PROVINCE OF ANTIQUE AND MUNICIPALITY OF CALUYA, PETITIONERS, VS. HON. RECTO A. CALABOCAL, JUDGE-DESIGNATE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 43, ROXAS, ORIENTAL MINDORO, PROVINCE OF ORIENTAL MINDORO, AND MUNICIPALITY OF BULALACAO, RESPONDENTS. G.R. No. 209146, June 08, 2016.
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A boundary dispute involving different local government units is defined in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR)1 of the Local Government Code.2 Specifically, Rule III, Article 15 states:
Settlement of Boundary Disputes
ARTICLE 15. Definition and Policy. — There is a boundary dispute when a portion or the whole of the territorial area of an LGU is claimed by two or more LGUs. Boundary disputes between or among LGUs shall, as much as possible, be settled amicably. (Emphasis supplied)
Based on this definition, a boundary dispute may involve “a portion or the whole” of a local government unit’s territorial area. Nothing in this provision excludes a dispute over an island. So long as the island is being claimed by different local government units, there exists a boundary dispute.
The allegations in the complaint filed before the RTC point to a boundary dispute, as defined under the Local Government Code.
Respondents are asserting their lawful jurisdiction over Liwagao Island as against another local government unit that currently has jurisdiction over the same. Therefore, whether the case is denominated as recovery of possession or claim of ownership, respondents’ objective is the same: for respondents to regain their alleged territorial jurisdiction over Liwagao Island.
Respondent Province of Oriental Mindoro itself acknowledges that the conflict is a “boundary row” between itself and the Province of Antique.3 As stated in Resolution No. 1454-2012, the Province of Oriental Mindoro claims to “adhere to the basic principle of amicably settling said boundary dispute, as laid down in the provision of the Local Government Code of 1991[.]”4
Thus, they are bound by their own assertions and cannot now claim that the conflict does not involve a boundary dispute.
Settlement of Boundary Disputes
Governed By Local Government Code of 1991
Having established that the case involves a boundary dispute, the procedure to resolve the same is that established under the Local Government Code. Under the said law, “the respective legislative councils of the contending local government units have jurisdiction over their boundary disputes.5“ Sections 118 and 119 of the Local Government Code state:
SECTION 118. Jurisdictional Responsibility for Settlement of Boundary
Dispute. – Boundary disputes between and among local government units shall, as much as possible, be settled amicably. To this end:
(a) Boundary disputes involving two (2) or more Barangays in the same city or municipality shall be referred for settlement to the Sangguniang Panlungsod or Sangguniang Bayan concerned.
(b) Boundary disputes involving two (2) or more municipalities within the same province shall be referred for settlement to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan concerned.
(c) Boundary disputes involving municipalities or component cities of different provinces shall be jointly referred for settlement to the Sanggunians of the provinces concerned.
(d) Boundary disputes involving a component city or municipality on the one hand and a highly urbanized city on the other, or two (2) or more highly urbanized cities, shall be jointly referred for settlement to the respective Sanggunians of the parties.
(e) In the event the Sanggunian fails to effect an amicable settlement within sixty (60) days from the date the dispute was referred thereto, it shall issue a certification to that effect.
Thereafter, the dispute shall be formally tried by the Sanggunian concerned which shall decide the issue within sixty (60) days from the date of the certification referred to above.
SECTION 119. Appeal. – Within the time and manner prescribed by the Rules of Court, any party may elevate the decision of the Sanggunian concerned to the proper Regional Trial Court having jurisdiction over the area in dispute. The Regional Trial Court shall decide the appeal within one (1) year from the filing thereof. Pending final resolution of the disputed area prior to the dispute shall be maintained and continued for all legal purposes. (Emphasis supplied)
The specific procedure in settling boundary disputes is outlined in Rule III of the IRR of the Local Government Code:
Settlement of Boundary Disputes
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ARTICLE 17. Procedures for Settling Boundary Disputes. — The following procedures shall govern the settlement of boundary disputes:
(a) Filing of petition — The sanggunian concerned may initiate action by filing a petition, in the form of a resolution, with the sanggunian having jurisdiction over the dispute.
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(g) Failure to settle — In the event the sanggunian fails to amicably settle the dispute within sixty (60) days from the date such dispute was referred thereto, it shall issue a certification to that effect and copies thereof shall be furnished the parties concerned.
(h) Decision — Within sixty (60) days from the date the certification was issued, the dispute shall be formally tried and decided by the sanggunian concerned. Copies of the decision shall, within fifteen (15) days from the promulgation thereof, be furnished the parties concerned, DILG, local assessor, COMELEC, NSO, and other NGAs concerned.
(i) Appeal — Within the time and manner prescribed by the Rules of Court, any party may elevate the decision of the sanggunian concerned to the proper Regional Trial Court having jurisdiction over the dispute by filing therewith the appropriate pleading, stating among others, the nature of the dispute, the decision of the sanggunian concerned and the reasons for appealing therefrom. The Regional Trial Court shall decide the case within one (1) year from the filing thereof. Decisions on boundary disputes promulgated jointly by two (2) or more sangguniang panlalawigans shall be heard by the Regional Trial Court of the province which first took cognizance of the dispute.
As the Court has previously ruled, it is “only upon the failure of these intermediary steps will resort to the RTC follow, as specifically provided in Section 119 of the [Local Government Code.]”6
The RTC has Jurisdiction Over the Case
Respondents’ resort to filing a case before the RTC was warranted under the circumstances of this case.
It must be emphasized that respondents followed the procedure laid down in the Local Government Code. They took all the necessary steps to settle the dispute within the procedure set out in the law, and by all indication, was prepared to see the matter thru in order to lay the issue to rest.
However, petitioners failed to perform their concomitant responsibility under the same law, leaving respondents with no other recourse but to bring the matter to court. Petitioners cannot demand that respondents now follow the procedure when they themselves have made it impossible for any party to follow the same. The Province of Antique’s Resolution No. 142-2012 dated 25 May 2012, stating that the Province of Antique was not amenable to any form of settlement, effectively blocked any way to continue following the steps in the IRR.
As such, respondents’ petition before the RTC must be upheld. Otherwise, they will be left without any recourse or legal remedy to assert their claim over Liwagao Island. Such uncertainty is unacceptable, as the fate of the island’s residents rests in the immediate resolution of the dispute.
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