[O.P. Case No. 3870. October 24, 1990.]
DRA. JOSEFINA R. ESCOTA, protestant-appellant, vs. EUSEBIO OCAMPO, applicant- appellee.
D E C I S I O N
This refers to the appeal, dated July 5, 1988, filed by Dra. Josefina R. Escota, through counsel, from the Order of the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, dated June 3, 1988, denying her motion for reconsideration of the Secretary's earlier Order, dated December 1, 1987, which affirmed the action of the Regional Director, DAR Region III, dated August 4, 1987, dismissing appellant's protest against appellee's application to purchase Lots Nos. 2464 and 1-C-203, of the Dinalupihan Estate, Dinalupihan, Bataan.
The agricultural lots in question, with a combined area of about 12,334 square meters, form part of the landed estate located in Dinalupihan, Bataan, which is more commonly known as the "Dinalupihan Estate".
Records show that these lots were the subject of a duly notarized "Kasunduan Ng Buwisan Sa Sakahan", dated December 27, 1978, between appellant Josefina R. Escota, as owner-lessor, and appellee Eusebio Ocampo, as tenant-lessee. Under the agreement, appellee was to deliver a fixed number of cavans of palay yearly to appellant, as rental for the land. This relationship continued until sometime in April 1986, when appellee refused to affix his signature to a written agreement, worded in the English language, stating that he had agreed to voluntarily surrender/relinquish to the appellant the possession and occupancy of some 232 square meters of the leased premises, upon payment to him of a disturbance compensation in the amount of P2,101.92. Instead, appellee filed with the regional office of the then Ministry of Agrarian Reform, an application dated June 11, 1986, to purchase the controverted lots. As would be expected, appellant lodged a formal protest against appellee's application, claiming superiority of right by virtue of prior occupation by her and through her predecessors-in-interest.
In the investigation that ensued, applicant-appellee adduced evidence tending to show that he had been tilling the land since even before World War II; that he signed the "Kasunduan ng Buwisan sa Sakahan" as a result of misrepresentation by appellant that she was the owner of the land; and that there is no record or document in the Department of Agrarian Reform showing or evidencing any award, grant or deed in favor of appellant. Affidavits of certain individuals, all attesting to have seen appellee cultivating the land since before World War II, were also presented.
On the other hand, appellant stated that the lots used to be a part of a bigger tract, which her deceased parents, Jose V. Reyes and Teodora Castillo Reyes, had occupied and cultivated long before the outbreak of World War II; that, when her father died in March 1944, his widow and children, which included appellant, partitioned the land and the share that went to appellant corresponds to the lots in question; that she had since possessed and occupied the land openly, peacefully, exclusively and in the concept of owner; that she had declared the lots for taxation and paid the corresponding taxes thereon; that, in December 1978, she and the appellee entered into a "Kasunduan Ng Buwisan Ng Sakahan" over the lots in question; that, beginning in April 1986, appellant has filed to deliver to her the agreed rental for the land as stipulated in the "Kasunduan"; that, as a result, she filed a case in the civil court against appellee for payment of unpaid rentals; that said case was referred by the court to the Department of Agrarian Reform for clearance in accordance with applicable law; that the DAR has not yet decided the issue regarding clearance; that, even if the land be considered as government land, she has priority to acquire the same by purchase by virtue of prior possession and occupancy, coupled with cultivation, by herself and through her predecessors-in-interest; that, although appellee had possessed, occupied and cultivated the land since 1978, it was by virtue of the "Kasunduan" wherein appellee recognized and accepted the right of ownership of appellant. Appellant likewise presented affidavits of longtime residents of the place, all attesting personal knowledge of the fact that the lots in question were portions of a bigger tract, possessed, occupied and cultivated by appellant's deceased parents long before the outbreak of World War II.
On August 4, 1987, the Regional Director, DAR, Region III, came out with an Order, the pertinent. portions of which read:
"From the foregoing, it is well established that the protestant, Dra. Josefina Escota who claimed to be the owner failed to present any title or evidence showing ownership of the land in question except the affidavit of Mr. Pedro Reyes and Dr. Maximo R. Sta. Maria, both attesting that the lots are the fruit of her successional rights. Suffice to say that in the absence of an Order of Award, title or any deed of transfer, mere inchoate rights cannot be a subject of succession. Subsequently, her misrepresentation as an owner of the subject lots is tantamount to fraud which invalidated/avoided the lease contract. Secondly, Dra. Josefina Escota failed to comply with the requirements needed to an applicant, and with further reiteration, the following disqualify her to wit:
1) First, she is not the actual-tiller occupant of the subject lots
2) Second, she is already an owner of a piece of land other than the subject lots. (Memorandum for Protestant, dated June 8, 1987 of Atty. Arturo Reyes)
3) Third, she is a doctor by profession and could not personally cultivate the lots.
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, Dra. Josefina Escota losses preferential rights over the subject lots. Hence, the protest filed by her shall be denied for lack of merit.
"Let the application of Mr. Eusebio Ocampo shall be given due course and that further processing the same shall be made.
Appellant filed a motion for reconsideration but the same was denied by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform (SAR) in his Order of December 1, 1987, the material portions of which read:
"The issue now is who between Ocampo and Escota has the preferential right to the landholdings.
"There is no doubt that Lot No. 2464, Psd-7800 and Lot No. I-C-203 (Portion), Psd-17612 are lands within the Dinalupihan Estate and these lands are not covered by any contract, agreement sell or Deed of Sale which are the modes of acquisition of lands within landed estates. The protestant could not produce any title or any deed of transfer or Order of Award issued in her favor except the allegation of a successional right from her parents and the tax declaration and tax receipts which after all are not considered evidences of ownership. Applicant, on the other hand, has long been in actual possession and cultivation of the land and this is an admitted fact even by the protestant. In other words, he is a legitimate farmer whereas protestant being a doctor by profession could not be in a position to personally cultivate the land and therefore she is disqualified to be an allocatee of these lots.
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, Order is hereby issued denying the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the counsel of Dra. Josefina R. Escota for lack of merit, and accordingly, the Order dated August 4, 1987 of the DAR Regional Director of Region III is hereby AFFIRMED.
Another motion for reconsideration by appellant suffered the same fate in an extended Order by the SAR dated June 3, 1988; hence, the instant appeal.
Perusing the appealed Order of June 3, 1988, we have noted some confusion in the characterization of the controverted lots, that is whether they are public or private lands. For, while said order clarifies said lots as portion of a "landed estate", it would apply the provisions of the Public Land Act, Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, particularly Section 22 of Chapter V thereof on Sale. This is not accurate, to say the least.
The Public Land Act governs the administration and disposition of alienable public lands only. [Central Capiz vs. Ramirez, 40 Phil. 883 (1920)]. The lots in question, being part of a landed estate, are no longer part of the public domain. As correctly described in the appealed order, landed estates are those haciendas and landholdings of individuals and private corporations previously acquired under different laws by the government through purchase, either by negotiated sale or expropriation proceedings, for resale to qualified individuals. An example of this is the Tambobong Estate, which was purchased by the Government from the Roman Catholic Church in 1947, pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 539, [Gutierrez v Santos et al., 107 Phil 419 (1960); Gongon v Court of Appeals, No. L-24421, April 30, 1970, 32 SCRA 412 (1970)].
Having determined that the lots in question form part of the landed estate known as the Dinalupihan Estate, the applicable law is Commonwealth Act No. 539, Section 1 of which provides:
SECTION 1. The President of the Philippines is authorized to acquire private lands or any interest therein, through purchase or expropriation, and to subdivide the same into home lots or small farms for resale at reasonable prices and under such conditions as he may fix to their bonafide tenants or occupants or to private individuals who will work the lands themselves and who are qualified to acquire and own lands in the Philippines.
It is clear from the above-quoted provision that the law speaks of three classes of beneficiaries, namely, bonafide tenants, occupants and private individuals.
Appellee, being the actual tiller-occupant, has the preferential right to purchase the land. And, as affirmed by Secretary of Agrarian Reform in his Order of December 1, 1987: —
[A]pplicant, on the other hand, has long been in actual possession and cultivation of the land and this is an admitted fact even by the protestant. In other words, he is a legitimate farmer whereas protestant being a doctor by profession could not be in a position to personally cultivate the land and therefore she is disqualified to be an allocatee of these lots.
Moreover, as stated in the Investigation Report of Atty. Erasmo Sp. Cruz, Hearing Officer, dated July 29, 1987:
"It is worthy to note that the lots involved as per Certification, dated May 7, 1987, issued by Land Distribution, DARCO, Diliman, Quezon City, are not yet listed/awarded to anybody. Further, per letter dated Sept. 18, 1986 of Mr. Rodolfo de Guzman, SART, DARTO No. 099, Dinalupihan, Bataan, stated that as per records of their office, subject lots are not covered by any, contract, Agreement to Sell or Deed of Sale in favor of any person but it is believed or it appears to be the subject of an agricultural leasehold contract between the applicant and the protestant (emphasis ours).
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED and the instant appeal DISMISSED.
By authority of the President:
(SGD.) MARIANO SARMIENTO II
Deputy Executive Secretary
The Secretary of Agrarian Reform