Part 3 of 7: Actual Process Of Dispossession
Rudy Buhay Rodil
(Editor’s note: This article is a slight revision of the lectures the author delivered between the years 1999 and 2000 to two major audiences — the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in Metro Manila and the Bishops-Ulama Forum, now known as Bishops-Ulama Conference, in Davao City.)
The regalian doctrine is at the core of the Philippine land property system. It is not only contained in public land laws, it is in fact consistently enshrined in the Philippine Constitutions of 1935, 1973 and 1987. The doctrine says that the state is the sole owner of state domain and reserves the right to classify it for purposes of proper disposition to its citizens. Thus, lands classified as alienable and disposable may be owned privately, and titled to themselves, by individuals or corporations; and lands, forest areas, bodies of water, and so on which are described as inalienable and non-disposable are state owned and are not open to private ownership. They may, however, be leased for a specified period, usually 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
Inheritance From Colonialism
The Republic of the Philippines inherited the regalian doctrine from Spain, as it also adopted hook, line and sinker all laws affecting land and other natural resources enacted and implemented by the American colonizers. These constitute one of the biggest chunks of institutions carried over from colonial times.
It is said that Spain’s discovery of the Philippine archipelago gave the Spanish crown, as was the practice among European expansionists in the l5th and l6th centuries, possessory rights over the islands. Since the King stood for the Spanish State, it was understood that his dominion was also state dominion, and the King or the State reserves the right and the authority to dispose of lands therein to its subjects and in accordance with its laws.
It was on the basis of this authority that the Spanish crown handed down a law in l894 commanding its subjects in the Philippine colony to register their lands.
The American Title
To the United States government, the Treaty of Paris and the subsequent treaty of 7 November 1900, which added portions of Philippine territory overlooked earlier, effected a transfer of title of ownership, or of sovereign rights over the entirety of the Philippine archipelago. This fact explains why the Philippine Islands along with other Pacific Islands have been referred to in American textbooks as their Insular Possessions. This was unmistakably contained in the Philippine Bill of 1902 the organic law, which served as the fundamental law of the Philippine Islands until the enactment of the Jones Law of 1916.
How Much of the Archipelago was Uncolonized?
This question must be asked because the answer will give us a clear idea of the extent of marginalization or displacement in terms of land area. An early assessment made by Mr. Worcester about the extent of Philippine territory inhabited by the so-called non-Christian tribes states that
“there today remains a very extensive territory amounting to about one-half of the total land area, which is populated by non-Christian peoples so far as it is populated at all. Such peoples make up approximately an eighth of the entire population.” (Italics supplied)
Customary Land Grants Declared Null And Void
To ensure unchallenged exercise of the state authority to dispose of state domain or public lands, the Philippine Commission enacted a law in 1903, six months after the passage of the land registration act, which took away from indigenous leaders, datus or chiefs their authority to dispose of lands within their respective jurisdictions. The title of the law says it all: “An Act making void land grants from Moro sultans or dattos or from chiefs of non-Christian Tribes when made without governmental authority or consent.” It was now illegal for any indigenous leader to dispose of lands to any member of his community, regardless of whether or not this had been their practice since time immemorial.
Torrens System Introduced
With the passage of the Land Registration Act No. 496 by the Philippine Commission on 6 November 1902, the American colonial government also institutionalized the Torrens system, adopted from South Australia, in the country. This law provided for the guidelines for the registration and titling of privately owned lands, whether by individual persons or by corporations. The word “corporation” leaves no room for the indigenous concept of private communal property. Forest lands, bodies of water and so on which used to be sources of daily food and other needs for the indigenous communities were no longer indigenous territories; they have become state owned and could only be made use of with the consent of the government.
The strength of the Torrens system is further reinforced by the provisions of the public land laws which happen to be patently discriminatory against the indigenous communities – the same accentuate the contradiction between regalian doctrine and ancestral domain concepts – as the next section will show.
Discriminatory Provisions of Public Land Laws
We must reiterate, for emphasis, that the US acquisition of sovereignty over the Philippine archipelago did not carry with it the recognition of the communal ancestral domains of the indigenous communities. We now proceed to the provisions of the laws themselves which are discriminatory.
First, the Philippine Commission passed a law (Act No. 718) on 4 April 1903, six months after the passage of the land registration act, as we have noted earlier, making void “land grants from Moro sultans or dattos or from chiefs of Non-Christian tribes when made without governmental authority or consent.” It is interesting to note that later versions of the public land law continues to carry the almost exact wordings of said law, reiterating further the legitimacy of the transfer of sovereign authority from Spain to the United States, and the illegality of indigenous claims. This same provision is still in effect to this day (1998).
Second, the Land Registration Act No. 496 of 6 November 1902 requires the registration of lands occupied by private persons or corporations, and the application for registration of title, says Sec. 21, “shall be in writing, signed and sworn to by the applicant.” The very matter of registration was not only totally alien to the indigenous communities, most of them would have been unable to comply, illiterate that they were, even if by some miracle they acquired the desire to register. Also, what would they register? There was no room for registration of communal lands. As a young Filipino lawyer recently pointed out, “under our present property law, communal ownership is a mere fiction of the mind; it is unregistrable and deserves no legal protection.”
Third, the Public Land Act No. 926 of 7 October 1903, passed by the Philippine Commission, allowed individuals to acquire homesteads not exceeding 16 hectares each, and corporations 1,024 hectares each, of “unoccupied, unreserved, unappropriated agricultural public lands” as stated by Sec. 1. Nothing was said about the unique customs of the indigenous communities.
Fourth, Public Land Act No. 926, amended through Act No.2874 by the Senate and the House of Representatives on 29 November 1919 in accordance with the provisions of the Jones Law, provided that the 16 hectares allowed earlier to individuals was increased to 24, but the non-Christian was allowed an area (Sec. 22) “which shall not exceed ten (10) hectares.”
Fifth, Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended on 7 November 1936, withdrew the privilege earlier granted to the settlers of owning more than one homestead at 24 hectares each and reverted to only one not exceeding 16 hectares. But the “non-Christians” who were earlier allowed a maximum of ten hectares were now permitted only four (4) hectares!
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate.)
Tomorrow: Part IV: A Quick Historical Overview of the Resettlement Process in Mindanaw