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Historical Background of Land Ownership in the Philippines

1. Pre-Spanish Concept of Land Ownership

In the Pre-Hispanic Era of the Philippines, there exists no concept of land


ownership. People were nomads roaming from place to place. The land was not
considered as property owned by any person but is a sacred creation of God,
because, during this Era, people exercise Animism, they perceive that their god
and goddesses are present in any plant or tree or any object which are within
their surroundings, hence, such god and goddess owns such a thing and is not to
be disturbed. In short in the Pre-Hispanic Philippines, not only was land not
considered private property, it was not considered property at all, either private or
public. Rather, the land was conceived of as a natural resource, like a forest full
of wild game and fruit, or a river full of fish and gold dust.1

Under this there are different land patterns which present the early
concept of land ownership in the Philippines. One of which is the “Shifting
Cultivation” an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated
temporarily, then abandoned and allowed to revert to their natural vegetation
while the cultivator moves on to another plot. In this land pattern, the one who
farms or cultivates the soil is the owner of such land. This is further described by
Father Francisco Alcina in 1668 as follows:

“Regarding Farming or cultivating it, the one who farms or cultivates it is


owner, and even more so if he planted coconuts or fruit trees, which are always
his, without there ever having been disputes or lawsuits among them over it until
now.”2

Then there came the concept of “Sedentism” which is a term applied to the
transition from a nomadic lifestyle to a society which remains in one place
permanently; essentially, sedentism means living in groups permanently in one
place. Hence, the concept of “Barangay” came into existence.

a. The Barangay

When the Pre-Hispanic Filipino’s started to settle into communities called


Barangay under which a group of people are under the leadership of a single
person called a “Datu.” Under the Barangay system, the Datu’s comprised the
1
Scott, W. (1994). PREHISPANIC FILIPINO CONCEPTS OF LAND RIGHTS. Philippine Quarterly of
Culture and Society, 22(3), 165-173. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29792156
2
Alcina, F. (1668) HISTORIA DE LAS ISLAS E INDIOS DE BISAYAS. University of Chicago,
Philippine Studies Program.
http://www.dar.gov.ph/about-us/agrarian-reform-history/
3
Vargas, A. (2003). THE PHILIPPINES COUNTRY BRIEF: PROPERTY RIGHTS AND LAND
MARKETS. Land Tenure Center
nobility, and then different classes of social structure came such as the
Maharlikas, followed by the two (2) classes of “alipin” called namamahay and
saguiguilid. However, despite the existence of such social structure, practically
everyone has access to the fruits of the soil.3

“In this system, land tenure arrangement was characterized by communal


ownership of land. Individual families have usufruct rights to a parcel of land. In
return families were required to perform various public services, often assisting
the datu in the tending of his field and home.”4

The concept of communal land ownership in the Barangay system before


the Spanish Conquest was evidenced by a writing by Father Juan de Plasencia
in 1589, he describes it as follows:

“The lands where they lived, they divided among the whole barangay, and
thus each one knew his own, especially what is irrigated, and nobody from
another barangay worked them unless he had bought or inherited them. In the
tingues [hills] they were not distributed, but only by barangays; and so, so long as
one was from that barangay, even if he came from another town when it was
time to harvest the rice, the one who first opened the land planted it, and no one
else could take it away from him” (Plasencia 1589:24).5

3
http://www.dar.gov.ph/about-us/agrarian-reform-history/
4
Vargas, A. (2003). THE PHILIPPINES COUNTRY BRIEF: PROPERTY RIGHTS AND LAND MARKETS. Land
Tenure Center
5
Plasencia, J. (1589). RELACION DE LAS COSTRUMBRES QUE LOS YNDIOS SOLIAN TENER EN ESTAS YSLAS.
Archivo General de Indias: Filipinas 18-B