G.R. No. 156287 : February 16, 2010
FELICITAS M. MACHADO and MARCELINO P. MACHADO, Petitioners, v. RICARDO L. GATDULA, COMMISSION ON THE SETTLEMENT OF LAND PROBLEMS, and IRINEO S. PAZ, Sheriff IV, Office of the Provincial Sheriff, San Pedro, Laguna, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is the Petition for Review on Certiorari 1cralaw filed by petitioners Felicitas M. Machado and Marcelino P. Machado (the Machados), assailing the decision2cralaw of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated January 31, 2002 and the resolution3cralaw dated December 5, 2002 in CA-G.R. SP No. 65871. The CA decision dismissed the Machados petition for certiorari and their motion for reconsideration, and upheld the jurisdiction of the Commission on Settlement of Land Problems (COSLAP) to render judgment over a private land and to issue the corresponding writs of execution and demolition.
THE FACTUAL ANTECEDENTS
The dispute involves two adjoining parcels of land located in Barangay San Vicente, San Pedro, Laguna, one belonging to the Machados, and the other belonging to respondent Ricardo L. Gatdula (Gatdula).
On February 2, 1999, Gatdula wrote a letter4cralaw to the COSLAP requesting assistance because the Machados allegedly blocked the right of way to his private property by constructing a two-door apartment on their property.
Acting on Gatdula's letter, the COSLAP conducted a mediationconferenceon February 25, 1999; the parties then agreed to have a verification survey conducted on their properties and to share the attendant expenses. Thereafter, the COSLAP issued an Order dated March 16, 1999 directing the Chief of the Survey Division of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office Department of Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO-DENR), to conduct a verification survey on May 9, 1999. The order likewise stated that in the event that no surveyor is available, the parties may use the services of a private surveyor, whom the CENRO-DENR Survey Division would deputize.
As scheduled, a private surveyor, Junior Geodetic Engineer Abet F. Arellano (Engr. Arellano), conducted a verification survey of the properties in the presence of both parties. Engr. Arellano submitted a report to the COSLAP finding that the structure built by the Machados encroached upon an alley found within the Gatdula property. Engr. Arellano's findings corroborated the separate report of Engineer Noel V. Soqueco of the CENRO, Los Baños, Laguna that had also been submitted to the COSLAP.
The Machados contested these reports in their position paper dated August 26, 1999. They alleged that Gatdula had no right of action since they did not violate Gatdula's rights.5cralaw They further assailed the jurisdiction of the COSLAP, stating that the proper forum for the present case was the Regional Trial Court of San Pedro, Laguna .
The COSLAP Ruling
On October 25, 1999, the COSLAP issued a resolution6cralaw (October 25, 1999 COSLAP Resolution) directing the Machados to reopen the right of way in favor of Gatdula. In so ruling, the COSLAP relied on the verification survey made by Engr. Arellano, which established that the Machados had encroached on the existing alley in Gatdula's property.
The COSLAP declared the Machados estopped from questioning its jurisdiction to decide the case, since they actively participated in the mediation conferences and the verification surveys without raising any jurisdictional objection. It ruled that its jurisdiction does not depend on the convenience of the Machados.
The Machados filed a motion for reconsideration which the COSLAP denied in a resolution dated January 24, 2000.
On February 18, 2000, the Machados filed a notice of appeal7cralaw with the Office of the President (OP).
While this appeal was pending, the COSLAP, upon Gatdula's motion, issued a writ of execution8cralaw enforcing the terms of the October 25, 1999 COSLAP Resolution. The Machados opposed the writ by filing a motion to quash on March 30, 2001.9cralaw They argued that the October 25, 1999 COSLAP Resolution was not yet ripe for execution in view of the pending appeal before the OP.
Since the Machados persistently refused to reopen the right of way they closed, the provincial sheriff recommended to COSLAP the issuance of a writ of demolition. The COSLAP issued the writ of demolition10cralaw on July 12, 2001.
The CA Ruling
On July 31, 2001, the Machados went to the CA for relief through a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition,11cralaw claiming that the COSLAP issued the writs of execution and demolition with grave abuse of discretion.
The CA found the Machados claim unfounded and, accordingly, dismissed their petition in its decision of January 31, 2002.12cralaw It declared that the COSLAP correctly issued the assailed writs because the October 25, 1999 COSLAP Resolution had already become final and executory for failure of the Machados to avail of the proper remedy against the COSLAP orders and resolutions. Under Section 3 (2)13cralaw of Executive Order No. 561 (EO 561), the resolutions, orders, and decisions of the COSLAP become final and executory 30 days after promulgation, and are appealable by certiorari only to the Supreme Court. In Sy v. Commission on the Settlement of Land Problems ,14cralaw it was held that under the doctrine of judicial hierarchy, the orders, resolutions and decisions of the COSLAP, as a quasi-judicial agency, are directly appealable to the CA under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, and not to the Supreme Court. Thus, the CA ruled that the Machados appeal to the OP was not the proper remedy and did not suspend the running of the period for finality of the October 25, 1999 COSLAP Resolution.
On the issue of jurisdiction, the CA found that the COSLAP was created to provide a more effective mechanism for the expeditious settlement of land problems, in general; the present case, therefore, falls within its jurisdiction.15cralaw Moreover, the Machados active participation in the mediation conference and their consent to bring about the verification survey bound them to the COSLAP's decisions, orders and resolutions.
The Machados thus filed the present Rule 45 petition with this Court, raising two vital issues:
THE COURTS RULING
We find the petition meritorious.
In resolving the issue of whether the COSLAP has jurisdiction over the present case, a review of the history of the COSLAP and an account of the laws creating the COSLAP and its predecessor, the Presidential Action Committee on Land Problems (PACLAP), is in order.
The COSLAP's forerunner, the PACLAP, was created on July 31, 1970 pursuant to Executive Order No. 251. As originally conceived, the committee was tasked to expedite and coordinate the investigation and resolution of land disputes, streamline and shorten administrative procedures, adopt bold and decisive measures to solve land problems, and/or recommend other solutions.
On March 19, 1971, Executive Order No. 305 was issued reconstituting the PACLAP. The committee was given exclusive jurisdiction over all cases involving public lands and other lands of the public domain,18cralaw and was likewise vested with adjudicatory powers phrased in broad terms:
Thereafter, Presidential Decree No. 832 (PD 832)20cralaw was issued on November 27, 1975 reorganizing the PACLAP and enlarging its functions and duties. The decree also granted PACLAP quasi-judicial functions. Section 2 of PD 832 states:
The Commission shall promulgate such rules and procedures as will ensure expeditious resolution and action on the above cases. The resolution, order or decision of the Commission on any of the foregoing cases shall have the force and effect of a regular administrative resolution, order or decision and shall be binding upon the parties therein and upon the agency having jurisdiction over the same. Said resolution, order or decision shall become final and executory within thirty (30) days from its promulgation and shall be appealable by certiorari only to the Supreme Court. [emphasis supplied]
Under these terms, the COSLAP has two different rules in acting on a land dispute or problem lodged before it, e.g. , COSLAP can assume jurisdiction only if the matter is one of those enumerated in paragraph 2(a) to (e) of the law. Otherwise, it should refer the case to the agency having appropriate jurisdiction for settlement or resolution.21cralaw In resolving whether to assume jurisdiction over a case or to refer it to the particular agency concerned, the COSLAP considers: (a) the nature or classification of the land involved; (b) the parties to the case; (c) the nature of the questions raised; and (d) the need for immediate and urgent action thereon to prevent injury to persons and damage or destruction to property. The terms of the law clearly do not vest on the COSLAP the general power to assume jurisdiction over any land dispute or problem.22cralaw Thus, under EO 561, the instances when the COSLAP may resolve land disputes are limited only to those involving public lands or those covered by a specific license from the government, such as pasture lease agreements, timber concessions, or reservation grants.23cralaw
Undisputably, the properties involved in the present dispute are private lands owned by private parties, none of whom is a squatter, a patent lease agreement holder, a government reservation grantee, a public land claimant or a member of any cultural minority.24cralaw
Moreover, the dispute between the parties can hardly be classified as critical or explosive in nature that would generate social tension or unrest, or a critical situation that would require immediate and urgent action. The issues raised in the present case primarily involve the application of the Civil Code provisions on Property and the Easement of Right of Way. As held in Longino v. General,25cralaw "disputes requiring no special skill or technical expertise of an administrative body that could be resolved by applying pertinent provisions of the Civil Code are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the regular courts."
The Machados cannot invoke Section 3, paragraph 2(e) of EO 561, which provides that the COSLAP may assume jurisdiction over complaints involving "other similar land problems of grave urgency," to justify the COSLAP's intervention in this case. The statutory construction principle of ejusdem generic prescribes that where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same kind as those specifically mentioned.26cralaw A dispute between two parties concerning the right of way over private lands cannot be characterized as similar to those enumerated under Section 3, paragraph 2(a) to (d) of EO 561.
In Davao New Town Development Corporation v. Commission on the Settlement of Land Problems27cralaw where we ruled that the COSLAP does not have blanket authority to assume every matter referred to it we made it clear that its jurisdiction is confined only to disputes over lands in which the government has a proprietary or regulatory interest.
The CA apparently misread and misapplied the Court's ruling in Bañaga v. Court of Appeals.28cralaw Bañaga involved two contending parties who filed free patent applications for a parcel of public land with the Bureau of Lands. Because of the Bureau of Lands failure to act within a reasonable time on the applications and to conduct an investigation, the COSLAP decided to assume jurisdiction over the case. Since the dispute involved a public land on a free patent issue, the COSLAP undeniably had jurisdiction over the Bañaga case.
By reason of the Machados active participation in the mediationconferencesand the COSLAP verification surveys, the CA declared the Machados estopped from questioning the body's jurisdiction and bound by its decisions, orders and resolutions. We disagree with this ruling.
Jurisdiction over a subject matter is conferred by law and not by the parties action or conduct.29cralaw Estoppel generally does not confer jurisdiction over a cause of action to a tribunal where none, by law, exists. In Lozon v. NLRC,30cralaw we declared that:
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