Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. vs Secretary of Agrarian Reform
175 SCRA 343 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Equal Protection – Valid Classification
Eminent Domain – Just Compensation
These are four consolidated cases questioning the constitutionality of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act (R.A. No. 6657 and related laws i.e., Agrarian Land Reform Code or R.A. No. 3844).
Brief background: Article XIII of the Constitution on Social Justice and Human Rights includes a call for the adoption by the State of an agrarian reform program. The State shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farmworkers, who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farmworkers, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof. RA 3844 was enacted in 1963. P.D. No. 27 was promulgated in 1972 to provide for the compulsory acquisition of private lands for distribution among tenant-farmers and to specify maximum retention limits for landowners. In 1987, President Corazon Aquino issued E.O. No. 228, declaring full land ownership in favor of the beneficiaries of PD 27 and providing for the valuation of still unvalued lands covered by the decree as well as the manner of their payment. In 1987, P.P. No. 131, instituting a comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) was enacted; later, E.O. No. 229, providing the mechanics for its (PP131’s) implementation, was also enacted. Afterwhich is the enactment of R.A. No. 6657, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law in 1988. This law, while considerably changing the earlier mentioned enactments, nevertheless gives them suppletory effect insofar as they are not inconsistent with its provisions.
[Two of the consolidated cases are discussed below]
G.R. No. 78742: (Association of Small Landowners vs Secretary)
The Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. sought exception from the land distribution scheme provided for in R.A. 6657. The Association is comprised of landowners of ricelands and cornlands whose landholdings do not exceed 7 hectares. They invoke that since their landholdings are less than 7 hectares, they should not be forced to distribute their land to their tenants under R.A. 6657 for they themselves have shown willingness to till their own land. In short, they want to be exempted from agrarian reform program because they claim to belong to a different class.
G.R. No. 79777: (Manaay vs Juico)
Nicolas Manaay questioned the validity of the agrarian reform laws (PD 27, EO 228, and 229) on the ground that these laws already valuated their lands for the agrarian reform program and that the specific amount must be determined by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Manaay averred that this violated the principle in eminent domain which provides that only courts can determine just compensation. This, for Manaay, also violated due process for under the constitution, no property shall be taken for public use without just compensation.
Manaay also questioned the provision which states that landowners may be paid for their land in bonds and not necessarily in cash. Manaay averred that just compensation has always been in the form of money and not in bonds.
1. Whether or not there was a violation of the equal protection clause.
2. Whether or not there is a violation of due process.
3. Whether or not just compensation, under the agrarian reform program, must be in terms of cash.
1. No. The Association had not shown any proof that they belong to a different class exempt from the agrarian reform program. Under the law, classification has been defined as the grouping of persons or things similar to each other in certain particulars and different from each other in these same particulars. To be valid, it must conform to the following requirements:
(1) it must be based on substantial distinctions;
(2) it must be germane to the purposes of the law;
(3) it must not be limited to existing conditions only; and
(4) it must apply equally to all the members of the class.
Equal protection simply means that all persons or things similarly situated must be treated alike both as to the rights conferred and the liabilities imposed. The Association have not shown that they belong to a different class and entitled to a different treatment. The argument that not only landowners but also owners of other properties must be made to share the burden of implementing land reform must be rejected. There is a substantial distinction between these two classes of owners that is clearly visible except to those who will not see. There is no need to elaborate on this matter. In any event, the Congress is allowed a wide leeway in providing for a valid classification. Its decision is accorded recognition and respect by the courts of justice except only where its discretion is abused to the detriment of the Bill of Rights. In the contrary, it appears that Congress is right in classifying small landowners as part of the agrarian reform program.
2. No. It is true that the determination of just compensation is a power lodged in the courts. However, there is no law which prohibits administrative bodies like the DAR from determining just compensation. In fact, just compensation can be that amount agreed upon by the landowner and the government – even without judicial intervention so long as both parties agree. The DAR can determine just compensation through appraisers and if the landowner agrees, then judicial intervention is not needed. What is contemplated by law however is that, the just compensation determined by an administrative body is merely preliminary. If the landowner does not agree with the finding of just compensation by an administrative body, then it can go to court and the determination of the latter shall be the final determination. This is even so provided by RA 6657:
Section 16 (f): Any party who disagrees with the decision may bring the matter to the court of proper jurisdiction for final determination of just compensation.
3. No. Money as [sole] payment for just compensation is merely a concept in traditional exercise of eminent domain. The agrarian reform program is a revolutionary exercise of eminent domain. The program will require billions of pesos in funds if all compensation have to be made in cash – if everything is in cash, then the government will not have sufficient money hence, bonds, and other securities, i.e., shares of stocks, may be used for just compensation.
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