Case Digest: Land Bank v. Montalvan

G.R. No. 190336 : June 27, 2012




Respondents-spouses Montalvan are the registered owners of parcels of land situated in Balintonga (formerly Monterico) Aloran, Misamis Occidental. The said property is covered by Transfer Certificate of Title Nos. (TCTs) T-285 and T-294 with an area of approximately 162.9669 hectares.

When respondents Montalvan voluntarily offered to sell their property, the DAR Regional Office selected only 72 hectares as suitable for agriculture and subject to the payment of just compensation. It, however, showed no interest in acquiring under the CARP the 75.6913 hectares.

However, the DAR caused the transfer of the title to the entire 147.6913-hectare land, and yet offered to pay just compensation only for the expropriated, and not for the excluded, portion. The DAR simply caused the transfer of the entire title to the name of the Republic, without distinction between the expropriated and the excluded portions. It likewise stated that the matter had been referred to the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) for administrative summary proceedings to determine the compensation for the expropriated portion.

On 07 February 1992, without any action forthcoming from the DARAB, respondents directly filed a separate Complaint with the RTC, acting as a SAC, for the latter to fix the just compensation for the expropriated portion of their agricultural lands. Petitioner moved to dismiss respondents complaint on the ground that the proceedings for the valuation of the lands were still pending with the DARAB.

Significantly, while the cases in the DARAB and the SAC were still pending, the DAR caused the partial cancellation of TCT No. T-285 in the name of respondents and a new title (TCT No. T-11696) in the name of the Republic of the Philippines was issued covering the entire 147.6913 hectares.


Whether or not petitioner LBP can be directed to pay just compensation for the 75.6913-hectare excluded portion, which is now titled in the name of the Republic of the Philippines, even if these lands are not suitable for agricultural purposes?


Petition for Review on Certiorari is partially granted.

POLITICAL LAW: payment of just compensation

Clearly, it was a mistake on the part of the Republic to transfer the title of respondents Montalvan over the entire 147.6913-hectare land. Hence, the DAR unjustly enriched itself when it appropriated the entire 147.6913-hectare real property of respondents Montalvan, because the entire lot was decidedly beyond the area it had intended to subject to agrarian reform under the VOS arrangement. Even the Field Investigation Report issued by the DAR found that the excluded portion together with the five-hectare retention limit was not to be the subject of agrarian reform expropriation.

Hence, although the Court affirms the award of just compensation for the expropriated portion owned by respondents, the Republic cannot hold on to the excluded portion consisting of 75.6913 hectares, despite both portions being included under one new title issued in its favor.

The consequence of the finding of unjust and improper titling of the entire property by the Republic is that the title over the excluded portion shall be returned or transferred back to respondents Montalvan, with damages. The costs of the cancellation of the present title and the issuance of two new titles over the divided portions of the property (the expropriated portion to be retained by the Republic under the VOS arrangement in the CARP, and the excluded portion to revert to respondents) shall be borne by DAR, without prejudice to the right of respondents to seek damages in a proper court.

The reason for this is that DAR cannot be compelled to purchase an entire property offered under a VOS scheme, especially when some portions are unsuitable for agriculture. The discretion to choose which among the lands submitted under a VOS scheme to be subject of agrarian reform coverage lies with the DAR.

In this case, after its experts had examined the properties offered by respondents Montalvan, the DAR identified only the 72-hectare expropriated portion as suitable under the CARP for agricultural purposes. Both the SAC and the CA exceeded their jurisdiction when they resolved to substitute the discretion given to the DAR and ordered that even the excluded portion be subject to agrarian reform expropriation, even if found to be unsuitable for agricultural purposes.

REMEDIAL LAW: jurisdiction of SAC

The SAC has been statutorily determined to have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation due to landowners under the CARP. In fact, it has been sustained the exclusive authority of the SAC over the DARAB, even in instances when no administrative proceedings were conducted in the DARAB.

Several cases decided by the Court proved that it has affirmed the jurisdiction of the SAC in determining the just compensation even though the proceedings in the DARAB have already been initiated. Thus, it was not an error for the SAC to assume jurisdiction over the issue of just compensation despite the pendency of the DARAB proceedings.

That the DARAB proceedings are still pending is not a fatal defect that will oust the SAC from its original and exclusive jurisdiction over a petition for judicial determination of just compensation in an agrarian reform case. The DAR referral of the issue of valuation to the DARAB will not prevent respondents from asserting in the SAC their rights as landowners, especially since the function of fixing the award of just compensation is properly lodged with the trial court and is not an administrative undertaking.

Neither can respondents failure to file a motion for reconsideration or an appeal from the Decision of the DARAB be considered as a grave and serious violation of the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies. Such reasoning would ultimately deprive the SAC of the authority to hear and decide the matter of just compensation.

There is no inherent inconsistency between (a) the primary jurisdiction of the DAR to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and exclusive original jurisdiction over all questions involving the implementation of agrarian reform, including those of just compensation; and (b) the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the SAC over all petitions for the determination of just compensation. The first refers to administrative proceedings, while the second refers to judicial proceedings. The jurisdiction of the SAC is not any less original and exclusive, because the question is first passed upon by the DAR; as the judicial proceedings are not a continuation of the administrative determination.

It is settled that the determination of just compensation is a judicial function. The DARs land valuation is only preliminary and is not, by any means, final and conclusive upon the landowner or any other interested party. In the exercise of their functions, the courts still have the final say on what the amount of just compensation will be.

Although the DAR is vested with primary jurisdiction under the CARL of 1988 to determine in a preliminary manner the reasonable compensation for lands taken under the CARP, such determination is subject to challenge in the courts. The CARL vests in the RTCs, sitting as SACs, original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation. This means that the RTCs do not exercise mere appellate jurisdiction over just compensation disputes.

It has been held that that the jurisdiction of the RTCs is not any less original and exclusive because the question is first passed upon by the DAR. The proceedings before the RTC are not a continuation of the administrative determination. Indeed, although the law may provide that the decision of the DAR is final and unappealable, still a resort to the courts cannot be foreclosed on the theory that courts are the guarantors of the legality of administrative action.

In the case at bar, the mere fact that landowners, respondents herein, failed to avail themselves of a motion for reconsideration or of an appeal from an adverse Decision of the DARAB will not affect the jurisdiction of the SAC, which had already been exercising authority over the case prior to that adverse ruling. Not being a continuation of the administrative proceedings, the pending Complaint filed by respondents Montalvan in the judicial courts will not be foreclosed by the DARABs Decision.

POLITICAL LAW: factual findings

This Court is not a trier of facts; it is not its function to reexamine the SACs factual findings, which were supported by the report of the independent Panel of Commissioners and were duly affirmed by the appellate court.

Absent any allegation of irregularity or grave abuse of discretion, the factual findings of the lower courts, if substantiated by the Commissioners Report, are perforce binding and conclusive on this Court and will no longer be disturbed.

Hence, the judicial determination of the value of the expropriated portion amounting to ₱50,000 per hectare is affirmed.

CIVIL LAW: damages

The transfer of the title to the entire property, which was beyond the scope of the agrarian reform expropriation proceedings in the DARAB and the SAC, nevertheless entitles respondents as landowners to claim damages for having been deprived of the use and possession of the excluded portion.

Temperate or moderate damages may be recovered when the court finds that some pecuniary loss has been suffered, but its amount cannot be proved with certainty from the nature of the case. These damages may be allowed when the court is convinced that the aggrieved party suffered some pecuniary loss but, from the nature of the case, definite proof of that pecuniary loss cannot be adduced.

In the instant case, the DAR violated the property rights of respondent landowners when it caused the titling of the entire land to encompass even the 75.6913-hectare excluded portion. This invasion of proprietary rights, which is imputable to the Republic, deserves redress. However, the form of that redress is limited in this case to damages arising from the erroneous titling of the property.

The Court of Appeals Resolution is partially modified.