[G.R. NO. 162890 November 22, 2005]
HEIRS OF JULIAN DELA CRUZ AND LEONORA TALARO, as represented by MAXIMINO DELA CRUZ, Petitioners, v. HEIRS OF ALBERTO CRUZ, as represented by BENEDICTO U. CRUZ,1 Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
Assailed in this Petition for Review on Certiorari is the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 69671, reversing the decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform and Adjudication Board (DARAB) in DARAB Case No. 6297, and ordering the dismissal of the petition of the Heirs of Julian dela Cruz in Reg. Case No. 5853 NNE 96 for lack of jurisdiction.
The Republic of the Philippines acquired the De Leon Estate located in Barangay Casulucan, Talavera, Nueva Ecija for resale to deserving tenants and landless farmers, conformably with Commonwealth Act No. 539, as amended by Republic Act No. 1400. The property was under the administration of the Land Tenure Administration and later the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Sometime in 1950, the DAR allocated a portion of the property in favor of Julian dela Cruz who was a tenant thereon. Such portion was identified as Lot No. 778 with an area of 3.362 hectares.3
Sometime in September 1960, the Republic of the Philippines sold Lot No. 778 to Julian dela Cruz by virtue of an Agreement to Sell. On September 27, 1960, the DAR issued Certificate of Land Transfer (CLT) No. AS-5323 in his favor as the qualified allocatee of the landholding.4 Julian bound and obliged himself to pay the amortizations over the land in 30 annual installments. He cultivated the property and made payments to the government for a period of almost 20 years. He died in 1979 and was survived by his wife, Leonora Talaro-dela Cruz and their 10 children, including Mario and Maximino dela Cruz.5
For a time, Mario administered the landholding. Too old and sickly to cultivate the property by herself, Leonora dela Cruz executed a private document in May 1980 in which she declared that, with the consent of her children, she had sold the land in favor of Alberto Cruz, who henceforth had
the right to possess and cultivate the property, and the obligation to continue the payment of the amortizations due over the land under the terms of the Agreement to Sell. Mario dela Cruz conformed to the deed.6
Alberto took possession of the landholding and cultivated it over a period of 10 years without any protest from Leonora and her children. He then filed an application to purchase the property with the DAR. On August 8, 1990, Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) Paterno Revollido prepared and signed an Investigation Report, recommending that the landholding be declared vacant and disposable to a qualified applicant. Declaring that there was no adverse claimant, the said report also recommended the approval of Alberto's application to purchase the property.7 Appended to the report was the deed executed by Leonora in favor of Alberto.
On November 16, 1990, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) issued an Order8 approving the recommendation of the MARO. He directed the cancellation of Julian's CLT and declared that whatever rights Julian had over the landholding and payments made in favor of the government under the Agreement to Sell were forfeited. The dispositive portion of the order reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, an Order is hereby issued:
1. Canceling the Order of Award-CLT No. AS No. 5323 issued on 9-27-60, subject hereof, forfeiture whatever rights and payments made on the account of the lot in favor of the government, declaring Lot No. 778 pt Block No. xx Pls-Psd-Pcs N. 56903 of De Leon Estate, located at Casulucan, Talavera, N.E. vacant and disposable to the qualified applicant; andcralawlibrary
2. Giving due course to the application of Mr. Alberto L. Cruz to purchase the said lot.
Let a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA), as the case may be, be issued to the herein new awardee-applicant after fifteen (15) days posting of this Order, if no protest has been filed by affected parties.
It appears on the dorsal portion of the order that only Julian (although already deceased by then) was given a copy of the order by registered mail.10
The PARO endorsed the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) to the DAR Secretary, copy furnished the Regional Director. The DAR Bureau of Land Acquisition and Distribution reviewed and evaluated the records and recommended that the PARO's recommendation be affirmed.
On June 27, 1991, the DAR Secretary signed and issued CLOA No. 51750 over the property in favor of Alberto Cruz, and the certificate was registered with the Land Registration Authority (LRA). On August 15, 1991, the Register of Deeds issued Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. CLOA - 0-3035 over the landholding in favor of Alberto Cruz.11 The title contained
Sometime in early 1996, Maximino, one of the surviving children of Julian, discovered that the landholding had already been registered in the name of Alberto Cruz. On October 10, 1996, Leonora and her 10 children, with the assistance of the DAR Bureau of Legal Assistance, filed a petition with the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) for the nullification of the following: the order of the PARO, CLOA No. 51750, and TCT No. CLOA-0-3035 issued in favor of Alberto Cruz. The petitioners declared, inter alia, that they were the surviving heirs of Julian dela Cruz; they had no knowledge of the sale by Leonora and Mario of their right as beneficiaries of the property; not being privies to the said sale, they were not bound by the private deed executed by Leonora; and such sale, as well as the issuance of the CLOA and the title over the property in favor of Alberto, was null and void, inasmuch as they violated agrarian reform laws and DAR Memorandum Circular No. 8, Series of 1980. They insisted that they were deprived of their rights as heirs of the beneficiary without due process of law.12
In his comment on the petition, Alberto Cruz alleged that he acquired the rights over the landholding from Leonora for
Meantime, on November 14, 1996, Alberto Cruz paid
After due proceedings, the PARAD granted the petition in a Decision16 dated July 9, 1997. It declared that the petitioners were the rightful allocatees of the property, and directed the MARO to cancel CLOA No. 51750 and TCT No. CLOA -0-3035 and issue another in favor of the petitioners. Alberto was ordered to vacate the property. The PARAD also directed the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija to cancel the said title and issue a new one over the landholding in favor of the petitioners. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
IN THE LIGHT OF THE FOREGOING, judgment is hereby rendered as follows:
1. Declaring the petitioners to be the rightful allocatees of the subject land;
2. Ordering the respondent or anyone acting in his behalf to peacefully relinquish the possession of the land in question unto the herein petitioners;
3. Ordering the MARO of Talavera, Nueva Ecija and/or the PARO of North Nueva Ecija to cancel TCT No. CLOA-0-3035, (DAR CLOA No. 51750) previously issued to respondent Alberto Cruz and, in lieu thereof, to generate a new one in the name of herein petitioners, the heirs of Julian dela Cruz;
4. Directing the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija to cancel the above-mentioned CLOA and to register the new one to be generated in its stead.17
Alberto appealed the decision to the DARAB, which affirmed the ruling of the PARAD on June 19, 2000. The DARAB ruled that the rights of the petitioners as farmers-beneficiaries could not be transferred or waived except through hereditary succession or to the government, conformably with agrarian reform laws and that the private document Leonora executed may be assailed by her children by Julian, who were not privies thereto. The DARAB also ruled that in executing the private document, Leonora failed to comply with DAR Memorandum Circular No. 8, Series of 1980.18
The DARAB further declared that, even if the private document may be considered a waiver of Leonora's tenancy rights over the landholding, nevertheless, the CLOA and the title may still be canceled as such waiver is null and void. Citing Torres v. Ventura,19 it held that the pari delicto doctrine is not applicable. The DARAB ruled that under DAR Administrative Order No. 2, Series of 1994, such sale, the CLOA and the Torrens title issued over the landholding in favor of Alberto may be cancelled by it.20 Alberto filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision which the DARAB denied on February 11, 2002.21
Alberto then filed a Petition for Review in the CA, where he raised the following issues:
WHETHER OR NOT THE DAR ADJUDICATION BOARD HAS JURISDICTION OVER THE CASE;
WHETHER OR NOT THE CLOA AWARDED TO ALBERTO CRUZ MAY BE CANCELLED; and
WHETHER OR NOT THE SAID LOT MAY STILL BE AWARDED TO HEREIN PETITIONERS.
He alleged that the Dela Cruz heirs filed their petition with the PARAD only on October 17, 1996, long after the lapse of 16 years after Leonora executed the private document and conveyed the property to him on June 1, 1980. Conformably with Section 38 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3844, their petition with the PARAD had already prescribed. He also alleged that the said heirs should have filed an action for recovery of possession of the property within 10 years from 1980, conformably with Article 1134 of the New Civil Code. Moreover, their action in the PARAD was barred by estoppel because they failed to oppose the November 16, 1990 Order of the PARO, the issuance of the CLOA and the transfer of title in his favor. The petitioner maintained that the DARAB had no jurisdiction over the respondents' petition because the implementation of agrarian reform laws and rules and regulations was administrative in nature. He argued that the respondents should have sought relief from the DAR instead
In their Comment on the petition, the Heirs of Julian dela Cruz maintained that Section 38 of R.A. No. 3844 and Section 1134 of R.A. No. 386 have no application in the case, considering that the issue is not one of tenancy because they had never entered into such a relationship with Alberto. They averred that they were not barred from filing their petition, either by laches or by prescription, because they discovered the private document their mother executed only in 1995. They claimed that they filed their petition with the PARAD instead of filing an administrative complaint with the Office of the DAR Secretary because time was of the essence and further delay in the resolution of the case would only cause great and irreparable injury to them. Besides, the Heirs of Julian dela Cruz averred, the MARO and the PARO violated DAR Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 1990, and deprived them of their right as beneficiaries over the property without due process of law. They maintained that under Rule 2, paragraph (f) of the DARAB New Rules and Procedures, the DARAB had jurisdiction over actions involving the issuance, correction or cancellation of the CLOA and Emancipation Patents registered with the LRA. They insisted that the ruling of this Court in Torres v. Ventura is decisive of the issues in the case.
In a Decision dated March 31, 2003, the CA granted the petition and ordered the dismissal of the petition of the Heirs of Julian dela Cruz in the PARAD for lack of jurisdiction. The CA declared that there was no tenancy relationship between respondent Alberto and the said heirs; hence, the DARAB had no jurisdiction over the petition. It declared that the issue before the DARAB was the rightful ownership over the landholding.
The said heirs moved for the reconsideration of the decision contending that the jurisdiction of the DARAB is not confined solely to agrarian disputes, but includes the cancellation of CLOAs registered with the LRA in favor of persons who are qualified beneficiaries under Section 22 of R.A. No. 6657. The Heirs of Julian dela Cruz reiterated the claim that the MARO and PARO violated their right to due process and the pertinent agrarian reform laws, rules and regulations. Further, they asserted that respondent Alberto was estopped from assailing the jurisdiction of the DARAB because he never raised the same in the PARAD and the DARAB. However, the appellate court resolved to deny the motion in its Resolution22 dated March 18, 2004.
In the instant Petition for Review , the Heirs of Julian dela Cruz, as petitioners, maintain that under Rule VI, Section 1(f) of the 1994 DARAB Rules of Procedure, the DARAB has primary and exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of CLOAs registered with the LRA even if there is no tenancy relationship between the parties. The petitioners point out that the issues before the DARAB do not only involve the ownership of the landholding, but also whether the PARO violated their substantive and procedural right to due process, as well as agrarian reform laws, rules and regulations in issuing the November 16, 1990 Order, and whether they are the rightful allocatees of the landholding under the ruling of this Court in Torres v. Ventura.
In their comment on the petition, the respondents aver that the petitioners' petition in the DARAB was one for recovery of ownership over the landholding, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The petition is denied for lack of merit.
It is axiomatic that the jurisdiction of a tribunal, including a quasi-judicial officer or government agency, over the nature and subject matter of a petition or complaint is determined by the material allegations therein and the character of the relief prayed for, irrespective of whether the petitioner or complainant is entitled to any or all such reliefs. Jurisdiction over the nature and subject matter of an action is conferred by the Constitution and the law, and not by the consent or waiver of the parties where the court otherwise would have no jurisdiction over the nature or subject matter of the action.23 Nor can it be acquired through, or waived by, any act or omission of the parties. Moreover, estoppel does not apply to confer jurisdiction to a
Indeed, the jurisdiction of the court or tribunal is not affected by the defenses or theories set up by the defendant or respondent in his answer or motion to dismiss.25 Jurisdiction should be determined by considering not only the status or the relationship of the parties but also the nature of the issues or questions that is the subject of the controversy.26 If the issues between the parties are intertwined with the resolution of an issue within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DARAB, such dispute must be addressed and resolved by the DARAB.27 The proceedings before a court or tribunal without jurisdiction, including its decision, are null and void, hence, susceptible to direct and collateral attacks.28
The ruling of the appellate court that the ownership over the landholding was the threshold issue before the DARAB is not correct. The petitioners did not claim ownership over the landholding. When Julian dela Cruz died in 1979, he had not yet paid in full the amortizations for the property. The DAR issued only a CLT in his favor on September 27, 1960. Unless and until the amortization for the landholding is fully paid, the DAR will not issue a CLOA in the name of the beneficiary. It is only upon the issuance of the CLOA that a beneficiary becomes the owner of the property.29
The decisive issues raised by the petitioners and Alberto in their pleadings before the DARAB related to the following: whether petitioner Maximino dela Cruz and his siblings are bound by the deed of transfer/sale of the tenancy rights executed by their mother in favor of Alberto; and whether the August 8, 1990 report of the MARO and the November 16, 1990 Order of the PARO violated R.A. No. 1400, P.D. No. 27, and other agrarian reform laws and pertinent DAR Orders, memoranda and circulars, including the substantive and procedural rights of the petitioners.30
However, the Court agrees with the ruling of the CA that the dispute between the petitioners and the respondents over the validity of the November 16, 1990 Order of the PARO, CLOA No. 51750, and TCT No. CLOA-0-3035 and the cancellation thereof is not agrarian in nature. Under Section 17 of Executive Order No. 229, the DAR is vested with quasi-judicial power and exclusive original jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters, as well as other matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform laws, except those falling under the exclusive original jurisdiction of the DENR and the Department of Agriculture. The President of the Philippines created the DARAB and authorized it to assume the power and functions pertaining to the adjudication of agrarian reform cases, which may be delegated to the regional offices of the DAR in accordance with rules and regulations to be promulgated by the DARAB.
Section 3(d) of R.A. No. 6657 defines an "agrarian dispute" as "any controversy relating to tenurial arrangements, whether leasehold, tenancy, stewardship or, otherwise, over lands devoted to agriculture, including disputes concerning farmworkers' associations or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangements. It includes any controversy relating to compensation of lands acquired under this Act and other terms and conditions of transfer of ownership from landowners to farmworkers, tenants and other agrarian reform beneficiaries, whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of farm operator and beneficiary, landowner and tenant, or lessor and lessee."
In Morta, Sr. v. Occidental,31 this Court held that there must be a tenancy relationship between the parties for the DARAB to have jurisdiction over a case. It is essential to establish all its indispensable elements, to wit: (1) that the parties are the landowner and the tenant or agricultural lessee; (2) that the subject matter of the relationship is an agricultural land; (3) that there is consent between the parties to the relationship; (4) that the purpose of the relationship is to bring about agricultural production; (5) that there is personal cultivation on the part of the tenant or agricultural lessee; and (6) that the harvest is shared between the landowner and the tenant or agricultural lessee. In Vda. de Tangub v. Court of Appeals,32 the Court held that the jurisdiction of the DAR is limited to the following:
a) adjudication of all matters involving implementation of agrarian reform;
b) resolution of agrarian conflicts and land-tenure related problems; andcralawlibrary
c) approval or disapproval of the conversion, restructuring or readjustment of agricultural lands into residential, commercial, industrial, and other non-agricultural uses.33
The petitioners themselves categorically admitted in their pleadings that there was no landlord-tenancy relationship between them and Alberto over the landholding. Nor did they have any tenurial, leasehold, or agrarian relations whatsoever when petitioners Leonora and her son Mario executed the deed of sale in May 1980 in favor of Alberto, nor when the petitioners filed their petition with the DARAB. The sole tenant-beneficiary over the landholding was Julian dela Cruz. There is no showing that before the execution of the deed of transfer/sale, Alberto was a tenant or farmer, or that he was landless.
The Court agrees with the petitioners' contention that, under Section 2(f), Rule II of the DARAB Rules of Procedure, the DARAB has jurisdiction over cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of CLOAs which were registered with the LRA. However, for the DARAB to have jurisdiction in such cases, they must relate to an agrarian dispute between landowner and tenants to whom CLOAs have been issued by the DAR Secretary. The cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of the CLOAs by the DAR in the administrative implementation of agrarian reform laws, rules and regulations to parties who are not agricultural tenants or lessees are within the jurisdiction of the DAR and not of the DARAB.
In the present case, the DAR Secretary approved CLOA No. 51750 in the name of Alberto in the exercise of his administrative powers and in the implementation of the agrarian reform laws. The approval was based on the Report of the MARO, the November 16, 1990 Order of the PARO and the recommendation of the DAR Director of the Bureau of Land Acquisition and Distribution, over whom the DAR Secretary has supervision and control. The DAR Secretary also had the authority to withdraw the CLOA upon a finding that the same is contrary to law and DAR orders, circulars and memoranda. The resolution of such issues by the DAR Secretary will entail the application and implementation of agrarian reform laws, inclusive of P.D. No. 946 as well as the implementing orders, circulars and rules and regulations issued by the DAR. On the issue of who may be or shall be declared as the owner-cultivator of the landholding, P.D. No. 27 and other agrarian reform laws, DAR Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1978 as amended by DAR Administrative Order No. 14, Series of 1988, and DAR Memorandum Circular No. 8, Series of 1980 will apply. On the issue of whether or not the petitioners sold their tenancy rights over the landholding and barred them from asserting their rights, either by pari delicto, prescription or laches, the DAR Secretary will apply P.D. No. 27 and the rulings of this Court in Torres v. Ventura34 and Corpus v. Grospe,35 reiterated in Siacor v. Gigantana.36 On the issue of whether the petitioners were denied of their right to substantive and procedural due process, the DAR Secretary will take into account, inter alia, Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 1990.
As the Court ruled in Nuesa v. Court of Appeals:37
P.D. 946 provides that matters involving the administrative implementation of the transfer of the land to the tenant-farmer under P.D. No. 27 and amendatory and related decrees, orders, instructions, rules and regulations, shall be exclusively cognizable by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, including: xxx (5) issuance, recall or cancellation of certificates of land transfer in cases outside the purview of P.D. No. 816.
The revocation by the Regional Director of DAR of the earlier Order of Award by the Secretary of Agriculture falls under the administrative functions of the DAR. The DARAB and its provincial adjudicator or board of adjudicators acted erroneously and with grave abuse of discretion in taking cognizance of the case, then overturning the decision of the DAR Regional Director and deciding the case on the merits without affording the petitioner opportunity to present his case.
As held by this Court in Centeno v. Centeno, the DAR is vested with the primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have the exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of the agrarian reform program. The DARAB has primary, original and appellate jurisdiction "to determine and adjudicate all agrarian disputes, cases, controversies, and matters or incidents involving the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program under R.A. 6657, E.O. Nos. 229, 228 and 129-A, R.A. 3844 as amended by R.A. 6389, P.D. No. 27 and other agrarian laws and their implementing rules and regulations.
In the case at bar, petitioner and private respondent had no tenurial, leasehold, or any agrarian relations whatsoever that could have brought this controversy between them within the ambit of the above-cited provision. Consequently, the DARAB had no jurisdiction over the controversy and should not have taken cognizance of private respondent's petition in the first place.
Note that Administrative Order No. 3, Series of 1990, governs the distribution and titling of lots in landed estates administered by the DAR. This Order explicitly provides that "since land has a social function, there is a concomitant social responsibility in its ownership and should, therefore, be distributed to the actual occupant/tillers" thereof. In the investigation on December 27, 1993, conducted by the Regional Officer of DAR, it was established that the subject lots were in the possession and cultivation of persons other than the awardee Verdillo. Clearly, this constituted a violation of the terms of the Order of Award issued in favor of private respondent as an awardee, aside from contravening the underlying principles of agrarian reform as a social justice measure. Given these circumstances, we find petitioner Restituto Rivera's plea to overturn the ruling of the Court of Appeals meritorious.
While it bears emphasizing that findings of administrative agencies, which have acquired expertise because their jurisdiction is confined to specific matters are accorded not only respect but even finality by the courts, care should be taken that administrative actions are not done without due regard to the jurisdictional boundaries set by the enabling law for each agency. In this case, respondent DARAB officials and boards, provincial and central, had overstepped their legal boundaries in taking cognizance of the controversy between petitioner Rivera and private respondent Verdillo as to who should be awarded Lots 1932 and 1904 of the Buenavista Estate. Respondent appellate court erred in sustaining DARAB's unjustified action taken with grave abuse of discretion resulting in lack or excess of its jurisdiction.
It bears stressing that in Section 1, Rule II of the DARAB Rules of Procedure, it is made clear that matters involving strictly the administrative implementation of R.A. No. 6657,38 and other agrarian reform laws and pertinent rules, shall be the exclusive prerogative of and cognizable by the DAR Secretary. Indeed, under P.D. No. 27 and other agrarian reform laws (including R.A. No. 6657), the DAR Secretary is vested with the administrative authority to issue and correct or recall the CLT issued under Section 24 of R.A. No. 6657. The DAR Secretary is vested with authority to approve and execute CLOAs on which are based the TCT to be issued by the Register of Deeds. The DARAB has no jurisdiction over the orders, resolutions, or other administrative circulars of the DAR Secretary in the exercise of its administrative powers.
In fine then, the petitioners should have filed their petition against Alberto Cruz with the DAR Secretary instead of the DARAB. For its part, the DARAB should have dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction; or, at the very least, transferred the petition to the DAR Secretary for resolution on its merits. In case the DAR Secretary denies their petition, the petitioners may appeal to the Office of the President, and in case of an adverse ruling, a Petition for Review with the CA under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED. The Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 69671 WITH MODIFICATION. The dismissal of DARAB Reg. Case No. 5853 NNE 96 for lack of jurisdiction is without prejudice to its re-filing in accordance with DAR Administrative Order No. 6, Series of 2000, within thirty (30) days from the finality of this Decision.
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