[G.R. NO. 169372 : December 6, 2006]
NARCISO GUIANG, Petitioners, v. COURT OF APPEALS, FERNANDO T. DULAY, CALLEJO, SR., and HEIRS OF CARLITO DULAY, represented by CHRISTOPHER S. DULAY, and HEIRS OF ANDRES DULAY, represented by BEATRIZ DULAY, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
Narciso Guiang was the owner of a four-hectare parcel of agricultural land situated at Cebu, San Isidro, Santiago, Isabela. The lot is covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-9504 of the Registry of Deeds of Isabela. The title was based on Homestead Patent No. V-63014 which was approved on February 6, 1956.3
In September 1982, Guiang and Andres Dulay executed a contract of lease over the property. As annual rental over the landholding, Dulay obliged himself to deliver to Guiang 48 cavans of palay (50 kilos per cavan). The parties agreed that the lease would continue until revoked, or until their contractual relationship was terminated by law.4
Meantime, on September 22, 1987, the President, through the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, issued emancipation patents over portions of the property. Consequently, the following titles were issued in favor of Andres Dulay and his two sons:
However, the patentees continued delivery to Guiang his share of the produce on the property.
Andres Dulay passed away on April 15, 1998. He was survived by his wife, Beatriz Dulay, and their children, Carlito, Ben and Fernando.
Guiang filed a Complaint for "Declaratory Relief, Recovery of Ownership and Possession of Real Property Plus Damages" against the heirs of Andres Dulay before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Santiago City. He alleged the following:
Guiang prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in his favor, thus:
In their Answer, the Dulays alleged that in the 1998 harvest season, they had informed Guiang that his share of the produce was ready for delivery. However, Guiang refused to accept his share because he wanted the property vacated. The Dulays were then impelled to deposit the rentals with the Land Bank of the Philippines. They further insisted that in 1999 and 2000, Guiang received rentals over the property and signed receipts therefor.
By way of special and affirmative defenses, the Dulays alleged the following:
The Dulays failed to allege that they had already acquired ownership over the property as early as 1987, based on the emancipation patents approved by the President and the subsequent issuance of the TCTs in their favor. A copy of the lease contract was appended to the Answer as Annex "A." However, copies of the titles issued in favor of defendants were not appended to the Answer.
The Dulays prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
During the pre-trial, the parties stipulated on the following matters:
The parties likewise agreed to litigate the following issues:
Guiang filed a motion for summary judgment. He contended that as gleaned from the parties' pleadings and what was stipulated upon, no genuine issue had been raised.
The Dulays opposed the motion, contending
On October 1, 2002, the trial court issued an Order granting the motion for summary judgment. The dispositive portion reads:
The RTC ruled that the lot was not covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) or Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 27 because it had been acquired under a homestead patent. The RTC cited the ruling of this Court in Alita v. Court of Appeals.13 The court likewise cited the retention limits of original homestead owners or their direct compulsory heirs under Section 6, Article XIII of the Constitution, and Section 6 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6657. According to the RTC, the Dulays, as tenants, were estopped from denying Guiang's title over the property.
The Dulays, through counsel, received a copy of the Order on October 9, 2002. On November 2, 2002, the Dulays filed a motion for reconsideration, while Guiang filed a motion to execute the October 1, 2002 Order.14 Guiang alleged that the trial court's Order had become final and executory since the appeal was filed beyond the reglementary period.
On November 25, 2002, the RTC issued an Order denying the motion on the ground that it was belatedly filed; Guiang's motion for a writ of execution was granted.15 A writ of execution was subsequently issued.16
On May 15, 2003, the Dulays filed a Petition for Relief from Judgment17 before the RTC, on the ground that their failure to timely move for reconsideration of the October 1, 2002 Order was due to their counsel's excusable neglect. They explained that their counsel was suffering from sore eyes and double eye vision, and so was unable to prepare the necessary pleading.18 The Dulays averred that the ruling in Paris v. Alfeche19 had already abandoned the doctrine in the Alita and Bayog cases. They pointed out that in the Paris case, the Court allowed the tenants-tillers to stay and cultivate the land, and declared that unless there is a violation of the tenancy agreement, the tenants should not be ejected from the land.
The Dulays thus prayed that the RTC issue a writ of preliminary injunction to restrain Guiang from enforcing the order of execution.
Guiang filed an Opposition,20 contending that the petition was filed beyond the periods provided under Section 3,21 Rule 38 of the Revised Rules of Court. He, likewise, asserted that the petition was not accompanied by a medical certificate, and that there was no authentic proof that, indeed, the counsel was on official leave of absence due to illness as claimed by the Dulays.
On February 8, 2005, the RTC issued a Resolution22 dated January 8, 2005 denying the petition for relief from judgment. The RTC ruled that the petition was belatedly filed since more than seven months had lapsed from the filing of the petition. Contrary to defendants' claim, the reckoning point of the reglementary period is the date of receipt of the Order - October 9, 2002. Moreover, the Dulays failed to show the existence of fraud, accident, mistake and excusable negligence, or that they had a good and substantial defense; at the very least, a medical certificate should have been attached to the petition.23 The RTC also found that Guiang had been tilling the land since 1956. It pointed out that under Section 6 of R.A. No. 6657, the homestead grantee has the right to retain the property, and that lot is exempt from the CARL.24
Aggrieved, the Dulays filed a Petition for Certiorari25 under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court before the CA, alleging that:
They alleged that since a tenancy relationship existed between the parties, it is the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB), not the RTC, which had jurisdiction over the case. They pointed out that all the requisites of a tenancy relationship existed: Guiang is the owner of the agricultural lots; Guiang consented to the lease; the purpose of the leasehold contract was to bring about agricultural production; they actually cultivated the subject property; and there was sharing in the harvest.27 Petitioners cited the case of Paris v. Alfeche28 to support their contention that homesteads are not exempt from the operation of the Land Reform Law.29
In his Comment30 on the petition, Guiang averred that the RTC validly assumed jurisdiction over the case. Under Rule 63 of the Revised Rules of Court, a petition for declaratory relief, recovery of ownership and possession and damages is within the jurisdiction of the RTC. Moreover, the land was acquired by virtue of a homestead patent, and thus exempt from the coverage of agrarian reform law, and outside the jurisdiction of the DARAB.31
On June 20, 2005, the CA rendered the assailed Decision32 granting the petition. The fallo reads:
The CA ruled that, while Guiang had the unqualified right to retain the landholding as the original homestead, it does not follow that the actual and legitimate tenant-tillers are no longer entitled to the protection of the law.34 The very allegations of the complaint show that the controversy is essentially an agrarian dispute; thus, it is clearly the DARAB and not the RTC which has jurisdiction.35
The CA held that since the decision sought to be annulled was rendered by a court that had no jurisdiction, thus, a void judgment, the issue of the timeliness of the petition for relief from judgment is immaterial. The ruling of the RTC is a total nullity and can never become final; any writ of execution based on it is void.36
Guiang filed a motion for reconsideration, which the appellate court likewise denied in its Resolution37 dated August 23, 2005.
Guiang, now petitioner, comes before the Court and alleges the following to support the instant petition:
The threshold issue is whether the RTC had jurisdiction over the petition for declaratory relief, considering the factual circumstances of this case.
Petitioner maintains that the RTC had jurisdiction over the property subject of the action because it was acquired under the Homestead Law. He insists that the lot is exempt from the coverage of the Agrarian Reform Law. Under Section 6, Article XIII of the Constitution, the rights of tenants are subject to prior rights, including the homestead rights of small settlers.
Petitioner maintains that the ruling in Paris v. Alfeche38 does not apply because he had informed respondents that he and his family wanted to cultivate the property themselves. He stresses that he and his family do not own any property. Pursuant to Section 6 of R.A. No. 6657, the landholding may be retained since it is less than 5 hectares. The dispute between the parties in the RTC involving such property is within the jurisdiction of the trial court, and not the DAR. He insists that the CA should have dismissed the petition outright for having been filed out of time.
In their comment on the petition, respondents averred that, based on the allegations of the amended complaint, the DARAB, not the RTC, has exclusive jurisdiction over petitioner's action below. They point out that a tenancy relationship existed between them and petitioner. Moreover, as shown by the transfer certificates of title which were, in turn, based on the emancipation patents issued in their names, they had already acquired title over the property under P.D. No. 27. Respondents insist that Mejia v. Gabayan39 had overruled the Court's rulings in Alita and Patricio.
The Ruling of the Court
The ruling of the CA that the RTC had no jurisdiction over the action filed by petitioner is correct.
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, the character of the relief prayed for, and the law existing at the time of the filing of the complaint or petition.40 Jurisdiction should be determined by considering not only the status on the relationship between the parties, but also the nature of the issues or questions subject of the controversy. If the issue between the parties is intertwined with an issue the resolution of which is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DARAB, it must be resolved by the same body.41 When the actual issues are evident from the records of the case, then jurisdiction over the subject matter need not depend upon the literal averments in the complaint, but on the law as applied to established facts.42 As the Court held in Ramos v. Stateland Investment Corporation:43
The powers and functions of the DAR are set forth in Section 50 of R.A. No. 6657. The provision reads:
Section 3(d) of the same law defines "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.
For the DARAB to have jurisdiction over a case, there must be a tenancy relationship between the parties. It is essential to establish the following indispensable elements: (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.45 In Vda. de Tangub v. Court of Appeals,46 the Court held that the jurisdiction of the DAR is limited to the following:
Section 1(f), Rule II of the DARAB likewise provides that the DARAB has primary and exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving the issue, correction and cancellation of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) and emancipation patents which are registered with the Land Registration Authority. And as the Court held in Machete v. Court of Appeals,48 the failure of agricultural tenants to pay rentals pursuant to a leasehold contract is an issue which is exclusively cognizable by the DARAB and beyond the legal competence of the RTC.
Patently, petitioner's action in the RTC sought to have respondents evicted from the leaseholding, grounded as it was on respondents' failure to pay rentals since 1998 as provided in the leasehold agreement. In contrast, respondents claimed that in accordance with P.D. No. 27, R.A. No. 6657, and the DAR Rules and Regulations, they already owned the property. Thus, the dispute between the parties is "agrarian" in nature, within the context of Section 3(d) of R.A. No. 6657. The contentious issue as to whether petitioner is entitled to the retention of the property involves the application not only of Section 6, Article XIII of the Constitution and Commonwealth Act No. 141, but also of Section 6 of R.A. No. 6657. Under these laws, the original homestead grantees or their direct compulsory heirs who still own the original homestead at the time of the approval of P.D. No. 27 and R.A. No. 6657 shall retain the same areas as long as they continue to cultivate it. P.D. 27 and R.A. No. 6675 and DAR Memorandum Circular No. 2, Series of 1978, on the other hand, state that tenanted private agricultural lands primarily devoted to rice and/or corn which have been acquired under the provisions of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, shall also be covered by Operation Land Transfer.
Thus, the issue of what case law applies (whether that in Alita v. Court of Appeals, or Paris v. Alfeche, or Mejia v. Gabayan49) is a matter within the exclusive competence of the DARAB to resolve, based on R.A. No. 6657 as well as other issuances of the DAR. Also, the issue of whether the emancipation patents and the torrens titles issued to respondents should be cancelled is a matter beyond the jurisdiction of the RTC. It should be resolved by the DARAB. Also to be taken into account is respondents' claim that, as late as 1999 and 2000, they continued paying rentals to petitioner despite the fact that emancipation patents and torrens titles over the lot had already been issued in their favor.
Considering that the decision sought to be annulled is a void judgment, the fact that the petition for relief from judgment was belatedly filed is irrelevant. As held in Hilado v. Chavez,50 when the judgment on its face is void ab initio, the limited periods for relief from judgment under Rule 38 are inapplicable. This is so because a void judgment is vulnerable to attack in any way and at anytime, even when no appeal has been taken. When a court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, any judgment in the proceedings is a nullity. And considering that a void judgment is in legal effect no judgment by which no rights are divested, from which no rights can be obtained, which neither binds nor bars anyone, and under which all acts performed and all claims flowing out of are void, and considering further that the decision for want of jurisdiction of the court is not a decision in contemplation of law and can never become executory, it follows that such a void judgment cannot constitute a bar to another case by reason of res judicata.51
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit.
Panganiban, C.J. (Chairperson), Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™