Jurisdiction: cases re cancellation of EP, CLOA, other agrarian titles

JURISDICTION OVER CASES INVOLVING THE CANCELLATION OF EPS, CLOAS, AND OTHER AGRARIAN TITLES. (G.R. No. 229983, July 29, 2019)

Petitioners argue that the pertinent DARAB Rules of Procedure in force at the time of the filing of the exemption case provide that registered emancipation patents (EPs) and certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) may only be corrected or cancelled by order of the (Provincial or Regional) Adjudicator of the DARAB;[1] hence, the DAR Secretary has no jurisdiction to cancel their respective EP and CLOA titles.

The argument is untenable.

The fact that respondents sought the cancellation of petitioners' EPs and CLOAs does not necessarily mean that the application for CARP exemption falls under the jurisdiction of the DARAB. Verily, for the DARAB Adjudicator to acquire jurisdiction, the controversy must relate to an agrarian dispute between the landowners and tenants in whose favor the EPs and CLOAs have been issued by the DAR Secretary,[2] which is not extant here, An agrarian dispute, as defined by Section 3 (d) of RA 6657, as amended, 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."

In this case, the consequent cancellation of the affected tenants' EP and CLOA titles does not arise from a controversy relating to any tenurial arrangement between petitioners and respondents in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangement, but from the fact that the lands involved are not covered by the CARP in the first place, rendering the issuance of said titles unwarranted. Thus, there exists no agrarian dispute nor any agrarian reform matter so as to situate the jurisdiction with the DARAB Adjudicator. Indisputably, the controversy between the parties herein is not agrarian in nature but merely involves the administrative implementation of the agrarian reform program which is cognizable by the DAR Secretary.[3]

Notably, while the DAR Secretary has the competence and jurisdiction over respondents' application for CARP exemption as expressed in DOJ Opinion No. 44, Series of 1990, it must be pointed out that a separate case should nonetheless still be filed by respondents (also before the DAR)[4] for the purpose of cancelling the EP and CLOA titles of the affected tenants. This is because "agrarian reform beneficiaries or identified beneficiaries, or their heirs in case of death, and/or their associations are indispensable parties in petitions for cancellation"[5] of the EPs/CLOAs, or other title issued to them under any agrarian reform program. Here, the DAR Secretary, in taking cognizance of respondents' application for CARP exemption, made neither a determination of the FBs' individual rights nor any declaration that specific TCTs were thereby cancelled. His resolution, which was affirmed by the CA, was limited to the determination of whether or not the subject portions are excluded from the coverage of the agrarian laws. As such, this case must only be confined to such matter, and that a separate proceeding must still be initiated impleading individual FBs to establish that the lands awarded to them fall within the excluded areas, warranting the cancellation of their respective EP or CLOA titles.

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[1] Section 1 (6), Rule II of the DARAB 2003 Rules of Procedure adopted on January 17, 2003 provides:

Section 1. Primary and Exclusive Original Jurisdiction. - The Adjudicator shall have primary and exclusive jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate the following cases: x x x x
1.6 Those involving the correction, partition, cancellation, secondary and subsequent issuances of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and Emancipation Patents (EPs) which are registered with the Land Registration Authority.

[2] DAR v. Heirs of Abucay, G.R. Nos. 186432 and 186964, March 12, 2019; Sutton v. Lim, 700 Phil. 67, 74 (2012).

[3] Sutton v. Lim, supra note 60, at 77.

[4] With the passage on August 7, 2009 of RA 9700, entitled "AN ACT STRENGTHENING THE COMPREHENSIVE AGRARIAN REFORM PROGRAM (CARP), EXTENDING THE ACQUISITION AND DISTRIBUTION OF ALL AGRICULTURAL LANDS, INSTITUTING NECESSARY REFORMS, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6657, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE COMPREHENSIVE AGRARIAN REFORM LAW OF 1988, AS AMENDED, AND APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR" (July 1, 2009), further amending RA 6657, as amended, cases involving cancellation of titles issued under any agrarian program, whether or not registered with the Land Registration Authority, are now within the exclusive and original jurisdiction of the DAR Secretary. See DAR v. Heirs of Abucay, supra note 60, citing Section 24 of RA 6657, as amended by RA 9700.

[5] Section 3 (j), Article I of DAR AO No. 07, Series of 2014, entitled "2014 RULES AND PROCEDURES GOVERNING THE CANCELLATION OF REGISTERED EMANCIPATION PATENTS (EPS), CERTIFICATES OF LAND OWNERSHIP AWARDS (CLOAS), AND OTHER TITLES ISSUED UNDER THE AGRARIAN REFORM PROGRAM," issued on September 15, 2014.

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