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Tourists enjoy the Boracay experience while businessmen wait a little before they can own a piece of the paradise island. (Photo by Tara Yap)

Tourists enjoy the Boracay experience while businessmen wait a little before they can own a piece of the paradise island. (Photo by Tara Yap)

SC: Bora businessmen can’t apply for land titles

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

THE Supreme Court has ruled that business establishments in Boracay Island cannot yet apply for titles to the lots on which their investments stand.

In a 35-page decision, the SC ruled that Boracay remains unclassified land of the public domain and is considered public forest under Presidential Decree No. 705 (Revised Forestry Code).

The SC ruling means that the government is still the owner of Boracay despite Proclamation No. 1801 declaring the island resort a public forested land.

The SC case stemmed from two consolidated cases assailing the Court of Appeals decision which affirmed the ruling of the Regional Trial Court in Kalibo, Aklan.

The Kalibo RTC earlier granted the petition for declaratory relief filed by lot claimants Mayor Jose Yap and several others and ordering the survey of Boracay for titling purposes.

The second petition sought the prohibition, mandamus, and nullification of Proclamation No. 1064 issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo classifying Boracay into reserved forest and agricultural land.

The high tribunal said there must be “a positive act declaring land as alienable and disposable” before parcels of Boracay Island can be owned by private individuals.

“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, declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes,” the SC said.

The SC added that Proclamation 1801 merely declared the island resort and other islands as tourist zone or marine reserve.

“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 (Philippine Tourism Authority) – 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.”

Also, the SC pointed out that Proclamation No. 1801 covers not only Boracay Island, but 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.”

HOPE LINGERS

But Boracay businessmen still have a window of opportunity to own the lots on which their establishments stand.

“All is not lost, however, for private claimants. While they may not be eligible to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title, 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 mean lack of right to possess,” the SC said.

The high tribunal added: “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.”

Another mode where businessmen can finally own a piece of the island resort is by congressional act.

“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 now pending in the House of Representatives. Whether that bill or a similar bill will become a law is for Congress to decide.”

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