Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jurisdiction; agrarian cases.

G.R. No. 152086


FEDERICO SORIANO, et. al. vs. ANA SHARI B. BRAVO, et. al., G.R. No. 152086, December 15, 2010


D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:





x x x.

THE JURISDICTION ISSUE




Section 50 of the CARL bestows upon the DAR quasi-judicial powers:



SEC. 50. Quasi-Judicial Powers of the DAR. – The DAR is hereby vested with primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, except those falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).





In Sta. Rosa Realty Development Corporation v. Amante,[20] the Court pointed out that the jurisdiction of the DAR under the aforequoted provision is two-fold. The first is essentially executive and pertains to the enforcement and administration of the laws, carrying them into practical operation and enforcing their due observance, while the second is judicial and involves the determination of rights and obligations of the parties.



Jurisdiction over agrarian disputes lies with the DARAB. Section 3(d) of the CARL defines an agrarian dispute as follows:



(d) Agrarian dispute refers to any controversy relating to tenurial arrangements, whether leasehold, tenancy, stewardship or otherwise, over lands devoted to agriculture, including disputes concerning farmworkers associations or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangements.



It includes any controversy relating to compensation of lands acquired under this Act and other terms and conditions of transfer of ownership from landowners to farmworkers, tenants and other agrarian reform beneficiaries, whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of farm operator and beneficiary, landowner and tenant, or lessor and lessee. (Emphasis supplied.)





At the time the present controversy arose, the conduct of proceedings before the Board and its adjudicators were governed by the DARAB New Rules of Procedures, which were adopted and promulgated on May 30, 1994, and came into effect on June 21, 1994 after publication (1994 DARAB Rules).[21] The 1994 DARAB Rules identified the cases over which the DARAB shall have jurisdiction, viz:



RULE II
JURISDICTION OF THE ADJUDICATION BOARD



SECTION 1. Primary and Exclusive Original and Appellate Jurisdiction. – The Board shall have primary and exclusive jurisdiction, both original and appellate, to determine and adjudicate all agrarian disputes involving the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) under Republic Act No. 6657, Executive Order Nos. 228, and 129-A, Republic Act No. 3844 as amended by Republic Act No. 6389, Presidential Decree No. 27 and other agrarian laws and their implementing rules and regulations. Specifically, such jurisdiction shall include but not be limited to cases involving the following:



a) The rights and obligations of persons, whether natural or juridical, engaged in the management, cultivation and use of all agricultural lands covered by the CARP and other agrarian laws;



b) The valuation of land, and the preliminary determination and payment of just compensation, fixing and collection of lease rentals, disturbance compensation, amortization payments, and similar disputes concerning the functions of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP);



c) The annulment or cancellation of lease contracts or deeds of sale or their amendments involving lands under the administration and disposition of the DAR or LBP;



d) Those case arising from, or connected with membership or representation in compact farms, farmers’ cooperatives and other registered farmers’ associations or organizations, related to lands covered by the CARP and other agrarian laws;



e) Those involving the sale, alienation, mortgage, foreclosure, pre-emption and redemption of agricultural lands under the coverage of the CARP or other agrarian laws;



f) Those involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and Emancipation Patents (EPs) which are registered with the Land Registration Authority;



g) Those cases previously falling under the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the defunct Court of Agrarian Relations under Section 12 of Presidential No. 946, except sub-paragraph (Q) thereof and Presidential Decree No. 815.



It is understood that the aforementioned cases, complaints or petitions were filed with the DARAB after August 29, 1987.



Matters involving strictly the administrative implementation of Republic Act No. 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARP) of 1988 and other agrarian laws as enunciated by pertinent rules shall be the exclusive prerogative of and cognizable by the Secretary of the DAR.



h) And such other agrarian cases, disputes, matters or concerns referred to it by the Secretary of the DAR. (Emphasis supplied.)



SECTION 2. Jurisdiction of the Regional and Provincial Adjudicator. – The RARAD and the PARAD shall have concurrent original jurisdiction with the Board to hear, determine and adjudicate all agrarian cases and disputes, and incidents in connection therewith, arising within their assigned territorial jurisdiction.





On the other hand, cases involving agrarian law implementation fall within the jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary. DAR Administrative Order No. 6, series of 2000, otherwise known as the Rules of Procedure for Agrarian Law Implementation (ALI) Cases, were promulgated only on August 30, 2000, and became effective on September 15, 2000 after publication (2000 Rules for ALI Cases).[22] Rule I, Section 2 of said Rules delineates the jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary, thus:



SEC. 2. Cases Covered – These Rules shall govern cases falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary which shall include the following:



(a) Classification and identification of landholdings for coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), including protests or oppositions thereto and petitions for lifting of coverage;



(b) Identification, qualification or disqualification of potential farmer-beneficiaries;



(c) Subdivision surveys of lands under CARP;



(d) Issuance, recall or cancellation of Certificates of Land Transfer (CLTs) and CARP Beneficiary Certificates (CBCs) in cases outside the purview of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 816, including the issuance, recall or cancellation of Emancipation Patents (EPs) or Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) not yet registered with the Register of Deeds;



(e) Exercise of the right of retention by landowner;



(f) Application for exemption under Section 10 of RA 6657 as implemented by DAR Administrative Order No. 13 (1990);



(g) Application for exemption pursuant to Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion No. 44 (1990) as implemented by DAR Administrative Order No. 6 (1994);



(h) Application for exemption under DAR Administrative Order No. 9 (1993);



(i) Application for exemption under Section 1 of RA 7881, as implemented by DAR Administrative Order No. 3 (1995);



(j) Issuance of certificate of exemption for lands subject of Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) and Compulsory Acquisition (CA) found unsuitable for agricultural purposes pursuant to DAR Memorandum Circular No. 34 (1997);



(k) Application for conversion of agricultural lands to residential, commercial, industrial or other non-agricultural uses including protests or oppositions thereto;



(l) Right of agrarian reform beneficiaries to homelots;



(m) Disposition of excess area of the farmer-beneficiary’s landholdings;



(n) Transfer, surrender or abandonment by the farmer-beneficiary of his farmholding and its disposition;



(o) Increase of awarded area by the farmer-beneficiary;



(p) Conflict of claims in landed estates and settlements; and



(q) Such other matters not mentioned above but strictly involving the administrative implementation of RA 6657 and other agrarian laws, rules and regulations as determined by the Secretary.





Rule I, Section 3 of the 2000 Rules for ALI Cases explicitly excludes from the application thereof cases that fall within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the DARAB.



In determining whether the DARAB or the DAR Secretary had jurisdiction over the subject matter of DARAB Case Nos. 01-689 to 710-WP-’95, the Court adverts to the following rules on jurisdiction which it had established in Heirs of Julian dela Cruz and Leonora Talaro v. Heirs of Alberto Cruz[23]:



It is axiomatic that the jurisdiction of a tribunal, including a quasi-judicial officer or government agency, over the nature and subject matter of a petition or complaint is determined by the material allegations therein and the character of the relief prayed for, irrespective of whether the petitioner or complainant is entitled to any or all such reliefs. Jurisdiction over the nature and subject matter of an action is conferred by the Constitution and the law, and not by the consent or waiver of the parties where the court otherwise would have no jurisdiction over the nature or subject matter of the action. Nor can it be acquired through, or waived by, any act or omission of the parties. Moreover, estoppel does not apply to confer jurisdiction to a tribunal that has none over the cause of action. The failure of the parties to challenge the jurisdiction of the DARAB does not prevent the court from addressing the issue, especially where the DARAB’s lack of jurisdiction is apparent on the face of the complaint or petition.



Indeed, the jurisdiction of the court or tribunal is not affected by the defenses or theories set up by the defendant or respondent in his answer or motion to dismiss. Jurisdiction should be determined by considering not only the status or the relationship of the parties but also the nature of the issues or questions that is the subject of the controversy. If the issues between the parties are intertwined with the resolution of an issue within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DARAB, such dispute must be addressed and resolved by the DARAB. The proceedings before a court or tribunal without jurisdiction, including its decision, are null and void, hence, susceptible to direct and collateral attacks.[24]





Guided accordingly by the foregoing jurisprudence, the Court turns to respondents’ Complaint before the DARAB, wherein they alleged:



2. That the [herein respondents] are the owners of less than five (5) hectares each of the 26 hectares of land located at barangays Tomling and Nalsian, Malasiqui, Pangasinan, x x x.



3. That of the aforesaid 26 hectares of land, only about 6 hectares are tenanted by seven agricultural [lessees] namely defendants Gervacio Sergote, Anacleto Torralba, Saturnino Idos, Faustino Bravo, Mariano Bravo, Teofilo Tantay, Idelfonso Tantay and Pelagio Tantay;



4. That 20 hectares portion of the said 26 hectares is not tenanted and although it is planted to 456 mango trees, the areas in between the rows of mango trees have never been cultivated and planted to any crop;



x x x x



6. That the [respondents] have decided to relocate the St. Martin’s Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and to construct a BRAVO AGRO-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX in the untenanted portions of the land in question x x x;



7. That in accordance with the relocation and development plans of the St. Martin’s Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and the construction of the BRAVO AGRO-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, [respondents] and the defendants Teofilo Tantay, Celestino Manipon, Romeo Tantay, Gabriel dela Vega, Mariano Bravo, Cristina Torralba, Mauricio Rubio, Salvador Bautista, Faustino Bravo, Federico Soriano, Josefina Gutierrez, and Saturnino Idos executed their “Compromise Agreement” dated November 3, 1992 which provides for the relocation and transfer of their houses to a homelot of 240 square meters each within the land in question for them and their family to conveniently enjoy the benefits to be provided by the complex;



8. That the relocation of said defendants’ houses will not affect in any manner the security of tenure of the tenants on the riceland portion of the land in question;



9. That in 1993, the [respondents], relying on the compromise agreement they have with the defendants, started the implementation of their aforestated projects by strategically placing the “BRAVO AGRO-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX” sign board in the land in question and started making the needed concrete hollow blocks;



x x x x



11. Specific Performance. That the defendants in violation of their compromise agreement and on the instigation of a cult leader refused to comply with their compromise agreement;



12. That instead of transferring and relocating their respective houses, the said defendants illegally demanded of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer of Malasiqui, Pangasinan, for the compulsory coverage of the land in question under the OLT program of the government under Pres. Decree No. 27 and Rep. Act. 6657 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988;



13. That because the land in question is not coverable under the OLT provisions of P.D. No. 27 and R.A. No. 6657 as the sellers from whom the [respondents] acquired the lands in question did not have five (5) hectares each and the latter likewise did not have five (5) hectares each, the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer of Malasiqui, Pangasinan did not place the lands in question under the coverage of the OLT program under P.D. No. 27 nor under R.A. No. 6657;



x x x x



16. COLLECTION OF UNPAID RENTALS. That since the year 1992, the defendants have deliberately refused and still refuse to pay the lease rentals of their respective tillage on the riceland portions of the land in question;



x x x x



29. That the defendants, in their illegal desire to convert the untenanted portions of the land in question as parts of their tillage, have unlawfully started plowing the untenanted surrounding areas and the areas in between the rows of mango fruit bearing trees in the mango orchard portion of the land in question.[25]





In sum, the material allegations in respondents’ Complaint are: (1) that several of the defendants are the agricultural tenants/lessees of respondents’ rice lands; (2) that the defendants entered into a Compromise Agreement with respondents in which the former agreed to give up portions of the subject properties they were tilling in exchange for home lots also located on the subject properties; (3) that the Compromise Agreement shall not affect defendants’ security of tenure; (4) that instigated by a cult leader, defendants refused to comply with the Compromise Agreement and, instead, demanded from the MARO that the subject properties be compulsorily placed under the land transfer program of the Government; (5) that the defendants have also refused to pay rent for the portion of the rice lands they were tilling; and (6) that the defendants have also begun cultivating portions of the subject properties which are untenanted and planted with mango trees. Based on these allegations, respondents sought the following reliefs:



WHEREFORE, it is most respectfully prayed that an injunction order be issued against the defendants restraining them from performing farmworks on the non riceland portion of the land in question and restraining them from harvesting mango fruits from the mango trees in the mango orchard portion of the land in question and after due hearing judgment issue:



1. Ejecting the defendants from the land in question;



2. Ordering the defendants jointly and solidarily liable to [herein respondents’] attorneys to be proved hereinafter and pay [respondents] P500,000.00 moral damages and P500,00.00 Exemplary damages and P500,000.00 actual damages.



3. Ordering the defendants to pay the deliberately unpaid rentals of the lands in question since 1992 up to the present.



4. Making permanent the injunction order against the defendants;



5. Granting such other reliefs and remedies just and equitable in favor of the [respondents] under the premises.[26]





The material allegations and reliefs sought in respondents’ Complaint essentially established a case involving the rights and obligations of respondents and defendants as landlords and agricultural tenants/lessees, respectively, taking into account their Compromise Agreement; as well as the fixing and collection of lease rentals. The DARAB properly took cognizance of the case as it constituted agrarian disputes, well-within the jurisdiction of the DARAB under Rule II, Section 1, paragraphs (a) and (b) of the 1994 DARAB Rules.



Moreover, even when respondents alleged in their Complaint that the subject properties are not subject to the OLT program under the Tenants Emancipation Decree and the CARL because each of the respondents does not own more than five hectares, said allegation was not fundamental in establishing respondents’ causes of action against defendants. In fact, it was defendants who explicitly raised and discussed in their Position Paper before the DARAB the issue of whether the subject properties are covered by the Tenants Emancipation Decree and the CARL.[27] As part of their defense, defendants claimed that all of the subject properties, with a total area of 26 hectares,[28] are actually owned by respondent Ernesto S. Bravo alone, and are tenanted and planted with rice, corn, bananas, and root crops. They argued that under the Tenants Emancipation Decree, tenanted rice and corn lands in excess of the seven hectares a landowner is allowed to retain shall be awarded to the tenant-farmers.



It bears to reiterate that jurisdiction over the nature of the action cannot be made to depend upon the defenses set up in the court or upon a motion to dismiss for, otherwise, the question of jurisdiction would depend almost entirely on the defendant. Once jurisdiction is vested, the same is retained up to the end of the litigation.[29] Therefore, the DARAB was only exercising the jurisdiction vested upon it over DARAB Case Nos. 01-689 to 710-WP-’95 when it directly addressed the issue raised by defendants themselves, and adjudged that the subject properties are not subject to the OLT program under the Tenants Emancipation Decree and the CARL since respondents each owned an area well-within the retention limits allowed landowners by said agrarian laws.



Incidentally, the DARAB also took into consideration and only stayed consistent with an earlier finding by the MARO that the subject properties are not within the coverage of the OLT program of the Government. And while it is true that the MARO’s ruling may still be appealed to higher DAR officials, petitioners failed to present any proof that such appeal had indeed been taken or that the said ruling had already been reversed.



II

THE TENANCY ISSUE



A reading of the decisions of the PARAD, the DARAB, and the Court of Appeals easily belies petitioners’ contention that the tenancy issue was not appreciated. Based on the pleadings and evidence submitted by the parties, the PARAD found, and the DARAB and the Court of Appeals affirmed, that (1) merely six hectares of the subject properties are planted with rice, while the rest are planted with mango trees; (2) just the six hectares of rice lands are tenanted; (3) only the defendants Saturnino Idos, Teofilo Tantay, Faustino Bravo, Mariano Bravo, Idelfonso Tantay, Pelagio Tantay and Cristina Toralba, are the agricultural lessees of the rice lands; (4) the other defendants are ARBA members and agricultural lessees/tenants of lands not part of the subject properties; and (5) the recognized agricultural lessees of the rice lands have validly waived their rights to their respective landholdings by voluntarily executing the Compromise Agreement with respondent Ernesto S. Bravo.



As the Court had so often stressed, findings of the DARAB are entitled to great weight, nay, finality, considering that the findings of the Boards are unquestionably factual issues that have been discussed and ruled upon by them and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The Court cannot depart from such findings. Findings of fact of administrative agencies and quasi-judicial bodies, which have acquired expertise because their jurisdiction is confined to specific matters, are generally accorded not only respect, but finality when affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Such findings deserve full respect and, without justifiable reason, ought not to be altered, modified, or reversed.[30]



x x x.

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