Expropriation for agrarian reform requires the payment of just compensation
The LBP claims that the just compensation in this case should be determined within the context of the article on social justice found in the 1987 Constitution. In the LBP’s opinion, when we awarded the petitioners 12% interest by way of potential income, we removed from the taking of agricultural properties for agrarian reform its main public purpose of righting the wrong inflicted on landless farmers.
By this argument, the LBP effectively attempts to make a distinction between the just compensation given to landowners whose properties are taken for the government’s agrarian reform program and properties taken for other public purposes. This perceived distinction, however, is misplaced and is more apparent than real.
The constitutional basis for our agrarian reform program is Section 4, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution, which mandates:
Section 4. The State shall, by law, undertake an agrarian reform program founded on the right of farmers and regular farm workers, who are landless, to own directly or collectively the lands they till or, in the case of other farm workers, to receive a just share of the fruits thereof. To this end, the State shall encourage and undertake the just distribution of all agricultural lands, subject to such priorities and reasonable retention limits as the Congress may prescribe, taking into account ecological, developmental, or equity considerations, and subject to the payment of just compensation.
This provision expressly provides that the taking of land for use in the government’s agrarian reform program is conditioned on the payment of just compensation. Nothing in the wording of this provision even remotely suggests that the just compensation required from the taking of land for the agrarian reform program should be treated any differently from the just compensation required in any other case of expropriation. As explained by Commissioner Roberto R. Concepcion during the deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission:
[T]he term “just compensation” is used in several parts of the Constitution, and, therefore, it must have a uniform meaning. It cannot have in one part a meaning different from that which appears in the other portion. If, after all, the party whose property is taken will receive the real value of the property on just compensation, that is good enough.
In fact, while a proposal was made during the deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission to give a lower market price per square meter for larger tracts of land, the Commission never intended to give agricultural landowners less than just compensation in the expropriation of property for agrarian reform purposes.
To our mind, nothing is inherently contradictory in the public purpose of land reform and the right of landowners to receive just compensation for the expropriation by the State of their properties. That the petitioners are corporations that used to own large tracts of land should not be taken against them. As Mr. Justice Isagani Cruz eloquently put it:
[S]ocial justice – or any justice for that matter – is for the deserving, whether he be a millionaire in his mansion or a pauper in his hovel. It is true that, in case of reasonable doubt, we are called upon to tilt the balance in favor of the poor, to whom the Constitution fittingly extends its sympathy and compassion. But never is it justified to prefer the poor simply because they are poor, or to reject the rich simply because they are rich, for justice must always be served, for poor and rich alike, according to the mandate of the law.