G.R. No. 131457 April 24, 1998
HON. CARLOS O. FORTICH, PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR OF BUKIDNON, HON. REY B. BAULA, MUNICIPAL MAYOR OF SUMILAO, BUKIDNON, NQSR MANAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Petitioners, vs. HON. RENATO C. CORONA, DEPUTY EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, HON. ERNESTO D. GARILAO, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM, Respondents.
The dramatic and well-publicized hunger strike staged by some alleged farmer-beneficiaries in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform compound in Quezon City on October 9, 1997 commanded nationwide attention that even church leaders and some presidential candidates tried to intervene for the strikers' "cause."
The strikers protested the March 29, 1996 Decision 1 of the Office of the President (OP), issued through then Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres in OP Case No. 96-C-6424, which approved the conversion of a one hundred forty-four (144)-hectare land from agricultural to agro-industrial/institutional area. This led the Office of the President, through then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona, to issue the so-called "Win-Win" Resolution 2 on November 7, 1997, substantially modifying its earlier Decision after it had already become final and executory. The said Resolution modified the approval of the land conversion to agro-industrial area only to the extent of forty-four (44) hectares, and ordered the remaining one hundred (100) hectares to be distributed to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.
But, did the "Win-Win" Resolution culminate in victory for all the contending parties?
The above-named petitioners cried foul. They have come to this Court urging us to annul and set aside the "Win-Win" Resolution and to enjoin respondent Secretary Ernesto D. Garilao of the Department of Agrarian Reform from implementing the said Resolution.
Thus, the crucial issue to be resolved in this case is: What is the legal effect of the "Win-Win" Resolution issued by the Office of the President on its earlier Decision involving the same subject matter, which had already become final and executory?
The antecedent facts of this controversy, as culled from the pleadings, may be stated as follows:
1. This case involves a 144-hectare land located at San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, owned by the Norberto Quisumbing, Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC), one of the petitioners. The property is covered by a Transfer Certificate of Title No. 14371 3 of the Registry of Deeds of the Province of Bukidnon.
2. In 1984, the land was leased as a pineapple plantation to the Philippine Packing Corporation, now Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI), a multinational corporation, for a period of ten (10) years under the Crop Producer and Grower's Agreement duly annotated in the certificate of title. The lease expired in April, 1994.
3. In October, 1991, during the existence of the lease, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) placed the entire 144-hectare property under compulsory acquisition and assessed the land value at P2.38 million. 4
4. NQSRMDC resisted the DAR's action. In February, 1992, it sought and was granted by the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB), through its Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) in DARAB Case No. X-576, a writ of prohibition with preliminary injunction which ordered the DAR Region X Director, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) of Bukidnon, the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office (MARO) of Sumilao, Bukidnon, the Land Bank of the Philippines (Land Bank), and their authorized representatives "to desist from pursuing any activity or activities" concerning the subject land "until further orders." 5
5. Despite the DARAB order of March 31, 1992, the DAR Regional Director issued a memorandum, dated May 21, 1992, directing the Land Bank to open a trust account for P2.38 million in the name of NQSRMDC and to conduct summary proceedings to determine the just compensation of the subject property. NQSRMDC objected to these moves and filed on June 9, 1992 an Omnibus Motion to enforce the DARAB order of March 31, 1992 and to nullify the summary proceedings undertaken by the DAR Regional Director and Land Bank on the valuation of the subject property.
6. The DARAB, on October 22, 1992, acted favorably on the Omnibus Motion by (a) ordering the DAR Regional Director and Land Bank "to seriously comply with the terms of the order dated March 31, 1992;" (b) nullifying the DAR Regional Director's memorandum, dated May 21, 1992, and the summary proceedings conducted pursuant thereto; and (c) directing the Land Bank "to return the claim folder of Petitioner NQSRMDC's subject Property to the DAR until further orders." 6
7. The Land Bank complied with the DARAB order and cancelled the trust account it opened in the name of petitioner NQSRMDC. 7
8. In the meantime, the Provincial Development Council (PDC) of Bukidnon, headed by Governor Carlos O. Fortich, passed Resolution No. 6, 8 dated January 7, 1993, designating certain areas along Bukidnon-Sayre Highway as part of the Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Zones where the subject property is situated.
9. What happened thereafter is well-narrated in the OP (TORRES) Decision of March 29, 1996, pertinent portions of which we quote:
10. Thus, the DAR Secretary ordered the DAR Regional Director "to proceed with the compulsory acquisition and distribution of the property." 10
11. Governor Carlos O. Fortich of Bukidnon appealed" the order of denial to the Office of the President and prayed for the conversion/reclassification of the subject land as the same would be more beneficial to the people of Bukidnon.
12. To prevent the enforcement of the DAR Secretary's order, NQSRMDC, on June 29, 1995, filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari, prohibition with preliminary injunction, 12 docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 37614.
13. Meanwhile, on July 25, 1995, the Honorable Paul G. Dominguez, then Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, after conducting an evaluation of the proposed project, sent a memorandum 13 to the President favorably endorsing the project with a recommendation that the DAR Secretary reconsider his decision in denying the application of the province for the conversion of the land.
14. Also, in a memorandum 14 to the President dated August 23, 1995, the Honorable Rafael Alunan III, then Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), recommended the conversion of the subject land to industrial/institutional use with a request that the President "hold the implementation of the DAR order to distribute the land in question."
15. On October 23, 1995, the Court of Appeals, in CA-G.R. SP No. 37614, issued a Resolution 15 ordering the parties to observe status quo pending resolution of the petition. At the hearing held in said case on October 5, 1995, the DAR, through the Solicitor General, manifested before the said court that the DAR was merely "in the processing stage of the applications of farmers-claimants" and has agreed to respect status quo pending the resolution of the petition. 16
16. In resolving the appeal, the Office of the President, through then Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres, issued a Decision in OP Case No. 96-C-6424, dated March 29, 1996, reversing the DAR Secretary's decision, the pertinent portions of which read:
17. On May 20, 1996, DAR filed a motion for reconsideration of the OP decision.
18. On September 11, 1996, in compliance with the OP decision of March 29, 1996, NQSRMDC and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) executed a Memorandum of Agreement whereby the former donated four (4) hectares from the subject land to DECS for the establishment of the NQSR High School. 18
When NQSRMDC was about to transfer the title over the 4-hectare donated to DECS, it discovered that the title over the subject property was no longer in its name. It soon found out that during the pendency of both the Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition, with Preliminary Injunction it filed against DAR in the Court of Appeals and the appeal to the President filed by Governor Carlos O. Fortich, the DAR, without giving just compensation, caused the cancellation of NQSRMDC's title on August 11, 1995 and had it transferred in the name of the Republic of the Philippines under TCT No. T-50264 19 of the Registry of Deeds of Bukidnon. Thereafter, on September 25, 1995, DAR caused the issuance of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No. 00240227 and had it registered in the name of 137 farmer-beneficiaries under TCT No. AT-3536 20 of the Registry of Deeds of Bukidnon.
19. Thus, on April 10, 1997, NQSRMDC filed a complaint 21 with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malaybalay, Bukidnon (Branch 9), docketed as Civil Case No. 2687-97, for annulment and cancellation of title, damages and injunction against DAR and 141 others. The RTC then issued a Temporary Restraining Order on April 30, 1997 22 and a Writ of Preliminary Injunction on May 19, 1997, 23 restraining the DAR and 141 others from entering, occupying and/or wresting from NQSRMDC the possession of the subject land.
20. Meanwhile, on June 23, 1997, an Order 24 was issued by then Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres denying DAR's motion for reconsideration for having been filed beyond the reglementary period of fifteen (15) days. The said order further declared that the March 29, 1996 OP decision had already become final and executory.
21. The DAR filed on July 11, 1997 a second motion for reconsideration of the June 23, 1997 Order of the President.
22. On August 12, 1997, the said writ of preliminary injunction issued by the RTC was challenged by some alleged farmers before the Court of Appeals through a petition for certiorari and prohibition, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 44905, praying for the lifting of the injunction and for the issuance of a writ of prohibition from further trying the RTC case.
23. On October 9, 1997, some alleged farmer-beneficiaries began their hunger strike in front of the DAR Compound in Quezon City to protest the OP Decision of March 29, 1996. On October 10, 1997, some persons claiming to be farmer-beneficiaries of the NQSRMDC property filed a motion for intervention (styled as Memorandum In Intervention) in O.P. Case No. 96-C-6424, asking that the OP Decision allowing the conversion of the entire 144-hectare property be set aside. 25
24. President Fidel V. Ramos then held a dialogue with the strikers and promised to resolve their grievance within the framework of the law. He created an eight (8)-man Fact Finding Task Force (FFTF) chaired by Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero to look into the controversy and recommend possible solutions to the problem. 26
25. On November 7, 1997, the Office of the President resolved the strikers' protest by issuing the so-called "Win/Win" Resolution penned by then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona, the dispositive portion of which reads:
A copy of the "Win-Win" Resolution was received by Governor Carlos O. Fortich of Bukidnon, Mayor Rey B. Baula of Sumilao, Bukidnon, and NQSRMDC on November 24, 1997 28 and, on December 4, 1997, they filed the present petition for certiorari, prohibition (under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court) and injunction with urgent prayer for a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction (under Rule 58, ibid.), against then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona and DAR Secretary Ernesto D. Garilao.
On December 12, 1997, a Motion For Leave To Intervene 29 was filed by alleged farmer-beneficiaries, through counsel, claiming that they are real parties in interest as they were "previously identified by respondent DAR as agrarian reform beneficiaries on the 144-hectare" property subject of this case. The motion was vehemently opposed 30 by the petitioners.
In seeking the nullification of the "Win-Win" Resolution, the petitioners claim that the Office of the President was prompted to issue the said resolution "after a very well-managed hunger strike led by fake farmer-beneficiary Linda Ligmon succeeded in pressuring and/or politically blackmailing the Office of the President to come up with this purely political decision to appease the 'farmers,' by reviving and modifying the Decision of 29 March 1996 which has been declared final and executory in an Order of 23 June 1997. . . ." 31 Thus, petitioners further allege, respondent then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona "committed grave abuse of discretion and acted beyond his jurisdiction when he issued the questioned Resolution of 7 November 1997. . . ." 32 They availed of this extraordinary writ of certiorari "because there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law." 33 They never filed a motion for reconsideration of the subject Resolution "because (it) is patently illegal or contrary to law and it would be a futile exercise to seek a reconsideration. . . ." 34
The respondents, through the Solicitor General, opposed the petition and prayed that it be dismissed outright on the following grounds:
(1) The proper remedy of petitioners should have been to file a petition for review directly with the Court of Appeals in accordance with Rule 43 of the Revised Rules of Court;
(2) The petitioners failed to file a motion for reconsideration of the assailed "Win-Win" Resolution before filing the present petition; and
(3) Petitioner NQSRMDC is guilty of forum-shopping.
These are the preliminary issues which must first be resolved, including the incident on the motion for intervention filed by the alleged farmer-beneficiaries.
Anent the first issue, in order to determine whether the recourse of petitioners is proper or not, it is necessary to draw a line between an error of judgment and an error of jurisdiction. An error of judgment is one which the court may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction, and which error is reviewable only by an appeal. 35 On the other hand, an error of jurisdiction is one where the act complained of was issued by the court, officer or a quasi-judicial body without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion which is tantamount to lack or in excess of jurisdiction. 36 This error is correctable only by the extraordinary writ of certiorari. 37
It is true that under Rule 43, appeals from awards, judgments, final orders or resolutions of any quasi-judicial agency exercising quasi-judicial functions, 38 including the Office of the President, 39 may be taken to the Court of Appeals by filing a verified petition for review 40 within fifteen (15) days from notice of the said judgment, final order or resolution, 41 whether the appeal involves questions of fact, of law, or mixed questions of fact and law. 42
However, we hold that, in this particular case, the remedy prescribed in Rule 43 is inapplicable considering that the present petition contains an allegation that the challenged resolution is "patently illegal" 43 and was issued with "grave abuse of discretion" and "beyond his (respondent Secretary Renato C. Corona's) jurisdiction" 44 when said resolution substantially modified the earlier OP Decision of March 29, 1996 which had long become final and executory. In other words, the crucial issue raised here involves an error of jurisdiction, not an error of judgment which is reviewable by an appeal under Rule 43. Thus, the appropriate remedy to annul and set aside the assailed resolution is an original special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65, as what the petitioners have correctly done. The pertinent portion of Section 1 thereof provides:
The office of a writ of certiorari is restricted to truly extraordinary cases - cases in which the act of the lower court or quasi-judicial body is wholly void. 45
The aforequoted Section 1 of Rule 65 mandates that the person aggrieved by the assailed illegal act "may file a verified petition (for certiorari) in the proper court." The proper court where the petition must be filed is stated in Section 4 of the same Rule 65 which reads:
Under the above-qouted Section 4, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Regional Trial Court have original concurrent jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari, 46 prohibition 47 and mandamus. 48 But the jurisdiction of these three (3) courts are also delineated in that, if the challenged act relates to acts or omissions of a lower court or of a corporation, board, officer or person, the petition must be filed with the Regional Trial Court which exercises jurisdiction over the territorial area as defined by the Supreme Court. And if it involves the act or omission of a quasi-judicial agency, the petition shall be filed only with the Court of Appeals, unless otherwise provided by law or the Rules of Court. We have clearly discussed this matter of concurrence of jurisdiction in People vs. Cuaresma, et. al., 49 through now Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa, thus:
But the Supreme Court has the full discretionary power to take cognizance of the petition filed directly to it if compelling reasons, or the nature and importance of the issues raised, warrant. This has been the judicial policy to be observed and which has been reiterated in subsequent cases, namely: 50 Uy vs. Contreras, et. al., 51 Torres vs. Arranz, 52 Bercero vs. De Guzman, 53 and Advincula vs. Legaspi, et. al. 54 As we have further stated in Cuaresma:
Pursuant to said judicial policy, we resolve to take primary jurisdiction over the present petition in the interest of speedy justice 55 and to avoid future litigations so as to promptly put an end to the present controversy which, as correctly observed by petitioners, has sparked national interest because of the magnitude of the problem created by the issuance of the assailed resolution. Moreover, as will be discussed later, we find the assailed resolution wholly void and requiring the petitioners to file their petition first with the Court of Appeals would only result in a waste of time and money.
That the Court has the power to set aside its own rules in the higher interests of justice is well-entrenched, in our jurisprudence. We reiterate what we said in Piczon vs. Court of Appeals: 56
As to the second issue of whether the petitioners committed a fatal procedural lapse when they failed to file a motion for reconsideration of the assailed resolution before seeking judicial recourse, suffice it to state that the said motion is not necessary when the questioned resolution is a patent nullity, 57 as will be taken up later.
With respect to the third issue, the respondents claim that the filing by the petitioners of: (a) a petition for certiorari, prohibition with preliminary injunction (CA-G.R. SP No. 37614) with the Court of Appeals; (b) a complaint for annulment and cancellation of title, damages and injunction against DAR and 141 others (Civil Case No. 2687-97) with the Regional Trial Court of Malaybalay, Bukidnon; and (c) the present petition, constitute forum shopping.
The rule is that:
It is clear from the above-quoted rule that the petitioners are not guilty of forum shopping. The test for determining whether a party has violated the rule against forum shopping is where a final judgment in one case will amount to res adjudicata in the action under consideration. A cursory examination of the cases filed by the petitioners does not show that the said cases are similar with each other. The petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals sought the nullification of the DAR Secretary's order to proceed with the compulsory acquisition and distribution of the subject property. On the other hand, the civil case in RTC of Malaybalay, Bukidnon for the annulment and cancellation of title issued in the name of the Republic of the Philippines, with damages, was based on the following grounds: (1) the DAR, in applying for cancellation of petitioner NQSRMDC's title, used documents which were earlier declared null and void by the DARAB; (2) the cancellation of NQSRMDC's title was made without payment of just compensation; and (3) without notice to NQSRMDC for the surrender of its title. The present petition is entirely different from the said two cases as it seeks the nullification of the assailed "Win-Win" Resolution of the Office of the President dated November 7, 1997, which resolution was issued long after the previous two cases were instituted.
The fourth and final preliminary issue to be resolved is the motion for intervention filed by alleged farmer-beneficiaries, which we have to deny for lack of merit. In their motion, movants contend that they are the farmer-beneficiaries of the land in question, hence, are real parties in interest. To prove this, they attached as Annex "I" in their motion a Master List of Farmer-Beneficiaries. Apparently, the alleged master list was made pursuant to the directive in the dispositive portion of the assailed "Win-Win" Resolution which directs the DAR "to carefully and meticulously determine who among the claimants are qualified farmer-beneficiaries." However, a perusal of the said document reveals that movants are those purportedly "Found Qualified and Recommended for Approval." In other words, movants are merely recommendee farmer-beneficiaries.
The rule in this jurisdiction is that a real party in interest is a party who would be benefited or injured by the judgment or is the party entitled to the avails of the suit. Real interest means a present substantial interest, as distinguished from a mere expectancy or a future, contingent, subordinate or consequential interest. 59 Undoubtedly, movants' interest over the land in question is a mere expectancy. Ergo, they are not real parties in interest.
Furthermore, the challenged resolution upon which movants based their motion is, as intimated earlier, null and void. Hence, their motion for intervention has no leg to stand on.
Now to the main issue of whether the final and executory Decision dated March 29, 1996 can still be substantially modified by the "Win-Win" Resolution.
We rule in the negative.
The rules and regulations governing appeals to the Office of the President of the Philippines are embodied in Administrative Order No. 18. Section 7 thereof provides:
It is further provided for in Section 9 that "The Rules of Court shall apply in a suppletory character whenever practicable.
When the Office of the President issued the Order dated June 23, 1997 declaring the Decision of March 29, 1996 final and executory, as no one has seasonably filed a motion for reconsideration thereto, the said Office had lost its jurisdiction to re-open the case, more so modify its Decision. Having lost its jurisdiction, the Office of the President has no more authority to entertain the second motion for reconsideration filed by respondent DAR Secretary, which second motion became the basis of the assailed "Win-Win" Resolution. Section 7 of Administrative Order No. 18 and Section 4, Rule 43 of the Revised Rules of Court mandate that only one (1) motion for reconsideration is allowed to be taken from the Decision of March 29, 1996. And even if a second motion for reconsideration was permitted to be filed in "exceptionally meritorious cases," as provided in the second paragraph of Section 7 of AO 18, still the said motion should not have been entertained considering that the first motion for reconsideration was not seasonably filed, thereby allowing the Decision of March 29, 1996 to lapse into finality. Thus, the act of the Office of the President in re-opening the case and substantially modifying its March 29, 1996 Decision which had already become final and executory, was in gross disregard of the rules and basic legal precept that accord finality to administrative determinations.
In San Luis, et al. v. Court of Appeals, et al. 60 we held:
The orderly administration of justice requires that the judgments/resolutions of a court or quasi-judicial body must reach a point of finality set by the law, rules and regulations. The noble purpose is to write finis to disputes once and for all. 61 This is a fundamental principle in our justice system, without which there would no end to litigations. Utmost respect and adherence to this principle must always be maintained by those who wield the power of adjudication. Any act which violates such principle must immediately be struck down.
Therefore, the assailed "Win-Win" Resolution which substantially modified the Decision of March 29, 1996 after it has attained finality, is utterly void. Such void resolution, as aptly stressed by Justice Thomas A. Street 62 in a 1918 case, 63 is "a lawless thing, which can be treated as an outlaw and slain at sight, or ignored wherever and whenever it exhibits its head." 64
WHEREFORE, the present petition is hereby GRANTED. The challenged Resolution dated November 7, 1997, issued by the Office of the President in OP Case No. 96-C-6424, is hereby NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE. The Motion For Leave To Intervene filed by alleged farmer-beneficiaries is hereby DENIED.
No pronouncement as to costs.
Regalado, Melo, Puno and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
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