Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Remand; where Court may decide mereits; power of LGU to reclassify land -(zoning) = G.R. No. 169913

G.R. No. 169913

"x x x.

Indeed, it is the Office of the DAR Secretary which is vested with the primary and exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of the agrarian reform program.[43] However, this will not prevent the Court from assuming jurisdiction over the petition considering that the issues raised in it may already be resolved on the basis of the records before Us. Besides, to allow the matter to remain with the Office of the DAR Secretary would only cause unnecessary delay and undue hardship on the parties. Applicable, by analogy, is Our ruling in the recent Bagong Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa ng Triumph International v. Department of Labor and Employment Secretary,[44] where We held:

But as the CA did, we similarly recognize that undue hardship, to the point of injustice, would result if a remand would be ordered under a situation where we are in the position to resolve the case based on the records before us. As we said in Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila v. Court of Appeals:

[w]e have laid down the rule that the remand of the case to the lower court for further reception of evidence is not necessary where the Court is in a position to resolve the dispute based on the records before it. On many occasions, the Court, in the public interest and for the expeditious administration of justice, has resolved actions on the merits instead of remanding them to the trial court for further proceedings, such as where the ends of justice, would not be subserved by the remand of the case.

Thus, we shall directly rule on the dismissal issue. And while we rule that the CA could not validly rule on the merits of this issue, we shall not hesitate to refer back to its dismissal ruling, where appropriate. (Citations omitted; emphasis supplied.)

Pertinently, after an assiduous study of the records of the case, We agree with petitioners that the subject property, particularly Lot No. 1407, is outside the coverage of the agrarian reform program in view of the enactment by the City of Iligan of its local zoning ordinance, City Ordinance No. 1313.

It is undeniable that the local government has the power to reclassify agricultural into non-agricultural lands. In Pasong Bayabas Farmers Association, Inc. v. CA,[45] this Court held that pursuant to Sec. 3 of Republic Act No. (RA) 2264, amending the Local Government Code, municipal and/or city councils are empowered to “adopt zoning and subdivision ordinances or regulations in consultation with the National Planning Commission.” It was also emphasized therein that “[t]he power of the local government to convert or reclassify lands [from agricultural to non-agricultural lands prior to the passage of RA 6657] is not subject to the approval of the [DAR].”[46]

Likewise, it is not controverted that City Ordinance No. 1313, which was enacted by the City of Iligan in 1975, reclassified the subject property into a commercial/residential area. DARAB, however, believes that the approval of HLURB is necessary in order for the reclassification to be valid.

We differ. As previously mentioned, City Ordinance No. 1313 was enacted by the City of Iligan in 1975. Significantly, there was still no HLURB to speak of during that time. It was the Task Force on Human Settlements, the earliest predecessor of HLURB, which was already in existence at that time, having been created on September 19, 1973 pursuant to Executive Order No. 419. It should be noted, however, that the Task Force was not empowered to review and approve zoning ordinances and regulations. As a matter of fact, it was only on August 9, 1978, with the issuance of Letter of Instructions No. 729, that local governments were required to submit their existing land use plans, zoning ordinances, enforcement systems and procedures to the Ministry of Human Settlements for review and ratification. The Human Settlements Regulatory Commission (HSRC) was the regulatory arm of the Ministry of Human Settlements.[47]

Significantly, accompanying the Certification[48] dated October 8, 1999 issued by Gil R. Balondo, Deputy Zoning Administrator of the City Planning and Development Office, Iligan City, and the letter[49] dated October 8, 1999 issued by Ayunan B. Rajah, Regional Officer of the HLURB, is the Certificate of Approval issued by Imelda Romualdez Marcos, then Minister of Human Settlements and Chairperson of the HSRC, showing that the local zoning ordinance was, indeed, approved on September 21, 1978. This leads to no other conclusion than that City Ordinance No. 1313 enacted by the City of Iligan was approved by the HSRC, the predecessor of HLURB. The validity of said local zoning ordinance is, therefore, beyond question.

Since the subject property had been reclassified as residential/commercial land with the enactment of City Ordinance No. 1313 in 1975, it can no longer be considered as an “agricultural land” within the ambit of RA 6657. As this Court held in Buklod nang Magbubukid sa Lupaing Ramos, Inc. v. E.M. Ramos and Sons, Inc.,[50] “To be exempt from CARP, all that is needed is one valid reclassification of the land from agricultural to non-agricultural by a duly authorized government agency before June 15, 1988, when the CARL took effect.”

x x x."