Hacienda Luisita v. PARC (G.R. No. 17110; July 5, 2011)


FACTS: Following the promulgation of the Courts Decision in the above-captioned case on July 5, 2011, the petitioners present for resolution several issues concerning the said Decision. To recall, in the 2011 Decision, the Court ordered, among others, that the lands subject of Hacienda Luisita Incorporated's (HLI) stock distribution plan (SDP) be placed under compulsory coverage on mandated land acquisition scheme of the CARP and declared that the original 6,296 qualified farmworker beneficiaries (FWBs) shall have the option to remain as stockholders of HLI.

ISSUES: I. Is the operative fact doctrine applicable to the present case?
II. Is Sec. 31 of RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 constitutional?
III. Did the Court properly determine the coverage of compulsory acquisition?
IV. Has the matter on just compensation been correctly passed upon by the Court?
V. May the subject agricultural lands be sold to third parties though they have not been fully paid?
VI. Did HLI violate any of the provisions under the SDP?
VII. Is the ruling that the qualified FWBs should be given an option to remain as stockholders of HLI valid?

HELD: [1] The Operative Fact Doctrine is not limited to invalid or unconstitutional laws. Contrary to the stance of respondents, the operative fact doctrine does not only apply to laws subsequently declared unconstitutional or unlawful, as it also applies to executive acts subsequently declared as invalid. The "operative fact" doctrine is embodied in De Agbayani v. Court of Appeals, wherein it is stated that a legislative or executive act, prior to its being declared as unconstitutional by the courts, is valid and must be complied with. Evidently, the operative fact doctrine is not confined to statutes and rules and regulations issued by the executive department that are accorded the same status as that of a statute or those which are quasi-legislative in nature.

[2] As We have succinctly discussed in Our July 5, 2011 Decision, it took the Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM) some eighteen (18) years from November 21, 1989 before it challenged the constitutionality of Sec. 31 of RA 6657. The question of constitutionality will not be passed upon by the Court unless it is properly raised and presented in an appropriate case at the first opportunity. FARM is, therefore, remiss in belatedly questioning the constitutionality of Sec. 31 of RA 6657. The second requirement that the constitutional question should be raised at the earliest possible opportunity is clearly wanting. The last but the most important requisite that the constitutional issue must be the very lis mota of the case does not likewise obtain. The lis mota aspect is not present, the constitutional issue tendered not being critical to the resolution of the case. The unyielding rule has been to avoid, whenever plausible, an issue assailing the constitutionality of a statute or governmental act. If some other grounds exist by which judgment can be made without touching the constitutionality of a law, such recourse is favored. Based on the foregoing disquisitions, We maintain that this Court is NOT compelled to rule on the constitutionality of Sec. 31 of RA 6657.

[3] FARM argues that this Court ignored certain material facts when it limited the maximum area to be covered to 4,915.75 hectares, whereas the area that should, at the least, be covered is 6,443 hectares, which is the agricultural land allegedly covered by RA 6657 and previously held by Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco). We cannot subscribe to this view. Since what is put in issue before the Court is the propriety of the revocation of the SDP, which only involves 4,915.75 has. of agricultural land and not 6,443 has., then We are constrained to rule only as regards the 4,915.75 has. of agricultural land.

[4] In Our July 5, 2011 Decision, We stated that "HLI shall be paid just compensation for the remaining agricultural land that will be transferred to DAR for land distribution to the FWBs." We also ruled that the date of the "taking" is November 21, 1989, when PARC approved HLIs SDP per PARC Resolution No. 89-12-2.

We maintain that the date of "taking" is November 21, 1989, the date when PARC approved HLIs SDP per PARC Resolution No. 89-12-2, in view of the fact that this is the time that the FWBs were considered to own and possess the agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita. To be precise, these lands became subject of the agrarian reform coverage through the stock distribution scheme only upon the approval of the SDP, that is, November 21, 1989. Thus, such approval is akin to a notice of coverage ordinarily issued under compulsory acquisition.[5] There is a view that since the agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita were placed under CARP coverage through the SDOA scheme on May 11, 1989, then the 10-year period prohibition on the transfer of awarded lands under RA 6657 lapsed on May 10, 1999, and, consequently, the qualified FWBs should already be allowed to sell these lands with respect to their land interests to third parties, including HLI, regardless of whether they have fully paid for the lands or not. The proposition is erroneous. Under RA 6657 and DAO 1, the awarded lands may only be transferred or conveyed after ten (10) years from the issuance and registration of the emancipation patent (EP) or certificate of land ownership award (CLOA). Considering that the EPs or CLOAs have not yet been issued to the qualified FWBs in the instant case, the 10-year prohibitive period has not even started. Significantly, the reckoning point is the issuance of the EP or CLOA, and not the placing of the agricultural lands under CARP coverage.

[6] AMBALA and FARM reiterate that improving the economic status of the FWBs is among the legal obligations of HLI under the SDP and is an imperative imposition by RA 6657 and DAO 10. FARM further asserts that "[i]f that minimum threshold is not met, why allow [stock distribution option] at all, unless the purpose is not social justice but a political accommodation to the powerful."

Contrary to the assertions of AMBALA and FARM, nowhere in the SDP, RA 6657 and DAO 10 can it be inferred that improving the economic status of the FWBs is among the legal obligations of HLI under the SDP or is an imperative imposition by RA 6657 and DAO 10, a violation of which would justify discarding the stock distribution option.

[7] Upon a review of the facts and circumstances, We realize that the FWBs will never have control over these agricultural lands for as long as they remain as stockholders of HLI. In line with Our finding that control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers, We reconsider our ruling that the qualified FWBs should be given an option to remain as stockholders of HLI, inasmuch as these qualified FWBs will never gain control given the present proportion of shareholdings in HLI.

Moreover, bearing in mind that with the revocation of the approval of the SDP, HLI will no longer be operating under SDP and will only be treated as an ordinary private corporation; the FWBs who remain as stockholders of HLI will be treated as ordinary stockholders and will no longer be under the protective mantle of RA 6657.

In addition to the foregoing, in view of the operative fact doctrine, all the benefits and homelots received by all the FWBs shall be respected with no obligation to refund or return them, since, as We have mentioned in our July 5, 2011 Decision, "the benefits x x x were received by the FWBs as farmhands in the agricultural enterprise of HLI and other fringe benefits were granted to them pursuant to the existing collective bargaining agreement with Tadeco."