Things To Consider Before Purchasing a Parcel of Land Covered by an Emancipation Patent

Land has spawned countless disputes because man is inexorably bound to it from cradle to grave for domicile, life sustenance, and other fundamental needs.

Mr. Justice Presbiterio Velasco, in Del Castillo v. Orciga, G.R. No. 153850, August 31, 2006.

By Realttorney®

Before we answer the question above, we need to know what is an Emancipation Patent, who are qualified to receive such a patent, and how is it issued to a qualified beneficiary by government.

Presidential Decree No. 27 ordered the emancipation of all tenant farmers of private agricultural lands primarily devoted to rice and corn under a system of sharecrop or lease-tenancy, whether classified as landed estate or not as of October 21, 1972.

Under the same Decree, “tenant farmer, whether in land classified as landed estate or not, shall be deemed owner of a portion constituting a family-size farm of five (5) hectares if not irrigated and three (3) hectares if irrigated.”

Furthermore, it stated that “[i]n all cases, the landowner may retain an area of not more than seven (7) hectares if such landowner is cultivating such area or will now cultivate it.”

According to Del Castillo v. Orciga, G.R. No. 153850, August 31, 2006, “a Certificate of Land Transfer (CLT) is a document issued to a tenant-farmer, which proves inchoate ownership of an agricultural land primarily devoted to rice and corn production. It is issued in order for the tenant-farmer to acquire the land. This certificate prescribes the terms and conditions of ownership over said land and likewise describes the landholding its area and its location. A CLT is the provisional title of ownership over the landholding while the lot owner is awaiting full payment of the land’s value or for as long as the beneficiary is an ‘amortizing owner’”.

Land transfer under Pres. Decree No. 27 is effected in two (2) stages: (1) issuance of a CLT to a farmer-beneficiary as soon as DAR transfers the landholding to the farmer-beneficiary in recognition that said person is a “deemed owner”; and (2) issuance of an Emancipation Patent as proof of full ownership of the landholding upon full payment of the annual amortizations or lease rentals by the farmer or beneficiary.

On July 17, 1987, former President Corazon C. Aquino issued Executive Order No. 228 which provides that as of October 21, 1972, all qualified farmer-beneficiaries are now “deemed full owners” of the land they acquired by virtue of Pres. Decree No. 27, with the assumption that the farmer-beneficiary has fully paid the amortization prescribed by existing law.

In Maylem vs. Ellano, G.R. No. 162721, July 13, 2009, the Supreme Court stated that “No principle in agrarian reform law is indeed more settled than that the issuance of an emancipation patent entitles the farmer-beneficiary to the vested right of absolute ownership of the landholding, and it constitutes conclusive authority for the issuance of an original or transfer certificate of title in his name. It presupposes that the grantee or beneficiary has, following the issuance of a Certificate of Land Transfer, already complied with all the preconditions required under Pres. Decree No. No. 27, and that the landowner has been fully compensated for his property.

And upon the issuance of title, the grantee becomes the owner of the landholding and he thereby ceases to be a mere tenant or lessee. His right of ownership, once vested, becomes fixed and established and is no longer open to doubt or controversy.” Inescapably, the farmer-beneficiary becomes the owner of the subject property upon the issuance of the Emancipation Patent and, as such, enjoys the right to possess the same – a right that is an attribute of absolute ownership.

Having understood how an Emancipation Patent is issued, we now go to the issue at hand. Can you legally buy a land that is covered by an emancipation patent?

To answer, we seek guidance from DAR Opinion No. 70-97 dated July 1, 1997. It addressed the query on whether an awarded land covered by Emancipation Patent (EP) be the subject of a contract of sale.

DAR Opinion No. 70-97 answered the query in this manner:

“Please be informed that awarded lands covered by Emancipation Patents (EPs), undoubtedly, can be the subject of a contract of sale. As elucidated by the Supreme Court in the Case of Engracia Vinzons-Magana vs. Hon. Conrado Estrella, et al., 201 SCRA 536, the issuance of Emancipation Patent confers on the farmer-grantee a vested right of absolute ownership in the landholding — a right which has become fixed and established and is no longer open to doubt and controversy. Thus, Emancipation Patent is a proof of ownership which can be the subject of a contract of sale in the exercise of one’s right of ownership without violating the prohibitions embodied in Section 27 of R.A. No. 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) relative to sale or disposition of awarded lands for a period of ten (10) years from their award because said provision of law solely applies to awarded lands under R.A. No. 6657 covered by Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and not to PD 27 lands covered by EPs.” [Underlining, italicizing, our for emphasis]

“Moreover, DAR Administrative Order No. 08, Series of 1995 further supports the view relative to sale or disposition of awarded lands under P.D. No. 27. Specifically, transfer of awarded lands under P.D. No. 27, as amended by Executive Order No. 228 may be allowed, provided the following shall be observed:

  1. that the productivity of the land shall be maintained;
  2. that the buyer will not exceed the landowner ceiling provided by law; and
  3. that the ownership ceiling of five (5) hectares shall be imposed.”

Therefore, it is unmistakable that a Filipino can purchase a parcel of land covered by an EP. However, there are several things that a prospective buyer will have to consider.

First, an EP is a land title covering a rice land or land devoted to planting corn. Therefore, it is more likely that the parcel of land is highly arable and irrigated, or found near an irrigation facility of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). Hence, when a prospective purchaser is considering buying such a parcel of land, it is a must that “productivity of the land shall be maintained by the new owner.”

Second, the prospective buyer must not exceed the landowner ceiling provided by law. What is the ceiling? Before Commonwealth Act No. 141 [the Public Land Act] was amended, the landowner celling of agricultural lands was 24 hectares. Then this was reduced by Rep. Act No. 6940 to 12 hectares. This limit is for the application of an agricultural free patent covering lands of the public domain, which are alienable and disposable.

Third, the prospective buyer must also respect the ownership ceiling of 5 hectares imposed by Rep. Act No. 6657. Prior to this, under Pres. Decree No. 27, the ceiling on agricultural land ownership was 7 hectares for agrarian reform beneficiaries.

What is the difference between the ceiling imposed by the Public Land Act vis-à-vis the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL)?

The CARL covers all public and private agricultural lands which include other lands of the public domain devoted to or suitable for agriculture. Emphasis should be given to the phrase “devoted to or suitable for agriculture” in describing the type of lands, whether private or public lands in order that it may fall under the operation of the CARP.

Such phrase is used to describe the public lands that fall within the coverage of CARP as opposed to the public lands that are the subject of the Public Land Act, as amended, which is the law to be followed in the issuance of Homestead and Free Patents with respect to agricultural land of the public domain.

The Public Land Act governs only such lands of the public domain as are not timber or mineral lands. The term “public lands“, as used in the Public Land Act refers only to what was used to be known as public agricultural lands or what are otherwise known as alienable or disposable lands of the public domain.

Having said all these, in my opinion, the guiding principle here is that since lands that are covered by EPs fall under the coverage of the agrarian reform law, then the ceiling for the landholding will be the 5-hectare limit. But, this limit should not be counted as part of the ownership ceiling if the prospective buyer will be applying for an agricultural free patent for up to 12 hectares.

Fourth, the prospective buyer should take into account that if he or she will purchase a land covered by an EP then there is a possibility that the said land will remain as an agricultural land. Why? Because the land covered by the EP is irrigated or near an irrigation facility. If this is the case, then the same lot can never be converted into another classification, except agriculture.

Under the current rules on land conversion, it expressly provides that the following shall not be subject to and are non-negotiable for conversion: (1) all irrigated lands where water is available to support rice and other crop production, and all irrigated lands where water is not available for rice and other crop production but are within areas programmed for irrigation facility rehabilitation by the Department of Agriculture and NIA; and (2) all irrigable lands already covered by irrigation projects with firm funding commitments at the time of the application for land use conversion.

As a final word, the best buyer of an agricultural land covered by an Emancipation Patent is one who has the heart and fortitude of a farmer. Someone who has the passion for farming and the skill of a modern-day digital marketing professional. If the purchase is intended to convert the land into a farm tourism estate then such plan may not materialize due to the strict rules on land conversion.


Atty. Jojo is a real estate attorney, an estate planning attorney, a licensed real estate broker, and a PRC-accredited Lecturer/ Speaker for Training Programs on Real Estate. He is a Chartered Trust and Estate Planning (CTEP®) professional who is committed to educating Filipinos about the value and importance of having an estate plan in their lives.

Published by Atty. Jojo

A loving husband and devoted father; a gentleman farmer; a licensed real estate broker; a real estate & estate planning attorney; and a practicing Catholic.

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