CA-G.R. SP No. 43300
[CA-G.R. SP No. 43300. September 29, 1998.]
LUZ VDA. DE ABAS, EDINO ABAS, LUZELLE BELAMINDE ABAS, ELISEO ABAS, JR., ERMIN ABAS, ANTHONY ABAS, JOSEFINO ABAS, REUBEN ABAS, MARIA GRACIA ABAS, AND VICENTE ABAS, ET AL., petitioners, vs. HON. JUDGE OF DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM ADJUDICATION BOARD, and MARCELO BRAGA, ET AL., respondents.
D E C I S I O N
YNARES-SANTIAGO, C., J p:
Assailed in this Petition for Review is the decision of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) in DARAB Case No. 1942, reversing the decision of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) of the Province of Bukidnon.
The land involved in this case is a homestead under Patent No. 44215 and covered with Original Certificate of Title No. P-350 in the name of homesteader grantee Dionesio G. Abas who died in 1955, leaving eight (8) children who partitioned the subject land into eight (8) lots for which corresponding Transfer Certificates of Title were issued and registered by the Register of Deeds of the Province of Bukidnon, namely: T-7451, 7452, T-7453, T-7454, T-7455, T-7456, T-7457 and T-7458.
Private respondents were leasehold tenants on the said property with the obligation to each pay herein petitioners one hundred eight (108) cavans of corn annually. They complied with their obligation at the beginning but defaulted starting crop year 1985 and subsequent years.
Upon the effectivity of Presidential Decree No. 27 on October 21, 1972, unknown to petitioners, the subject land was brought under the coverage of Presidential Decree No. 27 and as a result, private respondent, were issued Certificates of Land Transfer to wit: 0-15482, 0-15483, 0-15484, 0-15548, 0-15512, 0-15513, 0-15514, 0-15524, and as a result thereof, private respondent stopped paying rentals to the petitioners.
Aggrieved, petitioners filed a case against private respondents for Ejectment, Collection of Rental and Damages with the Regional Trial Court of Bukidnon (Branch 11), which the rendered a decision in favor of petitioners. However, private respondents refused to pay the money judgment despite the decision having become final and executory. Petitioners thereafter filed with the Department of Agrarian reform (DAR) Region X, a petition for the exclusion of the subject property from the operation of Presidential Decree No. 27 on the ground that the subject land is a homestead which has not been disposed to third party. The Director of DAR, Antonio S. Marava granted the petition in an order dated July 26, 1988.
Petitioners thereafter filed a complaint for Recovery of Possession and Ejectment against private respondents when the latter held on their respective areas ignoring the decision of the Regional Trial Court and the exclusion order of Director Marava of Department of Agrarian Reform, before the PARAD of Bukidnon who rendered a decision in favor of the petitioners, in effect, upholding the decision of the Regional Director, DAR, Region X.
Private respondents appealed to the DARAB which rendered a decision reversing the decision of the PARAD the dispositive portion of which reads:
"WHEREFORE, finding reversible errors committed by the Honorable Adjudicator a quo, the decisions appealed from are hereby REVERSED as follows:
1. Maintaining the validity of all Emancipation Patents and their corresponding Transfer Certificates of Title which have been ordered cancelled:
2. Ordering the Register of Deeds for the Province of Bukidnon, . . . not to cancel the subject Emancipation Patents;
3. Maintaining the validity of Certificates of Land Transfer issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform in the names of Defendants-Appellants and other identified tenants-beneficiaries who are Defendants-Appellants in those cases and they shall be maintained in their peaceful possession and cultivation, and if they have effectively been ejected, they shall be restored to their possession under the same terms and conditions prevailing at the time of their ejectment;
4. Ordering the DARAB Sheriffs for the Province of Bukidnon. . . . as well as the concerned Municipal Agrarian Reform Officers, with the assistance of the PNP Command in the locality concerned, if necessary, to implement this decision.
Hence, the instant petition for review on the following assignment of errors:
"THE DECISION OF THE HONORABLE DARAB IS CONTRARY TO THE PROVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION.
THE HONORABLE DARAB ERRED IN APPLYING THE LAW AND JURISPRUDENCE ON THE MATTER.
LEASEHOLD AGREEMENT IS VALID IN THE FACE OF THE LAND REFORM UNDER P.D. No. 27. AS A MATTER OF FACT THAT IS THE INVOCATION OF PRIVATE RESPONDENTS.
WHETHER HOMESTEAD OR PRIVATE LAND, PETITIONERS HAVE THE RIGHTS OF RETENTION."
The first, second and fourth assignment of errors, being interrelated shall be discussed together.
Petitioners contend that the DARAB's decision contravened Section 6, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution which in substance mandates the application of the principles of agrarian reform or stewardship in the disposition of natural resources, including lands of the public domain under lease or concession suitable to agricultural, subject to prior rights, homestead rights of small settlers and the rights of indigenous Communities to their ancestral lands.
The constitutional provision is clear on the matter of homestead. It is settled that the farmer has a right to the land he tills but this is not an immutable right. Even as the Constitution promotes the land-to-the-tiller principle, it still recognizes the "homestead right of small settlers" and subjects any limitation. The petitioners herein are not big landowners but are the direct heirs of the original homesteader who left the subject parcel of the land containing 23.2852-hectares to his eight (8) children, the petitioners herein. After subdividing the subject property, each heir was left with only more than 2 hectares, which is less than the 5 hectare retention right of a land owner. The discussions and deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission discloses that the Commissioners were cognizant of the limitations of agrarian reform, to wit:
"A farmer's ownership of land "does not automatically pertain or correspond to the same land he is actually and physically tilling. It would yield to the limitations and adjustment provided for in [Sec. 4, second sentence of paragraph 2, Article XIII, 1986 Phil. Constitution] specifically the retention limits." (Vol. III Record of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, p. 10 cited in Bernas. The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, 1988 ed., p. 476)"
In establishing parameters to agrarian reform, the Constitution uses the phraseology "subject to prior rights . . ." but it achieves the purpose of establishing limits without using the word "excluding of exempting" as private respondents in their Comment deem to be the proper term to use to denote such limitation.
We agree with the DARAB's finding that as long as they comply with their duties and obligations, the farmers are entitled to security of tenure and they cannot be ejected, except for any of the causes provided by law and only after the same has been proved and the dispossession authorized by the Court in a judgment that is final and executory (Evangelista vs. Court of Appeals, 158 SCRA 41: Buenaventura vs. Court of Appeals, 159 SCRA 244). However, in the case of Patricio versus Bayog supra., the Supreme Court ruled that the right of the homesteader or his heirs is superior to that of the tenant's security of tenure, to wit:
"the more paramount and superior policy consideration is to uphold the right of the homesteader and his heirs to own and cultivate personally the land acquired from the State without being encumbered by tenancy relations."
It is DARAB's submission that the Supreme Court has overuled this decision in the case of Heirs of Segundo Manuel, et. al. versus Hon. Judge Marcial Fernandez, G.R. No. 93743. However, a careful reading of the said case, shows that the factual circumstances are not the same. In the Heirs of Segundo's case, the three-hectare land was part of a homestead grant when it was conveyed to a third person, while in the case at bench, the homestead patent has been registered under the Land Registration Act (Act 496) now P.D. 1529 when Certificates of Land Transfer were issued in favor of herein private respondents. A homestead patent is actually no more than a conveyance from the government to the patentee which does not take effect as a conveyance or bind the land, but only operates as a contract between the government and the patentee.
On the other hand, a certificate of title issued to the grantee of a homestead patent pursuant to the provisions of Sec. 122 of Act 496 (now Section 103 of P.D. 1529) is considered indefeasible and virtually acquires the characteristics of a Torrens title. (Noblejas and Noblejas, Registration of Land Titles and Deeds, 1992 Revised Edition, p. 430) Hence, when Homestead Patent No. 496 subject of this case was registered under the Land Registration Act (Act 496) on August 30, 1937 and thereafter subdivided, it clothed such public land patent certificate of title with the character of indefeasibility. (Ybanez vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 194 SCRA 743, 749) For it is registration which is the operative act to convey and affect the land (Act No. 496, Sec. 122). Public land patents when so registered are veritable Torrens titles subject to no encumbrance except as those stated therein.
The subject land was declared as homestead as early as 1937 and although private respondents claim that the grantee was not qualified for being an absentee homesteader in violation of the requisites outlined in P.D. 152, no evidence was presented to prove that the private respondents were the ones who cultivated the land before the Homestead Patent was issued on August 30, 1937. For all intents and purposes, the homestead patent and the certificate of title granted by virtue of said patent can not be cancelled and any action for reversion under Section 101 of the Public Land Law can proper only through a direct attack initiated by the Solicitor General under the doctrine laid down in Republic versus Animas, 56 SCRA 499 and in Heirs of Gregorio Tengco versus Heirs of Jose and Victoria Aliwalas, 168 SCRA 198, not by the DARAB through a collateral attack.
Anent the argument that the subject land should be covered by agrarian reform because the petitioners do not personally cultivate the land, it must be stressed that petitioners are claiming the same as their retention limit, a right secured to them by the law and the Constitution, no less. In the case of Tenants of the Estate of Dr. Jose Sison versus Court of Appeals (210 SCRA 545), the Supreme Court ruled:
"not even the petitioners' tenants, nor any court justice, can deprive or deny the landowners of the retention of seven hectares which the law has reserved for them, Otherwise the law would be set to naught or would lose its very reason for being."
In the case at bench, the petitioners have barely three hectares each as retention area, thus, within the legal bounds.
Moreover, contrary to the position of the DARAB, the above-cited case held that the failure of landowners to apply for retention within the specified time frame does not constitute estoppels or waiver of their respective right of retention since technical rules of practice and procedures do not apply to administrative proceedings.
Anent the third assignment of error, the petitioners insist that leasehold agreement validly existed even during the effectivity of P.D. No. 27.
Said decree did not abrogate the leasehold contract between the petitioners and the private respondents because it remained the law governing relations with respect to the landowners-petitioners' retention area. Private respondents did not deny their being agricultural lessees and in fact paid their rentals until 1985. It appeals, however, that the private respondents. As such lessees were remise in their duties and obligations, as found to the lower court.
WHEREFORE, based on the foregoing, the DARAB decision appealed from is hereby SET ASIDE and the decision of the PARAD of Bukidnon is REINSTATED in its entirety. No pronouncement as to costs.
Adefuin-De La Cruz and Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.