Category: LATEST SUPREME COURT CASES


CASE 2011-0164: AYALA LAND, INC. AND CAPITOL CITIFARMS, INC.   VS. SIMEONA CASTILLO, LORENZO PERLAS, JESSIELYN CASTILLO, LUIS MAESA, ROLANDO BATIQUIN, AND BUKLURAN MAGSASAKA NG TIBIG, AS REPRESENTED BY THEIR ATTORNEY-IN-FACT,  SIMEONA CASTILLO (G.R. NO. 178110, 15 JUNE 2011, SERENO, J.) SUBJECTS: CONVERSION OF AGRICULTURAL LAND; ESTOPPEL; PUBLIC POLICY. (BRIEF TITLE: AYALA LAND VS. CASTILLO)

 

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SUBJECT/DOCTRINE/DIGEST:

 

 

A LAND WAS MORTGAGED TO A BANK. THE MORTGAGE WAS FORECLOSED. SINCE THE BANK WAS UNDER RECEIVERSHIP BY BSP, BSP ORDERED THE SALE OF THE LAND. ALI ULTIMATELY PURCHASED  THE LAND. IT WAS CONVERTED  FROM AGRICULTURAL TO NON-AGRICULTURAL. DAR FIRST DISAPPROVED OF THE CONVERSION. WHEN THE MATTER REACHED THE OP, THE LATTER APPROVED THE CONVERSION. EVEN THOUGH THEY RECEIVED DISTURBANCE COMPENSATION,  THE FARMERS APPEALED TO CA. CA RULED THAT CONVERSION WAS NOT PROPER BECAUSE OF A NOTICE OF ACQUISITION ALREADY ISSUED. BUT THAT NOTICE OF ACQUISITION WAS NOT OFFERED IN EVIDENCE. IT WAS NOT EVEN ATTACHED TO ANY PLEADING OF THE PARTIES. IT WAS NOT AN ISSUE RAISED IN DAR AND OP. THE FARMERS MERELY ASSERTED IT IN THEIR APPEAL.

 

 

WAS THE RULING OF THE CA CORRECT?

 

 

NO. ISSUES RAISED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON APPEAL AND NOT RAISED IN THE PROCEEDINGS IN THE LOWER COURT ARE BARRED BY ESTOPPEL.

It is well established that issues raised for the first time on appeal and not raised in the proceedings in the lower court are barred by estoppel. Points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court ought not to be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. To consider the alleged facts and arguments belatedly raised would amount to trampling on the basic principles of fair play, justice, and due process.[1][27] More important, if these matters had been raised earlier, they could have been seriously examined by the administrative agency concerned.[2][28]

. . . . . . . .

                       

          We cannot uphold respondents’ proposition for us to disregard basic rules, particularly the rule that new issues cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. Aside from their failure to raise the non-issuance of a notice of acquisition before the OP and DAR, they also failed to question the lack of approved town plan at the DAR level, prompting the OP to correctly rule on the latter, thus:

…Appellants’ lapses in not raising the issues before the DAR which has the expertise to resolve the same and in a position to conduct due hearings and reception of evidence from contending parties pertaining to the issue, puts the appellants in estoppel to question the same for the first time on appeal. Jurisprudence dictates the following:

The petitioner for the first time, to allow him to assume a different posture when he comes before the court and challenge the position he had accepted at the administrative level, would be to sanction a procedure whereby the court – which is supposed to review administrative determinations – would not review, but determine and decide for the first time, a question not raised at the administrative forum. This cannot be permitted, for the same reason that underlies the requirement of prior exhaustion of administrative remedies to give administrative authorities the prior authority to decide controversies within its competence, and in much the same way that, on the judicial level, issues not raised in the lower court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. (Aguinaldo Industries Corporation vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue & Court of Tax Appeals, 112 SCRA 136)[3][26]         

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CAN CA REVERSE DAR?

 

YES BUT WITH CAUTION BECAUSE COURTS WILL NOT INTERFERE IN MATTERS ADDRESSED TO THE SOUND DISCRETION OF THE GOVT AGENCY ENTRUSTED WITH THE REGULATION OF ACTIVITIES UNDER ITS TECHNICAL EXPERTISE.

          Courts will not interfere in matters which are addressed to the sound discretion of the government agency entrusted with the regulation of activities coming under its special and technical training and knowledge and the latter are given wide latitude in the evaluation of evidence and in the exercise of their adjudicative functions.[4][29] This Court has always given primary importance to the DAR Secretary’s ruling and will not disturb such ruling without substantial reason:

Considering that these issues involve an evaluation of the DAR’s findings of facts, this Court is constrained to accord respect to such findings. It is settled that factual findings of administrative agencies are generally accorded respect and even finality by this Court, if such findings are supported by substantial evidence.  The factual findings of the Secretary of DAR who, by reason of his official position, has acquired expertise in specific matters within his jurisdiction, deserve full respect and, without justifiable reason, ought not to be altered, modified or reversed.[5][30]

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UNDER ADMIN ORDER 12-94 APPLICATIONS FOR CONVERSION OF LANDS CANNOT BE ALLOWED IF DAR HAS ISSUED A NOTICE OF ACQUISITION. WAS THE APPROVAL OF THE CONVERSION ILLEGAL IF THERE WAS SUCH NOTICE OF ACQUISITION?

 

 

NO. BECAUSE THE AO 12-94 PROVISION IS ONLY A GUIDING PRINCIPLE. IT IS UNDER THE TOPIC POLICIES AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES.

          Assuming for a moment that the notice of acquisition exists, it is not an absolute, perpetual ban on conversion. The provision invoked in AO 12-94, paragraph E, disallows applications for conversion of lands for which the DAR has issued a notice of acquisition. But paragraph E falls under heading VI, “Policies and Guiding Principles.” By no stretch of the imagination can a mere “principle” be interpreted as an absolute proscription on conversion. Secretary Garilao thus acted within his authority in issuing the Conversion Order, precisely because the law grants him the sole power to make this policy judgment, despite the “guiding principle” regarding the notice of acquisition. The CA committed grave error by favoring a principle over the DAR’s own factual determination of the propriety of conversion. The CA agreed with the OP that land use conversion may be allowed when it is by reason of changes in the predominant use brought about by urban development, but the appellate court invalidated the OP Decision anyway for the following reason:

The argument is valid if the agricultural land is still not subjected to compulsory acquisition under CARP. But as we saw, there has already been a notice of coverage and notice of acquisition issued for the property...Verily, no less than the cited DAR Administrative Order No. 12 enjoins conversions of lands already under a notice of acquisition. The objectives and ends of economic progress must always be sought after within the framework of the law, not against it, or in spite of it.[6][31]

However, under the same heading VI, on Guiding Principles, is paragraph B (3), which reads:

If at the time of the application, the land still falls within the agricultural zone, conversion shall be allowed only on the following instances:

a)                  When the land has ceased to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes, as certified by the Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture (DA) or

b)                  When the locality has become highly urbanized and the land will have a greater economic value for residential, commercial and industrial purposes, as certified by the local government unit.

The thrust of this provision, which DAR Secretary Garilao rightly took into account in issuing the Conversion Order, is that even if the land has not yet been reclassified, if its use has changed towards the modernization of the community, conversion is still allowed.

As DAR Secretary, Garilao had full authority to balance the guiding principle in paragraph E against that in paragraph B (3) and to find for conversion. Note that the same guiding principle which includes the general proscription against conversion was scrapped from the new rules on conversion, DAR A.O. 1, Series of 2002, or the “Comprehensive Rules on Land Use Conversion.” It must be emphasized that the policy allowing conversion, on the other hand, was retained. This is a complex case in which there can be no simplistic or mechanical solution. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law is not intractable, nor does it condemn a piece of land to a single use forever. With the same conviction that the state promotes rural development,[7][32] it also “recognizes the indispensable role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and provides incentives to needed investments.”[8][33]

 

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BUT THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE REQUIRES AN ORDINANCE FOR A VALID RECLASSIFICATION. WAS THIS VIOLATED?

 

 

NO. CONVERSION IS DIFFERENT FROM RECLASSIFICATION.

 

Respondents herein muddle the issue in contending that a Sangguniang Bayan Resolution was not a sufficient compliance with the requirement of the Local Government Code that an ordinance must be enacted for a valid reclassification. Yet there was already a Conversion Order. To correct a situation in which lands redeemed from the MBC would remain idle, petitioners took the route of applying for conversion. Conversion and reclassification are separate procedures.[9][34] CCFI and ALI submitted the two Resolutions to the DAR (one issued by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, the other by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ofCavite) only as supporting documents in their application.

Again, paragraph B (3), Part VI of DAR AO 12-94, cited above, allows conversion when the land will have greater economic value for residential, commercial or industrial purposes “as certified by the Local Government Unit.” It is clear that the thrust of the community and the local government is the conversion of the lands. To this end, the two Resolutions, one issued by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, the other by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ofCavite, while not strictly for purposes of reclassification, are sufficient compliance with the requirement of the Conversion Order.

Paragraph E and paragraph B (3) were thus set merely as guidelines in issues of conversion. CARL is to be solely implemented by the DAR, taking into account current land use as governed by the needs and political will of the local government and its people. The palpable intent of the Administrative Order is to make the DAR the principal agency in deciding questions on conversion.  A.O. 12-94 clearly states:

A. The Department of Agrarian Reform is mandated to “approve or disapprove applications for conversion, restructuring, or readjustment of agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses,” pursuant to Section 4 (j) of Executive Order No. 129-A, Series of 1987.”

B. Section 5 (1) of E.O. No. 129-A, Series of 1987, vests in the DAR, exclusive authority to approve or disapprove applications for conversion of agricultural lands for residential, commercial, industrial, and other land uses.[10][35]

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DID THE CLAIM OF THE FARMERS PRESCRIBED?

 

 

YES. PRESCRIPTION APPLIES  ONE YEAR FROM THE TIME THE ORDER OF CONVERSION WAS ISSUED.

 

Respondents came forward as claimants under CARL almost three years after the Conversion Order was issued. In arguing that the claim of respondents had already prescribed, petitioner ALI applied DAR A.O. 1, Series of 1999, which lays down a one-year prescriptive period for petitions for cancellation or withdrawal. Section 34 thereof states:

Filing of Petition – A petition for cancellation or withdrawal of the conversion order may be filed at the instance of DAR or any aggrieved party before the approving authority within ninety (90) days from discovery of facts which would warrant such cancellation but not more than one (1) year from issuance of the order: Provided, that where the ground refers to any of those enumerated in Sec. 35 (b), (e), and (f), the petition may be filed within ninety (90) days from discovery of such facts but not beyond the period for development stipulated in the order of conversion; Provided further, That where the ground is lack of jurisdiction, the petition shall be filed with the Secretary and the period prescribed herein shall not apply.

The Conversion Order was issued by Secretary Garilao on31 October 1997. Respondents questioned the Order only on19 May 2000, almost two years and seven months later. Since the action was filed during the effectivity of A.O. 01-99, its provision on prescription should apply.

Respondents, on the other hand, state that the applicable rule is A.O. 12 (promulgated in 1994), which was the rule subsisting at the time the Conversion Order was issued. A.O. 12-94 imposes a prescriptive period of five (5) years; thus, according to the farmers, the petition was filed well within the period.

 Petitioner ALI’s argument is well-taken. A.O. 01-99 entitled “REVISED RULES AND REGULATIONS ON THE CONVERSION OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS TO NON-AGRICULTURAL USES,” provides for its own effectivity as follows:

SEC. 56. Effectivity – This Order shall take effect ten (10) days after its publication in two (2) national newspapers of general circulation.

A.O. 01-99 was promulgated on 30 March 1999and published in Malaya and Manila Standard on the following day,31 March 1999. Thus, A.O. 01-99 was the rule governing the filing of a “petition for cancellation or withdrawal of the conversion order” at the time the farmers filed their petition.

Respondent farmers argue that, according to A.O. No. 01-99, the one-year prescriptive period should be reckoned from the issuance of the Conversion Order. They point out that it was impossible for them to receive notice of this rule when Secretary Garilao issued the Conversion Order, since the rule was published only one year and seven months after the issuance of the Order. Thus, it should be A.O. 12-94, or the five-year prescription period, that should be applied to them, and not the one-year period in A.O. 01-99.

Respondents assume that the rule to be applied is that prevailing at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order. This is incorrect. The rule applicable in determining the timeliness of a petition for cancellation or withdrawal of a conversion order is the rule prevailing at the time of the filing of that petition, and not at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order. It is axiomatic that laws have prospective effect, as the Administrative Code provides.[11][36] While A.O. 01-99 was not yet promulgated at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order, it was already published and in effect when the Petition for Revocation was filed on19 May 2000.

Regarding the question on when the one-year prescription period should be reckoned, it must be still be resolved in conformity with the prospective character of laws and rules. In this case, the one-year period should be reckoned from the date of effectivity of A.O. 1-99, which is31 March 1999. Therefore, no petition for cancellation or withdrawal of conversion of lands already converted as of30 March 1999may be filed after1 March 2000.

The Conversion Order is final and executory. The Court ruled in Villorente v. Aplaya Laiya Corporation:

 

Indubitably, the Conversion Order of the DAR was a final order, because it resolved the issue of whether the subject property may be converted to non-agricultural use.  The finality of such Conversion Order is not dependent upon the subsequent determination, either by agreement of the parties or by the DAR, of the compensation due to the tenants/occupants of the property caused by its conversion to non-agricultural use.  Once final and executory, the Conversion Order can no longer be questioned.[12][37]

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THE FARMERS RECEIVED DISTURBANCE COMPENSATION. CAN THEY STILL FILE A SUIT TO GET BACK THEIR LAND?

 

NO. BY RECEIVING DISTURBANCE COMPENSATION, THEY ARE NOW ESTOPPED FROM QUESTIONING THE CONVERSION ORDER. THERE CAN BE NO VESTED RIGHT TO JUDICIAL RELIEF.

A conversion order is a final judgment and cannot be repeatedly assailed by respondents in perpetuity, after they have received compensation and exhausted other means. In Villorente, the Court had occasion to rebuke the would-be beneficiaries who, after accepting the compensation stipulated in the conversion Order – thereby impliedly acknowledging the validity of the order – turned  around and suddenly assailed it.  The Court held:

We are convinced that the petition for review filed by the petitioners with the CA was merely an afterthought…

…                    …                    …                                …

 It must be stressed that the petitioners agreed to negotiate with the respondent for the disturbance compensation which they claimed was due them, conformably with the said Conversion Order. Hence, they cannot now assail the said order without running afoul to (sic) the doctrine of estoppel.  The petitioners cannot approbate and disapprobate at the same time.[13][38]

It must be borne in mind that there can be no vested right to judicial relief, as ruled by the Court in United Paracale Mining v. Dela Rosa:

There can be no vested right in a judicial relief for this is a mere statutory privilege and not a property right…the right to judicial relief is not a right which may constitute vested right because to be vested, a right must have become a title, legal or equitable, to the present or future enjoyment of property, or to the present or future enforcement of a demand or legal exemption from a demand made by another.[14][39]

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THE LAND WAS ALREADY USED FOR NON-AGRICULTURAL USE AT THE TIME PETITION FOR REVOCATION WAS FILED. WAS THE PETITION STILL PROPER?

 

NO BECAUSE OF THE DOCTINE OF OPERATIVE FACT. THE LAND WAS ALREADY ACTUALLY DEVELOPED INTO NON-AGRICULTURAL USE.

 

Respondent farmers do not deny that at the time of filing of the Petition for Revocation, the lands in question were no longer agricultural. Secretary Morales affirmed this fact in his Decision, even as he revoked Secretary Garilao’s Order of conversion:

When respondent Capitol applied for conversion of the subject land on7 May 1996, the land is already reclassified from agricultural to other uses. Respondent Capitol applied for conversion as the registered owner of the land, although in truth it was no longer the owner of the same by virtue of its sale to ALI. This fact of transfer of ownership is not known since the absolute sale of the land was not yet public, the deed of sale not having been registered before the Register of Deeds at that time.

…                                            …                                            …       

At the time of the registration of the deed on 29 September 1999, the subject land had ceased to be an agricultural land since it has already been converted to other uses by virtue of an approved conversion application. As such, the requirement of reporting by the Register of Deeds of any transaction involving agricultural lands beyond five (5) hectares, was not made as it is no longer necessary.

 

Clearly, the findings of the CLUPPI, the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, and Secretary Morales himself confirm as an operative fact the reclassification and/or conversion of the lands. Both the DAR and the Sangguniang Bayan anchored their findings on the Certifications from the CLUPPI (obtained by the CLUPPI’s executive committee as required by the DAR procedure), the National Irrigation Administration, the Philippine Coconut Authority, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.[15][40] The CLUPPI and the MARO (Municipal Agrarian Reform Office) conducted their own ocular inspection. The Sangguniang Bayan of Silang conducted plebiscites before issuing the Resolution for reclassification.[16][41]

In sum, the findings of the different government agencies are as follows:

1.     The property is about ten (10) kilometers from the provincial road.

2.     The land sits on a mountainside overlooking Santa Rosa Technopark.

3.     The property is beyond eighteen (18) degrees in slope and undeveloped.

4.       Based on a DAR Soil Investigation Report, the property is only marginally suitable for agriculture use due to its undulating topography.[17][42]

5.     The land is outside the irrigable area of the Cavite Friar Lands Irrigation Systems.

6.     DENR Administrative Order No. 08 granted the application for an Environmental Clearance while presenting these additional findings:

  • The area is unirrigated, and the main source of water supply is rainfall.
  • The occupants have been paid disturbance compensation.
  • The area in question had been granted a Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion by the DAR on16 January 1996.

The reclassification/conversion of the land has long been a foregone fact. While respondents insist that the process by which the land was reclassified was invalid, their claim is immaterial, because, as stated, the two procedures are distinct. Independently of the Sangguniang Bayan’s own initiative, the DAR issued a Certificate of Eligibility. These issuances only bolster the fact that, at the time it was converted, the land was no longer agricultural, and that it would generate more revenue if reclassified as a residential area. Resolution No. ML-08-S-96, adopted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, recommended conversion based on the favorable findings of the Committee on Housing and Land Use. The Resolution states:[18][43]

…Whereas based on the favorable findings by the Committee on Housing and Land Use after careful study and after conducting several public hearings has favorably recommended the approval of the request of Capitol Citifarms, Inc.;

Whereas, the land use reclassification of the said parcels of land will benefit the people of Silang by way of increased municipal revenue, generate employment, increased commercial activities and general (sic) uplift the socio-economic condition of the people particularly those in the vicinity of said parcels of land.

It is no longer necessary to delve into the allegations of the lack of a valid ordinance or the lack of a land use plan. Aside from the OP finding that this issue was raised belatedly, the submission of “new or revised town plans approved by the HLURB” is a requirement only in the process of reclassification embodied in the Local Government Code. This is not a requirement in the process of conversion, wherein the DAR is given the sole prerogative to make technical determinations on changes in land use and to decide whether a particular parcel of agricultural land, due to modernization and the needs of the community, has indeed been converted to non-agricultural use.

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WHAT OTHER MATTER WAS CONSIDERED BY THE COURT IN DECIDING AGAINST REVOCATION OF THE ORDER OF CONVERSION?

 

CONVERSION ORDER WAS ISSUED PARTLY TO MAINTAIN THE STABILITY OF THE BANKING SYSTEM.

 

 

V.               It has long been resolved by the Office of the President that the lands in this case are exempted from CARL coverage, partly in order to maintain the stability of the country’s banking system.

In the first OP Decision dated11 October 1996, Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres expressly declared that the preservation of the assets of the BSP warranted higher consideration, so certain lands of the MBC were exempt from coverage of the CARL. In remanding the case to the DAR for it to identify which lands should be exempted, Secretary Torres held:

Upon review of the entire records of the case, this Office is persuaded that a stringent appreciation of the issues raised by the parties may not do justice to their respective causes, and the public in general. What is involved is the susceptibility of a bank to undergo rehabilitation which will be jeopardized by the distribution of its assets…a careful balance between the interest of the petitioner bank, its creditors (which includes the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) and the general public on the one hand, and adherence to the implementation of the agrarian reform program on the other, must be established.

…                                …                                …                                …

…the ends of justice will be better subserved if the Statutory Receiver is given the fullest opportunity to monetize the assets of the bank which are supposed to be outside of the coverage of the CARL or may be converted into non-agricultural uses.[19][44]

Secretary Torres denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the DAR.  The denial was based precisely on the need to balance the agrarian reform law with another policy consideration, the stability of the banking system. He explained as follows:

The guiding principle on land use conversion is to preserve prime agricultural lands. On the other hand, when coinciding with the objectives of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to promote social justice, industrialization and the optimum use of lands as a national resource for public welfare, shall be pursued in a speedy and judicious manner.

…                                            …                                            …

Finally, we wish to reiterate the need to balance the interest between the petitioner bank (under receivership by the BSP), its creditors (85% of which or a total of P8, 771, 893, 000 is payable to BSP) and the general public on one hand, and the faithful implementation of agrarian reform program on the other hand, with the view to harmonizing them and ensuring that the objectives of the CAR are met and satisfied.[20][45]

The Conversion Order was a product of policy determinations made by the DAR, the Office of the President, and even the Supreme Court. Secretary Torres had ordered the DAR to “respect the temporary custody of those properties by the Statutory Receiver (BSP Deputy Governor Alberto Reyes) by deferring their coverage under the CARL…” This order stemmed in turn from the BSP Resolution of 22 May 1987 placing MBC’s assets under custodia legis. Bolstered by the need to save MBC, which was one of BSP’s crucial debtors, the Supreme Court allowed the BSP receiver to sell MBC’s assets to a third party “under the best terms and conditions,” to give it ample opportunity to rehabilitate MBC. The disposition of MBC’s properties was a judgment call made by the BSP, which, as the sole agency mandated to assist banks and financial institutions in distress, exercises asset management on a macro level. The Supreme Court Resolution called the arrangement the “best solution for Manila Banking and CCFI.”

. . . . . .

CARL cannot be used to stultify modernization. It is not the role of the Supreme Court to apply the missing notice of acquisition in perpetuity. This is not a case wherein a feudal landowner is unjustly enriched by the plantings of a long-suffering tenant. ALI is in the precarious position of having been that third-party buyer who offered the terms and conditions most helpful to CCFI, MBC, and effectively, the BSP, considering the 85% portion of the total debt of MBC that BSP owns. What this Court can do positively is to contribute to policy stability by binding the government to its clear policy decisions borne over a long period of time.

 

 

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Republic of the Philippines
Supreme Court
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

AYALA LAND, INC. andCAPITOL CITIFARMS, INC.,

                              Petitioners,

                     - versus -

 

SIMEONA CASTILLO, LORENZO PERLAS, JESSIELYN CASTILLO, LUIS MAESA, ROLANDO BATIQUIN, and BUKLURAN MAGSASAKA NG TIBIG, as represented by their attorney-in-fact,  SIMEONA CASTILLO,

                              Respondents.

 

G. R. No. 178110 

 

 

Present:

 

CARPIO MORALES, J.,

       Chairperson,

BRION,

BERSAMIN,

VILLARAMA, JR., and

SERENO, JJ.

 

Promulgated:

June 15, 2011

 

x – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – x

D E C I S I O N

SERENO, J.:

 

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure questioning the Decision[21][1] dated 31 January 2007 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 86321, which reversed the Decision[22][2] of the Office of the President (OP) dated28 January 2004. The OP Decision upheld Conversion Order No. 4-97-1029-051 issued by then Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Ernesto Garilao, as well as the Orders issued by Secretary Hernani Braganza and Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan both affirming the conversion.

The CA found merit in the OP’s rationale for maintaining the Conversion Order, yet invalidated the same on the basis that a Notice of Coverage and a Notice of Acquisition had already been issued over the lands – hence, they could no longer be subject to conversion. Thus, landowner Capitol Citifarms, Inc. (CCFI) and its successor-in-interest Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) filed the present petition imputing error on the appellate court for the following reasons: 1) the CA resolved an issue – that the alleged Notice of Acquisition prevents the land from being converted – raised for the first time on appeal, 2) the CA’s finding has no factual basis, 3) the DAR itself found that the subject property has long been converted to non-agricultural uses, and 4) a Certificate of Finality of the Braganza Order has already been issued.

We grant certiorari on the following procedural and substantial grounds:

I.                   For the first time on appeal, respondents raised a new issue that had never been passed upon by the DAR or by the Office of the President; hence, the CA is barred from entertaining the claim.

II.                  The rule that a prior Notice of Acquisition bars the issuance of a Conversion Order is only a guiding principle; upon applicant’s compliance with the application requirements, the DAR is rightly authorized to determine the propriety of conversion.

III.             Respondents are barred from appealing the Conversion Order long after it has attained finality.

IV.            The conversion and/ or reclassification of the said lands has become an operative fact.

V.               The OP has long resolved that the lands that are the subject of this case are exempted from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) partly to maintain the stability of the country’s banking system.

 

The uncontroverted factual antecedents, as culled from the records, are as follows:

          CCFI owned two parcels of land with a total area of 221.3048 hectares located at Barangay Tibig in Silang, Cavite – hereon referred to as the subject land. The subject land was mortgaged in favor of one of CCFI’s creditors, MBC. Pursuant to Resolution No. 505 of the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), MBC was placed under receivership on 22 May 1987, in accordance with Section 29 of the Central Bank Act (Republic Act 265). Pursuant to this law, the assets of MBC were placed in the hands of its receiver under custodia legis.[23][3] On 29 September 1989, the DAR issued a Notice of Coverage placing the property under compulsory acquisition under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988.[24][4]

In the meantime, CCFI was unable to comply with its mortgage obligations to MBC. The latter foreclosed on the lien, and the land was awarded to it in an auction sale held on 4 January 1991. The sale was duly annotated on the titles as Entry No. 5324-44. Subsequently, the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 85960 ordered MBC’s partial liquidation and allowed the receiver-designate of the BSP to sell the bank’s assets, including the subject landholding, “at their fair market value, under the best terms and condition and for the highest price under current real estate appraisals…”[25][5] In a Deed of Partial Redemption,[26][6] CCFI was authorized to partially redeem the two parcels of land and sell them to a third party, pending full payment of the redemption price.  Under the Deed, the downpayment, which was 30% of the purchase price, would be payable to the bank only upon approval of the exemption of the two parcels of land from the coverage of CARL or upon their conversion to non-agricultural use.

On the same date as the execution of the Deed of Partial Redemption,29 December 1995, the property was sold to petitioner ALI in a Deed of Sale over the properties covered by TCT Nos. 128672 and 144245. The sale was not absolute but conditional, i.e. subject to terms and conditions other than the payment of the price and the delivery of the titles. The Deed stated that MBC was to continue to have custody of the corresponding titles for as long as any obligation remained due it.

          Prompted by the numerous proceedings for compulsory acquisition initiated by the DAR against MBC, Governor Reyes requested then DAR Secretary Ernesto Garilao to issue an order exempting the landholdings of MBC from CARL and to declare a moratorium on the compulsory acquisition of MBC’s landholdings. On 14 February 1995, Secretary Garilao denied the request. On 1 August 1995, MBC and Governor Reyes filed with the OP a Petition for Review of Secretary Garilao’s Decision. The OP issued a Stay Order of the appealed Decision. Thereafter, MBC filed with the OP a motion for the issuance of an order granting the former a period of five years within which to seek the conversion of its landholdings to non-agricultural use.

Instead of ruling on the motion alone, however, the OP, through Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres, decided to rule on the merits of the petition, as “what is involved in this case is the susceptibility of a bank to undergo rehabilitation which will be jeopardized by the distribution of its assets…”[27][7] Secretary Torres remanded the case to the DAR and ordered the agency to determine which parcels of land were exempt from the coverage of the CARL. He stated that the ends of justice would be better served if BSP were given the fullest opportunity to monetize the bank’s assets that were outside the coverage of CARL or could be converted into non-agricultural uses. He then ordered the DAR to respect the BSP’s temporary custody of the landholdings, as well as to cease and desist from subjecting MBC’s properties to the CARL or from otherwise distributing to farmer-beneficiaries those parcels of land already covered.[28][8]

Secretary Torres denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the DAR. He reiterated the need to balance the goal of the agrarian reform program vis-à-vis the interest of the bank (under receivership by the BSP), and the bank’s creditors (85% of whose credit, or a total of P8,771,893,000, was payable to BSP).[29][9]

Secretary Garilao issued a Resolution dated3 October 1997, granting MBC’s “Request for Clearance to Sell,” with the sale to be undertaken by CCFI. He applied Section 73-A of Republic Act No. (R.A.) 6657, as amended by R.A. 7881, that allows the sale of agricultural land where such sale or transfer is necessitated by a bank’s foreclosure of a mortgage. DAR Memorandum Circular No. 05, Series of 1996 further clarified the above provision, stating that foreclosed assets are subject to existing laws on their compulsory transfer under Section 16 of the General Banking Act. CCFI thereafter filed an application for conversion and/or exemption pursuant to its prerogative as a landowner under Part IV of DAR A.O. 12-94 and the procedure outlined therein.

 

On 31 October 1997, Secretary Garilao issued Conversion Order No. 4-97-1029-051, approving the conversion and/or exemption of the 221-hectare property in Silang, based on the findings of the DAR’s Center for Land Use Policy, Planning and Implementation (CLUPPI) and of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO). These agencies found that the property was exempt from agrarian reform coverage, as it was beyond eighteen (18) degrees in slope. They recommended conversion, subject to the submission of several documentary requirements. On1 December 1997, CCFI complied by submitting the following groups of documents:

1.     A Certification and a copy of Resolution No. 295-S-96 by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cavite, adopted in its 4th Special Session, approving the conversion/ reclassification of the said parcels of land from agricultural to residential, commercial, and industrial uses;

2.       A copy of Resolution No. ML-08-S-96 adopted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, recommending conversion based on the favorable findings by the Committee on Housing and Land Use;[30][10]

3.     Statement of Justification of economic/social benefits of the proposed subdivision project; development plan, work and financial plan and proof of financial and organizational capability;

4.       Proof of settlement of claims: a table of the list of tenant-petitioners, the area tilled and the amount of compensation received by each tenant, the Kasunduan,[31][11] and a compilation of the agreements signed by the one hundred and eighteen (118) tenants waiving all claims over the property.[32][12]

 

The Morales Order Revoking the Grant of Conversion

 

On 19 May 2000, almost three years after the Conversion Order had been in force and effect, the farmers tilling the subject land (hereinafter known as farmers) filed a Petition for Revocation of Conversion Order No. 4-97-1029-051. They alleged (1) that the sale in 1995 by CCFI to ALI was invalid; and (2) that CCFI and ALI were guilty of misrepresentation in claiming that the property had been reclassified through a mere Resolution, when the law required an ordinance of the Sanggunian.[33][13] The issue of the alleged Notice of Acquisition was never raised. Neither was there any mention of the issuance of a Notice of Coverage.

CCFI and ALI, on the other hand, argued that the claim of the farmers had prescribed, as mandated by Section 34 of Administrative Order No. (A.O.)  1, Series of 1999, which laid down a one-year prescriptive period for the filing of a petition to cancel or withdraw conversion. They stated further that the farmers had already received their disturbance compensation as evidenced in a Kasunduan, in compliance with the Conversion Order.

On18 December 2000, DAR Secretary Horacio Morales, Jr. issued an Order declaring that the action to revoke the conversion had not yet prescribed. According to him, Section 34 of A.O. 1-99 imposing the one-year prescription period did not apply, because administrative rules should be applied prospectively. Thus, the rule to be followed was that prevailing at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order – DAR A.O. 12-94 – not A.O. 1-99, which was the rule prevailing when the Petition for Revocation was filed.

As for the two issues raised by the farmer-beneficiaries, these were resolved by Secretary Morales in favor of CCFI and ALI. First, he found that CCFI did not violate the order of conversion when it sold the land to ALI, because the prohibition to sell is not a condition for the conversion. In fact, the sale preceded the issuance of the Conversion Order. Second, he ruled that there was no misrepresentation by CCFI and ALI regarding the lands’ reclassification. However, he found a new issue for withdrawing the grant of conversion, that was not previously raised by petitioner-farmers. Apparently unaware of the earlier history of the land as property in custodia legis, he ruled that the delayed registration of the sale was evidence of respondents’ intention to evade coverage of the landholding under agrarian reform. Because the sale was concealed from the Register of Deeds, and the land was still agricultural at that time, Secretary Morales opined that ALI and CCFI violated the CARL. It must be remembered however, that contrary to Morales’ findings, it was the Supreme Court itself that ordered the sale of the lands through its Resolution in G.R. No 85960. Thus there could be no finding by any government body that the sale was illegal.   

Secretary Morales never passed upon or even mentioned any matter related to the Notice of Acquisition. The gist of both the Petition for Revocation and the Morales Decision revolved exclusively around the illicit intent behind the sale of the land to ALI:

The gravamen of respondents’ acts lies not upon the sale by respondent Capitol of the land to ALI, and upon ALI having bought the land from Capitol. It lies somewhere deeper: that the sale was done as early as 1995 prior to the land’s conversion, and was concealed in the application until it was registered in 1999.

…                    …                    …                                …

At the time of the registration of the deed on 29 September 1999, the subject land had ceased to be an agricultural land since it has already been converted to other uses by virtue of an approved conversion application. As such, the requirement of reporting by the Register of Deeds of any transaction involving agricultural lands beyond five (5) hectares, was not made as it is no longer necessary.[34][14]

It is important to note, however, that Secretary Morales declared that CCFI and ALI had completed the payment of disturbance compensation to the farmers, as shown by the Kasunduan, which was a waiver of all the farmers’ rights over the landholding, and by the Katunayan ng Pagbabayad, which expressly acknowledged the amounts paid as the full and final settlement of their claims against CCFI and ALI.

The Braganza Order Reversing the Revocation

 

On 26 September 2002, acting on the Motion for Reconsideration filed by ALI, DAR Secretary Hernani Braganza reversed[35][15] the Revocation of Conversion Order 4-97-1029-051. He resolved three issues to arrive at his Decision, namely: 1) whether the Petition for Revocation had prescribed; 2) whether ALI was the owner of the subject landholding at the time of the application; and 3) whether there was complete payment of the disturbance compensation. Again, Secretary Braganza was not afforded an opportunity to discuss any evidence related to the existence or effect of any Notice of Acquisition, as the joinder of issues was limited to those already summarized above.

Secretary Braganza found that the Deed of Partial Redemption was conditional, and that there was no transfer of ownership to CCFI or its successor-in-interest, ALI. Hence, there could be no violation of the CARL arising from an unauthorized transfer of the land to ALI. In fact, the obligation of ALI to pay the purchase price did not arise until the DAR’s issuance of an order of exemption or conversion.  In Secretary Braganza’s words:

Was ownership included in the bundle of rights that was transferred from CCFI to ALI? This Office answers in the negative.

For CCFI to convey ownership to ALI, MBC must have first transferred this right to CCFI under the DEED OF PARTIAL REDEMPTION for the reason that CCFI can only convey its present rights and obligations to ALI.

…                    …                    …                                …

The fact that MBC is holding on to the Transfer Certificates of Title pending full payment of the purchase price is indicative of the reservation of ownership in MBC.

…                    …                    …                                …

Thus, it is only upon the full payment of consideration shall the title to the subject landholding be issued to CCFI or its successor-in-interest, ALI.[36][16]

On14 January 2003, Secretary Braganza granted ALI’s Motion for Extension to develop the land for another five (5) years.

The Pagdanganan Order Declaring FINALITY

 

In response to Secretary Braganza’s grant of the Motion for Reconsideration filed by ALI, the farmers, through their counsel, Atty. Henry So, filed their own Motion for Reconsideration of the Braganza Order. The farmers questioned the jurisdiction of the DAR to determine the ownership of the lands and to determine whether or not the sale was conditional, as these issues are within the ambit of the civil courts. Atty. So found fault with Secretary Braganza’s attention to “the intricate history of the property,”[37][17] when substantial evidence was all that was required in agrarian cases. He also claimed that the farmers’ previous counsel, Atty. Dolor, was misleading the farmers into accepting payment in exchange for their tenancy rights.[38][18]

Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan issued an Order on 13 August 2003, denying the farmers’ Motion for Reconsideration and affirming the finality of the Braganza Order. He stated therein that the revocation of the conversion, which came almost three years after the conversion, had not passed through the CLUPPI-1 Deliberation Committee. In addition, he found that Atty. So had no locus standi to represent the farmers. Secretary Pagdanganan upheld the Kasunduan the farmers signed as waiver of their claims and deemed the Braganza Order “final and executory”:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, Order is hereby issued DENYING both the Motion for Reconsideration dated4 November 2002and the Urgent Motion for Issuance of Cease and Desist Order dated7 May 2003, filed by Atty. Henry So.

FURTHERMORE, the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance is hereby DIRECTED to issue a Certificate of Finality of the 26 September 2002 order. ACCORDINGLY, this case is deemed close as far as this office is concern (sic).[39][19]

Petitioners’ Appeal before the Office of the President

          The farmers then went to the OP and raised only two issues:

The Secretary of Agrarian Reform erred in declaring herein counsel to have no more locus standi to represent the farmer-petitioners.

The Secretary of Agrarian Reform erred in affirming the Order of 26 September 2002issued by then Secretary Hernani Braganza.[40][20]

The Appeal Memorandum pointed out that DAR’s grant of conversion was issued under “suspicious circumstances.” They attached to the Appeal Memorandum an uncertified photocopy of a Notice of Coverage as “Annex B.”[41][21] The photocopy of the Notice of Coverage was mentioned in passing when the farmers cited paragraph VI-E of Administrative Order No. 12, Series of 1994. Additionally, farmer-beneficiaries alleged that a Notice of Acquisition was also in existence. No such document, however, could be found in the memorandum or in any prior or subsequent pleadings filed by farmer-beneficiaries. They never stated that the issue of the Notice of Acquisition prevents the conversion of the land.

On 23 January 2004, the Office of the President dismissed the appeal[42][22] and affirmed the Pagdanganan Order. The OP found the subject property to have been legally converted into non-agricultural land, citing the findings of the local agencies of Silang that the property was beyond eighteen (18) degrees in slope, remained undeveloped, was not irrigated, and was without any other source of irrigation in the area. The OP stated: “Upon our examination of the voluminous motions, memoranda, evidence submitted by appellants, but not a single document sufficiently controverts the factual finding of the DAR that the subject property had long been converted to non-agricultural uses.”[43][23] Farmer-beneficiaries then elevated the case to the CA. The CA reversed the findings of the OP and the DAR, prompting ALI and CCFI to file the instant Petition.

I.                  Respondents raised a new issue for the first time on appeal.

                       

          The CA found the Conversion Order valid on all points, with the sole exception of the effect of the alleged issuance of a Notice of Acquisition. In its eight-page Decision, the CA merely asserted in two lines: “no less than the cited DAR Administrative Order No. 12 enjoins the conversion of lands directly under a notice of acquisition.”[44][24]

          After perusing the records of the DAR and the OP, however, we find no admissible proof presented to support this claim. What was attached to the Petition for Review[45][25] to the CA was not a Notice of Acquisition, but a mere photocopy of the Notice of Coverage. A Notice of Acquisition was never offered in evidence before the DAR and never became part of the records even at the trial court level. Thus, its existence is not a fully established fact for the purpose of serving as the sole basis the entire history of the policy decisions made by the DAR and the OP were to be overturned. The CA committed reversible error when it gave credence to a mere assertion by the tenant-farmers, rather than to the policy evaluation made by the OP.

          Assuming arguendo however, that the farmers had submitted the proper document to the appellate court, the latter could not have reversed the OP Decision on nothing more than this submission, as the issue of the Notice of Acquisition had never been raised before the administrative agency concerned. In fact, the records show that this issue was not raised in the original Petition for Revocation in the second Motion for Reconsideration filed by the farmers before the DAR, and that no Notice of Acquisition was attached to their Appeal Memorandum to the OP. As a consequence, the OP, Secretary Pagdanganan, Secretary Braganza, and Secretary Morales did not have any opportunity to dwell on this issue in their Orders and Decision. Instead, what respondents persistently allege is the concealment of the sale by CCFI and ALI. The three DAR Secretaries, including Secretary Garilao who issued the Conversion Order, correctly found this allegation bereft of merit.

          We cannot uphold respondents’ proposition for us to disregard basic rules, particularly the rule that new issues cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. Aside from their failure to raise the non-issuance of a notice of acquisition before the OP and DAR, they also failed to question the lack of approved town plan at the DAR level, prompting the OP to correctly rule on the latter, thus:

…Appellants’ lapses in not raising the issues before the DAR which has the expertise to resolve the same and in a position to conduct due hearings and reception of evidence from contending parties pertaining to the issue, puts the appellants in estoppel to question the same for the first time on appeal. Jurisprudence dictates the following:

The petitioner for the first time, to allow him to assume a different posture when he comes before the court and challenge the position he had accepted at the administrative level, would be to sanction a procedure whereby the court – which is supposed to review administrative determinations – would not review, but determine and decide for the first time, a question not raised at the administrative forum. This cannot be permitted, for the same reason that underlies the requirement of prior exhaustion of administrative remedies to give administrative authorities the prior authority to decide controversies within its competence, and in much the same way that, on the judicial level, issues not raised in the lower court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. (Aguinaldo Industries Corporation vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue & Court of Tax Appeals, 112 SCRA 136)[46][26]        

          It is well established that issues raised for the first time on appeal and not raised in the proceedings in the lower court are barred by estoppel. Points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court ought not to be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. To consider the alleged facts and arguments belatedly raised would amount to trampling on the basic principles of fair play, justice, and due process.[47][27] More important, if these matters had been raised earlier, they could have been seriously examined by the administrative agency concerned.[48][28]

          Courts will not interfere in matters which are addressed to the sound discretion of the government agency entrusted with the regulation of activities coming under its special and technical training and knowledge and the latter are given wide latitude in the evaluation of evidence and in the exercise of their adjudicative functions.[49][29] This Court has always given primary importance to the DAR Secretary’s ruling and will not disturb such ruling without substantial reason:

Considering that these issues involve an evaluation of the DAR’s findings of facts, this Court is constrained to accord respect to such findings. It is settled that factual findings of administrative agencies are generally accorded respect and even finality by this Court, if such findings are supported by substantial evidence.  The factual findings of the Secretary of DAR who, by reason of his official position, has acquired expertise in specific matters within his jurisdiction, deserve full respect and, without justifiable reason, ought not to be altered, modified or reversed.[50][30]

          The CA erred in passing upon and ruling on an issue not raised by the farmers themselves. This Court must not countenance the violation of petitioner’s right to due process by the CA upholding its conclusion founded on a legal theory only newly discovered by the CA itself.  This is especially insupportable considering the long history of government affirmation of the conversion of the subject land.

II.                  Provision in DAR A.O. 12-94 is only a guiding principle.

          Assuming for a moment that the notice of acquisition exists, it is not an absolute, perpetual ban on conversion. The provision invoked in AO 12-94, paragraph E, disallows applications for conversion of lands for which the DAR has issued a notice of acquisition. But paragraph E falls under heading VI, “Policies and Guiding Principles.” By no stretch of the imagination can a mere “principle” be interpreted as an absolute proscription on conversion. Secretary Garilao thus acted within his authority in issuing the Conversion Order, precisely because the law grants him the sole power to make this policy judgment, despite the “guiding principle” regarding the notice of acquisition. The CA committed grave error by favoring a principle over the DAR’s own factual determination of the propriety of conversion. The CA agreed with the OP that land use conversion may be allowed when it is by reason of changes in the predominant use brought about by urban development, but the appellate court invalidated the OP Decision anyway for the following reason:

The argument is valid if the agricultural land is still not subjected to compulsory acquisition under CARP. But as we saw, there has already been a notice of coverage and notice of acquisition issued for the property...Verily, no less than the cited DAR Administrative Order No. 12 enjoins conversions of lands already under a notice of acquisition. The objectives and ends of economic progress must always be sought after within the framework of the law, not against it, or in spite of it.[51][31]

However, under the same heading VI, on Guiding Principles, is paragraph B (3), which reads:

If at the time of the application, the land still falls within the agricultural zone, conversion shall be allowed only on the following instances:

a)                  When the land has ceased to be economically feasible and sound for agricultural purposes, as certified by the Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture (DA) or

b)                  When the locality has become highly urbanized and the land will have a greater economic value for residential, commercial and industrial purposes, as certified by the local government unit.

The thrust of this provision, which DAR Secretary Garilao rightly took into account in issuing the Conversion Order, is that even if the land has not yet been reclassified, if its use has changed towards the modernization of the community, conversion is still allowed.

As DAR Secretary, Garilao had full authority to balance the guiding principle in paragraph E against that in paragraph B (3) and to find for conversion. Note that the same guiding principle which includes the general proscription against conversion was scrapped from the new rules on conversion, DAR A.O. 1, Series of 2002, or the “Comprehensive Rules on Land Use Conversion.” It must be emphasized that the policy allowing conversion, on the other hand, was retained. This is a complex case in which there can be no simplistic or mechanical solution. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law is not intractable, nor does it condemn a piece of land to a single use forever. With the same conviction that the state promotes rural development,[52][32] it also “recognizes the indispensable role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and provides incentives to needed investments.”[53][33]

 

Respondents herein muddle the issue in contending that a Sangguniang Bayan Resolution was not a sufficient compliance with the requirement of the Local Government Code that an ordinance must be enacted for a valid reclassification. Yet there was already a Conversion Order. To correct a situation in which lands redeemed from the MBC would remain idle, petitioners took the route of applying for conversion. Conversion and reclassification are separate procedures.[54][34] CCFI and ALI submitted the two Resolutions to the DAR (one issued by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, the other by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ofCavite) only as supporting documents in their application.

Again, paragraph B (3), Part VI of DAR AO 12-94, cited above, allows conversion when the land will have greater economic value for residential, commercial or industrial purposes “as certified by the Local Government Unit.” It is clear that the thrust of the community and the local government is the conversion of the lands. To this end, the two Resolutions, one issued by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, the other by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ofCavite, while not strictly for purposes of reclassification, are sufficient compliance with the requirement of the Conversion Order.

Paragraph E and paragraph B (3) were thus set merely as guidelines in issues of conversion. CARL is to be solely implemented by the DAR, taking into account current land use as governed by the needs and political will of the local government and its people. The palpable intent of the Administrative Order is to make the DAR the principal agency in deciding questions on conversion.  A.O. 12-94 clearly states:

A. The Department of Agrarian Reform is mandated to “approve or disapprove applications for conversion, restructuring, or readjustment of agricultural lands into non-agricultural uses,” pursuant to Section 4 (j) of Executive Order No. 129-A, Series of 1987.”

B. Section 5 (1) of E.O. No. 129-A, Series of 1987, vests in the DAR, exclusive authority to approve or disapprove applications for conversion of agricultural lands for residential, commercial, industrial, and other land uses.[55][35]

 

III.           The Conversion Order has long attained finality and may no longer be questioned.

 

Respondents came forward as claimants under CARL almost three years after the Conversion Order was issued. In arguing that the claim of respondents had already prescribed, petitioner ALI applied DAR A.O. 1, Series of 1999, which lays down a one-year prescriptive period for petitions for cancellation or withdrawal. Section 34 thereof states:

Filing of Petition – A petition for cancellation or withdrawal of the conversion order may be filed at the instance of DAR or any aggrieved party before the approving authority within ninety (90) days from discovery of facts which would warrant such cancellation but not more than one (1) year from issuance of the order: Provided, that where the ground refers to any of those enumerated in Sec. 35 (b), (e), and (f), the petition may be filed within ninety (90) days from discovery of such facts but not beyond the period for development stipulated in the order of conversion; Provided further, That where the ground is lack of jurisdiction, the petition shall be filed with the Secretary and the period prescribed herein shall not apply.

The Conversion Order was issued by Secretary Garilao on31 October 1997. Respondents questioned the Order only on19 May 2000, almost two years and seven months later. Since the action was filed during the effectivity of A.O. 01-99, its provision on prescription should apply.

Respondents, on the other hand, state that the applicable rule is A.O. 12 (promulgated in 1994), which was the rule subsisting at the time the Conversion Order was issued. A.O. 12-94 imposes a prescriptive period of five (5) years; thus, according to the farmers, the petition was filed well within the period.

 Petitioner ALI’s argument is well-taken. A.O. 01-99 entitled “REVISED RULES AND REGULATIONS ON THE CONVERSION OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS TO NON-AGRICULTURAL USES,” provides for its own effectivity as follows:

SEC. 56. Effectivity – This Order shall take effect ten (10) days after its publication in two (2) national newspapers of general circulation.

A.O. 01-99 was promulgated on 30 March 1999and published in Malaya and Manila Standard on the following day,31 March 1999. Thus, A.O. 01-99 was the rule governing the filing of a “petition for cancellation or withdrawal of the conversion order” at the time the farmers filed their petition.

Respondent farmers argue that, according to A.O. No. 01-99, the one-year prescriptive period should be reckoned from the issuance of the Conversion Order. They point out that it was impossible for them to receive notice of this rule when Secretary Garilao issued the Conversion Order, since the rule was published only one year and seven months after the issuance of the Order. Thus, it should be A.O. 12-94, or the five-year prescription period, that should be applied to them, and not the one-year period in A.O. 01-99.

Respondents assume that the rule to be applied is that prevailing at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order. This is incorrect. The rule applicable in determining the timeliness of a petition for cancellation or withdrawal of a conversion order is the rule prevailing at the time of the filing of that petition, and not at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order. It is axiomatic that laws have prospective effect, as the Administrative Code provides.[56][36] While A.O. 01-99 was not yet promulgated at the time of the issuance of the Conversion Order, it was already published and in effect when the Petition for Revocation was filed on19 May 2000.

Regarding the question on when the one-year prescription period should be reckoned, it must be still be resolved in conformity with the prospective character of laws and rules. In this case, the one-year period should be reckoned from the date of effectivity of A.O. 1-99, which is31 March 1999. Therefore, no petition for cancellation or withdrawal of conversion of lands already converted as of30 March 1999may be filed after1 March 2000.

The Conversion Order is final and executory. The Court ruled in Villorente v. Aplaya Laiya Corporation:

 

Indubitably, the Conversion Order of the DAR was a final order, because it resolved the issue of whether the subject property may be converted to non-agricultural use.  The finality of such Conversion Order is not dependent upon the subsequent determination, either by agreement of the parties or by the DAR, of the compensation due to the tenants/occupants of the property caused by its conversion to non-agricultural use.  Once final and executory, the Conversion Order can no longer be questioned.[57][37]

          A conversion order is a final judgment and cannot be repeatedly assailed by respondents in perpetuity, after they have received compensation and exhausted other means. In Villorente, the Court had occasion to rebuke the would-be beneficiaries who, after accepting the compensation stipulated in the conversion Order – thereby impliedly acknowledging the validity of the order – turned  around and suddenly assailed it.  The Court held:

We are convinced that the petition for review filed by the petitioners with the CA was merely an afterthought…

…                    …                    …                                …

 It must be stressed that the petitioners agreed to negotiate with the respondent for the disturbance compensation which they claimed was due them, conformably with the said Conversion Order. Hence, they cannot now assail the said order without running afoul to (sic) the doctrine of estoppel.  The petitioners cannot approbate and disapprobate at the same time.[58][38]

It must be borne in mind that there can be no vested right to judicial relief, as ruled by the Court in United Paracale Mining v. Dela Rosa:

There can be no vested right in a judicial relief for this is a mere statutory privilege and not a property right…the right to judicial relief is not a right which may constitute vested right because to be vested, a right must have become a title, legal or equitable, to the present or future enjoyment of property, or to the present or future enforcement of a demand or legal exemption from a demand made by another.[59][39]

IV.            The conversion and/or reclassification of the said lands has become an operative fact.

 

Respondent farmers do not deny that at the time of filing of the Petition for Revocation, the lands in question were no longer agricultural. Secretary Morales affirmed this fact in his Decision, even as he revoked Secretary Garilao’s Order of conversion:

When respondent Capitol applied for conversion of the subject land on7 May 1996, the land is already reclassified from agricultural to other uses. Respondent Capitol applied for conversion as the registered owner of the land, although in truth it was no longer the owner of the same by virtue of its sale to ALI. This fact of transfer of ownership is not known since the absolute sale of the land was not yet public, the deed of sale not having been registered before the Register of Deeds at that time.

…                                            …                                            …       

At the time of the registration of the deed on 29 September 1999, the subject land had ceased to be an agricultural land since it has already been converted to other uses by virtue of an approved conversion application. As such, the requirement of reporting by the Register of Deeds of any transaction involving agricultural lands beyond five (5) hectares, was not made as it is no longer necessary.

 

Clearly, the findings of the CLUPPI, the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, and Secretary Morales himself confirm as an operative fact the reclassification and/or conversion of the lands. Both the DAR and the Sangguniang Bayan anchored their findings on the Certifications from the CLUPPI (obtained by the CLUPPI’s executive committee as required by the DAR procedure), the National Irrigation Administration, the Philippine Coconut Authority, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.[60][40] The CLUPPI and the MARO (Municipal Agrarian Reform Office) conducted their own ocular inspection. The Sangguniang Bayan of Silang conducted plebiscites before issuing the Resolution for reclassification.[61][41]

In sum, the findings of the different government agencies are as follows:

1.     The property is about ten (10) kilometers from the provincial road.

2.     The land sits on a mountainside overlooking Santa Rosa Technopark.

3.     The property is beyond eighteen (18) degrees in slope and undeveloped.

4.       Based on a DAR Soil Investigation Report, the property is only marginally suitable for agriculture use due to its undulating topography.[62][42]

5.     The land is outside the irrigable area of the Cavite Friar Lands Irrigation Systems.

6.     DENR Administrative Order No. 08 granted the application for an Environmental Clearance while presenting these additional findings:

  • The area is unirrigated, and the main source of water supply is rainfall.
  • The occupants have been paid disturbance compensation.
  • The area in question had been granted a Certificate of Eligibility for Conversion by the DAR on16 January 1996.

The reclassification/conversion of the land has long been a foregone fact. While respondents insist that the process by which the land was reclassified was invalid, their claim is immaterial, because, as stated, the two procedures are distinct. Independently of the Sangguniang Bayan’s own initiative, the DAR issued a Certificate of Eligibility. These issuances only bolster the fact that, at the time it was converted, the land was no longer agricultural, and that it would generate more revenue if reclassified as a residential area. Resolution No. ML-08-S-96, adopted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, recommended conversion based on the favorable findings of the Committee on Housing and Land Use. The Resolution states:[63][43]

…Whereas based on the favorable findings by the Committee on Housing and Land Use after careful study and after conducting several public hearings has favorably recommended the approval of the request of Capitol Citifarms, Inc.;

Whereas, the land use reclassification of the said parcels of land will benefit the people of Silang by way of increased municipal revenue, generate employment, increased commercial activities and general (sic) uplift the socio-economic condition of the people particularly those in the vicinity of said parcels of land.

It is no longer necessary to delve into the allegations of the lack of a valid ordinance or the lack of a land use plan. Aside from the OP finding that this issue was raised belatedly, the submission of “new or revised town plans approved by the HLURB” is a requirement only in the process of reclassification embodied in the Local Government Code. This is not a requirement in the process of conversion, wherein the DAR is given the sole prerogative to make technical determinations on changes in land use and to decide whether a particular parcel of agricultural land, due to modernization and the needs of the community, has indeed been converted to non-agricultural use.

V.               It has long been resolved by the Office of the President that the lands in this case are exempted from CARL coverage, partly in order to maintain the stability of the country’s banking system.

In the first OP Decision dated11 October 1996, Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres expressly declared that the preservation of the assets of the BSP warranted higher consideration, so certain lands of the MBC were exempt from coverage of the CARL. In remanding the case to the DAR for it to identify which lands should be exempted, Secretary Torres held:

Upon review of the entire records of the case, this Office is persuaded that a stringent appreciation of the issues raised by the parties may not do justice to their respective causes, and the public in general. What is involved is the susceptibility of a bank to undergo rehabilitation which will be jeopardized by the distribution of its assets…a careful balance between the interest of the petitioner bank, its creditors (which includes the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) and the general public on the one hand, and adherence to the implementation of the agrarian reform program on the other, must be established.

…                                …                                …                                …

…the ends of justice will be better subserved if the Statutory Receiver is given the fullest opportunity to monetize the assets of the bank which are supposed to be outside of the coverage of the CARL or may be converted into non-agricultural uses.[64][44]

Secretary Torres denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the DAR.  The denial was based precisely on the need to balance the agrarian reform law with another policy consideration, the stability of the banking system. He explained as follows:

The guiding principle on land use conversion is to preserve prime agricultural lands. On the other hand, when coinciding with the objectives of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to promote social justice, industrialization and the optimum use of lands as a national resource for public welfare, shall be pursued in a speedy and judicious manner.

…                                            …                                            …

Finally, we wish to reiterate the need to balance the interest between the petitioner bank (under receivership by the BSP), its creditors (85% of which or a total of P8, 771, 893, 000 is payable to BSP) and the general public on one hand, and the faithful implementation of agrarian reform program on the other hand, with the view to harmonizing them and ensuring that the objectives of the CAR are met and satisfied.[65][45]

The Conversion Order was a product of policy determinations made by the DAR, the Office of the President, and even the Supreme Court. Secretary Torres had ordered the DAR to “respect the temporary custody of those properties by the Statutory Receiver (BSP Deputy Governor Alberto Reyes) by deferring their coverage under the CARL…” This order stemmed in turn from the BSP Resolution of 22 May 1987 placing MBC’s assets under custodia legis. Bolstered by the need to save MBC, which was one of BSP’s crucial debtors, the Supreme Court allowed the BSP receiver to sell MBC’s assets to a third party “under the best terms and conditions,” to give it ample opportunity to rehabilitate MBC. The disposition of MBC’s properties was a judgment call made by the BSP, which, as the sole agency mandated to assist banks and financial institutions in distress, exercises asset management on a macro level. The Supreme Court Resolution called the arrangement the “best solution for Manila Banking and CCFI.”

In light of the foregoing, it would be absurd to impute bad faith to ALI solely because it chose to purchase the redeemed land. Similarly, ALI cannot be held accountable for all the years that the land remained idle pending conversion. To deny relief to ALI would be tantamount to placing the private sector in the unjust situation of investing, upon invitation from the government, in a bank’s distressed assets – among which are lands the government itself has ordered converted – then subsequently confiscating the same from it.

Petitioners did not renege on their duty to pay disturbance compensation to the tenant-farmers. They expended substantial amounts in addition to the purchase price of the foreclosed lands – for litigation and administrative processing costs, the farmers’ compensation, and improvements on the land. The development projects were grounded on a reliance on national government actions that support the thrust ofCavitetowards urbanization.

It was the OP’s first Decision, together with the Supreme Court Resolution, that ultimately paved the way for ALI to acquire title to the subject lands as a third party buyer. When the dispute over the subject land reached the OP for the second time – when the validity of the conversion order was in dispute – the OP of course found no merit in the allegation of concealment. There is therefore absolutely no basis for the imputation of bad faith upon ALI simply on account of the alleged delay in the registration of the sale from CCFI to it.

It must be emphasized that the OP’s ground for supporting conversion finds its moorings in DAR Memorandum Circular 11-79 governing the conversion of private agricultural lands into other uses.  The Circular states that conversion may be allowed when it is by reason of the changes in the predominant land use, brought about by urban development. The OP Decision pointed to the fact that the close proximity ofCavitetoManilaopenedCaviteto the effects of modernization and urbanization. While the CA characterized this ground as “novel,” it still agreed that land use conversion may be allowed, if caused by changes in predominant land use due to urban development.

          The DAR found merit in the thrust of the local government to “disperse urban growth towards neighboring regions of Metro Manila”; to encourage the movement of residential development in the area; and to support the housing needs not just of the neighboring Santa Rosa Technopark, but also of other commercial centers. It is helpful to remember that it is the local government, in this case, that of Silang,Cavite, that occupies the primary policy role of allowing the development of real estate to generate real property taxes and other local revenues.

The CA Decision effectively enfeebles the Orders of no less than three Secretaries of the DAR and the policy pronouncements of the OP. The actions of respondents – accepting disturbance compensation for the land, seeking petitioners’ compliance with the terms of the Conversion Order, then reversing themselves by assailing the Order itself long after the proper period had prescribed – contradict this Court’s rule that conversion orders, once final and executory, may no longer be questioned.

The only justification for the CA ruling – that the lands had already been subjected to a Notice of Acquisition, hence no conversion thereof can take place – cannot stand in the light of two points: 1) the record before this Court (including the CA and the DAR records) is bereft of any copy, certified or otherwise, of the alleged Notice of Acquisition; and 2) even if the land is subject to a Notice of Acquisition, this issue was never raised before the DAR or the OP, nor was it argued before the CA. It existed as a single-line statement in petitioners’ Appeal Memorandum.[66][46] Since the DAR and the OP had ruled for petitioners CCFI and ALI, and the CA itself admitted that petitioners’ stand would have been valid if not for the alleged Notice, the CA should have been more circumspect in verifying whether the evidence on record supported respondents’ self-serving claim.

Before the CA’s unilateral action, this unsupported allegation was never raised as a live legal issue. Hence, CCFI and ALI were deprived of any opportunity to controvert the fact of the Notice of Acquisition and its legal effect, because they were never alerted that the existence of such Notice would in any way endanger their legal position. They had the right to expect that only issues properly raised before the administrative tribunals needed to be addressed. Even assuming that the Notice of Acquisition did exist, considering that CCFI and ALI had no chance to controvert the CA finding of its legal bar to conversion, this Court is unable to ascertain the details of the Notice of Acquisition at this belated stage, or rule on its legal effect on the Conversion Order duly issued by the DAR, without undermining the technical expertise of the DAR itself. To do so would run counter to another basic rule that courts will not resolve a controversy involving a question that is within the jurisdiction of the administrative tribunal prior to its resolution of that question.[67][47]

CARL cannot be used to stultify modernization. It is not the role of the Supreme Court to apply the missing notice of acquisition in perpetuity. This is not a case wherein a feudal landowner is unjustly enriched by the plantings of a long-suffering tenant. ALI is in the precarious position of having been that third-party buyer who offered the terms and conditions most helpful to CCFI, MBC, and effectively, the BSP, considering the 85% portion of the total debt of MBC that BSP owns. What this Court can do positively is to contribute to policy stability by binding the government to its clear policy decisions borne over a long period of time.

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court of Appeals committed reversible error in nullifying the policy pronouncement of the Office of the President and the Department of Agrarian Reform. The instant petition for certiorari is hereby GRANTED, and the Order of the Office of the President dated 26 January 2004 is AFFIRMED.

 

SO ORDERED.

                                      MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

                                                      Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

         

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION                                LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

     Associate Justice                                           Associate Justice

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the Opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                               CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                                                 Associate Justice

                                                         Chairperson, Third Division

 

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                                         RENATO C. CORONA

                                                                            Chief Justice



[1][27] Madrid v. Mapoy, G.R. No. 150887,14 August 2009, 596 SCRA 14, 28.

[2][28] Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, G.R. No. L-26911,27 January 1981, 102 SCRA 246.

[3][26] Supra note 24, at 206.

[4][29] Quiambao v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128305,28 March 2005, 454 SCRA 17.

[5][30] Sebastian v. Morales, 445 Phil. 595, 609 (2003).

[6][31] Supra note 24.

[7][32]  CONSTITUTION, Sec. 21, Art. II on State Policies.

[8][33]  CONSTITUTION, Sec. 20, Art. II on State Policies.

[9][34] Alarcon v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 152085,8 July 2003, 323 SCRA 716.

[10][35]DAR A.O. 12, S. of 1994, Part II, Legal Mandate, pars. A and B.

[11][36] EO 292, Book 1, Chapter 5, Sec. 18.

[12][37] G.R. No. 145013, 31 March 2005, 454 SCRA 493.

[13][38] Id. at 501.

[14][39] United Paracale Mining Company v. Joselito Dela Rosa, G.R. No. 63786-7,7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 108, 115.

[15][40] DAR records, Folder 3 of 3, at 516-528.

[16][41] DAR records, Folder 1 of 3, at 16-18.

[17][42] CA rollo at 38-40.

[18][43] Supra note 12.

[19][44] OP Decision,11 October 1996, at 9.

[20][45] OP Decision,14 March 1997, at 2.

[21][1] SC rollo at 58-66. Penned by Associate Justice Mario L. Guariña III and concurred in by Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and Japar B. Dimaampao.

[22][2]Id. at 202-208.

[23][3]OP Decision in OP Case No. 6231, at 1, DAR records; Folder 3 of 3, at 1481.

[24][4]SC rollo at 316.

[25][5] On29 August 1995, the Supreme Court issued a Resolution in G.R. No. 85960, DAR Records; Folder 3 of 3 at 1443-1444.

[26][6] Dated29 December 1995.

[27][7] Supra note 3, at 3.

[28][8] OP Decision promulgated11 October 1996, at 9.

[29][9] OP Decision promulgated14 March 1997, at 2.

[30][10] Excerpts from the Minutes of the regular session of the Sangguniang Bayan of Silang, held on9 February 1996; DAR records, Folder 1 of 3, at 170.

[31][11] DAR records, Folder 3 of 3, Exhibit 12, at 1546.

[32][12] DAR records, Folder 3 of 3, at 1547-1945.

[33][13] Petition, CA rollo at 528-532.

[34][14] Morales Order, SC rollo at 336-352.

[35][15] Braganza Order, CA rollo at 84-95.

[36][16]Id. at 89.

[37][17] Motion for Reconsideration, Annex 2, at 2.

[38][18] Id. at 3.

[39][19] Pagdanganan Order, SC rollo at 163.

[40][20] Respondent farmers’ Appeal Memorandum to the OP, SC rollo at 317.

[41][21]Id. 

[42][22] OP Decision, SC rollo at 202.

[43][23]Id. at 207.

[44][24] CA Decision, SC rollo at 65.

[45][25] SC rollo at 211.

[46][26] Supra note 24, at 206.

[47][27] Madrid v. Mapoy, G.R. No. 150887,14 August 2009, 596 SCRA 14, 28.

[48][28] Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, G.R. No. L-26911,27 January 1981, 102 SCRA 246.

[49][29] Quiambao v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128305,28 March 2005, 454 SCRA 17.

[50][30] Sebastian v. Morales, 445 Phil. 595, 609 (2003).

[51][31] Supra note 24.

[52][32]  CONSTITUTION, Sec. 21, Art. II on State Policies.

[53][33]  CONSTITUTION, Sec. 20, Art. II on State Policies.

[54][34] Alarcon v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 152085,8 July 2003, 323 SCRA 716.

[55][35]DAR A.O. 12, S. of 1994, Part II, Legal Mandate, pars. A and B.

[56][36] EO 292, Book 1, Chapter 5, Sec. 18.

[57][37] G.R. No. 145013, 31 March 2005, 454 SCRA 493.

[58][38] Id. at 501.

[59][39] United Paracale Mining Company v. Joselito Dela Rosa, G.R. No. 63786-7,7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 108, 115.

[60][40] DAR records, Folder 3 of 3, at 516-528.

[61][41] DAR records, Folder 1 of 3, at 16-18.

[62][42] CA rollo at 38-40.

[63][43] Supra note 12.

[64][44] OP Decision,11 October 1996, at 9.

[65][45] OP Decision,14 March 1997, at 2.

[66][46] CA rollo at 42.

[67][47] The Supreme Court discusses the Doctrine of Primary Jurisdiction in Smart Communications, Inc. v. National Telecommunications Commission, G.R. No. 151908, 12 August 2003,408 SCRA 678.

CASE 2011-0163: MIGUEL DELA PENA BARAIRO VS. OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT and MST MARINE SERVICES (PHILS.), INC.  (G.R. NO. 189314, 15 JUNE 2011) SUBJECT: APPEAL OF DOLE DECISION TO OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT ELIMINATED. (BRIEF TITLE: BARAIRO VS. OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT.)

 

===========================

SUBJECT/DOCTRINE/DIGEST:

PETITIONER SIGNED A CONTRACT AS CHIEF MATE OF M/T HARUNA FOR 6 MONTHS. AFTER ONE WEEK HE  DISEMBARKED ON GROUND THAT HIS BOARDING M/T HARUNA WAS A SEA TRIAL ONLY. MST, HIS MANNING AGENT, FILED CASE AT POEA. POEA SUSPENDED PETITIONER FOR ONE YEAR FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT. ON APPEAL, DOLE REDUCED SUSPENSION TO SIX  MONTHS. PETITIONER APPEALLED  TO OP. OP DISMISSED THE CASE ON THE GROUND THAT APPEAL CAN BE BROUGHT TO THEM ONLY IF CASE INVOLVES NATIONAL SECURITY.

 

WAS APPEAL TO OP PROPER?

 

NO.  APPEALS TO THE OP IN LABOR CASES HAVE BEEN ELIMINATED, EXCEPT THOSE INVOLVING NATIONAL INTEREST OVER WHICH THE PRESIDENT MAY ASSUME JURISDICTION.

 

Following settled jurisprudence, the proper remedy to question the decisions or orders of the Secretary of Labor is via Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65, not via an appeal to the OP.   For appeals to the OP in labor cases have indeed been eliminated, except those involving national interest over which the President may assume jurisdiction.   The rationale behind this development is mirrored in the OP’s Resolution of June 26, 2009 the pertinent portion of which reads:

. . . [T] he assailed DOLE’s Orders were both issued by Undersecretary Danilo P. Cruz under the authority of the DOLE Secretary who is the alter ego of the President.  Under the “Doctrine of Qualified Political Agency,” a corollary   rule to the control powers of the President, all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the Executive Department, the heads of the various executive departments are assistants and agents of the Chief Executive, and, except in cases where the Chief Executive is required by Constitution or law to act in person or the exigencies of the situation demand that he act personally, the multifarious executive and administrative functions of the Chief Executive are performed by and through the executive departments, and the acts of the Secretaries of such departments, performed and promulgated in the regular course of business are, unless disapproved or reprobated by the Chief Executive presumptively the acts of the Chief Executive.[1][10] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

It cannot be gainsaid that petitioner’s case does not involve national interest. 

 

 

===========================

 

THIRD DIVISION

MIGUEL DELA PENA BARAIRO,                                     Petitioner,         

 

 

                  - versus -

 

 

 

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT and MST MARINE SERVICES (PHILS.), INC.

                                 Respondent.

G.R. No.   189314 Present:

 

CARPIO MORALES, J., 

                       Chairperson,

BRION,

BERSAMIN,

VILLARAMA, JR., and

SERENO, JJ.  

 

 

Promulgated:

                            

June 15, 2011

 

x – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  x

D E C I S I O N

 

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

Miguel Barairo (petitioner) was hired[2][1] on June 29, 2004 by respondent MST Marine Services (Phils.) Inc., (MST) for its principal, TSM International, Ltd., as Chief Mate of the vessel Maritina, for a contract period of six months.  He boarded the vessel and discharged his duties on July 23, 2004, but was relieved[3][2] on August 28, 2004 ostensibly for transfer to another vessel, Solar.  Petitioner thus disembarked inManila on August 29, 2004.

Petitioner was later to claim that he was not paid the promised “stand-by fee” in lieu of salary that he was to receive while awaiting transfer to another vessel as in fact the transfer never materialized.

On October 20, 2004, petitioner signed a new Contract of Employment[4][3] for a six-month deployment as Chief Mate in a newly-built Japanese vessel, M/T Haruna.  He was paid a one-month “standby fee” in connection with the Maritina contract. 

Petitioner boarded the M/T Haruna on October 31, 2004 but he disembarked a week later as MST claimed that his boarding of M/T Haruna was a “sea trial” which, MST maintains, was priorly made known to him on a “stand-by” fee.  MST soon informed petitioner that he would be redeployed to the M/T Haruna on November 30, 2004, but petitioner refused, prompting MST to file a complaint[5][4] for breach of contract against him before the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). 

Petitioner claimed, however, that he was placed on “forced vacation” when he was made to disembark from the M/T Haruna, and that not wanting to experience a repetition of the previous “termination” of his employment aboard the Maritina, he refused to be redeployed to the M/T Haruna.

By Order[6][5] of April 5, 2006, then POEA Administrator Rosalinda D. Baldoz penalized petitioner with one year suspension from overseas deployment upon a finding that his refusal to complete his contract aboard the M/T Haruna constituted a breach thereof.

On appeal by petitioner, the Secretary of Labor, by Order[7][6] of September 22, 2006, noting that it was petitioner’s first offense, modified the POEA Order by shortening the period of suspension from one year to six months.

The Office of the President (OP), by Decision[8][7] of November 26, 2007, dismissed petitioner’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, citing National Federation of Labor v. Laguesma.[9][8] 

The OP held that appeals to it in labor cases, except those involving national interest, have been eliminated.  Petitioner’s motion for partial reconsideration was denied by Resolution[10][9] of June 26, 2009, hence, the present petition.

Following settled jurisprudence, the proper remedy to question the decisions or orders of the Secretary of Labor is via Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65, not via an appeal to the OP.   For appeals to the OP in labor cases have indeed been eliminated, except those involving national interest over which the President may assume jurisdiction.   The rationale behind this development is mirrored in the OP’s Resolution of June 26, 2009 the pertinent portion of which reads:

. . . [T] he assailed DOLE’s Orders were both issued by Undersecretary Danilo P. Cruz under the authority of the DOLE Secretary who is the alter ego of the President.  Under the “Doctrine of Qualified Political Agency,” a corollary   rule to the control powers of the President, all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the Executive Department, the heads of the various executive departments are assistants and agents of the Chief Executive, and, except in cases where the Chief Executive is required by Constitution or law to act in person or the exigencies of the situation demand that he act personally, the multifarious executive and administrative functions of the Chief Executive are performed by and through the executive departments, and the acts of the Secretaries of such departments, performed and promulgated in the regular course of business are, unless disapproved or reprobated by the Chief Executive presumptively the acts of the Chief Executive.[11][10] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

It cannot be gainsaid that petitioner’s case does not involve national interest. 

Petitioner’s appeal of the Secretary of Labor’s Decision to the Office of the President did not toll the running of the period, hence, the assailed Decisions of the Secretary of Labor are deemed to have attained finality.      

Although appeal is an essential part of our judicial process, it has been held, time and again, that the right thereto is not a natural right or a part of due process but is merely a statutory privilege. Thus, the perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period prescribed by law is not only mandatory but also jurisdictional and failure of a party to conform to the rules regarding appeal will render the judgment final and executory. Once a decision attains finality, it becomes the law of the case irrespective of whether the decision is erroneous or not and no court – not even the Supreme Court – has the power to revise, review, change or alter the same. The basic rule of finality of judgment is grounded on the fundamental principle of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional error, the judgment of courts and the award of quasi-judicial agencies must become final at some definite date fixed by law.[12][11] (underscoring in the original, emphasis supplied)

At all events, on the merits, the petition just the same fails. 

As found by the POEA Administrator and  the Secretary of Labor, through Undersecretary Danilo P. Cruz,  petitioner’s refusal to board the M/T Haruna on November 30, 2004 constituted unjustified breach of  his contract of employment under Section 1 (A-2) Rule II,  Part VI  [sic] of the POEA Seabased Rules and Regulations.[13][12]  That petitioner believed that respondent company violated his rights when the period of his earlier Maritina contract was not followed and his “stand-by fees” were not fully paid did not justify his refusal to abide by the valid and existing Haruna contract requiring him to serve aboard M/T Haruna.  For, as noted in the assailed DOLE Order, “if petitioner’s rights has been violated as he claims, he has various remedies under the contract which he did not avail of.” 

Parenthetically, the Undersecretary of Labor declared that “the real reason [petitioner] refused to re-join Haruna on November 30, 2004, is that he left the Philippines on November 29, 2004 to join MT Adriatiki, a vessel of another manning agency,” which declaration petitioner has not refuted. 

          WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED

          SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

                                                CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                                              Associate Justice

                                                                 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

 

          I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                                         

                                  CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                      Associate Justice

                                   Chairperson

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                                     RENATO C. CORONA

                                                                Chief Justice



[1][10]          Vide June 26, 2009 Resolution of the Office of the President, id. at 105-108 at 107.

[2][1]   Vide Contract of Employment, rollo, p. 110.

[3][2]  Id. at 112.

[4][3]   Ibid.

[5][4]   Vide Complaint-Affidavit of Captain Alfonso R. del Castillo, id. at 113-114.

[6][5]  Id. at 132-134.

[7][6]  Id. at 174-177.   Penned by Undersecretary Danilo P. Cruz.

[8][7]  Id. at 55-66.  Penned by Undersecretary Pilita P. Quizon-Venturanza.

[9][8]   G.R. No. 123426, March 10, 1999, 304 SCRA 405.

[10][9] Rollo, pp. 105-108.  Penned by Undersecretary Pilita P. Quizon-Venturanza.

[11][10]         Vide June 26, 2009 Resolution of the Office of the President, id. at 105-108 at 107.

[12][11]         Land Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 190660,  April 11, 2011 citing Zamboanga Forest Managers Corp. v. New Pacific Timber and Supply Co., et al., G.R. No. 143275, 399 SCRA 376, 385.

[13][12]      RULE II
Disciplinary Action Against Seafarers

SECTION 1.    Grounds for Disciplinary Action and their Penalties. — Commission by a seafarer of any of the offenses enumerated below or of similar offenses shall be a ground for disciplinary action for which the corresponding penalty shall be imposed:

A.    Pre-Employment Offenses

1.    Submission/furnishing or using false information or documents or any form of misrepresentation for purpose of job application or employment.

1st Offense: One year to two years suspension from participation in the overseas employment program

2nd Offense: Two years and one day suspension from participation in the overseas employment program to Delisting from the POEA Registry

2.    Unjust refusal to join ship after all employment and travel documents have been duly approved by the appropriate government agencies.

1st Offense: One year to two years suspension from participation in the overseas employment program

2nd offense: Two years and one day suspension from participation in the overseas employment program to Delisting from the POEA Registry (emphasis supplied)

CASE 2011-0162: PHILIPPINE ARMY VS. SPOUSES MAJOR CONSTANCIO PAMITTAN (RET.) AND  LEONOR PAMITTAN, SPOUSES ALBERTO TALINIO AND MARIA CHONA P. TALINIO, SPOUSES T/SGT. MELCHOR BACULI AND LAARNI BACULI, SPOUSES S/SGT. JUAN PALASIGUE AND MARILOU PALASIGUE, SPOUSES GRANT PAJARILLO AND FRANCES PAJARILLO, SPOUSES M/SGT. EDGAR ANOG AND ZORAIDA ANOG, AND SPOUSES 2LT. MELITO PAPA AND PINKY PAPA, FOR THEMSELVES AND FOR OTHER OCCUPANTS OF SITIO SAN CARLOS, UPI, GAMU, ISABELA, BY WAY OF CLASS SUIT (G.R. NO. 187326, 15 JUNE 2011,  CARPIO, J.) SUBJECTS: MOTION TO DISMISS; INSUFFICIENT CAUSE OF ACTION; STATE AS OWNER CAN USE ITS PROPERTY (BRIEF TITLE: PHILIPPINE ARMY VS. PAMITAN)

===========================================

 

SUBJECT/DOCTRINE/DIGEST:

 

RESPONDENTS WERE OCCUPYING AN ARMY RESERVATION LAND. PETITIONERS DEMOLISHED THEIR HOUSES. RESPONDENTS SUED THE PHILIPPINE ARMY AND THOSE WHO TOOK PART IN THE DEMOLITION. RTC DISMISSED THE CASE. CA REVERSED AND ORDERED TRIAL.

 

WAS THE DISMISSAL BY RTC IN ORDER?

 

YES. THE STATE, AS OWNER HAS THE RIGHT TO USE THE SUBJECT PROPERTY. THERE IS NO CAUSE OF ACTION FOR LAWFUL ACTS DONE BY THE OWNER ON HIS PROPERTY ALTHOUGH SUCH ACTS MAY CAUSE INCIDENTAL DAMAGE OR LOSS TO ANOTHER.

Thus, the RTC dismissed the complaint for lack of cause of action considering that the State as the owner has the right to use the subject property. Citing Custodio v. Court of Appeals,18 the RTC held that there is no cause of action for lawful acts done by the owner on his property although such acts may cause incidental damage or loss to another.

Besides, the RTC also held that petitioners cannot be held personally accountable for the demolition of the dwellings since such act was done in connection with their official duties in carrying out the AFP program “Oplan Linis.” The RTC noted that the demolition was done only after previous demands to vacate were ignored by respondents. There was no showing that such acts constitute ultra vires acts nor was there a showing of bad faith on the

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

WHAT IS GENERALLY THE BASIS OF A MOTION TO DISMISS?

FAILURE TO STATE A CAUSE OF ACTION.

 

WHAT ARE ELEMENTS OF FAILURE TO STATE CAUSE OF ACTION?

 

  1. 1.   IT ADMITS THE TRUTH OF THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT;

 

  1. 2.   THE INSUFFICIENCY OF THE CAUSE OF ACTION MUST APPEAR ON THE FACE OF THE COMPLAINT.

 

IS THE COURT BOUND TO CONSIDER ONLY THOSE FACTS ADMIITED IN THE COMPLAINT.

 

NO. COURT CANNOT CONSIDER IMPOSSIBLE FACTS, FACTS INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE, UNFOUNDED FACTS. IT CAN CONSIDER THE ANNEXES OF THE PLEADINGS OF THE PARTIES.

 

Generally, a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a cause of action hypothetically admits the truth of the allegations in the complaint and in order to sustain a dismissal based on lack of cause of action, the insufficiency of the cause of action must appear on the face of the complaint.10 However, this rule is not without exception. Thus, a motion to dismiss “does not admit allegations of which the court will take judicial notice are not true, nor does the rule apply to legally impossible facts, nor to facts inadmissible in evidence, nor to facts which appear by record or document included in the pleadings to be unfounded.”11 Indeed, in some cases, the court may also consider, in addition to the complaint, other pleadings submitted by the parties and the annexes or documents appended to it.12

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

WERE THE OFFICERS INVOLVED IN THE DEMOLITON LIABLE?

NO. THEY WERE JUST PERFORMING THEIR DUTY. THE DEMOLITION WAS DONE ONLY AFTER DEMANDTO VACATE WAS IGNORED. THERE WAS NO SHOWING OF BAD FAITH.

Besides, the RTC also held that petitioners cannot be held personally accountable for the demolition of the dwellings since such act was done in connection with their official duties in carrying out the AFP program “Oplan Linis.” The RTC noted that the demolition was done only after previous demands to vacate were ignored by respondents. There was no showing that such acts constitute ultra vires acts nor was there a showing of bad faith on the part of petitioners.

===========================================

 

 

 

 

 

SECOND DIVISION

 

PHILIPPINE ARMY,                                                                                           G.R. No. 187326

5th Infantry Division, through

GEN. ALEXANDER YAPSING,                                                        Present:

LT. COL. NICANOR PENULIAR,

and LT. COL. FERNANDO PASION,                                             CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

Petitioners,                                                                                                                           LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,*

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

- versus –                                                                                                                               MENDOZA, JJ.

 

SPOUSES MAJOR CONSTANCIO

PAMITTAN (Ret.) and

LEONOR PAMITTAN,

SPOUSES ALBERTO TALINIO

and MARIA CHONA P. TALINIO,

SPOUSES T/SGT. MELCHOR BACULI

and LAARNI BACULI,

SPOUSES S/SGT. JUAN PALASIGUE

and MARILOU PALASIGUE,

SPOUSES GRANT PAJARILLO

and FRANCES PAJARILLO,

SPOUSES M/SGT. EDGAR ANOG

and ZORAIDA ANOG, and

SPOUSES 2LT. MELITO PAPA

and PINKY PAPA, for Themselves

and for Other Occupants of Sitio San Carlos,                               Promulgated:

Upi, Gamu, Isabela, by Way of Class Suit,

Respondents.                                                                                                        June 15, 2011

x – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

 

This petition for review1 assails the 15 January 2009 Decision2 and the 10 March 2009 Resolution3 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 89862. The Court of Appeals set aside the Orders dated 11 April 2007 and 19 June 2007 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 18, Ilagan, Isabela in Civil Case No. 1377, and remanded the case to the RTC for further proceedings.

 

The Facts

On 7 July 2006, respondents filed a complaint for Damages, Injunction with Prayer for a Writ of Preliminary Mandatory Injunction, and Temporary Restraining Order against petitioners. Petitioners Gen. Yapsing, Lt. Col. Penuliar and Lt. Col. Pasion were the Commanding General of the 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, Task Force Bantay Commander, and Camp Commander of Camp Melchor F. dela Cruz, 5th Infantry Division, PA, Headquarters in Upi, Gamu, Isabela, respectively.

 

Respondents averred that they have been occupying and residing on the land which is part of the Breeding Station of the Department of Agriculture (DA), located in Sitio San Carlos, Barangay Upi in Gamu, Isabela for the past twenty (20) to thirty (30) years. Their occupation of the land was allegedly pursuant to a prior arrangement between the DA and the then higher authorities in Camp Melchor F. dela Cruz, on the condition that the DA retains ownership over the land. Respondents averred that on 3 July 2006, upon orders of petitioners, active elements of the 5th Infantry Division, PA, tore down, demolished, and dismantled their houses. Respondents, through their counsel, demanded in writing that petitioners and their subordinates cease and desist from further demolishing their dwellings; otherwise, they would sue for damages. On 4 July 2006, the demolition crew continued tearing down other houses despite the respondents’ demand letter claiming that the demolition was illegal because of lack of a court order.

 

On 12 July 2006, the RTC issued a temporary restraining order, enjoining and restraining for seventy two (72) hours petitioners and their agents or representatives from further continuing with the demolition.

 

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that: (1) the complaint states no cause of action; (2) the RTC has no jurisdiction to hear the case; and (3) plaintiffs (respondents herein) are not entitled to a writ of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order.4

 

On 7 November 2006, the OSG filed its Memorandum5 alleging that:

 

1.      On 8 June 1990, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) laid down its policy against squatting and unauthorized construction of residential houses and facilities inside military reservations. Major Service Commanders and Area Commanders of all military reservations were directed to implement the said policy within their respective commands.

 

2.      Sometime in 1994, the Commanding Officer, 5th Infantry Division, Camp Melchor dela Cruz, Upi, Gamu Isabela entered into a Construction Agreement with herein plaintiffs most of whom were in active service of the military. (Annexes “1” to “4”)

 

3.      By virtue of the said agreement, plaintiffs were granted construction permits subject to certain conditions stated therein, one of which is:

 

The applicant shall be mandated to vacate the residential unit upon retirement from the military service;

 

The area subject of this permit shall be returned to the control of theCampCommanderin case the same is needed for military use in line with the base development plan thirty (30) days from notice of theCampCommander.

 

4.      On August 12, 2004, Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Felix F. Calinag, in compliance with the directive of the AFP General Headquarters on squatting, otherwise known to as “Oplan Linis,” ordered all military personnel and civilians unlawfully residing inside Camp dela Cruz to vacate their residences within the soonest possible time;

 

5.      As a result of the aforementioned directive, a large number of military personnel and civilians who had built their houses within the camp, voluntarily demolished the same and left the camp;

 

6.      On April 7, 2006, demands were again made on those parties, including herein plaintiffs, who refused to vacate their premises. These demands were reiterated in June 26, 2006 on all the plaintiffs (Annexes “5” to “11”)

 

7.      On July 3, 2006, or after more than three (3) months from receipt of plaintiff’s notice to vacate, the command effected the demolition of the structures in the subject property. Manifestly, defendants effected the demolition in accord with the terms and conditions agreed upon by plaintiffs and the government under the subject construction permits. Such demolition was effected only after reasonable time was given to all plaintiffs to remove their existing structures.6

 

 

On 11 April 2007, the RTC issued an order7 granting the motion to dismiss. Respondents moved for reconsideration, which the RTC denied in its order8 dated 19 June 2007.

 

Respondents appealed to the Court of Appeals.

 

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

 

On 15 January 2009, the Court of Appeals promulgated its decision, reversing and setting aside the assailed orders of the RTC. The dispositive portion of the Court of Appeals’ decision reads:

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed Orders dated April 11, 2007 and June 19, 2007 of the RTC, Branch 18, Ilagan, Isabela in Civil Case No. 1377 [are] REVERSED and SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to the RTC, Branch 18, Ilagan, Isabela for further proceedings. In order to maintain the status quo in this case, let a writ of preliminary injunction be issued enjoining defendants-appellants Ge. Yapsing, Lt. Col. Penuliar and Lt. Col. Pasion and/or their agents and/or representatives from committing further acts of demolition and/or dispossession. A bond is hereby fixed in the amount of P880,000.00 to be executed by plaintiffs-appellants to defendants-appellees to the effect that the former will pay the latter all damages which the latter may sustain by reason of this writ should the court finally decide that the former are not entitled thereto.

 

SO ORDERED.9

 

The Court of Appeals ruled that to determine whether petitioners acted within the scope of their military authority in ordering the demolition of respondents’ houses on the subject property and whether the RTC has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case requires the resolution of the issue of ownership of the subject property. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals held that the determination of whether the subject property belongs to the DA or the Armed Forces of thePhilippinescould be best resolved in a full blown hearing on the merits before the lower court.

 

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Court of Appeals denied in its Resolution dated 10 March 2009.

 

Hence, this petition.

 

The Issue

 

The sole issue for resolution is whether the Court of Appeals erred in setting aside the orders of the RTC and remanding the case to the RTC for a full-blown trial.

The Ruling of the Court

 

We find the petition meritorious.

 

 

Generally, a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a cause of action hypothetically admits the truth of the allegations in the complaint and in order to sustain a dismissal based on lack of cause of action, the insufficiency of the cause of action must appear on the face of the complaint.10 However, this rule is not without exception. Thus, a motion to dismiss “does not admit allegations of which the court will take judicial notice are not true, nor does the rule apply to legally impossible facts, nor to facts inadmissible in evidence, nor to facts which appear by record or document included in the pleadings to be unfounded.”11 Indeed, in some cases, the court may also consider, in addition to the complaint, other pleadings submitted by the parties and the annexes or documents appended to it.12

 

In this case, the RTC considered other pleadings, aside from the complaint, filed by both parties, including the annexes in determining the sufficiency of the cause of action.13

It is undisputed that respondents neither own nor lease the land on which they constructed their houses. Nevertheless, respondents insist that the demolition of their houses upon orders of petitioners was illegal because their houses stood on property which forms part of the DA Breeding Station and not within the military reservation. However, as found by the RTC, respondents’ contention is belied by the survey report of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In its Order dated 11 April 2007, the RTC found that contrary to respondents’ allegations in their complaint, the land occupied by respondents is within the military reservation based on the survey conducted by the DENR. In the Memorandum14 dated 7 June 2005 of the Assistant Chief of the Surveys Division addressed to the Regional Technical Director for Lands of the DENR, it was stated that on 18 May 2005, the Survey Team proceeded to Upi, Gamu, Isabela to conduct a verification survey of the boundary of the military reservation and the DA Stock Farm to determine the exact location of the 82 household dwellers who were occupying the area subject of the verification survey. The Assistant Chief of the Surveys Division reported that the Survey Team found that the area occupied by the 82 household dwellers with an area of about 27,251 square meters is within the perimeter of the military reservation. The report stated:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is our findings:

1.      Facts gathered

a. Research of references in the DENR-LMS Records Unit are the following:

a.1 Certified Blue Print copy of PLS 965 approved February 18, 1916

a.2 Certified Blue print copy of SK-al-02-000361 approved May 23, 2000

a.3 certified Blue print copy of NR 122 approved December 15, 1958

 

b. The team started the survey and recovered four (4) old monuments identified as BBM No. 2 equals to corner 7of Lot 467 and corner 1 of Lot 468 both of PLS 965 and old B1 identified also as corners 11, 12, and 13 of Lot 1 NR 122 equivalent to corners 5, 6, and 7 of Lot 468 of PLS 965 respectively. BBM No. 2 is the most possible corners for us to start running a traverse going to the boundary between Isabela stock farm and the Military reservation. Corners 1 and 2 of Lot 467 PLS 965 to (Lot 1, NR 122) identical to corners 37 and 36 ofLot1, Ir 425 Proclamation No. 100 respectively.

 

After running our traverse we set the boundaries with the presence of DA representatives, Military representatives and also representatives from the household dwellers. As a result of our verification survey, there is a little discrepancy compared to existing boundaries but within allowable error. However, when we set boundaries between Military Reservation and DA Stock Farm, it was found that the area occupied by the 82 household dwellers with an area of 27,251 square meters more or less is within the perimeter of the Military Reservation. Attached herewith is a prepared blue print plan of the area surveyed together with the relative location occupied by dwellers which is attached for ready reference.15 (Emphasis supplied)

 

 

More importantly, respondents cannot deny that in 1994, they signed a “Construction Permit”16 giving them permission “to construct a residential house of semi-strong materials on a portion of the military reservation at Camp Melchor F. Dela Cruz, Upi, Gamu, Isabela” subject to certain conditions such as:

 

That the residential unit shall not be transferred to any other person without the consent of the Camp Commander/CO, HHSBn, 5ID, PA;

 

That the applicant shall be mandated to vacate the residential unit upon retirement from the military service;

 

That the area subject of this permit shall be returned to the control of the Camp Commander in case the same is needed for the military use in line with the base development plan thirty (30) days from notice of the Camp Commander.17 (Emphasis supplied)

Thus, the RTC dismissed the complaint for lack of cause of action considering that the State as the owner has the right to use the subject property. Citing Custodio v. Court of Appeals,18 the RTC held that there is no cause of action for lawful acts done by the owner on his property although such acts may cause incidental damage or loss to another.

Besides, the RTC also held that petitioners cannot be held personally accountable for the demolition of the dwellings since such act was done in connection with their official duties in carrying out the AFP program “Oplan Linis.” The RTC noted that the demolition was done only after previous demands to vacate were ignored by respondents. There was no showing that such acts constitute ultra vires acts nor was there a showing of bad faith on the part of petitioners.

 

Clearly, as found by the RTC, the evidence on record sufficiently defeats respondents’ claim that they are entitled to damages and thus, have no cause of action against petitioners.

 

WHEREFORE, we GRANT the petition. We SET ASIDE the 15 January 2009 Decision and the 10 March 2009 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 89862. We REINSTATE the Orders dated 11 April 2007 and 19 June 2007 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Ilagan, Isabela in Civil Case No. 1377.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

JOSE C. MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Designated additional member per Special Order No. 1006 dated 10 June 2011.

1Under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

2Rollo, pp. 9-20. Penned by Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, with Associate Justices Jose C. Reyes, Jr. and Normandie B. Pizarro, concurring.

3Id. at 22-23.

4Id. at 96-102.

5Id. at 125-132.

6Id. at 126-127.

7Id. at 155-159.

8Id. at 160-161.

9Id. at 19-20.

10East Asia Traders, Inc. v. Republic, G.R. No. 152947, 7 July 2004, 433 SCRA 716.

11Tan v. Director of Forestry, 210 Phil. 244, 255 (1983).

12Jimenez, Jr. v. Jordana, 486 Phil. 452 (2004); City of Cebu v. CA, 327 Phil. 799 (1996); Santiago v. Pioneer Savings & Loan Bank, 241 Phil. 113 (1988).

13Rollo, pp. 160-161; In its Order dated 19 June 2007, denying respondent’s motion for reconsideration, the RTC explained:

 

The rule on a motion to dismiss cited by the plaintiff while correct as a general rule is [not] without exceptions. In Marcopper Mining Corporation vs. Garcia, 143 SCRA 178, the Supreme Court ruled that the trial court can consider all the pleadings filed, including answers, motions and evidence then on record for purposes of resolving a motion to dismiss based on lack of cause of action.

 

In the case at bar, the Court had the opportunity to examine the merits of the complaint, the Motion to Dismiss, the Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, the Memoranda of both parties and the annexes thereto. It is therefore logical for the Court to consider all the aforesaid pleadings in determining whether or not there was a sufficient cause of action in the plaintiffs’ complaint.

 

In another case, the Supreme Court ruled that where a motion to dismiss was heard with the submission of evidence, the Court cannot be limited by the rule that such motion admits the truth of the allegation in the complaint (Tan vs. Director of Forestry, 125 SCRA 302). It must be noted that in the case at bar, the motion to dismiss was set for hearing wherein answers/opposition were interposed and evidence introduced. In the course of the proceedings, the plaintiffs had the opportunity to present evidence in support of their allegations in their complaint. As a consequence, the plaintiffs are estopped from invoking the rule that to determine the sufficiency of a cause of action, only the facts alleged in the complaint must be considered.

14Id. at 144-145.

15Id.

16Id. at 78-81.

17Id.

18 323 Phil. 575 (1996).

 

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