De Herrera v. Bernardo (G.R. No. 170251; June 1, 2011)

CASE DIGEST: CELIA S. VDA. DE HERRERA, Petitioner, vs. EMELITA BERNARDO, EVELYN BERNARDO as Guardian of Erlyn, Crislyn and Crisanto Bernardo,* Respondents.

FACTS: Respondents heirs of Crisanto S. Bernardo, represented by Emelita Bernardo, filed a complaint before the Commission on the Settlement of Land Problems (COSLAP) against Alfredo Herrera (Alfredo) for interference, disturbance, unlawful claim, harassment and trespassing over a portion of a parcel of land situated at Barangay Dalig, Cardona, Rizal, with an area of 7,993 square meters.

Respondents claimed that said parcel of land was originally owned by their predecessor-in-interest, Crisanto Bernardo, and was later on acquired by Crisanto S. Bernardo.The parcel of land was later on covered by Tax Declaration No. CD-006-0828 under the name of the respondents.

Petitioner, on the other hand, alleged that the portion of the subject property consisting of about 700 square meters was bought by Diosdado Herrera, Alfredo's father, from a certain Domingo Villaran. Upon the death of Diosdado Herrera, Alfredo inherited the 700-square-meter lot.

The COSLAP ruled that respondents have a rightful claim over the subject property.ggrieved, petitioner Celia S. Vda. de Herrera, as the surviving spouse of Alfredo, filed a petition for certiorari with the CA. The CA ruled that the COSLAP has exclusive jurisdiction over the present case and, even assuming that the COSLAP has no jurisdiction over the land dispute of the parties herein, petitioner is already estopped from raising the issue of jurisdiction because Alfredo failed to raise the issue of lack of jurisdiction before the COSLAP and he actively participated in the proceedings before the said body.

Petitioner averred that the COSLAP has no adjudicatory powers to settle and decide the question of ownership over the subject land. Further, the present case cannot be classified as explosive in nature as the parties never resorted to violence in resolving the controversy. Petitioner submits that it is the Regional Trial Court which has jurisdiction over controversies relative to ownership of the subject property.

ISSUE: Has COSLAP jurisdiction to decide the question of ownership between the parties?

HELD: The COSLAP was created by virtue of Executive Order (E.O.) No. 561, issued on September 21, 1979 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.It is an administrative body established as a means of providing a mechanism for the expeditious settlement of land problems among small settlers, landowners and members of the cultural minorities to avoid social unrest.Administrative agencies, like the COSLAP, are tribunals of limited jurisdiction that can only wield powers which are specifically granted to it by its enabling statute. Under Section 3 of E.O. No. 561, the COSLAP has two options in acting on a land dispute or problem lodged before it, to wit: (a) refer the matter to the agency having appropriate jurisdiction for settlement/resolution; or (b) assume jurisdiction if the matter is one of those enumerated in paragraph 2 (a) to (e) of the law, if such case is critical and explosive in nature, taking into account the large number of parties involved, the presence or emergence of social unrest, or other similar critical situations requiring immediate action. In resolving whether to assume jurisdiction over a case or to refer the same to the particular agency concerned, the COSLAP has to consider the nature or classification of the land involved, the parties to the case, the nature of the questions raised, and the need for immediate and urgent action thereon to prevent injuries to persons and damage or destruction to property. The law does not vest jurisdiction on the COSLAP over any land dispute or problem

In the instant case, the COSLAP has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of respondents' complaint. The present case does not fall under any of the cases enumerated under Section 3, paragraph 2 (a) to (e) of E.O. No. 561.The dispute between the parties is not critical and explosive in nature, nor does it involve a large number of parties, nor is there a presence or emergence of social tension or unrest. It can also hardly be characterized as involving a critical situation that requires immediate action.

Respondents' cause of action before the COSLAP pertains to their claim of ownership over the subject property, which is an action involving title to or possession of real property, or any interest therein, the jurisdiction of which is vested with the Regional Trial Courts or the Municipal Trial Courts depending on the assessed value of the subject property

Since the COSLAP has no jurisdiction over the action, all the proceedings therein, including the decision rendered, are null and void. A judgment issued by a quasi-judicial body without jurisdiction is void. It cannot be the source of any right or create any obligation. All acts performed pursuant to it and all claims emanating from it have no legal effect. Having no legal effect, the situation is the same as it would be as if there was no judgment at all. It leaves the parties in the position they were before the proceedings.

Respondents' allegation that petitioner is estopped from questioning the jurisdiction of the COSLAP by reason of laches does not hold water. Petitioner is not estopped from raising the jurisdictional issue, because it may be raised at any stage of the proceedings, even on appeal, and is not lost by waiver or by estoppel. The fact that a person attempts to invoke unauthorized jurisdiction of a court does not estop him from thereafter challenging its jurisdiction over the subject matter, since such jurisdiction must arise by law and not by mere consent of the parties. GRANTED.