CASE DIGEST: Magno v. Francisco (G.R. No. 168959; March 25, 2010)


FACTS: Petitioner is the owner of a 5.3 hectare lot (lot) which is a portion of an agricultural land identified as Lot No. 593 situated in Brgy. San Fernando, Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Petitioner acquired the lot through a Deed of Sale executed by Talens on 28 July 1972, but the sale was only registered on 3 September 1986. At the time of the sale, Gonzalo Francisco and Manuel Lazaro tenanted the land and their separate areas of tillage were 2.8 and 2.5 hectares, respectively.

In the leasehold contract entered into by petitioner and respondents, Manuel Lazaro was obliged to pay a lease rental of 35 cavans during the regular season, and 20 cavans during dayatan cropping season. Gonzalo Francisco, on the other hand, was required to pay a lease rental of 35 cavans during the regular season and 25 cavans during the cropping season.

Respondents stopped paying the rentals despite petitioner's demands, arguing that that they have fully paid the price of the lot under the Barangay Committee on Land Productions (BCLP) valuation. Respondents were issued their respective Emancipation Patents (EP). Thus, petitioner filed with PARAD of Cabanatuan City a complaint for ejectment and collection of lease rentals against respondents. At the time of filing of the complaint, respondent Francisco and respondent Lazaro were already in arrears of 155 cavans and 145 cavans, respectively.

The PARAD of Cabanatuan City dismissed the case for lack of merit. On appeal, the DARAB reversed the PARADs decision. On further appeal, however, the CA reversed the DARAB ruling and reinstated the decision of PARAD. The CA stated that the EPs are public documents and are prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein. The EPs are presumably issued in the regular performance of an official duty. The CA ruled that petitioner has not presented any evidence showing that the issuance of the EPs was tainted with defects and irregularities; hence, they are entitled to full faith and credit.

Petitioner points out that the CA disregarded a significant fact that the land valuation came after the issuance of the EPs; hence, the issuance of the EPs was tainted with irregularity because it was violative of Section 2 of PD 266.

ISSUE: Can unregistered EPs issued to agricultural lessees which appear to be irregular on their face defeat the landowner's rights to agricultural leasehold rentals?

HELD: No. In Department of Agrarian Reform v. Abdulwahid, the Court, quoting Centeno v. Centeno, held:
The DAR is vested with the primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have the exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of the agrarian reform program. The DARAB has primary, original and appellate jurisdiction "to determine and adjudicate all agrarian disputes, cases, controversies, and matters or incidents involving the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program under RA No. 6657, E.O. Nos. 229, 228 and 129-A, R.A. No. 3844 as amended by R.A. No. 6389, P.D. No. 27 and other agrarian laws and their implementing rules and regulations."

Agrarian dispute as defined in Section 3(d) of Republic Act (RA) No. 6657 refers "to 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. It 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."

It is undisputed that petitioner and respondents have an established tenancy relationship, such that the complaint for collection of back rentals and ejectment is classified as an agrarian dispute and under the jurisdiction of the PARAD and thereafter by the DARAB. However, in view of the conflicting claims where petitioner asserted ownership over the lot and respondents emphasized that the lot is subject to OLT coverage, there is a need to ascertain if the lot is under the agrarian reform program. Since the classification and identification of landholdings for coverage under the agrarian reform program are Agrarian Law Implementation cases, the DAR Secretary should first resolve this issue.

Verily, there is an established tenancy relationship between petitioner and respondents in this case. An action for Ejectment for Non-Payment of lease rentals is clearly an agrarian dispute, cognizable at the initial stage by the PARAD and thereafter by the DARAB. But issues with respect to the retention rights of the respondents as landowners and the exclusion/exemption of the subject land from the coverage of agrarian reform are issues not cognizable by the PARAD and the DARAB, but by the DAR Secretary because, as aforementioned, the same are Agrarian Law Implementation (ALI) Cases.

Therefore, the PARAD of Cabanatuan City had no authority to render a decision declaring the lot under OLT coverage. In fact, when the case was appealed, the DARAB acknowledged that it had no jurisdiction on the OLT coverage. In an Order dated 10 October 2002, the DARAB suspended the case proceedings until the submission of the result of the administrative determination of the lot and thus submitted the entire records to the DAR Secretary. Respondents themselves admitted in their Memorandum that the DAR has not submitted the result of its administrative determination of the lot to the DARAB. It is therefore essential that the DAR Secretary should first resolve the issue on the lots inclusion or exclusion from OLT coverage before a final determination of this case can be had.

Proof necessary for the resolution of the issues on OLT coverage and petitioners right of retention should be introduced in the proper forum. The Office of the DAR Secretary is in a better position to resolve these issues being the agency lodged with such authority since it has the necessary expertise on the matter. GRANTED.
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