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THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 110335. June 18, 2001

IGNACIO GONZALES, LILIA R. GONZALES, GUSTAVO R. GONZALES, WIGBERTO R. GONZALES, GILDA GONZALES-SALUTA, FERNANDO RAMIREZ, OCTAVIO RAMIREZ, JR., IGNACIO RAMIREZ, ESMIRNA RAMIREZ, MERCEDES GONZALES-FAVIZ, JAIME GONZALES, FEDERICO GONZALES, ROSARIO GONZALES, PATRICIA GONZALES, DANIEL GONZALES, ALDO GONZALES, CLAUDIA GONZALES and AMANDA GONZALES, Petitioners, v. HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, ESTANISLAO SALVADOR, MATEO SALVADOR, ALBERTO SARMIENTO, MAXIMO ESGUERRA, MAMERTO ANTONIO, VIRGILIO DE GUZMAN, ANGEL FAJARDO, ABAD DELA CRUZ, PEDRO FAJARDO, JUANITO DE LARA, ELIGIO DE GUZMAN, SALVADOR MARTINEZ, EDUARDO DELA CRUZ, JOSE MATIAS, SOLEDAD ESTRELLA, ROMAN GUINGON, CIRILO SALVADOR, CATALINA DELA CRUZ, BERNARDO ESGUERRA, JR., GLORIA CABANA, PAQUITO CHAVEZ, RENATO GARCIA, FRANCISCO PASCUAL, WALDO SALVADOR, MARIO SALVADOR, PEDRO GARCIA, ALBINO SALVADOR, ANTONIO DE GUZMAN, AMBROCIO SALVADOR, TERESITA CAPATE, EDUARDO TALENS, BENIGNO CARAIG, ERNESTO BERNABE, SERGIO CARLOS, SIMEON BALINGAY, ANTONIO NANGEL, TEOFILO BINUYA and WILFREDO DELA CRUZ, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

MELO, J.:

Per A.M. No. 00-9-03-SC dated February 27, 2001, this case which could have been acted upon earlier, was raffled to undersigned ponente. Essentially, petitioners seek to annul and set aside the decision dated March 15, 1993 of the Court of Appeals in its CA-G.R. SP No.26416 which reversed the ruling of then Secretary of Agrarian Reform Benjamin T. Leong, as well as the order dated May 17, 1993 denying reconsideration thereof.

The factual antecedents of the instant case may be chronicled as follows:

The now deceased spouses Ignacio Gonzales and Marina Gonzales were the registered owners of two parcels of agricultural Land situated at Barrio Fortaleza, Cabanatuan City, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 2742 and denominated as Lot 551-C and Lot 552-A. Lot 551-C contains an area of 46.97 hectares while Lot 552-A contains an area of 37.5735 hectares. Herein petitioners are the successors-in-interest or the children and grandchildren of said Gonzales spouses. On the other hand, private respondents are the farmers and tenants of said spouses who have been cultivating the parcels of land even before World War II either personally or through their predecessors-in-interest.

On May 7, 1969, Marina Gonzales died intestate and appointed as administratrix of her estate was petitioner Lilia Gonzales. Prior to the partition of said estate, Ignacio Gonzales executed a Deed of Donation on July 12, 1972 conveying his share of the property, specifically Lot No. 551-C, in favor of his 14 grandchildren. The said donation was not registered. Thus, when Presidential Decree No. 27 (P.D. No. 27) took effect on October 21, 1972, the landholdings of the spouses Gonzales were placed under Operation Land Transfer by virtue of said decree, and private respondents were accordingly issued the corresponding Certificates of Land Transfer and Emancipation Patents. On March 5, 1974, the administratrix Lilia Gonzales filed an application for retention with the then Ministry of Agrarian Reform, requesting that their property be excluded from the coverage of Operation Land Transfer. After initial investigation, Hearing Officer Melchor Pagsolingan recommended the denial of said application for retention and this action was affirmed by Assistant Secretary of Agrarian Reform Benjamin Labayen, in an order dated September 12, 1977. Apparently, however, a reinvestigation was conducted, resulting in the present Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) resolution dated February 23, 1983 recommending that the land subject of the deed of donation, or Lot No. 551-C, be exempt from Operation Land Transfer. On September 3, 1991, DAR Secretary Benjamin Leong issued an order declaring that the subject landholdings covered by the deed of donation are exempt from Operation Land Transfer, and cancelling the Certificates of Land Transfer issued in favor of private respondents. In so ruling, the DAR Secretary reasoned:

As the donation had been duly accepted by the donees who were already of legal age on the date of the donation and by the legal guardians of the donees who were still minors at that time, and the donor having known of said acceptance, the donation had therefore been perfected in accordance with the law, and the donees had acquired a valid title to the portion donated on the date the instrument was executed.

(p. 4, DAR Order.)

Aggrieved by this ruling, private respondents filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals which rendered its decision on March 15, 1993, reversing the action of the DAR and upholding the certificates of land transfer and emancipation patents.

Petitioners moved for a reconsideration of the above decision but the same was denied by the Court of Appeals in its Resolution dated May 17, 1993.

Thus, the instant petition anchored on the following grounds:

A. the CA failed to reconsider that the land subject of this case does not fall within the purview of P.D. 27;

B. the CA should have found that the evidence clearly shows that the tenants (private respondents herein) were aware that the land had been donated by Ignacio Gonzales in favor of his grandchildren prior to the effectivity of P.D. 27; and

C. the effect of non-registration under the land registration laws are inapplicable to the present case.

The first and third assigned errors, being interrelated, shall be jointly discussed.

The sole issue to be resolved is whether the property subject of the deed of donation which was not registered when P.D. No. 27 took effect, should be excluded from the Operation Land Transfer.

Petitioners insist that the deed of donation executed by Ignacio Gonzales validly transferred the ownership and possession of Lot 551-C which comprises an area of 46.97 hectares to his 14 grandchildren. They further assert that inasmuch as Lot 551-C had already been donated, the same can no longer fall within the purview of P.D. No. 27, since each donee shall have a share of about three hectares only which is within the exemption limit of seven hectares for each landowner provided under P.D. No. 27.

Article 749 of the Civil Code provides inter alia that "in order that the donation of an immovable may be valid, it must be made in a public document, specifying therein the property donated and the value of the charges which the donee must satisfy." Corollarily, Article 709 of the same Code explicitly states that "the titles of ownership, or other rights over immovable property, which are not duly inscribed or annotated in the Registry of property shall not prejudice third persons." From the foregoing provisions, it may be inferred that as between the parties to a donation of an immovable property, all that is required is for said donation to be contained in a public document. Registration is not necessary for it to be considered valid and effective. However, in order to bind third persons, the donation must be registered in the Registry of Property (now Registry of Land Titles and Deeds). Although the non-registration of a deed of donation shall not affect its validity, the necessity of registration comes into play when the rights of third persons are affected, as in the case at bar.

It is actually the act of registration that operates to convey registered land or affect title thereto. Thus, Section 50 of Act No. 496 (Land Registration Act), as amended by Section 51 of P.D. No. 1529 (Property Registration Decree), provides:

SEC. 51. Conveyance and other dealings by registered owner - . . . But no deed, mortgage, lease, or other voluntary instrument, except a will purporting to convey or affect registered land, shall take effect as a conveyance or bind the land, but shall operate only as a contract between the parties and as evidence of authority to the Register of Deeds to make registration.

The act of registration shall be the operative act to convey or affect the land insofar as third persons are concerned, . . .

Further, it is an entrenched doctrine in our jurisdiction that registration in a public registry creates constructive notice to the whole world (Olizon vs. Court of Appeals, 236 SCRA 148 [1994]). Thus, Section 51 of Act No.496, as amended by Section 52 of P.D. No. 1529, provides:

SEC. 52. Constructive notice upon registration - Every conveyance, mortgage, lease, lien, attachment, order, judgment, instrument or entry affecting registered land shall, if registered, filed or entered in the Office of the Register of Deeds for the province or city where the land to which it relates lies, be constructive notice to all persons from the time of such registering, filing or entering.

It is undisputed in this case that the donation executed by Ignacio Gonzales in favor of his grandchildren, although in writing and duly notarized, has not been registered in accordance with law. For this reason, it shall not be binding upon private respondents who did not participate in said deed or had no actual knowledge thereof. Hence, while the deed of donation is valid between the donor and the donees, such deed, however, did not bind the tenants-farmers who were not parties to the donation. As previously enunciated by this Court, non-registration of a deed of donation does not bind other parties ignorant of a previous transaction (Sales vs. Court of Appeals, 211 SCRA 858 [1992]). So it is of no moment that the right of the tenants-farmers in this case was created by virtue of a decree or law. They are still considered "third persons" contemplated in our laws on registration, for the fact remains that these tenants-farmers had no actual knowledge of the deed of donation.

From the foregoing, the ineluctable conclusion drawn is that the unregistered deed of donation cannot operate to exclude the subject land from the coverage of the Operation Land Transfer of P.D. No. 27, which took effect on October 21, 1972. To rule otherwise would render ineffectual the rights and interests that the tenants-farmers immediately acquired upon the promulgation of P.D. No. 27, especially so because in the case at bar, they have been cultivating the land even before World War II. Accordingly, the Certificates of Land Transfer and the Emancipation Patents respectively issued to private respondents over the land in question cannot be cancelled. It should be noted that one of the recognized modes of acquiring title to land is by emancipation patent which aims to ameliorate the sad plight of tenants-farmers. By virtue of P.D. No. 27, tenants-farmers are deemed owners of the land they till. This policy is intended to be given effect by a provision of the law which declares that, "the tenant-farmer, whether in land classified as landed estate or not, shall be DEEMED OWNER of a portion constituting a family size farm of five (5) hectares if not irritated and three (3) hectares if irrigated" (P.D. No. 27, third paragraph). It may, therefore, be said that with respect to Lot 551-C, private respondents became owners thereof on October 27, 1972, the day P.D. No. 27 took effect.

The second error assigned deals with a question of fact. We have consistently ruled that it is not the function of this Court to assess and evaluate the evidence all over again, its jurisdiction being generally limited to reviewing errors of law that might have been committed by the lower court. Nevertheless, since the factual findings of the Court of Appeals are at variance with those of an administrative agency such as the Department of Agrarian Reform, we are compelled to review the records presented both in the Court of Appeals and the said Department (Deiparine vs. Court of Appeals, 299 SCRA 668 [1998]). Moreover, in the exercise of sound discretion and considering the fact that the parties have relentlessly pursued this case since 1974 or for a period of 27 years already, this Court has opted to look into the factual bases of the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals.

Petitioners maintain that private respondents knew of the donation as evidenced by the affidavit and testimony of Francisco Villanueva and Abad Dela Cruz. This contention is unacceptable. Villanueva testified that as the overseer of Ignacio Gonzales, he was tasked to inform his co-tenants about the donation. However, the records show that Villanueva has transferred his right to cultivate the land to a certain Bemardo Esguerra as early as 1965 (p. 203, Rollo), leading one to logically conclude that Villanueva was no longer a tenant, much more an overseer, when the donation was executed in 1972. On the other hand, Dela Cruz, in an Affidavit executed on May 28, 1992, denied testifying before Atty. Romeo Bello at the Office of the Department of Agrarian Reform to the effect that he and his co-tenants were aware of the donation. He declared that he had no knowledge of the donation made by Ignacio Gonzales, nor did he have any idea that an investigation was conducted by DAR on said matter (pp. 204-205, Rollo).

Likewise, petitioners claim that private respondents had been sharing their produce with the donees or the grandchildren of Ignacio Gonzales, suggesting thereby that private respondents have recognized the donees as the new owners of the land. Again, we find this argument to be unfounded. The evidence on record reveals that the tenants-farmers paid their rentals to Ignacio Gonzales and not to the grandchildren (pp. 150-194, Rollo).

Petitioners contend that the deed of donation was not registered because of the pendency of the intestate proceedings. This argument was correctly rejected by the Court of Appeals, in this wise:

We do not agree with respondents that the failure to register the deed of donation was due to the pendency of the intestate proceedings and the fact that the property had been mortgaged to the Philippine National Bank (PNB), because the pendency of the intestate proceedings and the real estate mortgaged to the PNB, do not preclude the registration annotation of the donation at the back of the certificate of title covering the land.

(p. 4, Court of Appeals Decision.)

Thus, we affirm the conclusion of the appellate court that the land subject of the donation is covered by Operation Land Transfer. The findings of fact made by the Court of Appeals are conclusive and binding on the Supreme Court even if contrary to these of the trial court or the administrative agency, so long as such findings are supported by the records or based on substantial evidence (Tabaco vs. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 485 [1994]). While the foregoing doctrine is not absolute, petitioners have not sufficiently proved that the findings complained of are totally devoid of support in the records, or that they are so glaringly erroneous as to constitute serious abuse of discretion.

As a final note, our laws on agrarian reform were enacted primarily because of the realization that there is an urgent need to alleviate the lives of the vast number of poor farmers in our country. Yet, despite such laws, the majority of these farmers still live on a hand-to-mouth existence. This can be attributed to the fact that these agrarian laws have never really been effectively implemented. Certain individuals have continued to prey on the disadvantaged, and as a result, the farmers who are intended to be protected and uplifted by the said laws find themselves back in their previous plight or even in a more distressing situation. This Court ought to be an instrument in achieving a dignified existence for these farmers free from pernicious restraints and practices, and theres no better time to do it than now.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the decision of the Court of Appeals dated March 15, 1993 in CA-G.R. SP No. 26416 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Vitug, Panganiban, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur .




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