Nobody can sell forest land because the State owns it

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
Adrian is one of our neighbors in the province of Aurora. I learned from my father that he is selling around three hectares of land to my father, and he showed tax declarations from 1971 up to present as proof that he is the owner of the land. We also found out that the land is classified as forest land. We informed Adrian that we are hesitant in buying the land because of its classification, but he claimed that the land is no longer classified as forest land. He explained that it is already denuded of trees and in fact it is now suitable for rice farming. Should we buy the property?

Dear Henrico,
The classification of the land being sold to you by Adrian is forest land; hence, it is owned by the State. Adrian cannot sell the land, because he is not the owner and it is beyond the commerce of man. The tax declarations he presented are not sufficient proofs of ownership.

In Valiao vs Republic of the Philippine s(G.R. No. 170757, November 28, 2011), the Supreme Court said:

“Under the Regalian doctrine, which is embodied in our Constitution, all lands of the public domain belong to the State, which is the source of any asserted right to any ownership of land. All lands not appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. Accordingly, public lands not shown to have been reclassified or released as alienable agricultural land or alienated to a private person by the State remain part of the inalienable public domain. Unless public land is shown to have been reclassified as alienable or disposable to a private person by the State, it remains part of the inalienable public domain. Property of the public domain is beyond the commerce of man and not susceptible of private appropriation and acquisitive prescription. Occupation thereof in the concept of owner no matter how long cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title. The burden of proof in overcoming the presumption of State ownership of the lands of the public domain is on the person applying for registration (or claiming ownership), who must prove that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable. To overcome this presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be established that the land subject of the application (or claim) is alienable or disposable”.

So, in the absence of any proof that such land was classified as alienable and disposable, Adrian cannot claim that the classification of the land is agricultural even if the same is actually being utilized for rice farming and already stripped of its trees. It is only the executive department of the government that  can classify the land as alienable or disposable; hence, we suggest that you forego with your intention of buying the land.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to


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