Simplifying the rat’s nest of land title holdings
That is one end of the spectrum.
The other is the cry for order and decency. Why did the city allow that noisy vulcanizing shop to go in next to my apartment complex? How can private stores claim the street and not let me park there? Why does the municipality allow those settlers to put their homes on the dangerous riverbank? Why in the world is that hacienda being built on our cherished rice terraces? We need rules to control development.
In a lightly populated land with wide, open ranges, free movement and use is practical. In a land with 100 million residents vying for space with the farmers who feed them or the businesses that employ them, we have some conflicts. We need rules.
The Philippines needs rules.
I thought about researching land use history of the Philippines and studying up on on zoning and farmland ownership and use, but I decided that would not help much. The mess is too messy for a mere mortal to unwind. All the brightest legal minds in the nation have spent 50 years mucking up the rules for holding title to land and seas. This convoluted history confounds the most earnest of problem-solvers. Furthermore, because all the claims and counterclaims, registrations and titles to specific properties are on paper, sorting them out takes a lot of time and trouble. Information held in the provinces cannot be easily shared with agencies in Manila that have a question. Like the Senate investigating a particular hacienda in Batangas.
So it seems to me that the number one goal should be to clean up the mess. And the fastest, cleanest way to do that is:
Pass a law that erases all prior laws . . .
“Ha! You are nuts JoeAm. That would throw everything into chaos.”
Well, if you would kindly let me finish my thought.
Pass a law that erases all prior laws and provides a three-year window to transfer to perfected claims.
“What in the world is a “perfected claim”?
Thank you for shifting from incredulous to curious.
A “perfected claim” is private or institutional title to a parcel of land (or water) that is uncontested. It is free and clear of any dispute or challenge, or has been ruled as free and clear by an official judgment panel.
Let’s back up a step
Before implementing the three-year window, we need to get prepared for the process, because the process will be comprehensive. That is, by the end of three years, every square meter of the Philippines, its lands and seas, will be recorded in digital format and most plots will be clearly and unequivocally owned by an individual or institution. An institution might be a corporation or government or foreign interest.
- A national computer registration and mapping system.
- A system of Title Clearance Boards at provincial capitals.
- The new law that defines the steps for transfer and maintenance of titles. This is the “process” law.
- A comprehensive National Land Use Law that establishes the long term policies and broader rules for care-taking the nation’s land and sea resources.
Let me start the discussion rolling by providing a few ideas about these matters.
National computer system
The system would be maintained at a central location – preferably not in Manila – with input/output terminals available at Land Title Departments at local government units (LGUs).
Titles would be held in electronic form, with certified print-outs available on request and for a fee. Titles would be classified into several buckets:
- Status: Perfected, Contested, In process, Unclaimed
- Purpose: Industrial (heavy, light, clean), Commercial (retail, wholesale, service), Public (government, utility, transportation, religion, education), Residential (high density, moderate density, low density), Resource (agriculture, forestry, mining, recreation), Water (fishing, power, recreation, transportation), Other.
- Ownership: Individual, Institutional, or Joint and name
- Taxation: Assessment basis; record of payments.
- Baseline survey: points and directions
- Other information: as determined by titling experts
The mapping system would allow a quick visual inspection of the entire nation. At the outset of the three-year period, that map would be blank. Various tracts and plots would soon be filled in by LGUs going through the re-recording of all properties in the Philippines. If questions arose as to survey conflicts or claims, properties would go into the “In Process” bucket. If a formal challenge to ownership were registered at a Title Clearance Board, a property would go into the “Contested” bucket.
By the end of the three-year transfer period, the map would show mostly “Perfected” ownership. Zoom in on the map and specific properties could easily be certified as properly titled.
The real estate transaction business would become a forthright, booming business. Not the head-scratching, low-confidence, process-encumbered business it is now. Land owners would be able to realize fair value for properties. Land buyers would be assured of getting what they paid for. Banks would be able to lend with confidence, giving the economy an upward kick.
Title Clearance Boards
A lot of ownership in the Philippines is informal rather than titled. Families fight over their inheritance. The rules for distribution of agricultural lands also generate confusing or conflicting ownership. The specific need is to get this mess cleaned up and the only way to do it is with “new rules” and a quasi-judicial process for considering who holds rightful title to properties. Solutions to contested cases would be based on a set of rules, among them dividing the property (among family members) when that is the simplest and fairest solution.
Case law would develop quickly as complicated issues are resolved.
My vision is of five-member panels of real estate experts in each Province working to resolve cases on a quick “best information” basis, under a set of rules for ownership based on today’s laws. Contesting parties could represent themselves or hire real estate experts to present their case.
The demand for surveys, real estate para-legal advice, and real estate agents would blossom. New jobs. Good ones.
New Law on Title Processing
This would be the rulebook followed by the Title Clearance Boards. It would be passed as a part of the act of Congress that would establish the land entitlement program as national law.
- What are the rules for inheritance?
- What are the rules for zoning (refer to National Land Use Act)?
- What are the rules for agricultural property?
- What are the rules for contesting claims?
All old laws would be erased on the drop-dead date three years down the pike. Land owners would carry the burden of making sure their property title is perfected under new rules. No grandfathering of old rules would be permitted. Cut clean, cut clear. Simplify.
Land Use Law
The National Land Use Law would stand as the constitution for how land and waters are preserved and used in the Philippines. It would recognize the profound realities of global warming and dwindling resources. It would take the hard decisions necessary to assure proper maintenance of Philippine lands and seas for future generations, assure high living standards (e.g., noise reduction in urban areas), protect agricultural lands from residential encroachment, manage forests and seas for long-term preservation, and defend against severe storms and climate change.
It would provide the master framework under which the Title Clearance Boards would work, marking out large tracts of land for preservation or dedicated use (industry).
It would take a lot of courage to pass this law because some power blocks (agricultural landowners on the edge of urban development, miners, forestry workers, fisherpeople, business owners) might object.
No one said being a legislator should be a walk in the park.