G.R. No. 173386, February 11, 2014
DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM, NOW REPRESENTED BY OIC–SEC. NASSER PANGANDAMAN, Petitioner, v. TRINIDAD VALLEY REALTY & DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, FRANNIE GREENMEADOWS PASTURES, INC., ISABEL GREENLAND AGRI–BASED RESOURCES, INC., ISABEL GREENMEADOWS QUALITY PRODUCTS, INC., ERNESTO BARICUATRO,CLAUDIO VILLO AND EFREN NUEVO, Respondents.
[G.R. No. 174162]
GRACE B. FUA, IN HER CAPACITY AS THE PROVINCIAL AGRARIAN REFORM OFFICER OF NEGROS ORIENTAL, JOSELIDO S. DAYOHA, JESUS S. DAYOHA AND RODRIGO S. LICANDA, Petitioners, v. TRINIDAD VALLEY REALTY AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, FRANNIE GREENMEADOWS PASTURES, INC., ISABEL GREENLAND AGRI–BASED RESOURCES, INC., ISABEL EVERGREEN PLANTATIONS INC., MICHELLE FARMS, INC. ISABEL GREENMEADOWS QUALITY PRODUCTS, INC., ERNESTO BARICU A TRO, CLAUDIO VILLO AND EFREN NUEVO, Respondents.
[G.R. No. 183191]
TRINIDAD VALLEY REALTY & DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, FRANNIE GREENMEADOWS PASTURES, INC., ISABEL GREENLAND AGRI–BASED RESOURCES, INC., ISABEL GREENMEADOWS QUALITY PRODUCTS, INC., ERNESTO BARICUATRO, CLAUDIO VILLO AND EFREN NUEVO, Petitioners, v. THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES AND THE LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
VILLARAMA, JR., J.:
WHEREFORE, this Court rules and so holds that:chanroblesvirtuallawlibraryIn an Urgent Omnibus Motion12 dated December 2, 2004, LRA, et al. moved for reconsideration on the ground of lack of merit and jurisdiction. The DAR similarly filed a Motion for Reconsideration13 dated December 8, 2004 on the same ground of lack of jurisdiction. Both motions were denied by the RTC in its Order14 dated January 7, 2005.
- This Court has jurisdiction over the instant case;
- The Amended Petition is admitted and defendants may file responsive pleadings or amendments to their original answers within ten10 days from receipt hereof; and
- The plaintiffs have not made out a case for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or the writ of preliminary prohibitory injunction, and therefore the plaintiffs’ prayer for its issuance is denied.
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the instant Petition is hereby GRANTED and the assailed Order of the court a quo is hereby ANNULLED AND SET ASIDE. The court a quo is hereby directed to DISMISS Civil Action No. 04–02–V, entitled “Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. vs. The Honorable Jose Mari B. Ponce, et al.” for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.The CA ratiocinated that the RTC did not have jurisdiction over both the petition and amended petition filed by Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. in view of Section 54 of RA 6657 which clearly provides that it is the CA, and not the RTC, which has jurisdiction over the case.19 The CA also reiterated the ruling of this Court in the landmark case of Association of Small Landowners in the Phils., Inc. v. Han. Secretary of Agrarian Reform20 declaring the “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law” constitutional. Quoting the following portion of the landmark decision, the CA stressed that the ruling therein has, in effect, foreclosed any possible attack on the constitutionality of the law, viz.:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
By the decision we reach today, all major legal obstacles to the comprehensive agrarian reform program are removed, to clear the way for the true freedom of the farmer. We may now glimpse the day he will be released not only from want but also from the exploitation and disdain of the past and from his own feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. At last his servitude will be ended forever. At last the farm on which he toils will be his farm. It will be his portion of the Mother Earth that will give him not only the staff of life but also the joy of living. And where once it bred for him only deep despair, now can he see in it the fruition of his hopes for a more fulfilling future. Now at last can he banish from his small plot of earth his insecurities and dark resentments and ‘rebuild in it the music and the dream.’21ChanRoblesVirtualawlibraryOn the issue of whether the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in admitting the amended petition, the CA declared that while the Rules of Court allow amendments which substantially alter the nature of the cause of action in order to serve the higher interest of substantial justice, prevent delay and promote the objective of the Rules to secure a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding, the admission by the RTC of the amended petition was not proper and should have been denied.22
Be that as it may, it must be emphasized that the subject matter of the instant petition is the jurisdiction of the court a quo to try and hear [Special Civil Action] No. 04–02 –V. Accordingly, this Court ruled that the court a quo does not have jurisdiction to try the case.Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. now appeals to this Court by way of Petition for Review on Certiorari28 raising substantially the principal issue of whether the RTC has jurisdiction over the original and amended petitions.
Granting arguendo that Civil Case No. 04–013–V and [Special Civil Action] No. 04–02–V are the same, the June 28, 2007 Decision of this Court cannot be rendered moot and academic by the judgment of the court a quo in Civil Case No. 04–013–V. As correctly pointed out by the Office of the Solicitor General, a decision rendered by a court or tribunal without jurisdiction is null and void; hence, it’s as if no decision was ever rendered by the court a quo.
Accordingly, the instant Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED.27ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
The RTC also annulled the CLOAs issued by the DAR and issued a permanent prohibitory injunction31 restrammg private defendant beneficiaries, DAR defendants and other entities from exercising acts of possession, dispossession or ownership over any portion of the subject property, and preventing the DAR from subjecting the landholdings of Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. under the coverage of agrarian reform through the implementation of the administrative orders and issuances.32
- Administrative Order No. 10, Series of 1989 – Registration/Selection of Beneficiaries – DAR chooses beneficiaries under A.O. No. 10, Series of 1989 using as its basis, Section 22 of RA 6657 allowing farmers. farmworkers, or any person who is landless to become a beneficiary of any private agricultural land. Under this Administrative Order, not only fmmworkers or farmers working on a particular land are entitled to become beneficiaries, but any person who is landless, in short a non–tiller of the land, as long as he is capable and willing to become such a beneficiary.
- Administrative Orders No. 12, Series of 1989, No.9, Series of 1990 and No. 2, Series of 1996 allows DAR to place under compulsory coverage all private agricultural land by merely sending a notice of coverage; these administrative orders covering the same subjects, supersede one another from its earliest which is A.O. 12, Series of 1989, through Administrative Order No. 9, and polished into its last reincarnation, Administrative Order No 2, Series of 1996. Under these Orders, DAR granted itself the following powers which it has enforced:  to compulsorily acquire all private agricultural lands;  to order Land Bmlk to determine just compensation; and  to cancel the landowner’s title and transfer the land to the Republic of the Philippines [RP];
- Administrative Order No. 10, Series of 1990 authorizes DAR to cancel the RP title and issue final titles called Certificate of Land Ownership Award [CLOAs] which in turn it uses as basis to distribute private agricultural lands covered to beneficiaries;
- Joint DAR–LRA Memorandum Circular No. 20, Series of 1997 and all other previous DAR–LRA Memorandum Circulars are a series of agreements whereby DAR m1d the LRA agreed that the Registers of Deeds under LRA shall cancel landowners’ titles upon the request or directive of DAR. and thereafter register final titles to beneficiaries called Certificates of Land Ownership A ward;
- Executive Order No. 405 promulgated by President Aquino which is interpreted by DAR as authorizing Land Bmlk to determine just compensation;
- All other Administrative Orders and related issuances that prescribe substantially the same procedure as the above–foregoing Orders and Regulations existing or to be issued by the DAR with the same intent and effect in prescribing a non–judicial process of land acquisition.30
x x x that beneficiaries are not those intended by the Constitution as beneficiaries; that subject properties cannot be subjected to compulsory acquisition because its farm operations are under labor administration; that the valuation of the land was not judicially determined; that the cancellation of petitioners’ title over the subject properties and the issuance of Certificates of Land Ownership Award were effected without any court intervention; that a case for expropriation should have been filed in court; and that certain DAR Administrative Orders are unconstitutional.38ChanRoblesVirtualawlibraryWe also agree with the assessment of the appellate court that these allegations assail the acts of the DAR in awarding the CLOAs to the beneficiaries and question the procedure in fixing the compensation – acts which pertain to the very “application, implementation, enforcement or interpretation"39 of RA 6657 or the agrarian reform law and other pertinent laws on agrarian reform.
SECTION 54. Certiorari. – Any decision, order, award or ruling ofthe DAR on any agrarian dispute or on any matter pertaining to the application, implementation, enforcement, or interpretation of this Act and other pertinent laws on agrarian reform may be brought to the Court of Appeals by certiorari except as otherwise provided in this Act within fifteen (15) days from the receipt of a copy thereof.An examination of the records40 in the instant case would show that Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation had actually brought the matter to the DAR prior to its filing of the original and amended petitions with the RTC. The following incidents on record reveal an acknowledgment by Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation that the case indeed involves issues relating to the application, implementation, enforcement or interpretation ofRA 6657, viz.:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
The findings of fact of the DAR shall be final and conclusive if based on substantial evidence. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
x x x in 1980, upon the passage of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act, the Courts of Agrarian Relations were integrated into the Regional Trial Courts and the jurisdiction of the former was vested in the latter courts.The case at bar deals with acts of the DAR and the application, implementation, enforcement, or interpretation of RA 6657 – issues which do not involve the “special jurisdiction” of the RTC acting as a Special Agrarian Court. Hence, when the court a quo heard and decided the instant case, it did so without jurisdiction.
However, with the enactment of Executive Order No. 229, which took effect on August 29, 1987, the Regional Trial Courts were divested of their general jurisdiction to try agrarian reform matters. The said jurisdiction is now vested in the Department of Agrarian Reform.
Republic Act No. 6657, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which took effect on June 15, 1988, contains provisions which evince and support the intention of the legislature to vest in the Department of Agrarian Reform exclusive jurisdiction over all agrarian reform matters.
Section 50, of said law substantially reiterates Section 17, of Executive Order No. 229, vesting in the Department of Agrarian Reform exclusive and original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary"SECTION 50. Quasi–Judicial Powers of the DAR. The DAR is hereby vested with primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, except those falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)."In addition, Sections 56 and 57, thereof provide for the designation by the Supreme Court of at least one (1) branch of the Regional Trial Court within each province to act as a special agrarian court. The said special court shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction only over petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners and the prosecution of criminal offenses under said Act. Said provisions thus delimit the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts in agrarian cases only to these two instances. Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary"SEC. 56. Special Agrarian Court. – The Supreme Court shall designate at least one (1) branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) within each province to act as a Special Agrarian Court.
"The Supreme Court may designate more branches to constitute such additional Special Agrarian Courts as may be necessary to cope with the number of agrarian cases in each province. In the designation, the Supreme Court shall give preference to the Regional Trial Courts which have been assigned to handle agrarian cases or whose presiding judges were former judges of the defunct Court of Agrarian Relations. x x x.” "SEC. 57. Special Jurisdiction. – The Special Agrarian Courts shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners, and the prosecution of all criminal offenses under this Act. The Rules of Court shall apply to all proceedings before the Special Agrarian Courts unless modified by this Act.
"The Special Agrarian Courts shall decide all appropriate cases under their special jurisdiction within thirty (30) days from submission of the case for decision."44ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
To be sure, the issuance of the Notice of Coverage constitutes the first necessary step towards the acquisition of private land under the CARP. Plainly then, the propriety of the Notice relates to the implementation of the CARP, which is under the quasi–judicial jurisdiction of the DAR. Thus, the DAR could not be ousted from its authority by the simple expediency of appending an alleged constitutional or legal dimension to an issue that is clearly agrarian.47 (Emphasis supplied)chanroblesvirtualawlibraryThe legal recourse undertaken by Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. is on all–fours with the remedy adopted by the private respondents in Cuenca. In this case, Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. cloaked the issue as a constitutional question – assailing the constitutionality of administrative issuances promulgated to implement the agrarian reform law – in order to annul the titles issued therein. In Cuenca, private respondents assailed the constitutionality of EO 45 in order to annul the Notice of Coverage issued therein. The only difference is that in Cuenca, private respondents directly filed with the RTC their complaint to obtain the aforesaid reliefs while in this case, Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. filed their original petition for certiorari with the RTC after the protest of Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation against the coverage of its landholding under CARP was dismissed by the DAR Regional Director and such dismissal was affirmed by DAR OIC Secretary Jose Mari B. Ponce. But in both cases, it is evident that the constitutional angle was an attempt to exclude the cases from the ambit of the jurisdictional prescriptions under RA 6657.
SECTION 68. Immunity of Government Agencies from Undue Interference. – No injunction, restraining order, prohibition or mandamus shall be issued by the lower courts against the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in their implementation of the program.Given our ruling that the RTC lacked jurisdiction over the instant case, we find no necessity to address the other issues raised in the three consolidated petitions.
1 Also referred to as Villahermoso in some parts of the records.
2Rollo (G.R. No. 18319l),p. 121.
3 Records, Vol. 1, pp. 7–77.
4 Id. at 42–43.
5 Joined by private respondents.
6 Answer with Affirmative Defenses of Lack of Jurisdiction, Etc., records, Vol. 2, pp. 452–463.
7 256 Phil. 777 (1989).
8 Records, Vol. 2, pp. 508–587. Received by DAR, et al. on July 26,2004.
9 Records, Vol. 3, pp. 942–945.
10 Id. at 1232–1244. Penned by Presiding Judge Mario O. Trinidad.
11 Id. at 1244.
12 Id. at 1332–1343.
13 Id. at 1346–1358.
14 Records, Vol. 4, pp. 1573–1574.
15Rollo (G.R No. 183191), pp. 355–388.
16 Id. at 120–132.
17 Id. at 24–27.
18 Id. at 131.
19 Id. at 124–129.
20 Supra note 7.
21Rollo (G.R. No. 183191), p. 124.
22 Id. at 129–130.
23 Id. at 130.
24 Id. at 462–491.
25 Id. at 24–27.
26 Id. at 25–26.
27 Id. at 26.
28 Id. at 33–106.
29 Id. at 492–605.
30 Id. at 603–604.
31 In an Order dated April 18, 2006, the RTC granted an Ex–Parte Motion for Enforcement of Writ of Permanent Injunction filed by Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. Original Records, Vol. 1, pp. 1–5.
32Rollo (G.R. No. 183191), pp. 600–605.
33 In G.R. No. 173386, petitioners raised two main issues: that the RTC has no jurisdiction over petitions for certiorari involving acts of the DAR; and, that the RTC erred in ruling that Trinidad Valley Realty and Development Corporation, et al. did not resort to forum shopping.
34 In G.R. No. 174162, petitioners raised the same issues posited in G.R. No. 173386.
35DAR v. Paramount Holdings Equities, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 176838, June 13, 2013, p. 8; Padlan v. Dinglasan, G.R. No. 180321, March 20, 2013, 694 SCRA 91, 98–99; Bank of Commerce v. Planters Development Bank, G.R. Nos. 154470–71 and G.R. Nos. 154589–90, September 24, 2012, 681 SCRA 521, 548–549; Mendoza v. Germino, G.R. No. 165676, November 22, 2010, 635 SCRA 537, 544. Citations omitted.
36Mendoza v. Germino and Germino, id., citing Oca v. Court of Appeals, 428 Phil. 696,701–702 (2002).
37Padlan v. Dinglasan, supra note 35, citing City of Dumaguete v. Philippine Ports Authority, G.R. No. 168973, August 24, 2011, 656 SCRA 102, 119.
38Rollo(G.R. No. 18319l),p. 125.
39 Sec. 54, RA 6657.
40See Order dated March 17, 2004, issued by then OIC–Secretary Jose Mari B. Ponce, rollo (G.R. No. 174162), Vol. I, pp. 297–302.
41 Id. at 298.
42 Id. at 298–299.
43 Id. at 299–301.
44Rollo (G.R. No. 183191), pp. 127–128.
45 482 Phil. 208, 211 (2004).
46 Id. at 223.
47 Id. at 226.