Promoting Social Equity by Giving Public Agricultural Lands to the Rural Masses
The Land Management Bureau (and the regional Land Management Sector) was organized on September 2, 1901 under Act 218 as the Insular Bureau of Public Lands (IBPL) with the mandate of supervising the survey and distribution of public lands in the Philippine Islands. William Tipton was appointed as the first chief of the IBPL. Under his supervision, the Bureau planned out a system for the survey of the archipelago and in 1903 implemented Act 926 or the first Public Land Act of the country which became the basis of public land disposition thereafter.
Disposition under this law was done by way of homestead, free patent, sale and lease of public lands suitable for agriculture. The name Insular Bureau of Public Land was later changed by virtue of Act 1470 to the Bureau of Lands, the name became popularly known to the masses who are the direct beneficiary of public agricultural lands for distribution.
The Bureau of Lands was likewise mandated to administer the distribution of friar lands under Act 1120 in 1930. It is the first land reform program in the country as vast tract of the most productive agricultural lands were purchased by the Insular Government from religious orders and agricultural corporations and sold to actual occupants and settlers.
Introduction of Cadastral Survey
In order to expedite public land distribution, then Director of Lands Chas H. Sleeper introduced cadastral surveying, a public land survey that covers an extensive area, usually an entire municipality, subdividing the same into parcels for purposes of public land distribution. The first cadastral survey project (Cadastral Project No. 1) was conducted in Pilar, Bataan in November 1908. In 1913, Act No. 2259, otherwise known as the Cadastral Act, was implemented providing for a procedure of judicial adjudication of public lands. Under his leadership, he established the first Survey School in Manila High School (MHS) sometime in 1908 to train Filipino surveyors. It was later transferred to the Philippine School of Trade and Arts (PSTA). The first Filipino to head the bureau was the former revolutionary general, Gen. Manuel Tinio which held office from 1913 - 1914.
Amendment of Act 926
Finding the potential impact of the disposition activity for the people and for the economy as a whole, Director Rafael Corpus chartered the revision of Act 926 to increase patent distribution. The Second Public Land Act (Act 2874) was thus enacted on 1919 in order to hasten the disposition of public agricultural lands to the Filipinos by introducing the system of land classification and increasing the homestead area from sixteen (16) hectares to twenty four (24) hectares.
Under the leadership of Director Jose B. Vargas, the Survey School of the Bureau was transferred to the University of the Philippines (UP), College of Engineering in 1925. It was also during this time that the Bureau of Lands was divided into nine (9) inspection district and thirty two (32) district land offices in order to decentralize land surveying and processing of land patent application to the provinces. However, the appointment of district land officers were done by designation only among surveyors, public land inspectors, land attorneys, and clerks.
Enactment of Commonwealth Act No. 141
It is only in 1939, during the incumbency of Director Jose P. Dans, the position of District Land Offices (DLOs) was formally created under Executive Order No. 246, DLOs were authorized for the first time to render decisions on important matters. During the advent of the Commonwealth Government, Commonwealth Act No. 141, the Public Land Act of 1936 was enacted which up to now is still the governing law on our public lands.
Before the start of the war, the bureau was able to issue a total of 93,694 patents and had conducted a total of 289 cadastral surveys by the Bureau, the last being Cad – 289 in Manay, Davao Oriental for judicial titling.
Post war efforts to fast track land distribution
In 1953, the Bureau of Lands entered the era of modernization under the leadership of Director Zoilo Castrillo, with the introduction of IBM and Remington Rand, produced computing machines capable of handling bulk computations. The bureau became the most advanced government agency in the Philippines in terms of electronic computing. This effort was made in order to respond to the need to speed up the distribution of public agricultural lands in the rural area due to the agrarian unrest in the countryside and to reconstruct records damaged from the war. From 1950 to 1960, 1.4 million hectares of agricultural lands were distributed by the bureau which double that of the 1930-1940 period.
Devolution of functions
In 1972, Republic Act No. 6516 was enacted authorizing the district land officers in every province to sign patents not exceeding five (5) hectares thereby fully devolving the functions to the district offices. Because of the devolution, more than two (2) million hectares of agricultural land was distributed by the Bureau of Lands from 1970 to 1980 under the leadership of then Director Ramon Casanova.
Reorganization of the DENR
Executive Order No. 192 organized the Department of Environment of Natural Resources (DENR) in June 1987. The new organizational set - up integrated the Bureau of Lands District Land Offices to the field offices of the DENR and transformed the Bureau’s Central Office to the Land Management Bureau under this set-up LMB became a staff bureau. The re-organized Bureau spearheaded the distribution of public agricultural lands through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the government distributing 1.32 million hectares to the rural community.
For more than a century, the Bureau is in the forefront of the effort of the government to promote social equity by distributing public agricultural lands to the rural masses. From 1901 to 2006, the then Bureau of Lands and the present Land Management Bureau and the Land Management Sector of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is true to its mandate of serving the Filipino people by alleviating poverty and promoting social equality through public land distribution.