Generally, only Filipino citizens are qualified to own alienable public and private lands in the Philippines. By virtue of the provisions of the Philippine Constitution of 1987, particularly Section 2, Article XII, acquisition of alienable public lands in the Philippines is limited only to Filipino citizens. Likewise, Section 7 of the same Article provides that, except in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals who are qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.
However, former natural-born Filipino citizens may acquire private lands in the Philippines, subject to the restrictions as may be provided by law. This is particularly embedded in Section 8, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, as follows:
"Section 8. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 7 of this Article, a natural-born citizen of the Philippines who has lost his Philippine citizenship may be a transferee of private lands, subject to limitations provided by law."
For purposes of understanding the above provision, we need to identify who are natural-born Filipino Citizens. Under the 1987 Constitution, natural-born Filipino citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship. These are the persons who, even if they had lost their Filipino citizenship, may still acquire private lands subject to the restrictions provided by law.
The law being referred to by the above provision of the Constitution is Batas Pambansa Bilang 185, which was superseded by Republic Act 7042 as amended by RA 8179 or the Foreign Investment Act of 1991. Before, under BP 185, a former natural born Filipino citizen may acquire private lands in the Philippines with a maximum area of 1,000 square meters in case of urban land or 1 hectare in case of rural land. RA 8179 increased these maximum areas for land ownership, as provided for in Section 10, as follows:
"SEC. 10. Other Rights of Natural Born Citizen Pursuant to the Provisions of Article XII, Section 8 of the Constitution. — Any natural born citizen who has lost his Philippine citizenship and who has the legal capacity to enter into a contract under Philippine laws may be a transferee of a private land up to a maximum area of five thousand (5,000) square meters in the case of urban land or three (3) hectares in the case of rural land to be used by him for business or other purposes. In the case of married couples, one of them may avail of the privilege herein granted: Provided, that if both shall avail of the same, the total area acquired shall not exceed the maximum herein fixed.
"In case the transferee already owns urban or rural land for business or other purposes, he shall still be entitled to be a transferee of additional urban or rural land for business or other purposes which when added to those already owned by him shall not exceed the maximum areas herein authorized.
"A transferee under this Act may acquire not more than two (2) lots which should be situated in different municipalities or cities anywhere in the Philippines: Provided, That the total land area thereof shall not exceed five thousand (5,000) square meters in the case of urban land or three (3) hectares in the case of rural land for use by him for business or other purposes. A transferee who has already acquired urban land shall be disqualified from acquiring rural land and vice versa."