Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 122256 October 30, 1996

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioners,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS and ACIL CORPORATION, respondents.


MENDOZA, J.:p

Private respondent Acil Corporation owned several hectares of land in Linoan, Montevista, Davao del Norte, which the government took pursuant to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (R.A. No. 6657). Private respondent's certificates of title were cancelled and new ones were issued and distributed to farmer-beneficiaries.

The lands were valued by the Land Bank of the Philippines at P19,312.24 per hectare for the riceland and P4,267.68 per hectare for brushland, or for a total of P439,105.39. It appears, however, that in the Statement of Agricultural Landholdings ("LISTASAKA") which private respondent had earlier filed with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), a lower "Fair Value Acceptable to Landowner" was stated and that based on this statement, the Land Bank of the Philippines valued private respondent's lands uniformly at P15,311.79 per hectare and fixed the amount of P390,557.84 as the total compensation to be paid for the lands.

Private respondent rejected the government's offer, pointing out that nearby lands planted to the same crops were valued at the higher price of P24,717.40 per hectare. The matter was brought before the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) who, on October 8, 1992, sustained the initial valuation made by the LBP.

On December 12, 1992, private respondent filed a Petition for Just Compensation in the Regional Trial Court of Tagum, Davao del Norte, sitting as a Special Agrarian Court. Private respondent prayed that DAR be ordered to pay P24,717.40 per hectare. However, the RTC dismissed its petition on the ground that private respondent should have appealed to the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB), pursuant to the latter's Revised Rules of Procedure, before recourse to it (the RTC) could be had. In addition the RTC found that, in violation of the DARAB's rules of procedure the petition had been filed more than fifteen (15) days after notice of the decision of the PARAD.

Private respondent moved for reconsideration but its motion was denied on October 13, 1994. Private respondent therefore filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals, contending that a petition for just compensation under R.A. No. 6657 56-57 falls under the exclusive and original jurisdiction of the RTC. His contention was sustained by the Court of Appeals which, in its decision 1 of October 4, 1995, set aside the order of dismissal of the RTC. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the RTC for further proceedings.

In turn the government, represented by the Department of Agrarian Reform, filed this petition for review on certiorari, raising as the issue whether in cases involving claims for just compensation under R.A. No. 6657 an appeal from the decision of the provincial adjudicator to the DARAB must first be made before a landowner can resort to the RTC under 57. Petitioners sustain the affirmative proposition. They cite 50 of R.A. No. 6657 which in pertinent part provides:

50. Quasi-Judicial Powers of the DAR. The DAR is hereby vested with primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, except those falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(DENR). . .

and argue that the fixing of just compensation for the taking of lands under R.A. No. 6657 is a "[matter] involving the implementation of agrarian reform" within the contemplation of this provision. They invoke 16(f) of R.A. No. 6657, which provides that "any party who disagrees to the decision [of the DAR] may bring the matter to the court of proper jurisdiction for final determination of just compensation," as confirming their construction of 50.

The contention has no merit.

It is true that 50 grants the DAR primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate "agrarian reform matters" and exclusive original jurisdiction over "all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform," except those falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It is also true, however that 57 provides:

57. Special Jurisdiction. The Special Agrarian Courts shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners, and the prosecution of all criminal offenses under this Act. The Rules of Court shall apply to all proceedings before the Special Agrarian Courts, unless modified by this Act.

The Special Agrarian Courts shall decide all appropriate cases under their special jurisdiction within thirty (30) days from submission of the case for decision.

Thus Special Agrarian Courts, which are Regional Trial Courts, are given original and exclusive jurisdiction over two categories of cases, to wit: (1) "all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners" and (2) "the prosecution of all criminal offenses under [R.A. No. 6657]." 2 The provision of 50 must be construed in harmony with this provision by considering cases involving the determination of just compensation and criminal cases for violations of R.A. No. 6657 as excepted from the plenitude of power conferred on the DAR. Indeed, there is a reason for this distinction. The DAR is an administrative agency which cannot be granted jurisdiction over cases of eminent domain (for such are takings under R.A. No. 6657) and over criminal cases. Thus in EPZA v. Duly 3 and Sumulong v. Guerrero 4 we held that the valuation of property in eminent domain is essentially a judicial function which cannot be vested in administrative agencies, while in Scoty's Department Store v. Micaller 5 we struck down a law granting the then Court of Industrial Relations jurisdiction to try criminal cases for violations of the Industrial Peace Act.

Petitioners also cite Rule II, 5 and Rule XIII, 1 of the DARAB Rules of Procedure in support of their contention that decisions of agrarian reform adjudicators may only be appealed to the DARAB. These rules provide:

Rule II, 5. Appellate Jurisdiction. The Board shall have exclusive appellate jurisdiction to review, reverse, modify, alter or affirm resolutions, orders, decisions, and other dispositions of its [regional and provincial agrarian reform adjudicators].

Rule XIII, 1. Appeal to the Board. a) An appeal may be taken from an order or decision of the Regional or Provincial Adjudicator to the Board by either of the parties or both, by giving or stating a written or oral appeal within a period of fifteen (15) days from the receipt of the resolution, order or decision appealed from, and serving a copy thereof on the opposite or adverse party, if the appeal is in writing.

b) An oral appeal shall be reduced into writing by the Adjudicator to be signed by the appellant, and a copy thereof shall be served upon the opposite or adverse party within ten (10) days from the taking of oral appeal.

Apart from the fact that only a statute can confer jurisdiction on courts and administrative agencies rules of procedure cannot it is noteworthy that the New Rules of Procedure of the DARAB, which was adopted on May 30, 1994, now provide that in the event a landowner is not satisfied with a decision of an agrarian adjudicator, the landowner can bring the matter directly to the Regional Trial Court sitting as Special Agrarian Court. Thus Rule XIII, 11 of the new rules provides:

11. Land Valuation and Preliminary Determination and Payment of Just Compensation. The decision of the Adjudicator on land valuation and preliminary determination and payment of just compensation shall not be appealable to the Board but shall be brought directly to the Regional Trial Courts designated as Special Agrarian Courts within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the notice thereof. Any party shall be entitled to only one motion for reconsideration. (Emphasis supplied)

This is an acknowledgment by the DARAB that the decision of just compensation cases for the taking of lands under R.A. No. 6657 is a power vested in the courts.

Thus, under the law, the Land Bank of the Philippines is charged with the initial responsibility of determining the value of lands placed under land reform and the compensation to be paid for their taking. 6 Through notice sent to the landowner pursuant to 16(a) of R.A. No. 6657, the DAR makes an offer. In case the landowner rejects the offer, a summary administrative proceeding is held 7 and afterward the provincial (PARAD), the regional (RARAD) or the central (DARAB) adjudicator as the case may be, depending on the value of the land, fixes the price to be paid for the land. If the landowner does not agree to the price fixed, he may bring the matter to the RTC acting as Special Agrarian Court. 8 This in essence is the procedure for the determination of compensation cases under R.A. No. 6657. In accordance with it, the private respondent's case was properly brought by it in the RTC, and it was error for the latter court to have dismissed the case. In the terminology of 57, the RTC, sitting as a Special Agrarian Court, has "original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners." 9 It would subvert this "original and exclusive" jurisdiction of the RTC for the DAR to vest original jurisdiction in compensation cases in administrative officials and make the RTC an appellate court for the review of administrative decisions.

Consequently, although the new rules speak of directly appealing the decision of adjudicators to the RTCs sitting as Special Agrarian Courts, it is clear from 57 that the original and exclusive jurisdiction to determine such cases is in the RTCs. Any effort to transfer such jurisdiction to the adjudicators and to convert the original jurisdiction of the RTCs into appellate jurisdiction would be contrary to 57 and therefore would be void. What adjudicators are empowered to do is only to determine in a preliminary manner the reasonable compensation to be paid to landowners, leaving to the courts the ultimate power to decide this question.

WHEREFORE the petition for review on certiorari is DENIED and the decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado, Romero, Puno and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 Per Justice Cesar D. Francisco, and concurred in by Justices Eubulo G. Verzola and Oswaldo D. Agcaoili.

2 Quismundo v. Court of Appeals, 201 SCRA 609 (1991); Vda. de Tangub v. Court of Appeals, 191 SCRA 558 (1990).

3 149 SCRA 305 (1987).

4 154 SCRA 461 (1987).

5 99 Phil. 762 (1956).

6 Sec. 1, E.O. No. 405 (June 14, 1990).

7 Sec. 15(d), R.A. No. 6657.

8 Vinzons-Magana v. Estrella, 201 SCRA 536 (1991); Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. v. Secretary of Agrarian Reform, 175 SCRA 366 (1989).

9 Sec. 57, R.A. No. 6657.


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