine Presidents;

(2) In PEA, AMARI and PEA executed a JVA to develop the Freedom Islands and reclaim submerged areas without public bidding on April 25, 1995. In the instant NHA case, the NHA and RBI executed a JVA after RBI was declared the winning bidder on August 31, 1992 as the JVA partner of the NHA in the SMDRP after compliance with the requisite public bidding.

(3) In PEA, there was no law or presidential proclamation classifying the lands to be reclaimed as alienable and disposal lands of public domain. In this RBI case, MO 415 of former President Aquino and Proclamation No. 39 of then President Ramos, coupled with Special Patents Nos. 3591, 3592, and 3598, classified the reclaimed lands as alienable and disposable;

(4) In PEA, the Chavez petition was filed before the amended JVA was executed by PEA and AMARI. In this NHA case, the JVA and subsequent amendments were already substantially implemented. Subsequently, the Project was terminated through a MOA signed on August 27, 2003. Almost one year later on August 5, 2004, the Chavez petition was filed;

(5) In PEA, AMARI was considered to be in bad faith as it signed the amended JVA after the Chavez petition was filed with the Court and after Senate Committee Report No. 560 was issued finding that the subject lands are inalienable lands of public domain. In the instant petition, RBI and other respondents are considered to have signed the agreements in good faith as the Project was terminated even before the Chavez petition was filed;

(6) The PEA-AMARI JVA was executed as a result of direct negotiation between the parties and not in accordance with the BOT Law. The NHA-RBI JVA and subsequent amendments constitute a BOT contract governed by the BOT Law; and

(7) In PEA, the lands to be reclaimed or already reclaimed were transferred to PEA, a government entity tasked to dispose of public lands under Executive Order No. (EO) 525.[56] In the NHA case, the reclaimed lands were transferred to NHA, a government entity NOT tasked to dispose of public land and therefore said alienable lands were converted to patrimonial lands upon their transfer to NHA.[57]

Thus the PEA Decision[58] cannot be considered an authority or precedent to the instant case. The principle of stare decisis[59] has no application to the different factual setting of the instant case.

We will now dwell on the substantive issues raised by petitioner. After a perusal of the grounds raised in this petition, we find that most of these issues are moored on our PEA Decision which, as earlier discussed, has no application to the instant petition. For this reason alone, the petition can already be rejected. Nevertheless, on the premise of the applicability of said decision to the case at bar, we will proceed to resolve said issues.

First Issue: Whether respondents NHA and RBI have been granted the power and authority to reclaim lands of the public domain as this power is vested exclusively in PEA as claimed by petitioner

Petitioner contends that neither respondent NHA nor respondent RBI may validly reclaim foreshore and submerged land because they were not given any power and authority to reclaim lands of the public domain as this power was delegated by law to PEA.

Asserting that existing laws did not empower the NHA and RBI to reclaim lands of public domain, the Public Estates Authority (PEA), petitioner claims, is the primary authority for the reclamation of all foreshore and submerged lands of public domain, and relies on PEA where this Court held:

Moreover, Section 1 of Executive Order No. 525 provides that PEA shall be primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government. The same section also states that *A+ll reclamation projects shall be approved by the President upon recommendation of the PEA, and shall be undertaken by the PEA or through a proper contract executed by it with any person or entity; x x x. Thus, under EO No. 525, in relation to PD No. 3A and PD No. 1084, PEA became the primary implementing agency of the National Government to

reclaim foreshore and submerged lands of the public domain. EO No. 525 recognized PEA as the government entity to undertake the reclamation of lands and ensure their maximum utilization in promoting public welfare and interests. Since large portions of these reclaimed lands would obviously be needed for public service, there must be a formal declaration segregating reclaimed lands no longer needed for public service from those still needed for public service.[60]

In the Smokey Mountain Project, petitioner clarifies that the reclamation was not done by PEA or through a contract executed by PEA with another person or entity but by the NHA through an agreement with respondent RBI. Therefore, he concludes that the reclamation is null and void.

Petitioners contention has no merit.

EO 525 reads:

Section 1. The Public Estates Authority (PEA) shall be primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government. All reclamation projects shall be approved by the President upon recommendation of the PEA, and shall be undertaken by the PEA or through a proper contract executed by it with any person or entity; Provided, that, reclamation projects of any national government agency or entity authorized under its charter shall be undertaken in consultation with the PEA upon approval of the President. (Emphasis supplied.)

The aforequoted provision points to three (3) requisites for a legal and valid reclamation project, viz:

(1) (2) (3)

approval by the President; favorable recommendation of PEA; and undertaken by any of the following:

a. b.

by PEA by any person or entity pursuant to a contract it executed with PEA under its

c. by the National Government agency or entity authorized charter to reclaim lands subject to consultation with PEA

Without doubt, PEA under EO 525 was designated as the agency primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects. Primarily means mainly, principally, mostly, generally. Thus, not all reclamation projects fall under PEAs authority of supervision, integration, and coordination. The very charter of PEA, PD 1084,[61] does not mention that PEA has the exclusive and sole power and authority to reclaim lands of public domain. EO 525 even reveals the exceptionreclamation projects by a national government agency or entity authorized by its charter to reclaim land. One example is EO 405 which authorized the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to reclaim and develop submerged areas for port related purposes. Under its charter, PD 857, PPA has the power to reclaim, excavate, enclose or raise any of the lands vested in it.

Thus, while PEA under PD 1084 has the power to reclaim land and under EO 525 is primarily responsible for integrating, directing and coordinating reclamation projects, such authority is NOT exclusive and such power to reclaim may be granted or delegated to another government agency or entity or may even be undertaken by the National Government itself, PEA being only an agency and a part of the National Government.

Let us apply the legal parameters of Sec. 1, EO 525 to the reclamation phase of SMDRP. After a scrutiny of the facts culled from the records, we find that the project met all the three (3) requirements, thus:

1. There was ample approval by the President of the Philippines; as a matter of fact, two Philippine Presidents approved the same, namely: Presidents Aquino and Ramos. President Aquino sanctioned the reclamation of both the SMDRP housing and commercial-industrial sites through MO 415 (s. 1992) which approved the SMDRP under Sec. 1 and directed NHA x x x to implement the Smokey Mountain Development Plan and Reclamation of the Area across R-10 through a private sector joint venture scheme at the least cost to government under Section 3.

For his part, then President Ramos issued Proclamation No. 39 (s. 1992) which expressly reserved the Smokey Mountain Area and the Reclamation Area for a housing project and related commercial/industrial development.

Moreover, President Ramos issued Proclamation No. 465 (s. 1994) which authorized the increase of the Reclamation Area from 40 hectares of foreshore and submerged land of the Manila Bay to 79 hectares. It speaks of the reclamation of 400,000 square meters, more or less, of the foreshore and submerged lands of Manila Bay adjoining R-10 as an enabling component of the SMDRP.

As a result of Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465, Special Patent No. 3591 covering 211,975 square meters of Smokey Mountain, Special Patent No. 3592 covering 401,485 square meters of reclaimed land, and Special Patent No. 3598 covering another 390,000 square meters of reclaimed land were issued by the DENR.

Thus, the first requirement of presidential imprimatur on the SMDRP has been satisfied.

2. The requisite favorable endorsement of the reclamation phase was impliedly granted by PEA. President Aquino saw to it that there was coordination of the project with PEA by designating its general manager as member of the EXECOM tasked to supervise the project implementation. The assignment was made in Sec. 2 of MO 415 which provides:

Section 2. An Executive Committee is hereby created to oversee the implementation of the Plan, chaired by the NCR-CORD, with the heads of the following agencies as members: The National Housing Authority, the City of Manila, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Public Estates Authority, the Philippine Ports Authority, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Development Bank of the Philippines. (Emphasis supplied.)

The favorable recommendation by PEA of the JVA and subsequent amendments were incorporated as part of the recommendations of the EXECOM created under MO 415. While there was no specific recommendation on the SMDRP emanating solely from PEA, we find that the approbation of the Project and the land reclamation as an essential component by the EXECOM of which PEA is a

member, and its submission of the SMDRP and the agreements on the Project to the President for approval amply met the second requirement of EO 525.

3. The third element was also presentthe reclamation was undertaken either by PEA or any person or entity under contract with PEA or by the National Government agency or entity authorized under its charter to reclaim lands subject to consultation with PEA. It cannot be disputed that the reclamation phase was not done by PEA or any person or entity under contract with PEA. However, the reclamation was implemented by the NHA, a national government agency whose authority to reclaim lands under consultation with PEA is derived from its charterPD 727 and other pertinent lawsRA 7279[62] and RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718.

While the authority of NHA to reclaim lands is challenged by petitioner, we find that the NHA had more than enough authority to do so under existing laws. While PD 757, the charter of NHA, does not explicitly mention reclamation in any of the listed powers of the agency, we rule that the NHA has an implied power to reclaim land as this is vital or incidental to effectively, logically, and successfully implement an urban land reform and housing program enunciated in Sec. 9 of Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution.

Basic in administrative law is the doctrine that a government agency or office has express and implied powers based on its charter and other pertinent statutes. Express powers are those powers granted, allocated, and delegated to a government agency or office by express provisions of law. On the other hand, implied powers are those that can be inferred or are implicit in the wordings of the law[63] or conferred by necessary or fair implication in the enabling act.[64] In Angara v. Electoral Commission, the Court clarified and stressed that when a general grant of power is conferred or duty enjoined, every particular power necessary for the exercise of the one or the performance of the other is also conferred by necessary implication.[65] It was also explicated that when the statute does not specify the particular method to be followed or used by a government agency in the exercise of the power vested in it by law, said agency has the authority to adopt any reasonable method to carry out its functions.[66]

The power to reclaim on the part of the NHA is implicit from PD 757, RA 7279, MO 415, RA 6957, and PD 3-A,[67] viz:

1.

NHAs power to reclaim derived from PD 757 provisions:

a. NHA:

Sec. 3 of PD 757 implies that reclamation may be resorted to in order to attain the goals of

Section 3. Progress and Objectives. The Authority shall have the following purposes and objectives:

xxxx

b) To undertake housing, development, resettlement or other activities as would enhance the provision of housing to every Filipino;

c) To harness and promote private participation in housing ventures in terms of capital expenditures, land, expertise, financing and other facilities for the sustained growth of the housing industry. (Emphasis supplied.)

Land reclamation is an integral part of the development of resources for some of the housing requirements of the NHA. Private participation in housing projects may also take the form of land reclamation.

b. Sec. 5 of PD 757 serves as proof that the NHA, as successor of the Tondo Foreshore Development Authority (TFDA), has the power to reclaim, thus:

Section 5. Dissolution of Existing Housing Agencies. The People's Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC), the Presidential Assistant on Housing Resettlement Agency (PAHRA), the Tondo Foreshore Development Authority (TFDA), the Central Institute for the Training and Relocation of Urban Squatters (CITRUS), the Presidential Committee for Housing and Urban Resettlement (PRECHUR), Sapang Palay Development Committee, Inter-Agency Task Force to Undertake the Relocation of Families in Barrio Nabacaan, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental and all other existing government housing and resettlement agencies, task forces and ad-hoc committees, are hereby dissolved. Their powers and functions, balance

of appropriations, records, assets, rights, and choses in action, are transferred to, vested in, and assumed by the Authority. x x x (Emphasis supplied.)

PD 570 dated October 30, 1974 created the TFDA, which defined its objectives, powers, and functions. Sec. 2 provides:

Section 2. Objectives and Purposes. The Authority shall have the following purposes and objectives:

a) To undertake all manner of activity, business or development projects for the establishment of harmonious, comprehensive, integrated and healthy living community in the Tondo Foreshoreland and its resettlement site;

b) To undertake and promote the physical and socio-economic amelioration of the Tondo Foreshore residents in particular and the nation in general (Emphasis supplied.)

The powers and functions are contained in Sec. 3, to wit:

a) To develop and implement comprehensive and integrated urban renewal programs for the Tondo Foreshore and Dagat-dagatan lagoon and/or any other additional/alternative resettlement site and to formulate and enforce general and specific policies for its development which shall ensure reasonable degree of compliance with environmental standards.

b) To prescribe guidelines and standards for the reservation, conservation and utilization of public lands covering the Tondo Foreshore land and its resettlement sites;

c) To construct, acquire, own, lease, operate and maintain infrastructure facilities, housing complex, sites and services;

d) To determine, regulate and supervise the establishment and operation of housing, sites, services and commercial and industrial complexes and any other enterprises to be constructed or established within the Tondo Foreshore and its resettlement sites;

e) To undertake and develop, by itself or through joint ventures with other public or private entities, all or any of the different phases of development of the Tondo Foreshore land and its resettlement sites;

f) To acquire and own property, property-rights and interests, and encumber or otherwise dispose of the same as it may deem appropriate (Emphasis supplied.)

From the foregoing provisions, it is readily apparent that the TFDA has the explicit power to develop public lands covering the Tondo foreshore land and any other additional and alternative resettlement sites under letter b, Sec. 3 of PD 570. Since the additional and/or alternative sites adjacent to Tondo foreshore land cover foreshore and submerged areas, the reclamation of said areas is necessary in order to convert them into a comprehensive and integrated resettlement housing project for the slum dwellers and squatters of Tondo. Since the powers of TFDA were assumed by the NHA, then the NHA has the power to reclaim lands in the Tondo foreshore area which covers the 79-hectare land subject of Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 and Special Patents Nos. 3592 and 3598.

c. Sec. 6 of PD 757 delineates the functions and powers of the NHA which embrace the authority to reclaim land, thus:

Sec. 6. Powers and functions of the Authority.The Authority shall have the following powers and functions to be exercised by the Board in accordance with its established national human settlements plan prepared by the Human Settlements Commission:

(a) Develop and implement the comprehensive and integrated housing program provided for in Section hereof;

xxxx

(c) Prescribe guidelines and standards for the reservation, conservation and utilization of public lands identified for housing and resettlement;

xxxx

(e) Develop and undertake housing development and/or resettlement projects through joint ventures or other arrangements with public and private entities; xxxx

(k) Enter into contracts whenever necessary under such terms and conditions as it may deem proper and reasonable;

(l) Acquire property rights and interests and encumber or otherwise dispose the same as it may deem appropriate;

xxxx

(s) Perform such other acts not inconsistent with this Decree, as may be necessary to effect the policies and objectives herein declared. (Emphasis supplied.)

The NHAs authority to reclaim land can be inferred from the aforequoted provisions. It can make use of public lands under letter (c) of Sec. 6 which includes reclaimed land as site for its comprehensive and integrated housing projects under letter (a) which can be undertaken through joint ventures with private entities under letter (e). Taken together with letter (s) which authorizes NHA to perform such other activities necessary to effect the policies and objectives of PD 757, it is safe to conclude that the NHAs power to reclaim lands is a power that is implied from the exercise of its explicit powers under Sec. 6 in order to effectively accomplish its policies and objectives under Sec. 3 of its charter. Thus, the

reclamation of land is an indispensable component for the development and construction of the SMDRP housing facilities.

2.

NHAs implied power to reclaim land is enhanced by RA 7279.

PD 757 identifies NHAs mandate to *d+evelop and undertake housing development and/or resettlement projects through joint ventures or other arrangements with public and private entities.

The power of the NHA to undertake reclamation of land can be inferred from Secs. 12 and 29 of RA 7279, which provide:

Section 12. Disposition of Lands for Socialized Housing.The National Housing Authority, with respect to lands belonging to the National Government, and the local government units with respect to other lands within their respective localities, shall coordinate with each other to formulate and make available various alternative schemes for the disposition of lands to the beneficiaries of the Program. These schemes shall not be limited to those involving transfer of ownership in fee simple but shall include lease, with option to purchase, usufruct or such other variations as the local government units or the National Housing Authority may deem most expedient in carrying out the purposes of this Act.

xxxx

Section 29. Resettlement.With two (2) years from the effectivity of this Act, the local government units, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall implement the relocation and resettlement of persons living in danger areas such as esteros, railroad tracks, garbage dumps, riverbanks, shorelines, waterways, and in other public places as sidewalks, roads, parks, and playgrounds. The local government unit, in coordination with the National Housing Authority, shall provide relocation or resettlement sites with basic services and facilities and access to employment and livelihood opportunities sufficient to meet the basic needs of the affected families. (Emphasis supplied.)

Lands belonging to the National Government include foreshore and submerged lands which can be reclaimed to undertake housing development and resettlement projects.

3.

MO 415 explains the undertaking of the NHA in SMDRP:

WHEREAS, Memorandum Order No. 161-A mandated the National Housing Authority to conduct feasibility studies and develop low-cost housing projects at the dumpsites of Metro Manila;

WHEREAS, the National Housing Authority has presented a viable Conceptual Plan to convert the Smokey Mountain dumpsite into a habitable housing project inclusive of the reclamation area across R10 as enabling component of the Project;

WHEREAS, the said Plan requires the coordinated and synchronized efforts of the City of Manila and other government agencies and instrumentalities to ensure effective and efficient implementation;

WHEREAS, the government encourages private sector initiative in the implementation of its projects. (Emphasis supplied.)

Proceeding from these whereas clauses, it is unequivocal that reclamation of land in the Smokey Mountain area is an essential and vital power of the NHA to effectively implement its avowed goal of developing low-cost housing units at the Smokey Mountain dumpsites. The interpretation made by no less than the President of the Philippines as Chief of the Executive Branch, of which the NHA is a part, must necessarily command respect and much weight and credit.

4.

RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718the BOT Lawserves as an exception to PD 1084 and EO 525.

Based on the provisions of the BOT Law and Implementing Rules and Regulations, it is unequivocal that all government infrastructure agencies like the NHA can undertake infrastructure or development projects using the contractual arrangements prescribed by the law, and land reclamation is one of the projects that can be resorted to in the BOT project implementation under the February 10, 1992 Joint Resolution No. 3 of the 8th Congress.

From the foregoing considerations, we find that the NHA has ample implied authority to undertake reclamation projects.

Even without an implied power to reclaim lands under NHAs charter, we rule that the authority granted to NHA, a national government agency, by the President under PD 3-A reinforced by EO 525 is more than sufficient statutory basis for the reclamation of lands under the SMDRP.

PD 3-A is a law issued by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos under his martial law powers on September 23, 1972. It provided that *t+he provisions of any law to the contrary notwithstanding, the reclamation of areas, underwater, whether foreshore or inland, shall be limited to the National Government or any person authorized by it under the proper contract. It repealed, in effect, RA 1899 which previously delegated the right to reclaim lands to municipalities and chartered cities and revested it to the National Government.[68] Under PD 3-A, national government can only mean the Executive Branch headed by the President. It cannot refer to Congress as it was dissolved and abolished at the time of the issuance of PD 3-A on September 23, 1972. Moreover, the Executive Branch is the only implementing arm in the government with the equipment, manpower, expertise, and capability by the very nature of its assigned powers and functions to undertake reclamation projects. Thus, under PD 3-A, the Executive Branch through the President can implement reclamation of lands through any of its departments, agencies, or offices.

Subsequently, on February 4, 1977, President Marcos issued PD 1084 creating the PEA, which was granted, among others, the power to reclaim land, including foreshore and submerged areas by dredging, filling or other means or to acquire reclaimed lands. The PEAs power to reclaim is not however exclusive as can be gleaned from its charter, as the President retained his power under PD 3-A to designate another agency to reclaim lands.

On February 14, 1979, EO 525 was issued. It granted PEA primary responsibility for integrating, directing, and coordinating reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government although other national government agencies can be designated by the President to reclaim lands in coordination with the PEA. Despite the issuance of EO 525, PD 3-A remained valid and subsisting. Thus, the National Government through the President still retained the power and control over all reclamation projects in the country.

The power of the National Government through the President over reclamation of areas, that is, underwater whether foreshore or inland, was made clear in EO 543[69] which took effect on June 24, 2006. Under EO 543, PEA was renamed the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) and was granted the authority to approve reclamation projects, a power previously reposed in the President under EO 525. EO 543 reads:

Section 1. The power of the President to approve reclamation projects is hereby delegated to the Philippine Reclamation Authority [formerly PEA], through its governing board, subject to compliance with existing laws and rules and subject to the condition that reclamation contracts to be executed with any person or entity go through public bidding.

Section 2. Nothing in the Order shall be construed as diminishing the Presidents authority to modify, amend or nullify PRAs action.

Section 3. All executive issuances inconsistent with this Executive Order are hereby repealed or amended accordingly. (Emphasis supplied.)

Sec. 2 of EO 543 strengthened the power of control and supervision of the President over reclamation of lands as s/he can modify, amend, or nullify the action of PEA (now PRA).

From the foregoing issuances, we conclude that the Presidents delegation to NHA, a national government agency, to reclaim lands under the SMDRP, is legal and valid, firmly anchored on PD 3-A buttressed by EO 525 notwithstanding the absence of any specific grant of power under its charter, PD 757.

Second Issue: Whether respondents NHA and RBI were given the power and authority by DENR to reclaim foreshore and submerged lands

Petitioner Chavez puts forth the view that even if the NHA and RBI were granted the authority to reclaim, they were not authorized to do so by the DENR. Again, reliance is made on our ruling in PEA where it was held that the DENRs authority is necessary in order for the government to validly reclaim foreshore and submerged lands. In PEA, we expounded in this manner:

As manager, conservator and overseer of the natural resources of the State, DENR exercises supervision and control over alienable and disposable public lands. DENR also exercises exclusive jurisdiction on the management and disposition of all lands of the public domain. Thus, DENR decides whether areas under water, like foreshore or submerged areas of Manila Bay, should be reclaimed or not. This means that PEA needs authorization from DENR before PEA can undertake reclamation projects in Manila Bay, or in any part of the country.

DENR also exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the disposition of all lands of the public domain. Hence, DENR decides whether reclaimed lands of PEA should be classified as alienable under Sections 6 and 7 of CA No. 141. Once DENR decides that the reclaimed lands should be so classified, it then recommends to the President the issuance of a proclamation classifying the lands as alienable or disposable lands of the public domain open to disposition. We note that then DENR Secretary Fulgencio S. Factoran, Jr. countersigned Special Patent No. 3517 in compliance with the Revised Administrative Code and Sections 6 and 7 of CA No. 141.

In short, DENR is vested with the power to authorize the reclamation of areas under water, while PEA is vested with the power to undertake the physical reclamation of areas under water, whether directly or through private contractors. DENR is also empowered to classify lands of the public domain into alienable or disposable lands subject to the approval of the President. On the other hand, PEA is tasked to develop, sell or lease the reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain.[70]

Despite our finding that PEA is not a precedent to the case at bar, we find after all that under existing laws, the NHA is still required to procure DENRs authorization before a reclamation project in Manila Bay or in any part of the Philippines can be undertaken. The requirement applies to PEA, NHA, or any other government agency or office granted with such power under the law.

Notwithstanding the need for DENR permission, we nevertheless find petitioners position bereft of merit.

The DENR is deemed to have granted the authority to reclaim in the Smokey Mountain Project for the following reasons:

1. Sec. 17, Art. VII of the Constitution provides that the President shall have control of all executive departments, bureaus and offices. The President is assigned the task of seeing to it that all laws are faithfully executed. Control, in administrative law, means the power of an officer to alter, modify, nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer has done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter.*71+

As such, the President can exercise executive power motu proprio and can supplant the act or decision of a subordinate with the Presidents own. The DENR is a department in the executive branch under the President, and it is only an alter ego of the latter. Ordinarily the proposed action and the staff work are initially done by a department like the DENR and then submitted to the President for approval. However, there is nothing infirm or unconstitutional if the President decides on the implementation of a certain project or activity and requires said department to implement it. Such is a presidential prerogative as long as it involves the department or office authorized by law to supervise or execute the Project. Thus, as in this case, when the President approved and ordered the development of a housing project with the corresponding reclamation work, making DENR a member of the committee tasked to implement the project, the required authorization from the DENR to reclaim land can be deemed satisfied. It cannot be disputed that the ultimate power over alienable and disposable public lands is reposed in the President of the Philippines and not the DENR Secretary. To still require a DENR authorization on the Smokey Mountain when the President has already authorized and ordered the implementation of the Project would be a derogation of the powers of the President as the head of the executive branch. Otherwise, any department head can defy or oppose the implementation of a project approved by the head of the executive branch, which is patently illegal and unconstitutional.

In Chavez v. Romulo, we stated that when a statute imposes a specific duty on the executive department, the President may act directly or order the said department to undertake an activity, thus:

[A]t the apex of the entire executive officialdom is the President. Section 17, Article VII of the Constitution specifies [her] power as Chief executive departments, bureaus and offices. [She] shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed. As Chief Executive, President Arroyo holds the steering wheel that controls the course of her government. She lays down policies in the execution of her plans and programs. Whatever policy she chooses, she has her subordinates to implement them. In short, she has the power of control. Whenever a specific function is entrusted by law or regulation to her subordinate, she may act directly or merely direct the performance of a duty x x x. Such act is well within the prerogative of her office (emphasis supplied).[72]

Moreover, the power to order the reclamation of lands of public domain is reposed first in the Philippine President. The Revised Administrative Code of 1987 grants authority to the President to reserve lands of public domain for settlement for any specific purpose, thus:

Section 14. Power to Reserve Lands of the Public and Private Domain of the Government.(1) The President shall have the power to reserve for settlement or public use, and for specific public purposes, any of the lands of the public domain, the use of which is not otherwise directed by law. The reserved land shall thereafter remain subject to the specific public purpose indicated until otherwise provided by law or proclamation. (Emphasis supplied.)

President Aquino reserved the area of the Smokey Mountain dumpsite for settlement and issued MO 415 authorizing the implementation of the Smokey Mountain Development Project plus the reclamation of the area across R-10. Then President Ramos issued Proclamation No. 39 covering the 21-hectare dumpsite and the 40-hectare commercial/industrial area, and Proclamation No. 465 and MO 415 increasing the area of foreshore and submerged lands of Manila Bay to be reclaimed from 40 to 79 hectares. Having supervision and control over the DENR, both Presidents directly assumed and

exercised the power granted by the Revised Administrative Code to the DENR Secretary to authorize the NHA to reclaim said lands. What can be done indirectly by the DENR can be done directly by the President. It would be absurd if the power of the President cannot be exercised simply because the head of a department in the executive branch has not acted favorably on a project already approved by the President. If such arrangement is allowed then the department head will become more powerful than the President.

2. Under Sec. 2 of MO 415, the DENR is one of the members of the EXECOM chaired by the NCR-CORD to oversee the implementation of the Project. The EXECOM was the one which recommended approval of the project plan and the joint venture agreements. Clearly, the DENR retained its power of supervision and control over the laws affected by the Project since it was tasked to facilitate the titling of the Smokey Mountain and of the area to be reclaimed, which shows that it had tacitly given its authority to the NHA to undertake the reclamation.

3. Former DENR Secretary Angel C. Alcala issued Special Patents Nos. 3591 and 3592 while then Secretary Victor O. Ramos issued Special Patent No. 3598 that embraced the areas covered by the reclamation. These patents conveyed the lands to be reclaimed to the NHA and granted to said agency the administration and disposition of said lands for subdivision and disposition to qualified beneficiaries and for development for mix land use (commercial/industrial) to provide employment opportunities to on-site families and additional areas for port related activities. Such grant of authority to administer and dispose of lands of public domain under the SMDRP is of course subject to the powers of the EXECOM of SMDRP, of which the DENR is a member.

4. The issuance of ECCs by the DENR for SMDRP is but an exercise of its power of supervision and control over the lands of public domain covered by the Project.

Based on these reasons, it is clear that the DENR, through its acts and issuances, has ratified and confirmed the reclamation of the subject lands for the purposes laid down in Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465.

Third Issue: Whether respondent RBI can acquire reclaimed foreshore and submerged lands considered as inalienable and

outside the commerce of man

Petitioner postulates that respondent RBI cannot acquire the reclaimed foreshore and submerged areas as these are inalienable public lands beyond the commerce of man based on Art. 1409 of the Civil Code which provides:

Article 1409. The following contracts are inexistent and void from the beginning:

(1) Those whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy;

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(7)

Those expressly prohibited or declared void by law.

These contracts cannot be ratified. Neither can the right to set up the defense of illegality be waived.

Secs. 2 and 3, Art. XII of the Constitution declare that all natural resources are owned by the State and they cannot be alienated except for alienable agricultural lands of the public domain. One of the States natural resources are lands of public domain which include reclaimed lands. Petitioner contends that for these reclaimed lands to be alienable, there must be a law or presidential proclamation officially classifying these reclaimed lands as alienable and disposable and open to disposition or concession. Absent such law or proclamation, the reclaimed lands cannot be the enabling component or consideration to be paid to RBI as these are beyond the commerce of man.

We are not convinced of petitioners postulation.

The reclaimed lands across R-10 were classified alienable and disposable lands of public domain of the State for the following reasons, viz:

First, there were three (3) presidential proclamations classifying the reclaimed lands across R-10 as alienable or disposable hence open to disposition or concession, to wit:

(1) MO 415 issued by President Aquino, of which Sec. 4 states that *t+he land covered by the Smokey Mountain Dumpsite is hereby conveyed to the National Housing Authority as well as the area to be reclaimed across R-10.

The directive to transfer the lands once reclaimed to the NHA implicitly carries with it the declaration that said lands are alienable and disposable. Otherwise, the NHA cannot effectively use them in its housing and resettlement project.

(2) Proclamation No. 39 issued by then President Ramos by which the reclaimed lands were conveyed to NHA for subdivision and disposition to qualified beneficiaries and for development into a mixed land use (commercial/industrial) to provide employment opportunities to on-site families and additional areas for port-related activities. Said directive carries with it the pronouncement that said lands have been transformed to alienable and disposable lands. Otherwise, there is no legal way to convey it to the beneficiaries.

(3) Proclamation No. 465 likewise issued by President Ramos enlarged the reclaimed area to 79 hectares to be developed and disposed of in the implementation of the SMDRP. The authority put into the hands of the NHA to dispose of the reclaimed lands tacitly sustains the conversion to alienable and disposable lands.

Secondly, Special Patents Nos. 3591, 3592, and 3598 issued by the DENR anchored on Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 issued by President Ramos, without doubt, classified the reclaimed areas as alienable and disposable.

Admittedly, it cannot be said that MO 415, Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 are explicit declarations that the lands to be reclaimed are classified as alienable and disposable. We find however that such conclusion is derived and implicit from the authority given to the NHA to transfer the reclaimed lands to qualified beneficiaries.

The query is, when did the declaration take effect? It did so only after the special patents covering the reclaimed areas were issued. It is only on such date that the reclaimed lands became alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. This is in line with the ruling in PEA where said issue was clarified and stressed:

PD No. 1085, coupled with President Aquinos actual issuance of a special patent covering the Freedom Islands, is equivalent to an official proclamation classifying the Freedom Islands as alienable or disposable lands of the public domain. PD No. 1085 and President Aquinos issuance of a land patent also constitute a declaration that the Freedom Islands are no longer needed for public service. The Freedom Islands are thus alienable or disposable lands of the public domain, open to disposition or concession to qualified parties.[73] (Emphasis supplied.)

Thus, MO 415 and Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 cumulatively and jointly taken together with Special Patent Nos. 3591, 3592, and 3598 more than satisfy the requirement in PEA that *t+here must be a law or presidential proclamation officially classifying these reclaimed lands as alienable or disposable and open to disposition or concession (emphasis supplied).*74+

Apropos the requisite law categorizing reclaimed land as alienable or disposable, we find that RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718 provides ample authority for the classification of reclaimed land in the SMDRP for the repayment scheme of the BOT project as alienable and disposable lands of public domain. Sec. 6 of RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718 provides:

For the financing, construction, operation and maintenance of any infrastructure projects undertaken through the build-operate-and transfer arrangement or any of its variations pursuant to the provisions of this Act, the project proponent x x x may likewise be repaid in the form of a share in the revenue of the project or other non-monetary payments, such as, but not limited to, the grant of a portion or percentage of the reclaimed land, subject to the constitutional requirements with respect to the ownership of the land. (Emphasis supplied.)

While RA 6957 as modified by RA 7718 does not expressly declare that the reclaimed lands that shall serve as payment to the project proponent have become alienable and disposable lands and opened for disposition; nonetheless, this conclusion is necessarily implied, for how else can the land be used as the enabling component for the Project if such classification is not deemed made?

It may be argued that the grant of authority to sell public lands, pursuant to PEA, does not convert alienable lands of public domain into private or patrimonial lands. We ruled in PEA that alienable lands of public domain must be transferred to qualified private parties, or to government entities not tasked to dispose of public lands, before these lands can become private or patrimonial lands (emphasis supplied).*75+ To lands reclaimed by PEA or through a contract with a private person or entity, such reclaimed lands still remain alienable lands of public domain which can be transferred only to Filipino citizens but not to a private corporation. This is because PEA under PD 1084 and EO 525 is tasked to hold and dispose of alienable lands of public domain and it is only when it is transferred to Filipino citizens that it becomes patrimonial property. On the other hand, the NHA is a government agency not tasked to dispose of public lands under its charterThe Revised Administrative Code of 1987. The NHA is an end-user agency authorized by law to administer and dispose of reclaimed lands. The moment titles over reclaimed lands based on the special patents are transferred to the NHA by the Register of Deeds, they are automatically converted to patrimonial properties of the State which can be sold to Filipino citizens and private corporations, 60% of which are owned by Filipinos. The reason is obvious: if the reclaimed land is not converted to patrimonial land once transferred to NHA, then it would be useless to transfer it to the NHA since it cannot legally transfer or alienate lands of public domain. More importantly, it cannot attain its avowed purposes and goals since it can only transfer patrimonial lands to qualified beneficiaries and prospective buyers to raise funds for the SMDRP.

From the foregoing considerations, we find that the 79-hectare reclaimed land has been declared alienable and disposable land of the public domain; and in the hands of NHA, it has been reclassified as patrimonial property.

Petitioner, however, contends that the reclaimed lands were inexistent prior to the three (3) Presidential Acts (MO 415 and Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465) and hence, the declaration that such areas are alienable and disposable land of the public domain, citing PEA, has no legal basis.

Petitioners contention is not well-taken.

Petitioners sole reliance on Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 without taking into consideration the special patents issued by the DENR demonstrates the inherent weakness of his proposition. As was ruled in PEA cited by petitioner himself, PD No. 1085, coupled with President Aquinos actual issuance of a special patent covering the Freedom Islands is equivalent to an official proclamation classifying the Freedom islands as alienable or disposable lands of public domain. In a similar vein, the combined and collective effect of Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 with Special Patents Nos. 3592 and 3598 is tantamount to and can be considered to be an official declaration that the reclaimed lots are alienable or disposable lands of the public domain.

The reclaimed lands covered by Special Patents Nos. 3591, 3592, and 3598, which evidence transfer of ownership of reclaimed lands to the NHA, are official acts of the DENR Secretary in the exercise of his power of supervision and control over alienable and disposable public lands and his exclusive jurisdiction over the management and disposition of all lands of public domain under the Revised Administrative Code of 1987. Special Patent No. 3592 speaks of the transfer of Lots 1 and 2, and RI003901-000012-D with an area of 401,485 square meters based on the survey and technical description approved by the Bureau of Lands. Lastly, Special Patent No. 3598 was issued in favor of the NHA transferring to said agency a tract of land described in Plan RL-00-000013 with an area of 390,000 square meters based on the survey and technical descriptions approved by the Bureau of Lands.

The conduct of the survey, the preparation of the survey plan, the computation of the technical description, and the processing and preparation of the special patent are matters within the technical area of expertise of administrative agencies like the DENR and the Land Management Bureau and are generally accorded not only respect but at times even finality.[76] Preparation of special patents calls for technical examination and a specialized review of calculations and specific details which the courts are ill-equipped to undertake; hence, the latter defer to the administrative agency which is trained and knowledgeable on such matters.[77]

Subsequently, the special patents in the name of the NHA were submitted to the Register of Deeds of the City of Manila for registration, and corresponding certificates of titles over the reclaimed lots were issued based on said special patents. The issuance of certificates of titles in NHAs name automatically converts the reclaimed lands to patrimonial properties of the NHA. Otherwise, the lots would not be of use to the NHAs housing projects or as payment to the BOT contractor as the enabling component of the BOT contract. The laws of the land have to be applied and interpreted depending on the changing conditions and times. Tempora mutantur et legis mutantur in illis (time changes and laws change with it). One such law that should be treated differently is the BOT Law (RA 6957) which brought about a novel way of implementing government contracts by allowing reclaimed land as part or full

payment to the contractor of a government project to satisfy the huge financial requirements of the undertaking. The NHA holds the lands covered by Special Patents Nos. 3592 and 3598 solely for the purpose of the SMDRP undertaken by authority of the BOT Law and for disposition in accordance with said special law. The lands become alienable and disposable lands of public domain upon issuance of the special patents and become patrimonial properties of the Government from the time the titles are issued to the NHA. As early as 1999, this Court in Baguio v. Republic laid down the jurisprudence that:

It is true that, once a patent is registered and the corresponding certificate of title is issued, the land covered by them ceases to be part of the public domain and becomes private property, and the Torrens Title issued pursuant to the patent becomes indefeasible upon the expiration of one year from the date of issuance of such patent.[78]

The doctrine was reiterated in Republic v. Heirs of Felipe Alijaga, Sr.,[79] Heirs of Carlos Alcaraz v. Republic,[80] and the more recent case of Doris Chiongbian-Oliva v. Republic of the Philippines.[81] Thus, the 79-hectare reclaimed land became patrimonial property after the issuance of certificates of titles to the NHA based on Special Patents Nos. 3592 and 3598.

One last point. The ruling in PEA cannot even be applied retroactively to the lots covered by Special Patents Nos. 3592 (40 hectare reclaimed land) and 3598 (39-hectare reclaimed land). The reclamation of the land under SMDRP was completed in August 1996 while the PEA decision was rendered on July 9, 2002. In the meantime, subdivided lots forming parts of the reclaimed land were already sold to private corporations for value and separate titles issued to the buyers. The Project was terminated through a Memorandum of Agreement signed on August 27, 2003. The PEA decision became final through the November 11, 2003 Resolution. It is a settled precept that decisions of the Supreme Court can only be applied prospectively as they may prejudice vested rights if applied retroactively.

In Benzonan v. Court of Appeals, the Court trenchantly elucidated the prospective application of its decisions based on considerations of equity and fair play, thus: At that time, the prevailing jurisprudence interpreting section 119 of R.A. 141 as amended was that enunciated in Monge and Tupas cited above. The petitioners Benzonan and respondent Pe and the DBP are bound by these decisions for pursuant to Article 8 of the Civil Code judicial decisions applying or

interpreting the laws of the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines. But while our decisions form part of the law of the land, they are also subject to Article 4 of the Civil Code which provides that laws shall have no retroactive effect unless the contrary is provided. This is expressed in the familiar legal maxim lex prospicit, non respicit, the law looks forward not backward. The rationale against retroactivity is easy to perceive. The retroactive application of a law usually divests rights that have already become vested or impairs the obligations of contract and hence, is unconstitutional.

The same consideration underlies our rulings giving only prospective effect to decisions enunciating new doctrines. Thus, we emphasized in People v. Jabinal, 55 SCRA 607 *1974+ x x x when a doctrine of this Court is overruled and a different view is adopted, the new doctrine should be applied prospectively and should not apply to parties who had relied on the old doctrine and acted on the faith thereof.[82]

Fourth Issue: Whether respondent RBI can acquire reclaimed lands when there was no declaration that said lands are no longer needed for public use

Petitioner Chavez avers that despite the declaration that the reclaimed areas are alienable lands of the public domain, still, the reclamation is flawed for there was never any declaration that said lands are no longer needed for public use.

We are not moved by petitioners submission.

Even if it is conceded that there was no explicit declaration that the lands are no longer needed for public use or public service, there was however an implicit executive declaration that the reclaimed areas R-10 are not necessary anymore for public use or public service when President Aquino through MO 415 conveyed the same to the NHA partly for housing project and related commercial/industrial development intended for disposition to and enjoyment of certain beneficiaries and not the public in general and partly as enabling component to finance the project.

President Ramos, in issuing Proclamation No. 39, declared, though indirectly, that the reclaimed lands of the Smokey Mountain project are no longer required for public use or service, thus:

These parcels of land of public domain are hereby placed under the administration and disposition of the National Housing Authority to develop, subdivide and dispose to qualified beneficiaries, as well as its development for mix land use (commercial/industrial) to provide employment opportunities to onsite families and additional areas for port related activities. (Emphasis supplied.)

While numerical count of the persons to be benefited is not the determinant whether the property is to be devoted to public use, the declaration in Proclamation No. 39 undeniably identifies only particular individuals as beneficiaries to whom the reclaimed lands can be sold, namelythe Smokey Mountain dwellers. The rest of the Filipinos are not qualified; hence, said lands are no longer essential for the use of the public in general.

In addition, President Ramos issued on August 31, 1994 Proclamation No. 465 increasing the area to be reclaimed from forty (40) hectares to seventy-nine (79) hectares, elucidating that said lands are undoubtedly set aside for the beneficiaries of SMDRP and not the publicdeclaring the power of NHA to dispose of land to be reclaimed, thus: The authority to administer, develop, or dispose lands identified and reserved by this Proclamation and Proclamation No. 39 (s.1992), in accordance with the SMDRP, as enhance, is vested with the NHA, subject to the provisions of existing laws. (Emphasis supplied.)

MO 415 and Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 are declarations that proclaimed the non-use of the reclaimed areas for public use or service as the Project cannot be successfully implemented without the withdrawal of said lands from public use or service. Certainly, the devotion of the reclaimed land to public use or service conflicts with the intended use of the Smokey Mountain areas for housing and employment of the Smokey Mountain scavengers and for financing the Project because the latter cannot be accomplished without abandoning the public use of the subject land. Without doubt, the presidential proclamations on SMDRP together with the issuance of the special patents had effectively removed the reclaimed lands from public use.

More decisive and not in so many words is the ruling in PEA which we earlier cited, that PD No. 1085 and President Aquinos issuance of a land patent also constitute a declaration that the Freedom Islands are no longer needed for public service. Consequently, we ruled in that case that the reclaimed lands are open to disposition or concession to qualified parties.*83+

In a similar vein, presidential Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 jointly with the special patents have classified the reclaimed lands as alienable and disposable and open to disposition or concession as they would be devoted to units for Smokey Mountain beneficiaries. Hence, said lands are no longer intended for public use or service and shall form part of the patrimonial properties of the State under Art. 422 of the Civil Code.[84] As discussed a priori, the lands were classified as patrimonial properties of the NHA ready for disposition when the titles were registered in its name by the Register of Deeds.

Moreover, reclaimed lands that are made the enabling components of a BOT infrastructure project are necessarily reclassified as alienable and disposable lands under the BOT Law; otherwise, absurd and illogical consequences would naturally result. Undoubtedly, the BOT contract will not be accepted by the BOT contractor since there will be no consideration for its contractual obligations. Since reclaimed land will be conveyed to the contractor pursuant to the BOT Law, then there is an implied declaration that such land is no longer intended for public use or public service and, hence, considered patrimonial property of the State.

Fifth Issue: Whether there is a law authorizing sale of reclaimed lands

Petitioner next claims that RBI cannot acquire the reclaimed lands because there was no law authorizing their sale. He argues that unlike PEA, no legislative authority was granted to the NHA to sell reclaimed land.

This position is misplaced.

Petitioner relies on Sec. 60 of Commonwealth Act (CA) 141 to support his view that the NHA is not empowered by any law to sell reclaimed land, thus:

Section 60. Any tract of land comprised under this title may be leased or sold, as the case may be, to any person, corporation or association authorized to purchase or lease public lands for agricultural purposes. The area of the land so leased or sold shall be such as shall, in the judgment of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, be reasonably necessary for the purposes for which such sale or lease if requested and shall in no case exceed one hundred and forty-four hectares: Provided, however, That this limitation shall not apply to grants, donations, transfers, made to a province, municipality or branch or subdivision of the Government for the purposes deemed by said entities conducive to the public interest; but the land so granted donated or transferred to a province, municipality, or branch or subdivision of the Government shall not be alienated, encumbered, or otherwise disposed of in a manner affecting its title, except when authorized by Congress; Provided, further, That any person, corporation, association or partnership disqualified from purchasing public land for agricultural purposes under the provisions of this Act, may lease land included under this title suitable for industrial or residential purposes, but the lease granted shall only be valid while such land is used for the purposes referred to. (Emphasis supplied.)

Reliance on said provision is incorrect as the same applies only to a province, municipality or branch or subdivision of the Government. The NHA is not a government unit but a government corporation performing governmental and proprietary functions.

In addition, PD 757 is clear that the NHA is empowered by law to transfer properties acquired by it under the law to other parties, thus:

Section 6. Powers and functions of the Authority. The Authority shall have the following powers and functions to be exercised by the Boards in accordance with the established national human settlements plan prepared by the Human Settlements Commission:

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(k) Enter into contracts whenever necessary under such terms and conditions as it may deem proper and reasonable;

(l) Acquire property rights and interests, and encumber or otherwise dispose the same as it may deem appropriate (Emphasis supplied.)

Letter (l) is emphatic that the NHA can acquire property rights and interests and encumber or otherwise dispose of them as it may deem appropriate. The transfer of the reclaimed lands by the National Government to the NHA for housing, commercial, and industrial purposes transformed them into patrimonial lands which are of course owned by the State in its private or proprietary capacity. Perforce, the NHA can sell the reclaimed lands to any Filipino citizen or qualified corporation.

Sixth Issue: Whether the transfer of reclaimed lands to RBI was done by public bidding

Petitioner also contends that there was no public bidding but an awarding of ownership of said reclaimed lands to RBI. Public bidding, he says, is required under Secs. 63 and 67 of CA 141 which read:

Section 63. Whenever it is decided that lands covered by this chapter are not needed for public purposes, the Director of Lands shall ask the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce for authority to dispose of the same. Upon receipt of such authority, the Director of Lands shall give notice by public advertisement in the same manner as in the case of leases or sales of agricultural public land, that the Government will lease or sell, as the case may be, the lots or blocks specified in the advertisement, for the purpose stated in the notice and subject to the conditions specified in this chapter.

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Section 67. The lease or sale shall be made through oral bidding; and adjudication shall be made to the highest bidder. However, where an applicant has made improvements on the land by virtue of a permit issued to him by competent authority, the sale or lease shall be made by sealed bidding as prescribed in section twenty-six of this Act, the provisions of which shall be applied whenever applicable. If all or part of the lots remain unleased or unsold, the Director of Lands shall from time to time announce in the Official Gazette or in any other newspapers of general circulation, the lease of sale of those lots, if necessary.

He finds that the NHA and RBI violated Secs. 63 and 67 of CA 141, as the reclaimed lands were conveyed to RBI by negotiated contract and not by public bidding as required by law.

This stand is devoid of merit.

There is no doubt that respondent NHA conducted a public bidding of the right to become its joint venture partner in the Smokey Mountain Project. Notices or Invitations to Bid were published in the national dailies on January 23 and 26, 1992 and February 1, 14, 16, and 23, 1992. The bidding proper was done by the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) on May 18, 1992. On August 31, 1992, the InterAgency Techcom made up of the NHA, PEA, DPWH, PPA, DBP, and DENR opened the bids and evaluated them, resulting in the award of the contract to respondent RBI on October 7, 1992.

On March 19, 1993, respondents NHA and RBI signed the JVA. On February 23, 1994, said JVA was amended and restated into the ARJVA. On August 11, 1994, the ARJVA was again amended. On September 7, 1994, the OP approved the ARJVA and the amendments to the ARJVA. From these factual settings, it cannot be gainsaid that there was full compliance with the laws and regulations governing public biddings involving a right, concession, or property of the government.

Petitioner concedes that he does not question the public bidding on the right to be a joint venture partner of the NHA, but the absence of bidding in the sale of alienable and disposable lands of public domain pursuant to CA 141 as amended.

Petitioners theory is incorrect.

Secs. 63 and 67 of CA 141, as amended, are in point as they refer to government sale by the Director of Lands of alienable and disposable lands of public domain. This is not present in the case at bar. The lands reclaimed by and conveyed to the NHA are no longer lands of public domain. These lands became proprietary lands or patrimonial properties of the State upon transfer of the titles over the reclaimed lands to the NHA and hence outside the ambit of CA 141. The NHA can therefore legally transfer patrimonial land to RBI or to any other interested qualified buyer without any bidding conducted by the Director of Lands because the NHA, unlike PEA, is a government agency not tasked to sell lands of public domain. Hence, it can only hold patrimonial lands and can dispose of such lands by sale without need of public bidding.

Petitioner likewise relies on Sec. 79 of PD 1445 which requires public bidding when government property has become unserviceable for any cause or is no longer needed. It appears from the Handbook on Property and Supply Management System, Chapter 6, that reclaimed lands which have become patrimonial properties of the State, whose titles are conveyed to government agencies like the NHA, which it will use for its projects or programs, are not within the ambit of Sec. 79. We quote the determining factors in the Disposal of Unserviceable Property, thus:

Determining Factors in the Disposal of Unserviceable Property

Property, which can no longer be repaired or reconditioned;

Property whose maintenance costs of repair more than outweigh the benefits and services that will be derived from its continued use;

Property that has become obsolete or outmoded because of changes in technology;

Serviceable property that has been rendered unnecessary due to change in the agencys function or mandate;

Unused supplies, materials and spare parts that were procured in excess of requirements; and

Unused supplies and materials that [have] become dangerous to use because of long storage or use of which is determined to be hazardous.[85]

Reclaimed lands cannot be considered unserviceable properties. The reclaimed lands in question are very much needed by the NHA for the Smokey Mountain Project because without it, then the projects will not be successfully implemented. Since the reclaimed lands are not unserviceable properties and are very much needed by NHA, then Sec. 79 of PD 1445 does not apply.

More importantly, Sec. 79 of PD 1445 cannot be applied to patrimonial properties like reclaimed lands transferred to a government agency like the NHA which has entered into a BOT contract with a private firm. The reason is obvious. If the patrimonial property will be subject to public bidding as the only way of disposing of said property, then Sec. 6 of RA 6957 on the repayment scheme is almost impossible or extremely difficult to implement considering the uncertainty of a winning bid during public auction. Moreover, the repayment scheme of a BOT contract may be in the form of non-monetary payment like the grant of a portion or percentage of reclaimed land. Even if the BOT partner participates in the public bidding, there is no assurance that he will win the bid and therefore the payment in kind as agreed to by the parties cannot be performed or the winning bid prize might be below the estimated valuation of the land. The only way to harmonize Sec. 79 of PD 1445 with Sec. 6 of RA 6957 is to consider Sec. 79 of PD 1445 as inapplicable to BOT contracts involving patrimonial lands. The law does not intend anything impossible (lex non intendit aliquid impossibile).

Seventh Issue: Whether RBI, being a private corporation, is barred by the Constitution to acquire lands of public domain

Petitioner maintains that RBI, being a private corporation, is expressly prohibited by the 1987 Constitution from acquiring lands of public domain.

Petitioners proposition has no legal mooring for the following reasons:

1. RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718 explicitly states that a contractor can be paid a portion as percentage of the reclaimed land subject to the constitutional requirement that only Filipino citizens or corporations with at least 60% Filipino equity can acquire the same. It cannot be denied that RBI is a private corporation, where Filipino citizens own at least 60% of the stocks. Thus, the transfer to RBI is valid and constitutional. 2. When Proclamations Nos. 39 and 465 were issued, inalienable lands covered by said proclamations were converted to alienable and disposable lands of public domain. When the titles to the reclaimed lands were transferred to the NHA, said alienable and disposable lands of public domain were automatically classified as lands of the private domain or patrimonial properties of the State because the NHA is an agency NOT tasked to dispose of alienable or disposable lands of public domain. The only way it can transfer the reclaimed land in conjunction with its projects and to attain its goals is when it is automatically converted to patrimonial properties of the State. Being patrimonial or private properties of the State, then it has the power to sell the same to any qualified personunder the Constitution, Filipino citizens as private corporations, 60% of which is owned by Filipino citizens like RBI.

3. The NHA is an end-user entity such that when alienable lands of public domain are transferred to said agency, they are automatically classified as patrimonial properties. The NHA is similarly situated as BCDA which was granted the authority to dispose of patrimonial lands of the government under RA 7227. The nature of the property holdings conveyed to BCDA is elucidated and stressed in the May 6, 2003 Resolution in Chavez v. PEA, thus:

BCDA is an entirely different government entity. BCDA is authorized by law to sell specific government lands that have long been declared by presidential proclamations as military reservations for use by the different services of the armed forces under the Department of National Defense. BCDAs mandate is specific and limited in area, while PEAs mandate is general and national. BCDA holds government lands that have been granted to end-user government entitiesthe military services of the armed forces. In contrast, under Executive Order No. 525, PEA holds the reclaimed public lands, not as an end-user entity, but as the government agency primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government.

x x x Well-settled is the doctrine that public land granted to an end-user government agency for a specific public use may subsequently be withdrawn by Congress from public use and declared patrimonial property to be sold to private parties. R.A. No. 7227 creating the BCDA is a law that declares

specific military reservations no longer needed for defense or military purposes and reclassifies such lands as patrimonial property for sale to private parties.

Government owned lands, as long as they are patrimonial property, can be sold to private parties, whether Filipino citizens or qualified private corporations. Thus, the so-called Friar Lands acquired by the government under Act No. 1120 are patrimonial property which even private corporations can acquire by purchase. Likewise, reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain if sold or transferred to a public or municipal corporation for a monetary consideration become patrimonial property in the hands of the public or municipal corporation. Once converted to patrimonial property, the land may be sold by the public or municipal corporation to private parties, whether Filipino citizens or qualified private corporations.[86] (Emphasis supplied.)

The foregoing Resolution makes it clear that the SMDRP was a program adopted by the Government under Republic Act No. 6957 (An Act Authorizing the Financing, Construction, Operation and Maintenance of Infrastructure Projects by the Private Sector, and For Other Purposes), as amended by RA 7718, which is a special law similar to RA 7227. Moreover, since the implementation was assigned to the NHA, an end-user agency under PD 757 and RA 7279, the reclaimed lands registered under the NHA are automatically classified as patrimonial lands ready for disposition to qualified beneficiaries.

The foregoing reasons likewise apply to the contention of petitioner that HCPTI, being a private corporation, is disqualified from being a transferee of public land. What was transferred to HCPTI is a 10-hectare lot which is already classified as patrimonial property in the hands of the NHA. HCPTI, being a qualified corporation under the 1987 Constitution, the transfer of the subject lot to it is valid and constitutional.

Eighth Issue: Whether respondents can be compelled to disclose all information related to the SMDRP

Petitioner asserts his right to information on all documents such as contracts, reports, memoranda, and the like relative to SMDRP.

Petitioner asserts that matters relative to the SMDRP have not been disclosed to the public like the current stage of the Project, the present financial capacity of RBI, the complete list of investors in the asset pool, the exact amount of investments in the asset pool and other similar important information regarding the Project.

He prays that respondents be compelled to disclose all information regarding the SMDRP and furnish him with originals or at least certified true copies of all relevant documents relating to the said project including, but not limited to, the original JVA, ARJVA, AARJVA, and the Asset Pool Agreement.

This relief must be granted.

The right of the Filipino people to information on matters of public concern is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, thus:

ARTICLE II

xxxx

SEC. 28. Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.

ARTICLE III

SEC. 7. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

In Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., this Court explicated this way:

[A]n essential element of these freedoms is to keep open a continuing dialogue or process of communication between the government and the people. It is in the interest of the State that the channels for free political discussion be maintained to the end that the government may perceive and be responsive to the peoples will. Yet, this open dialogue can be effective only to the extent that the citizenry is informed and thus able to formulate its will intelligently. Only when the participants in the discussion are aware of the issues and have access to information relating thereto can such bear fruit.[87]

In PEA, this Court elucidated the rationale behind the right to information:

These twin provisions of the Constitution seek to promote transparency in policy-making and in the operations of the government, as well as provide the people sufficient information to exercise effectively other constitutional rights. These twin provisions are essential to the exercise of freedom of expression. If the government does not disclose its official acts, transactions and decisions to citizens, whatever citizens say, even if expressed without any restraint, will be speculative and amount to nothing. These twin provisions are also essential to hold public officials at all times x x x accountable to the people, for unless citizens have the proper information, they cannot hold public officials accountable for anything. Armed with the right information, citizens can participate in public discussions leading to the formulation of government policies and their effective implementation. An informed citizenry is essential to the existence and proper functioning of any democracy.[88]

Sec. 28, Art. II compels the State and its agencies to fully disclose all of its transactions involving public interest. Thus, the government agencies, without need of demand from anyone, must bring into public view all the steps and negotiations leading to the consummation of the transaction and the contents of the perfected contract.*89+ Such information must pertain to definite propositions of the

government, meaning official recommendations or final positions reached on the different matters subject of negotiation. The government agency, however, need not disclose intra-agency or interagency recommendations or communications during the stage when common assertions are still in the process of being formulated or are in the exploratory stage. The limitation also covers privileged communication like information on military and diplomatic secrets; information affecting national security; information on investigations of crimes by law enforcement agencies before the prosecution of the accused; information on foreign relations, intelligence, and other classified information.

It is unfortunate, however, that after almost twenty (20) years from birth of the 1987 Constitution, there is still no enabling law that provides the mechanics for the compulsory duty of government agencies to disclose information on government transactions. Hopefully, the desired enabling law will finally see the light of day if and when Congress decides to approve the proposed Freedom of Access to Information Act. In the meantime, it would suffice that government agencies post on their bulletin boards the documents incorporating the information on the steps and negotiations that produced the agreements and the agreements themselves, and if finances permit, to upload said information on their respective websites for easy access by interested parties. Without any law or regulation governing the right to disclose information, the NHA or any of the respondents cannot be faulted if they were not able to disclose information relative to the SMDRP to the public in general.

The other aspect of the peoples right to know apart from the duty to disclose is the duty to allow access to information on matters of public concern under Sec. 7, Art. III of the Constitution. The gateway to information opens to the public the following: (1) official records; (2) documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions; and (3) government research data used as a basis for policy development.

Thus, the duty to disclose information should be differentiated from the duty to permit access to information. There is no need to demand from the government agency disclosure of information as this is mandatory under the Constitution; failing that, legal remedies are available. On the other hand, the interested party must first request or even demand that he be allowed access to documents and papers in the particular agency. A request or demand is required; otherwise, the government office or agency will not know of the desire of the interested party to gain access to such papers and what papers are needed. The duty to disclose covers only transactions involving public interest, while the duty to allow access has a broader scope of information which embraces not only transactions involving public interest, but any matter contained in official communications and public documents of the government agency.

We find that although petitioner did not make any demand on the NHA to allow access to information, we treat the petition as a written request or demand. We order the NHA to allow petitioner access to its official records, documents, and papers relating to official acts, transactions, and decisions that are relevant to the said JVA and subsequent agreements relative to the SMDRP.

Ninth Issue: Whether the operative fact doctrine applies to the instant petition

Petitioner postulates that the operative fact doctrine is inapplicable to the present case because it is an equitable doctrine which could not be used to countenance an inequitable result that is contrary to its proper office.

On the other hand, the petitioner Solicitor General argues that the existence of the various agreements implementing the SMDRP is an operative fact that can no longer be disturbed or simply ignored, citing Rieta v. People of the Philippines.[90]

The argument of the Solicitor General is meritorious.

The operative fact doctrine is embodied in De Agbayani v. Court of Appeals, wherein it is stated that a legislative or executive act, prior to its being declared as unconstitutional by the courts, is valid and must be complied with, thus:

As the new Civil Code puts it: When the courts declare a law to be inconsistent with the Constitution, the former shall be void and the latter shall govern. Administrative or executive acts, orders and regulations shall be valid only when they are not contrary to the laws of the Constitution. It is understandable why it should be so, the Constitution being supreme and paramount. Any legislative or executive act contrary to its terms cannot survive.

Such a view has support in logic and possesses the merit of simplicity. It may not however be sufficiently realistic. It does not admit of doubt that prior to the declaration of nullity such challenged legislative or executive act must have been in force and had to be complied with. This is so as until after the judiciary, in an appropriate case, declares its invalidity, it is entitled to obedience and respect. Parties may have acted under it and may have changed their positions. What could be more fitting than that in a subsequent litigation regard be had to what has been done while such legislative or executive act was in operation and presumed to be valid in all respects. It is now accepted as a doctrine that prior to its being nullified, its existence as a fact must be reckoned with. This is merely to reflect awareness that precisely because the judiciary is the governmental organ which has the final say on whether or not a legislative or executive measure is valid, a period of time may have elapsed before it can exercise the power of judicial review that may lead to a declaration of nullity. It would be to deprive the law of its quality of fairness and justice then, if there be no recognition of what had transpired prior to such adjudication.

In the language of an American Supreme Court decision: The actual existence of a statute, prior to such a determination [of unconstitutionality], is an operative fact and may have consequences which cannot justly be ignored. The past cannot always be erased by a new judicial declaration. The effect of the subsequent ruling as to invalidity may have to be considered in various aspects, with respect to particular relations, individual and corporate, and particular conduct, private and official. This language has been quoted with approval in a resolution in Araneta v. Hill and the decision in Manila Motor Co., Inc. v. Flores. An even more recent instance is the opinion of Justice Zaldivar speaking for the Court in Fernandez v. Cuerva and Co.[91] (Emphasis supplied.)

This doctrine was reiterated in the more recent case of City of Makati v. Civil Service Commission, wherein we ruled that:

Moreover, we certainly cannot nullify the City Governments order of suspension, as we have no reason to do so, much less retroactively apply such nullification to deprive private respondent of a compelling and valid reason for not filing the leave application. For as we have held, a void act though in law a mere scrap of paper nonetheless confers legitimacy upon past acts or omissions done in reliance thereof. Consequently, the existence of a statute or executive order prior to its being adjudged void is an operative fact to which legal consequences are attached. It would indeed be ghastly unfair to prevent private respondent from relying upon the order of suspension in lieu of a formal leave application.[92] (Emphasis supplied.)

The principle was further explicated in the case of Rieta v. People of the Philippines, thus:

In similar situations in the past this Court had taken the pragmatic and realistic course set forth in Chicot County Drainage District vs. Baxter Bank to wit:

The courts below have proceeded on the theory that the Act of Congress, having been found to be unconstitutional, was not a law; that it was inoperative, conferring no rights and imposing no duties, and hence affording no basis for the challenged decree. x x x It is quite clear, however, that such broad statements as to the effect of a determination of unconstitutionality must be taken with qualifications. The actual existence of a statute, prior to [the determination of its invalidity], is an operative fact and may have consequences which cannot justly be ignored. The past cannot always be erased by a new judicial declaration. The effect of the subsequent ruling as to invalidity may have to be considered in various aspects with respect to particular conduct, private and official. Questions of rights claimed to have become vested, of status, of prior determinations deemed to have finality and acted upon accordingly, of public policy in the light of the nature both of the statute and of its previous application, demand examination. These questions are among the most difficult of those which have engaged the attention of courts, state and federal, and it is manifest from numerous decisions that an all-inclusive statement of a principle of absolute retroactive invalidity cannot be justified.

In the May 6, 2003 Resolution in Chavez v. PEA,[93] we ruled that De Agbayani[94] is not applicable to the case considering that the prevailing law did not authorize private corporations from owning land. The prevailing law at the time was the 1935 Constitution as no statute dealt with the same issue.

In the instant case, RA 6957 was the prevailing law at the time that the joint venture agreement was signed. RA 6957, entitled An Act Authorizing The Financing, Construction, Operation And Maintenance Of Infrastructure Projects By The Private Sector And For Other Purposes, which was passed by Congress on July 24, 1989, allows repayment to the private contractor of reclaimed lands.[95] Such law was relied upon by respondents, along with the above-mentioned executive issuances in pushing through with the Project. The existence of such law and issuances is an operative fact to which legal consequences

have attached. This Court is constrained to give legal effect to the acts done in consonance with such executive and legislative acts; to do otherwise would work patent injustice on respondents.

Further, in the May 6, 2003 Resolution in Chavez v. PEA, we ruled that in certain cases, the transfer of land, although illegal or unconstitutional, will not be invalidated on considerations of equity and social justice. However, in that case, we did not apply the same considering that PEA, respondent in said case, was not entitled to equity principles there being bad faith on its part, thus:

There are, moreover, special circumstances that disqualify Amari from invoking equity principles. Amari cannot claim good faith because even before Amari signed the Amended JVA on March 30, 1999, petitioner had already filed the instant case on April 27, 1998 questioning precisely the qualification of Amari to acquire the Freedom Islands. Even before the filing of this petition, two Senate Committees had already approved on September 16, 1997 Senate Committee Report No. 560. This Report concluded, after a well-publicized investigation into PEAs sale of the Freedom Islands to Amari, that the Freedom Islands are inalienable lands of the public domain. Thus, Amari signed the Amended JVA knowing and assuming all the attendant risks, including the annulment of the Amended JVA.[96]

Such indicia of bad faith are not present in the instant case. When the ruling in PEA was rendered by this Court on July 9, 2002, the JVAs were all executed. Furthermore, when petitioner filed the instant case against respondents on August 5, 2004, the JVAs were already terminated by virtue of the MOA between the NHA and RBI. The respondents had no reason to think that their agreements were unconstitutional or even questionable, as in fact, the concurrent acts of the executive department lent validity to the implementation of the Project. The SMDRP agreements have produced vested rights in favor of the slum dwellers, the buyers of reclaimed land who were issued titles over said land, and the agencies and investors who made investments in the project or who bought SMPPCs. These properties and rights cannot be disturbed or questioned after the passage of around ten (10) years from the start of the SMDRP implementation. Evidently, the operative fact principle has set in. The titles to the lands in the hands of the buyers can no longer be invalidated. The Courts Dispositions

Based on the issues raised in this petition, we find that the March 19, 1993 JVA between NHA and RBI and the SMDRP embodied in the JVA, the subsequent amendments to the JVA and all other agreements signed and executed in relation to it, including, but not limited to, the September 26, 1994 Smokey Mountain Asset Pool Agreement and the agreement on Phase I of the Project as well as all other

transactions which emanated from the Project, have been shown to be valid, legal, and constitutional. Phase II has been struck down by the Clean Air Act.

With regard to the prayer for prohibition, enjoining respondents particularly respondent NHA from further implementing and/or enforcing the said Project and other agreements related to it, and from further deriving and/or enjoying any rights, privileges and interest from the Project, we find the same prayer meritless.

Sec. 2 of Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

Sec. 2. Petition for prohibition.When the proceedings of any tribunal, corporation, board, officer or person, whether exercising judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial functions, are without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered commanding the respondent to desist from further proceedings in the action or matter specified therein, or otherwise granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require.

It has not been shown that the NHA exercised judicial or quasi-judicial functions in relation to the SMDRP and the agreements relative to it. Likewise, it has not been shown what ministerial functions the NHA has with regard to the SMDRP.

A ministerial duty is one which is so clear and specific as to leave no room for the exercise of discretion in its performance. It is a duty which an officer performs in a given state of facts in a prescribed manner in obedience to the mandate of legal authority, without regard to the exercise of his/her own judgment upon the propriety of the act done.[97]

Whatever is left to be done in relation to the August 27, 2003 MOA, terminating the JVA and other related agreements, certainly does not involve ministerial functions of the NHA but instead requires exercise of judgment. In fact, Item No. 4 of the MOA terminating the JVAs provides for

validation of the developers (RBIs) claims arising from the termination of the SMDRP through the various government agencies.[98] Such validation requires the exercise of discretion.

In addition, prohibition does not lie against the NHA in view of petitioners failure to avail and exhaust all administrative remedies. Clear is the rule that prohibition is only available when there is no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

More importantly, prohibition does not lie to restrain an act which is already a fait accompli. The operative fact doctrine protecting vested rights bars the grant of the writ of prohibition to the case at bar. It should be remembered that petitioner was the Solicitor General at the time SMDRP was formulated and implemented. He had the opportunity to question the SMDRP and the agreements on it, but he did not. The moment to challenge the Project had passed.

On the prayer for a writ of mandamus, petitioner asks the Court to compel respondents to disclose all documents and information relating to the project, including, but not limited to, any subsequent agreements with respect to the different phases of the Project, the revisions of the original plan, the additional works incurred on the Project, the current financial condition of respondent RBI, and the transactions made with respect to the project. We earlier ruled that petitioner will be allowed access to official records relative to the SMDRP. That would be adequate relief to satisfy petitioners right to the information gateway.

WHEREFORE, the petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED.

The prayer for a writ of prohibition is DENIED for lack of merit.

The prayer for a writ of mandamus is GRANTED. Respondent NHA is ordered to allow access to petitioner to all public documents and official records relative to the SMDRPincluding, but not limited to, the March 19, 1993 JVA between the NHA and RBI and subsequent agreements related to the JVA, the revisions over the original plan, and the additional works incurred on and the transactions made with respect to the Project.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Case Digest: Chavez v. National Housing Authority Posted: August 4, 2010 in Case Digests Tags: case, constitution, digest, land, law, nha, Philippines, territory 2 G.R. No. 164527 15 August 2007

Ponente: VELASCO, JR., J.

FACTS:

On August 5, 2004, former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, filed an instant petition raising constitutional issues on the JVA entered by National Housing Authority and R-II Builders, Inc.

On March 1, 1988, then-President Cory Aquino issued Memorandum order No. (MO) 161 approving and directing implementation of the Comprehensive and Integrated Metropolitan Manila Waste Management Plan. During this time, Smokey Mountain, a wasteland in Tondo, Manila, are being made residence of many Filipinos living in a subhuman state.

As presented in MO 161, NHA prepared feasibility studies to turn the dumpsite into low-cost housing project, thus, Smokey Mountain Development and Reclamation Project (SMDRP), came into place. RA 6957 (Build-Operate-Transfer Law) was passed on July 1990 declaring the importance of private sectors as contractors in government projects. Thereafter, Aquino proclaimed MO 415 applying RA 6957 to SMDRP, among others. The same MO also established EXECOM and TECHCOM in the execution and evaluation of the plan, respectively, to be assisted by the Public Estates Authority (PEA).

Notices of public bidding to become NHAs venture partner for SMDRP were published in newspapers in 1992, from which R-II Builders, Inc. (RBI) won the bidding process. Then-President Ramos authorized NHA to enter into a Joint Venture Agreement with RBI.

Under the JVA, the project involves the clearing of Smokey Mountain for eventual development into a low cost housing complex and industrial/commercial site. RBI is expected to fully finance the development of Smokey Mountain and reclaim 40 hectares of the land at the Manila Bay Area. The latter together with the commercial area to be built on Smokey Mountain will be owned by RBI as enabling components. If the project is revoked or terminated by the Government through no fault of RBI or by mutual agreement, the Government shall compensate RBI for its actual expenses incurred in the Project plus a reasonable rate of return not exceeding that stated in the feasibility study and in the contract as of the date of such revocation, cancellation, or termination on a schedule to be agreed upon by both parties.

To summarize, the SMDRP shall consist of Phase I and Phase II. Phase I of the project involves clearing, levelling-off the dumpsite, and construction of temporary housing units for the current residents on the cleared and levelled site. Phase II involves the construction of a fenced incineration area for the on-site disposal of the garbage at the dumpsite.

Due to the recommendations done by the DENR after evaluations done, the JVA was amended and restated (now ARJVA) to accommodate the design changes and additional work to be done to successfully implement the project. The original 3,500 units of temporary housing were decreased to 2,992. The reclaimed land as enabling component was increased from 40 hectares to 79 hectares, which was supported by the issuance of Proclamation No. 465 by President Ramos. The revision also provided for the 119-hectare land as an enabling component for Phase II of the project.

Subsequently, the Clean Air Act was passed by the legislature which made the establishment of an incinerator illegal, making the off-site dumpsite at Smokey Mountain necessary. On August 1, 1998, the project was suspended, to be later reconstituted by President Estrada in MO No. 33.

On August 27, 2003, the NHA and RBI executed a Memorandum of Agreement whereby both parties agreed to terminate the JVA and subsequent agreements. During this time, NHA reported that 34 temporary housing structures and 21 permanent housing structures had been turned over by RBI.

ISSUES:

Whether respondents NHA and RBI have been granted the power and authority to reclaim lands of the public domain as this power is vested exclusively in PEA as claimed by petitioner Whether respondents NHA and RBI were given the power and authority by DENR to reclaim foreshore and submerged lands Whether respondent RBI can acquire reclaimed foreshore and submerged lands considered as alienable and outside the commerce of man Whether respondent RBI can acquire reclaimed lands when there was no declaration that said lands are no longer needed for public use Whether there is a law authorizing sale of reclaimed lands Whether the transfer of reclaimed lands to RBI was done by public bidding Whether RBI, being a private corporation, is barred by the Constitution to acquire lands of public domain Whether respondents can be compelled to disclose all information related to the SMDRP Whether the operative fact doctrine applies to the instant position HELD:

Executive Order 525 reads that the PEA shall be primarily responsible for integrating, directing, and coordinating all reclamation projects for and on behalf of the National Government. This does not mean that it shall be responsible for all. The requisites for a valid and legal reclamation project are approval by the President (which were provided for by MOs), favourable recommendation of PEA (which were seen as a part of its recommendations to the EXECOM), and undertaken either by PEA or entity under contract of PEA or by the National Government Agency (NHA is a government agency whose authority to reclaim lands under consultation with PEA is derived under PD 727 and RA 7279). Notwithstanding the need for DENR permission, the DENR is deemed to have granted the authority to reclaim in the Smokey Mountain Project for the DENR is one of the members of the EXECOM which provides reviews for the project. ECCs and Special Patent Orders were given by the DENR which are exercises of its power of supervision over the project. Furthermore, it was the President via the abovementioned MOs that originally authorized the reclamation. It must be noted that the reclamation of lands of public domain is reposed first in the Philippine President.

The reclaimed lands were classified alienable and disposable via MO 415 issued by President Aquino and Proclamation Nos. 39 and 465 by President Ramos. Despite not having an explicit declaration, the lands have been deemed to be no longer needed for public use as stated in Proclamation No. 39 that these are to be disposed to qualified beneficiaries. Furthermore, these lands have already been necessarily reclassified as alienable and disposable lands under the BOT law. Letter I of Sec. 6 of PD 757 clearly states that the NHA can acquire property rights and interests and encumber or otherwise dispose of them as it may deem appropriate. There is no doubt that respondent NHA conducted a public bidding of the right to become its joint venture partner in the Smokey Mountain Project. It was noted that notices were published in national newspapers. The bidding proper was done by the Bids and Awards Committee on May 18, 1992. RA 6957 as amended by RA 7718 explicitly states that a contractor can be paid a portion as percentage of the reclaimed land subject to the constitutional requirement that only Filipino citizens or corporation with at least 60% Filipino equity can acquire the same. In addition, when the lands were transferred to the NHA, these were considered Patrimonial lands of the state, by which it has the power to sell the same to any qualified person. This relief must be granted. It is the right of the Filipino people to information on matters of public concerned as stated in Article II, Sec. 28, and Article III, Sec. 7 of the 1987 Constitution. When the petitioner filed the case, the JVA had already been terminated by virtue of MOA between RBI and NHA. The properties and rights in question after the passage of around 10 years from the start of the projects implementation cannot be disturbed or questioned. The petitioner, being the Solicitor General at the time SMDRP was formulated, had ample opportunity to question the said project, but did not do so. The moment to challenge has passed.

EN BANC

[G.R. No.164527 : July 01, 2008]

FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ VS. NATIONAL HOUSING AUTHORITY ET AL.

Sirs/Mesdames:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of the Court En Banc dated July 1, 2008

G.R. No.164527 (Francisco I. Chavez vs. National Housing Authority et al.).- Petitioner filed with this Court a Motion for Reconsideration [Re: Decision dated 15 August 2007] dated September 13, 2007.[1] In the motion, petitioner raises the following issues: I

Contrary to this Honorable Courts Decision, the distinctions laid out by this Honorable Court between the present case and its ruling in Chavez vs. PEA-Amari are, with due respect, clearly baseless.

II

This Honorable Court gravely erred when it ruled NHA may validly undertake the reclamation of the subject lands, for:

The power to reclaim lands cannot be implied from NHAs powers to undertake and develop housing projects.

Presidential Decree No. 3-A, which supposedly allows the nation government to undertake reclamation of lands, does not legalize NHAs act of reclaiming the subject lands. III

Contrary to this Honorable Courts ruling, the required DENR approval cannot be implied from the presidential approval of the project.

IV

This Honorable Court erred in ruling that the reclaimed lands had already been declared alienable and disposable for neither Memorandum Order No. 415 nor Proclamation Nos. 39 and 465 converted the

subject lands to alienable and disposable for the very simple reason that, at the time they were issued, the alleged reclaimed lands were still inexistent.

Contrary to this Honorable Courts ruling, the mere fact that subject lands may be sold to the Smokey Mountain dwellers does not imply that they are no longer needed for public use. In fact, that opportunity proves that the subject lands are needed for public use.

VI

This Honorable Court erred in ruling that there was a public bidding of the reclaimed lands.

VII

Despite the effectivity of the BOT law, R-II Builders, being a private corporation is still barred from acquiring lands of the public domain.

VII

The Operative Fact Doctrine is an equitable doctrine which could not be used to countenance an inequitable result that is contrary to its proper office.

VIII

At the very least, the denial of the instant petition is premature as this Honorable Court granted petitioners prayer for Mandus to compel respondents to disclose all documents and information relating to the project.[2]

An examination of the issues raised in the Motion for Reconsideration reveals that they are substantially the same issues which have been sufficiently passed upon, extensively discussed, and resolved in the assailed Decision. Thus, further discussion of the points raised in the Motion for Reconsideration would be a mere repetition of the Decision already rendered.

Notably, the last issue raised by petitioner, which is the only new issue in the Motion for Reconsideration, still does not imbue the motion with any merit. Petitioner argues that the denial of the underlying petition was premature after this Court ruled that the National Housing Authority (NHA) must disclose all information and papers regarding the Project.

Such assertion must fail.

The argument all the more serves to confirm this Courts findings that the petition is without merit. Petitioner is saying will be supported by the information that will revealed from the records of the NHA. Such should not be the case. Petitioner must have a cause of action as basis for filing a petition with this Court anchored on undisputed facts. With the admission that the facts to prop up the petition will still have to be procured from the NHA, then the petition is clearly baseless for want of factual support. WHEREFORE, premises considered, petitioners Motion for Reconsideration is, for lack of merit, DENIED with finality.

Carpio and Reyes, JJ, no part. Nazario, J., on leave.

Very truly yours,

MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA Clerk of Court

By:

(Sgd.) FELIPA B. ANAMA Asst. Clerk of Court

CA 141 Judicial Confirmation of Imperfect or Incomplete Titles SECTION 47. The persons specified in the next following section are hereby granted time, not to extend beyond December 31, 1987 within which to take advantage of the benefit of this chapter: Provided, That this extension shall apply only where the area applied for does not exceed 144 hectares. Provided, further, That the several periods of time designated by the President in accordance with section fortyfive of this Act shall apply also to the lands comprised in the provisions of this chapter, but this section shall not be construed as prohibiting any of said persons from acting under this chapter at any time prior to the period fixed by the President. SECTION 48. The following-described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such lands or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act , to wit: (a) Those who prior to the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to the prior United States have applied for the purchase, composition or other form of grant of lands of the public domain under the laws and royal decrees then in force and have instituted and prosecuted the proceedings in connection therewith, but have with or without default upon their part, or for any other cause, not received title therefor, if such applicants or grantees and their heirs have occupied and cultivated said lands continuously since the filing of their applications.

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition or ownership, for at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title except when prevented by war or force majeure. These shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this chapter.

(c) Members of the national cultural minorities who by themselves or through their predecessors-ininterest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of lands of

the public domain suitable to agriculture, whether disposable or not, under a bona fide claim of ownership for at least 30 years shall be entitled to the rights granted in sub-section (b) hereof. RA 6940 Sec. 3. Section 47, Chapter VIII of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

"Sec. 47.The persons specified in the next following section are hereby granted time, not to extend beyond December 31, 2000 within which to take advantage of the benefit of this Chapter: Provided, That this period shall apply only where the area applied for does not exceed twelve (12) hectares: Provided, further, That the several periods of time designated by the President in accordance with Section Forty-five of this Act shall apply also to the lands comprised in the provisions of this Chapter, but this section shall not be construed as prohibiting any of said persons from acting under this Chapter at any time prior to the period fixed by the President."