A CADASTRAL or cadastre is a comprehensive recording of the real estate or real property's metes-and-bounds. The results of a cadastral survey are often represented graphically in a cadastral map. It is an official register of the quantity, value and ownership of real estate used in apportioning taxes.

Real estate, on the other hand, denotes a real property, which refers to something owned that is attached to a piece of land. Such land can be used for residential, commercial or industrial purposes, and typically includes any resources within it, such as water, timber and minerals.

The 1987 Constitution states in Article XII, Section 2 that, "All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated." In lay terms, these public lands and the resources that are contained therein cannot be converted into real estate that can be subjected to any cadastral survey.

Section 3 of Article XII has declared that lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks. Those lands within the public domain that are classified as agricultural land are the only ones that may be further classified by law according to the uses which to they may be devoted. The Constitution also specifically limits what can be alienated or subjected to titling — only those lands of the public domain that are considered as agricultural lands. Thus, private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease, for a period not exceeding 25 years, renewable for not more than 25 years, and not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area. Filipino citizens, on the other hand, may lease not more than 500 hectares, or acquire not more than 12 hectares thereof by purchase, homestead, or grant.

Under the 1987 Constitution, Congress was tasked to do two things. First, and as stipulated in Section 3 of Article XII, was to determine the size of lands of the public domain which may be acquired, developed, held or leased, and the conditions therefor, taking into account the requirements of conservation, ecology and development, and subject to the requirements of agrarian reform. The other, which is directed in Section 4 of Article XII, was to legislate the limits of forest lands and national parks. The wording of the Constitution implied that this is an urgent task, when it used the word "as soon as possible." Once delimited, the Constitution directs that those lands shall be conserved and cannot be increased or diminished except by law.

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Unfortunately, 35 years have passed but Congress has yet to determine the size of lands of the public domain that can be alienated or leased, and has not enacted a law that defines the boundaries of forest lands and natural parks. This is no longer a plain act of negligence, but a blatant act amounting to dereliction of a constitutional duty.

Instead of these, what we have now are two bills, one filed in the Senate by Sen. Imee Marcos and another in the House by Rep. Joey Salceda, that effectively would enact a law that would treat public forest lands like real property that can be subjected to cadastral surveys. Senate Bill (SB) 413 filed by Senator Marcos is entitled "An Act to Establish the Forest Cadastre, Providing for Its Procedures, and for Other Purposes." House Bill (HB) 1162, filed by Representative Salceda, has the same exact title. The two bills have the same exact content. Even the explanatory notes are exactly the same. This suggests that the proposal comes from only one source.

What is problematic about these bills is that it subsumes the limits of forest lands and natural parks, and imply on it automatic enactment into law, without any separate legislative scrutiny. In Section 4 of SB 413 and HB 1162, there is a reference to a completed delineation of forest lands submitted to Congress by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Such would be adopted, but without the benefit of being first enacted into a separate law. What is, however, questionable is that while lands classified as forest lands shall not be reclassified except through an act of Congress, these bills would also recognize all vested rights within forest lands prior to delineation. It is not clear whether those vested rights include the right to eventual ownership if Congress enacts another law reclassifying those lands as alienable, considering that they have now been subjected to cadastral surveys.

Section 5 of SB 413 and HB 1162 commands the DENR to "develop, install, maintain and update regularly a system of mapping of all forest tenurial instruments and agreements issued by the DENR in all forest lands. Such system shall reflect all existing tenure agreements and shall show graphically said tenures. Untenured forest lands shall also be reflected and shown graphically in order to complete the tenure mapping of municipalities and cities." This would apply to all lands, including national parks and protected areas, mineral lands, proclamations and reservations, and ancestral lands and ancestral domains.

There is no question that access to the use of forest resources should be made available for national development, even as we recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and other forest-based communities that depend on these lands for their livelihoods. Laws have been passed, such as the Indigenous People's Rights Acts, or Republic Act 8371, as well as programs and approaches have been adopted toward community-based resource management. There is also a need to document and establish a registry of all tenurial instruments and arrangements. But these should all be done in the context that lands of the public domain that are classified as forest lands should not be treated as real property. The use of the word "cadastral" is dangerous, even if the intent may be noble.