SPECIAL SIXTEENTH DIVISION
[CA-G.R. SP No. 57562. October 25, 2001.]
SPOUSES ANECITO and SOLEDAD ESCALADA, petitioners, vs. THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM ADJUDICATION BOARD (DARAB) and RUPERTO SAMPIANO, JR., respondents.
D E C I S I O N
SABIO, J. L., JR., J p:
Before Us for resolution is a petition for review, filed by the herein petitioners (pages 3-26 of the Rollo), on the decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB for brevity)-Central Office, Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City (promulgated on January 17, 2000) in DARAB Case No. 7012 (termination of tenancy, ejectment and damages).
The dispositive portion of the assailed decision reads, thus:
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, there being no reversible error on the part of the Board a quo in rendering the decision dated August 14, 1997, the same is hereby AFFIRMED IN TOTO." (page 5 of the Assailed Decision; page 34 of the Rollo).
The antecedent facts of the present case were outlined by the DARAB in this wise, to wit:
"On February 20, 1995, a complaint for Collection of Rental and Forfeiture of Landholding was filed by the Plaintiffs-Appellants against the Defendants-Appellee (sic). It was alleged therein that the Defendant-Appellee was their tenant-lessee when they instituted in 1982 over a two (2)-hectare landholding of the Plaintiffs-Appellees for a lease rental of fifty (50) cavans per cropping. Despite several demands to pay the agreed lease rentals for four (4) consecutive years amounting to P162,500.00 and the cultivation of 1.7380 hectare in excess of the 2-hectare landholding, the Defendant-Appellee failed to do so. Hence, the instant complaint was lodged against the Defendant-Appellee, which was later amended to a Termination of Tenancy, Ejectment and Damages.
"In his Amended Answer, the Defendant-Appellee denied the material allegations of the complaint claiming among others that he was instituted as tenant by . . . Soledad Estoque's mother . . . in 1978 over two (2) parcels of riceland with an area of 3.5 hectares and that he was religious in paying his rentals to the Plaintiffs-Appellants.
"During the preliminary hearing, the parties failed to reach an amicable settlement, thus the same was terminated, and they were thereafter ordered to submit their respective position paper. The issues were then joined as follows:
"a. Whether or not Defendant-Appellee failed to pay the agreed lease rentals for 4 years, hence, justifying the termination of his tenancy relationship and his ejectment from his tillage;
"b. Whether or not the parties are entitled to damages.
"The Board a quo in its decision dated August 14, 1997 ruled in favor of the Defendant-Appellee and dismissed the claims for damages." (pages 1-2 of the Assailed Decision; pages 29-31 of the Rollo).
On January 17, 2000, the DARAB issued the now assailed Decision, the dispositive portion of which was earlier quoted, with the following findings:
". . . aggrieved[,] Plaintiffs-Appellants filed the instant appeal contending that the Board a quo gravely erred in issuing the questioned decision.
"The same lacks merit. . . . (F)ailure to pay lease rentals as a ground for ejectment to lie in the instant case, the same must be deliberate. As correctly held by the Board a quo, the law is zealous of the right of the tenant such that non-payment, in order to warrant ejectment should be deliberate with the determined resolved not to pay the rentals due. To be a ground for the ouster of a tenant, his failure to pay the agreed rental or to deliver the landholder's share must be deliberate, which means a determination of will not to do a certain act. (Ramirez vs. Castulo, et. al. CA-GR NO-SP-01938-R, April 31, 1975).
"Moreover, the law does not only require that the non-payment must be deliberate, but likewise places the burden of proof on the part of the agricultural lessor. The lessor must show by clear, positive and convincing evidence that the tenant in fact failed to comply with his obligation to pay [the] rentals due. There is nothing on the records to show that would prove deliberate non-payment on the part of the Defendant-Appellee.
"In the instant case, evidences (sic) presented by the Plaintiffs-Appellants . . . show that, the Defendant-Appellee did not pay his current rentals in full because he paid his previous rentals (Annexes 'G' to G-27' (sic), pp. 76-85, Rollo). A careful scrutiny of the same shows that annotation on each of the alleged receipts were made absent the confirmation of the Defendant-Appellee. This also, however, proved the Defendant-Appellee's intention to pay the rentals contrary to the Plaintiffs-Appellants allegation of the former's refusal to pay the rentals due. This fact is corroborated by receipts presented as evidence by the Defendant-Appellee (Annexes '3' to '3-S'. Defendant's Position Paper, pp. 113-123). This (sic) receipts are without any annotation made by the Plaintiffs-Appellants, clearly indicating that these were issued by them without any protest as to the quantity of the rentals paid. The evidences (sic) of the Plaintiffs-Appellants, being self-serving declarations, are admissions that there were regular payments made to them.
"Anent the quantity of unpaid rentals, the evidences (sic) of the Plaintiffs-Appellants corroborated the Defendants-Appellee's allegation that these lease rentals were orally agreed to be reduced from 50 cavans per cropping to 35 cavans per cropping in consideration of the surrender of the 1.5 hectare portion admitted by both parties to have been voluntarily surrendered by the Defendant in favor of plaintiffs-Appellants. (par. 3, p. 4, Defendants position paper, p. 132, Rollo; and par. 3, p. 7 Plaintiff's Position Paper, p. 58, Rollo). Also, the same is proven by Annexes '3' to '3-5' (supra) of the Defendant-Appellee showing the Plaintiffs-Appellants' receipts of either 35 cavans rentals for each cropping or 70 cavans for the whole year.
"Taking into consideration, the date of filing of the complaint (February 23, 1995), the following documentary evidences (sic) of the Defendant-Appellee were made pertinent by the Board a quo for the 3 years Unpaid rentals (1992 to 1994), Plaintiffs-Appellants failing to specify the crop years involved:
"Undated (crop year ani 1993) 35 cavans Exh.
35 cavans Exh
"Nov. 12, 1993
(1993-1994 ani) 35 cavans Exh
"Sept. 12, 1994 50 cavans Exh
"Undated 50 cavans Exh
'3-Q'; per Order
Jan. 26, 1996
in DARAB Case
No. 1431 Crop
95 (P15,044 per
"It is therefore shown that Defendant-Appellee had regularly paid his past lease rentals due, he however, failed to prove his payments for the crop year 1992, though he had paid in excess of 35 cavans in the crop year 1993. He likewise failed to show evidence of full payment in crop year 1994 though he had paid 50 cavans in September 12, 1994 (Annex '3-0', p. 120, Rollo). Thus, instead of paying 210 cavans for 3 years, Defendant-Appellee only paid 155 cavans, thus, he has a balance of 55 cavans of palay due to Plaintiffs-Appellants.
"At this point, it must be stressed that ejectment or forfeiture against the Defendant-Appellee would not lie because his failure to pay the rentals were not substantially proven to have been deliberate.
"As regards to the claim of unpaid rentals prior to the institution of the action, it must be stressed that under Section 38 of R.A. 3844:
'Any action to enforce any cause of action thereunder is barred if not commenced within three (3) years from its accrual.'
"Unfortunately, Plaintiffs-Appellants initiated their action only in 1995, hence, prescription lies on their claims for unpaid rentals which accrued before crop year 1992, thus, they are estopped from claiming the same.
"One final word, Section 37 of the same law, states:
'The burden of proof to show the existence of a lawful cause for the ejectment of an agricultural lease shall rest upon the agricultural lessor.'
"Thus, Plaintiffs-Appellants having failed to prove their claims, except for the self-serving allegations made in the complaint, the same should not be given any credence. There was never any deliberate intention not to pay lease rentals on the part of the Defendant-Appellee. The law requires that for non-payment to ensure the ejectment of the lessee, the same must be with deliberate intent. Absence of showing of deliberate intent, the ejectment of the lessee is unjustified." (pages 2-5 of the Assailed Decision; pages 31-34 of the Rollo).
Not satisfied with the foregoing, the plaintiffs-appellants filed this present petition for review (pages 3-26 of the Rollo), and formulated the following errors allegedly committed by the DARAB, to wit:
"I. THE . . . DARAB GROSSLY ERRED IN AFFIRMING IN TOTO THE DECISION OF PARAD MYRNA DEL SOCORRO (PARAD-CAPIZ) INSPITE OF THE FACT THAT . . . RUPERTO SAMPIANO, JR. FAILED, REFUSED AND NEGLECTED TO PAY LEASE RENTALS FOR MORE THAN FIVE (5) CONSECUTIVE YEARS:
"II. THE . . . PUBLIC RESPONDENT GROSS[LY] ERRED TO CONSIDER THE FACT AND LAW THAT THE TENANTED AREA OF HEREIN PRIVATE RESPONDENT IS ONLY TWO (2) HECTARES, MORE OR LESS AND NOT 35,000 SQUARE METERS OR 3.0 HECTARES;
"III. THE . . . DARAB GROSSLY ERRED IN ORDERING THE MAINTENANCE OF HEREIN PRIVATE RESPONDENT OVER THE SUBJECT PARCEL OF LAND INSPITE OF THE FACT THAT THERE IS A CRIMINAL CASE FOR THEFT WHICH WAS FILED [BY] THE PETITIONERS AGAINST HIM [,] HENCE, THERE IS NO MORE LANDLORD-LESSEE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN [THE] PARTIES;
"IV. THE . . . PUBLIC RESPONDENT ERRED TO CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THE ORIGINAL CASE . . . FILED WAS ONLY A CASE FOR COLLECTION OF UNPAID RENTAL AND DAMAGES BUT THE COMPLAINT WAS AMENDED TO INCLUDE AS CAUSE OF ACTION TERMINATION OF TENANCY, EJECTMENT AND DAMAGES;
"V. THE . . . DARAB ERRED IN NOT REVERSING THE DECISION OF PARAD MYRNA DEL SOCORRO DATED, AUGUST 14, 1997 AND RENDERED A DECISION IN FAVOR OF THE PETITIONERS." (pages 8-9 of the Petition For Review; pages 11-12 of the Rollo).
In arguing for their first assignment of error, the petitioners prayed for the termination of tenancy relationship between them and Ruperto Sampiano and the latter be ordered ejected and dispossessed from his tenanted two (2) hectares land for deliberately refusing, neglecting and failing to pay his lease rentals (despite the good harvest) "for a period of more than Five (5) consecutive years and if converted into monetary value, the same amounted to P162,500.00." (page 10 of the Petition for Review; page 13 of the Rollo).
We are not persuaded.
We do not see any reason to terminate the tenancy relationship between the herein parties. While it may be true that failure of the lessee to pay the lease rental when it falls due is a cause for the tenant's ejectment from his holdings (Section 36  Republic Act No. 3844), however, "not all failures of a tenant to pay the landholder's share give rise to a right to eject him. There must be a willful neglect or deliberate failure to pay, and the results ensuing therefrom and consequences thereof must be intended by the tenant, to constitute a ground to dispossess him" (Roxas y Cia vs Cabatuando, 1 SCRA 1106).
We carefully examined the records of the present case and found that, indeed, Ruperto Sampiano, Jr. has substantially complied with the terms and conditions of the tenancy contract. As correctly held by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator and We quote:
". . . it is clearly shown by the evidences of the plaintiffs themselves that the defendant paid his rentals every year (Annexes 'G' to 'G-27'), though they made it to appear that said payment other than not in full, the same refers to the previous rentals due. Simple scrutiny of the same however, shows that annotations were made on each of the alleged receipt absent the confirmation of the defendant thereof. Nevertheless, such evidences certainly proved not only the intention to pay but payments of rentals contrary to the allegations of refusal to pay by the defendant-tenant." (page 2, Decision of PARAD).
Note that delay in payment of rentals does not justify the drastic remedy of ejectment under Section 50(b) of Republic Act No. 1199, which states that while violation by the tenant of any of the terms and conditions of tenancy contract shall be a ground to eject him, where there is substantial compliance (De Tanedo vs. De la Cruz, 32 SCRA 63), which, fortunately happened in the present case. We are inclined to hold that the failure of the herein tenant to deliver the full payment to the herein petitioners, was done so in good faith and not with deliberate intent to deprive the latter thereof.
Next to be passed upon is the second assignment of error — We are inclined to find merit in this particular assigned error. We carefully perused the records of the present case as well as the questioned "KASUGTANAN" (page 75 of the Record) and found out that indeed, Ruperto Sampiano, Jr. has voluntarily surrendered on April 26, 1991 his tenanted land to Soledad Estorque Escalada a portion of Lot 557-A-2 containing an area of 15,000 square meters, or more or less 1.5 hectares. It follows therefore that the herein tenant must limit his cultivation to the remaining two (2) hectares landholdings (page 42 of the Rollo).
Suffice it to state that We agree with the petitioners declaration that "(c)onsidering . . . that the aforementioned document . . . is valid and legal, herein defendant must limit his cultivation to his remaining tenanted area of a portion of said parcel of land with an area of 20,000 square meters, more or less and he has no right to be reinstated to said area in which he has voluntarily surrender[ed]." (page 18 of the Rollo).
Coming now to the third assignment of error. The petitioners maintained that "(c)ommission of a crime by the herein defendant is a valid ground for his Dispossession on the remaining area of 20,000 square meters." (page 17 of the Petition for Review). Significantly, the petitioners admitted that, although "there is no final judgment yet on the alleged crime committed by the herein defendant however, this is a valid ground for his ejectment on his tenanted land because there is no more harmonious relation between him and the plaintiff." (ibid).
We are not impressed by the disquisitions advanced by the petitioners. Under Section 49 Republic Act No. 1199 (also known as Agricultural Tenancy Act), the tenant shall be dispossessed of his holding for any of the causes enumerated in Section 50 "only after the same has been proved before, and the dispossession is authorized by the court." Section 50(g) in particular of the said Act is clear and explicit, i.e., to have a valid dispossession, there must be a "conviction by a competent court of a tenant or any member of his immediate family or farm household of a crime against the landholder or a member of his immediate family."
In the case at bench, it is undisputed that the theft case filed against the herein respondent is still pending, hence, the conviction by a competent court requirement which is an indispensable element under the law has not been fully met. Notice should be made that the foregoing provisions of the Agricultural Tenancy Act speaks in unequivocal language. It is worded in categorical terms. Its meaning is clear. It does not require interpretation. All that it calls for is application. As the law commands, so will this Court act.
Having addressed the more important assignment of errors, We deem it unnecessary to tackle and pass upon the fourth formulated error, for the same is a mere corollary of the preceding error assigned.
With respect to their fifth assignment of error, the petitioners alleged that, withal appreciation by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (Myrna O. Del Socorro) that "respondent is really in default in payment of lease rentals, however, the finding is limited only to 1992 and 1994 and failed to consider the fact that herein defendant is in default in payment of lease rentals for Five (5) consecutive years and if converted into cash, the monetary value amounted to more than P162,500.00 because when petitioners received the questioned Decision, they have not receive any payment which is a simple case of extreme injustice." (page 20 of the Petition for Review; page 22 of the Rollo).
We are not convinced. As aptly observed by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator and We agree:
"It is established that the defendant though had regularly paid in the past his lease rentals due, he failed to prove herein his payments for the crop year 1992, though he has paid in excess of 35 cavans in crop year 1993. He likewise failed to show evidence on full payment in crop year 1994 though he had paid fifty (50) cavans in September 12, 1994 (Annex 'O'). Summarily, instead of paying 210 cavans of palay for three (3) crop years, the defendant had only paid 155 cavans, thus, having a balance of fifty-five (55) cavans of palay due to the herein plaintiffs." (page 51 of the Rollo).
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the decision (dated January 17, 2000) of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board-Central Office, Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City (affirming the decision of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator) is hereby MODIFIED, so that, the herein petitioners are hereby ordered to maintain Ruperto Sampiano, Jr. in the peaceful possession and cultivation of his tenanted two (2) hectares landholding only — but AFFIRMED in all other respects. No pronouncement as to costs.
Tria Tirona and Del Castillo, JJ., concur.