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High Court junks Boracay resort owners’ plea

Vol. XXII, No. 104 [ BusinessWorld Online ]

Thursday, December 18, 2008 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

THE SUPREME COURT has denied an appeal by a group of resort owners to claim ownership of land in Boracay.

In a resolution dated last December 2, the court dismissed the private resort owners’ motion for reconsideration to its October 8 ruling that upheld a 2006 presidential proclamation that 400 hectares — or 40% — of the island is reserved forest land, hence, not open to private ownership.

The court clarified, however, that affected resort owners can explore "other modes of applying for original registration of title, such as by homestead or sales patent."

"We note that bulk of the issues raised and the arguments aired are merely repetitive of those already passed upon by the court," the resolution read.

"Considering thatprivate claimants presented no substantial argument or compelling reason for us to reconsider, to hold oral arguments on the motions for reconsideration would be futile and unnecessary."

The Oct. 8 decision over-ruled a lower court ruling which had granted some hotels and resorts the right to own land. Previously, they had only acquired permission or bought "rights" to build on what was government land.

The high court, in its October 8 ruling, rejected the petitioners’ claim that Proclamation 180 issued by President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1978 allowed them to apply for a "judicial confirmation of imperfect titles," or to have certain lots automatically registered in their names.

That proclamation declared Boracay Island in Malay town, Aklan province as a tourist zone, hence, alienable and disposable.

The high court has held that Boracay is an unclassified land, thus, it should be considered a public forest under another law — Presidential Decree (PD) 705 — issued on May 19, 1975.

Under the country’s titling system, only agricultural lands can be disposed of for private ownership. It was only through Proclamation 1064 — issued by Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo on May 22, 2006 — that the government classified certain parts as agricultural, hence, alienable and disposable, it said.

This 2006 proclamation identified in Boracay 400 hectares of reserved forest land for "protection purposes" and 628.96 hectares of agricultural land, which is "alienable and disposable."

The resort owners argued that "there is no presumption that unclassified lands are deemed forest land. Consequently, the law and jurisprudence existing before such decree should apply in that unclassified lands are deemed agricultural and capable of acquisitive prescription."

Proclamation 1064 should be nullified as well, they said, charging that Ms. Arroyo had "arrogated upon herself" the power of land classification, which belongs to Congress.

But the court stressed that "it is not for the court to refuse to apply a law [PD 705] that has not been declared unconstitutional or invalid."

It also said that the move to nullify Proclamation 1064 was a belated argument and "a collateral attack on the validity of the Public Land Act." — I. P. Pedrasa and Reuters


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