Nisperos v. Nisperos-Ducusin (G.R. No. 189570; July 31, 2013)


FACTS: The instant case stemmed from a complaint filed by petitioners with the DARAB alleging the following antecedents.

The 15,837-square-meter parcel of land subject of the instant case is part of the 58,350-square-meter agricultural land in Pao Sur, San Fernando City, La Union acquired by Santiago Nisperos, the predecessor of petitioners, during his lifetime. He declared said property for taxation purposes starting December 1947.

When Santiago and his wife Estefania died, they were survived by their nine children. The heirs of Santiago, petitioners herein, claim that the subject property was occupied, controlled and tilled by all nine children of Santiago. They paid taxes for it and even hired farm workers under Maria and Ciprianas supervision for the cultivation of the same. For taxation purposes, however, it was initially declared only under the name of Maria.Starting 1988, it was declared under the names of Maria and Cipriana.

During the time when Maria and Cipriana were overseeing the property, Maria took respondent Marissa Nisperos-Ducusin, a daughter of their cousin Purita, as her ward and raised her like her own child.

On February 12, 1988, Maria and Cipriana, acting as representatives of their other siblings, executed a Deed of Donation Mortis Causain favor of petitioners over the 58,350-square-meter property and another 46,000-square-meter property.

On April 28, 1992, a Deed of Voluntary Land Transfer(VLT) over the subject property was executed between Maria and Cipriana as landowners, and respondent, who was then only 17 years old, as farmer-beneficiary. The instrument was signed by the three in the presence of witnesses Anita, Lucia and Marcelina Gascon and Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer Susimo Asuncion. The same was notarized by Notary Public Atty. Roberto E. Caoayan.

On June 24, 1992, Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No. 0002122453902was issued to respondent by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) over the subject property.

Alleging fraud on the part of respondent which petitioners claim to have discovered only in August 2001, petitioners filed a complaint on September 6, 2001 with the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office (MARO) of San Fernando City, La Union. Unfortunately, no settlement between petitioners and respondent was reached prompting the MARO to issue a Certificate to File Action.

On January 23, 2002, petitioners filed with the DARAB a complaint for annulment of documents and damages against respondent. Petitioners contended that the transfer of ownership over the subject land was made without the consent of the heirs of Santiago and that respondent took advantage of Marias senility and made it appear that Maria and Cipriana sold said property by virtue of the VLT. They further alleged that said document was falsified by respondent because Maria could not anymore sign but could only affix her thumbmark as she did in a 1988 Deed of Donation. To support their complaint, they attached a Joint Affidavit of Denialby Anita and Lucia Gascon the supposed instrumental witnesses to the VLT. In said affidavit, Anita and Lucia claimed that the signatures appearing therein are not theirs as they never affixed their signatures on said document. They further stated that they were never aware of said document.

On October 16, 2002, DARAB Regional Adjudicator Rodolfo A. Caddarao rendered a Decisionannulling the VLT and OCT/CLOA in respondents name.

The Regional Adjudicator noted that the land supposedly owned by Maria and Cipriana (which includes the 15,837-square-meter subject property) has a total area of 58,350 square meters. Considering that there are two owners, he ruled that the individual share of each would be less than five hectares each and well within the retention limit.

The Regional Adjudicator also held there was reason to believe that Maria and Ciprianas names were stated in the tax declaration for purposes of taxation only as no evidence was presented that they lawfully acquired the property from their parents. It was also ruled that the issuance of the title in respondents name was not in accordance with agrarian laws because she cannot be considered as a tenant but more of an heir of the transferors.

On September 16, 2008, the DARAB rendered a Decisionreversing the decision of the Regional Adjudicator and upholding the validity of the VLT and respondents title.

The DARAB dismissed petitioners claim of fraud since the VLT was executed in the presence of DAR-MARO Susimo Asuncion, signed by three instrumental witnesses and notarized by Atty. Roberto E. Caoayan of the DAR. It likewise held that the records are bereft of any indication that fraud was employed in the transfer, and mere conjectures that fraud might have been exerted just because Maria was already of advanced age while respondent was her care giver or ward is not evidence. The DARAB also did not give credence to the Affidavit of Denial by the instrumental witnesses since the statements there are mere hearsay because the affiants were not cross-examined.

Aggrieved, petitioners elevated the case to the CA via a petition for reviewwhere they raised the following issues : (1) whether the subject property is covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP); (2) whether the VLT is valid having been issued through misrepresentation and fraud; and (3) whether the action for annulment had already prescribed.

On July 13, 2009, the appellate court rendered the assailed decision dismissing the petition for review and upholding the DARAB decision. It ruled that the Regional Adjudicator acted with grave abuse of discretion when it held that the subject property was no longer covered by our agrarian laws because of the retention rights of petitioners. The CA held that retention rights, exclusion of a property from CARP coverage and the qualification and disqualification of agrarian reform beneficiaries are issues not cognizable by the Regional Adjudicator and the DARAB but by the DAR Secretary. The appellate court nevertheless held that petitioners failed to discharge their burden of proving that fraud attended the execution of the VLT. It also agreed with the DARAB that considering a certificate of title was already issued in favor of respondent, the same became indefeasible and incontrovertible by the time petitioners instituted the case in January 2002, and thus may no longer be judicially reviewed.

ISSUE: Which has jurisdiction over the complaint, the DAR Secretary or the DARAB?

HELD: The complaint should have been lodged with the Office of the DAR Secretary and not with the DARAB.

Section 1, Rule II of the 1994 DARAB Rules of Procedure, the rule in force at the time of the filing of the complaint by petitioners in 2001, provides.

SECTION 1. Primary and Exclusive Original and Appellate Jurisdiction. The Board shall have primary and exclusive jurisdiction, both original and appellate, to determine and adjudicate all agrarian disputes involving the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) under Republic Act No. 6657, Executive Order Nos. 228, 229 and 129-A, Republic Act No. 3844 as amended by Republic Act No. 6389, Presidential Decree No. 27 and other agrarian laws and their implementing rules and regulations. Specifically, such jurisdiction shall include but not be limited to cases involving the following.f) Those involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and Emancipation Patents (EPs) which are registered with the Land Registration Authority;

However, it is not enough that the controversy involves the cancellation of a CLOA registered with the Land Registration Authority for the DARAB to have jurisdiction. What is of primordial consideration is the existence of an agrarian dispute between the parties.

Section 3(d) of R.A. No. 6657 defines an agrarian dispute as "any controversy relating to tenurial arrangements, whether leasehold, tenancy, stewardship or otherwise, over lands devoted to agriculture, including disputes concerning farmworkers associations or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangements" and includes "any controversy relating to compensation of lands acquired under this Act and other terms and conditions of transfer of ownership from landowners to farmworkers, tenants and other agrarian reform beneficiaries, whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of farm operator and beneficiary, landowner and tenant, or lessor and lessee."

Thus, in Morta, Sr. v. Occidental,this Court held that there must be a tenancy relationship between the parties for the DARAB to have jurisdiction over a case. It is essential to establish all of the following indispensable elements, to wit:

(1) that the parties are the landowner and the tenant or agricultural lessee;
(2) that the subject matter of the relationship is an agricultural land;
(3) that there is consent between the parties to the relationship;
(4) that the purpose of the relationship is to bring about agricultural production;
(5) that there is personal cultivation on the part of the tenant or agricultural lessee; and
(6) that the harvest is shared between the landowner and the tenant or agricultural lessee.

In the instant case, petitioners, as supposed owners of the subject property, did not allege in their complaint that a tenancy relationship exists between them and respondent. In fact, in their complaint, they described respondent as a "ward" of one of the co-owners, Maria, who is "not a bona fide beneficiary, she being not engaged in farming because she was still a minor" at the time the VLT was executed.

It is axiomatic that the jurisdiction of a tribunal, including a quasi-judicial officer or government agency, over the nature and subject matter of a petition or complaint is determined by the material allegations therein and the character of the relief prayed for, irrespective of whether the petitioner or complainant is entitled to any or all such reliefs. Jurisdiction over the nature and subject matter of an action is conferred by the Constitution and the law, and not by the consent or waiver of the parties where the court otherwise would have no jurisdiction over the nature or subject matter of the action. Nor can it be acquired through, or waived by, any act or omission of the parties. Moreover, estoppel does not apply to confer jurisdiction to a tribunal that has none over the cause of action. The failure of the parties to challenge the jurisdiction of the DARAB does not prevent the court from addressing the issue, especially where the DARABs lack of jurisdiction is apparent on the face of the complaint or petition.

Considering that the allegations in the complaint negate the existence of an agrarian dispute among the parties, the DARAB is bereft of jurisdiction to take cognizance of the same as it is the DAR Secretary who has authority to resolve the dispute raised by petitioners. As held in Heirs of Julian dela Cruz v. Heirs of Alberto Cruz.

The Court agrees with the petitioners contention that, under Section 2(f), Rule II of the DARAB Rules of Procedure, the DARAB has jurisdiction over cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of CLOAs which were registered with the LRA. However, for the DARAB to have jurisdiction in such cases, they must relate to an agrarian dispute between landowner and tenants to whom CLOAs have been issued by the DAR Secretary. The cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of the CLOAs by the DAR in the administrative implementation of agrarian reform laws, rules and regulations to parties who are not agricultural tenants or lessees are within the jurisdiction of the DAR and not of the DARAB.

What the PARAD should have done is to refer the complaint to the proper office as mandated by Section 4 of DAR Administrative Order No. 6, Series of 2000.

SEC. 4. Referral of Cases.- If a case covered by Section 2 herein is filed before the DARAB, the concerned DARAB official shall refer the case to the proper DAR office for appropriate action within five (5) days after said case is determined to be within the jurisdiction of the Secretary.

Likewise, if a case covered by Section 3 herein is filed before any office other than the DARAB, the concerned DAR official shall refer the case to the DARAB for resolution within the same period provided herein.

While it is true that the PARAD and the DARAB (which was upheld by the CA) thoroughly discussed in their respective decisions the issues pertaining to the validity of the VLT and the OCT/CLOA issued to respondent, the fact that they are bereft of jurisdiction to resolve the same prevents this Court from resolving the instant petition on its merits. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction does not allow a court to arrogate unto itself authority to resolve a controversy, the jurisdiction over which is initially lodged with an administrative body of special competence.To assume the power is to short-circuit the administrative process, which has yet to run its regular course. The DAR must be given a chance to correct its administrative and procedural lapses in the issuance of the CLOA. Moreover, it is in a better position to resolve the particular issue at hand, being the agency possessing the required expertise on the matter and authority to hear the same.