G.R. No. 146825             June 29, 2004
REYNOSA VALTE, petitioner,
THE COURT OF APPEALS, PEDRO MENDOZA and JOSE GONZALES, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
Petitioner filed an Application for Free Patent1 dated July 6, 1978 before the Bureau of Lands District Office, Region III-2 at Cabanatuan City which was docketed as Application No. 12409. The application covered a parcel of land in Lupao, Nueva Ecija "[i]dentical to Lot No. 1035-B of Plan Csd-03-000514-D" alleged to contain an area of 7 hectares, 22 ares and 55 centares.
In the application, petitioner stated that, inter alia, the land was first occupied and cultivated in May 1941 by her father Policarpio Valte who died on February 10, 1963.
To the application was attached a July 6, 1978 Joint Affidavit2 executed by Procopio Vallega and herein respondent Pedro Mendoza declaring:
1. That we personally know [herein petitioner] Reynosa Valte who has filed Free Patent Application No. 2409 for a tract of land located in the Municipality of Lupao, Province of N. Ecija;
2. That we are actual residents of the said municipality of Lupao, Nueva Ecija and we know the land applied for very well;
3. That the said applicant has continuously occupied and cultivated the land himself and/or thru his predecessorís-in-interest since July 4, 1945, or prior thereto and it is free from claims and conflicts;
4. That we are not related to the applicant either by consanguinity or by affinity and we are not personally interested in the land applied for;
5. That to the best of our knowledge, belief and information, the applicant is a natural born citizen of the Philippines and is not the owner of more than twenty four (24) hectares of land in the Philippines.
It appears that a Sinumpaang Salaysay3 of petitionerís mother, Miguela dela Fuente, was subsequently submitted in support of the application. The Sinumpaang Salaysay which was executed on September 12, 1978 reads:
AKO si MIGUELA DELA FUENTE, 86 na taong gulang, Pilipino, biyuda ni Policarpio Valte, at kasalukuyang nakatira sa 1826 Kalimbas, Sta. Cruz, Manila, matapos na ako ay sumumpa nang ayon sa umiiral na batas, ay malaya at kusang loob akong nagsaysay ng gaya ng mga sumusunod;
Na, nang taong 1941, buwan ng Mayo, ako at ang namatay kong asawa na si Policarpio Valte, ay nakabili ng 3 lagay na bahagi ng palayang lupa na kung pagsama-samahin ay may parisukat na mahigit na 7 hectaryas at nasa baryo ng San Isidro, Lupao, Nueba Esiha;
Na, ang isang lagay na may parisukat na 2 hectaryas humigit-kumulang ay nabili namin sa mag-asawang Francisco Maglaya at Maxima Benitez, ang ikalawang lagay na may parisukat na kulang na 2 hectarya ay nabili namin sa mag-asawang Nemesio Jacalan at Trinidad, Marta at ang ikatlong lagay ay parisukat na mahigit na 3 at kalahating hectaryas at ito ay nabili naman namin kay Laureano Pariñas at bawat lagay ay pawang bahagi ng Lote bilang 1035 ng sukat-cadastro bilang 144 ng Lupao, Nueba Esiha;
Na, ang mga kasulatan ng bilihan namin nina Francisco Maglaya at Maxima Benitez at Laureano Pariñas ay kapua nawala nuong panahon ng digmaan maliban sa kasulatan ng bilihan namin sa mag-asawang Nemesio Jacalan at Mata Trinidad na hindi nawala;
Na, matapos naming nabili ang nabang[g]it na 3 lagay na lupa nang taong 1941, ay inakupahan na naming at nagsimula na kaming gumawa sa lupa at pagkatapos ng digmaan ay ipinagpatuloy naming muli ang paggawa tuloy binayaran namin ang kaukulang bayad sa buis patuloy hanggang sa kasalukuyan sa ilalim ng Tax Declaration bilang 645, 646 at 647 sa pangalan ng aking asawa na si Policarpio Valte na namatay sa Manila nong ika 10 ng Febrero, 1963;
Na, bagaman at nuon pang taong 1964 ko ipinaubaya sa aking anak na si Reynosa Valte ang pangangasiwa sa pagpapagawa sa nasabing lupa ay ginawa ko ngayon ang salaysay na ito upang sa pamamagitan ng kasulatang ito ay siyang magsilbing kasulatan ng paglilipat at pagsasalin ko ng buo kong karapatan sa lupa sa nasabi kong anak na si Reynosa Valte, may sapat na gulang, dalaga at naninirahan din sa 1826 Kalimbas, Sta. Cuz, Manila;
Ang nasabing lupa na isinasalin at inililipat ko kay Reynosa ay walang gusot, walang pananagutang utang kangino man at ang salinan at lipatan ng karapatang ito ay walang kuartang kabayaran sa akin kundi ito ay dahil at alang-alang lamang sa pagmamahal at mabuting paglilingkod sa akin ng aking anak na si Reynosa;
Sa katunayan ng lahat gaya ng matutunghayan sa gawing itaas nito ako ay lumagda ng aking pangalan ngayong ika 12 ng Septeyembre, 1978, ditto sa Lunsod ng Cabanatuan. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
By Order of December 28, 1978, the then Director of Lands Ramon M. Casanova noting, inter alia, the report of Land Investigator Celedonio P. Bacena that petitioner herself and/or through her predecessor-in-interest occupied and cultivated the lot applied for since 1945, approved petitionerís application covering Lot No. 1035-B alleged to contain an area of 7.2293 hectares. A free patent was subsequently issued by the Register of Deeds for Nueva Ecija on January 16, 1979 in the name of petitioner. The Technical Descriptions of Lot No. 1035-B, Csd-03-000514-D is reflected in the title which therein notes that the lot is identical to Lot 2391, portion of Lot 1035-B, Csd 144 and is covered by I.P.A. No. (III-2) 12409.
Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-10119 covering Free Patent No. 586435 was thereupon issued to petitioner.
It appears that on November 29, 1982, herein respondents Jose Gonzales and Pedro Mendoza (who jointly executed the above-quoted Joint Affidavit along with Procopio Vallega in support of petitionerís application for free patent) filed a "Protest"4 to the grant of the free patent to petitioner on the ground of fraud. The protest was amended on March 30, 1983 alleging:
that the actual area of the lot which is the subject of the protest is seven and 2255/10,000 (7.2255) hectares, and
claimant claimant-protestant Mendoza is in actual possession and cultivation of an area of four (4) hectares, more or less,
claimant protestant Gonzales two (2) hectares, more or less, and
one PROCOPIO VALLEGA [the co-affiant of Mendoza in the Joint Affidavit] the rest of the area.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), by then Secretary Angel C. Alcala, by Decision of January 20, 1994,5 gave due course to and approved the protest of respondents and disposed as follows:
WHEREFORE, foregoing premises duly considered, the Regional Executive Director (RED) of DENR Region III is hereby directed to cause the REVERSION of the area covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-10119 of Reynosa Valte, through the Office of the Solicitor General in accordance with the pertinent provisions of Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 141, as amended. Claimants-Protestants Pedro Mendoza and Jose Gonzales and Procopio Vallega are hereby ADJUDGED to have the preferential right over the land in question pro rata to their area of actual occupation. Hence they are GIVEN SIXTY (60) DAYS from the termination of the reversion proceedings to FILE their respective appropriate public land applications. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Petitioner seasonably filed an appeal to the Office of the President which, by Decision of February 10, 1997,6 set aside the DENR January 20, 1994 decision and declared that there was patent failure of due process, the investigation conducted by the DENR investigator having been done ex parte without petitioner having been given an opportunity to be heard.
The Office of the President thus ordered the conduct of "another formal hearing and thorough investigation of the case."7
Acting on the directive of the Office of the President, a pre-trial conference was held by the DENR at the Community Environment Regional Office in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
By Decision of March 11, 1999,8 the DENR, this time by then Secretary Antonio H. Cerillas, dismissed the protest of respondents in this wise:
After a careful review of the pertinent documents of this case, these Office rules in favor of Reynosa Valte. The evidence on record preponderates to the fact that Reynosa Valte has preferential rights over the controverted lot. In fact, as early as 1978, in the report of Land Investigator Celedonio P. Bacena, it was found that the controverted land has been occupied and cultivated by Reynosa Valte, and previously by her predecessors-in-interest since 1945. Herein protestants, Pedro Mendoza and Procopio Vallega, thru an affidavit dated July 6, 1978 supported Reynosa Valteís application for free patent over the controverted land and, under oath, confirmed that the latter has continuously occupied and cultivate the land since 1945 by herself and by her predecessors-in-interest. The aforestated joint-affidavit is a very convincing document to strengthen Reynosa Valteís assertions that, indeed, the protestants are tenants and that their rights on the controverted lot cannot rise higher that its source, that of Reynosa Valte.
In view of the foregoing, the Protest of Jose Gonzales and Pedro Mendoza against Free Patent Application No. (III-2) 120461 and Original Certificate of Title No. P-10119 in the name of Reynosa Valte is hereby dismissed for lack of merit. (Underscoring supplied)
Respondents appealed to the Office of the President which by Decision of April 26, 20009 reversed that of the DENR.
In deciding the case, upon the issue of "who among [respondents] Mendoza and Gonzales and [petitioner] had actually cultivated and had prior possession of the land," the Office of the President held:
After going through the evidence presented by the parties, we find the protest of appellants to be credible. The positive testimony of their witnesses, namely the Barangay captain, the Barangay officials as well as neighbors, to the effect that appellee was hardly or never seen cultivating nor possessing the subject premises, cannot simply be disregarded. Rather, these testimonies should be accorded great weight and respect, as they come from individuals who could very well attest to the truth or falsity or appelleeís claim that she was in "open, continuous, exclusive and peaceful" possession of the property in dispute.
The declaration of appellee[-herein petitioner] that she actually possessed the subject property and had cultivated the same, despite her full knowledge that Mendoza and Gonzales were the actual possessors and occupants, simply constitutes fraud as she failed to state this material fact in her application for free patent. Hence, the cancellation of OCT No. P-10119 issued in her favor is in order, pursuant to the doctrine laid down in Republic vs. Mina (114 SCRA 945) which was aptly quoted by then DENR Secretary Angel C. Alcala in his decision dated January 20, 1994, namely:
A certificate of title that is void may be ordered cancelled. And, a title will be considered void if it is procured through fraud, as when a person applies for registration of the land on the claim that he has been occupying and cultivating it. In the case of disposable public lands, failure on the part of the grantee to comply with the condition imposed by law is a ground for holding such title void (Director of Lands v. CA, 17 SCRA 71). The lapse of the one (1) year period within which a decree of title may be reopened for fraud would not prevent the cancellation thereof for to hold that a title may become indefeasible by registration, even if such title had been secured through fraud or in violation of the law, would be the height of absurdity. Registration should not be a shield of fraud in securing title (Republic vs. Animas, 56 SCRA 499).
Our conclusion is essentially an affirmation of the DENR findings as embodied in its decision dated January 20, 1994 that appellee Valte committed fraud and misrepresentation in procuring Free Patent No. 586435, which became the basis for issuing OCT No. P-10119, consisting of her omission to state in her application that appellants Mendoza and Gonzales were in actual possession and occupation of the subject lot. Such findings were supported by substantial evidence, hence, must perforce be reinstated.10 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
The Office of the President accordingly disposed as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the questioned decision dated March 11, 1999 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The decision dated January 20, 1994 is hereby REINSTATED directing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through the Solicitor General, to cause the reversion of the area covered by Original Certificate of Title No. P-10119 of Reynosa Valte. Appellants Mendoza and Gonzales are hereby adjudged to have the preferential right over the subject land, pro rata to their area of actual occupation, entitling them to file their respective public land applications within sixty (60) days after the termination of the reversion proceeding.11 (Underscoring supplied, emphasis in the original).
Petitionerís motion for reconsideration of the Office of the Presidentís decision having been denied, she lodged a petition for review before the Court of Appeals.
By Resolution of September 8, 2000,12 the Court of Appeals, finding that the petition suffered from the following defects:
1) The certification of non-forum shopping is incomplete in violation of Rule 7, Sec. 5 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure;
2) Failure to attach registry receipts in the affidavit of service as proof of service in violation of Rule 13, Sec. 13, of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure;
3) No certified true copies of such material portions of the record referred to in the petition, viz:
a) Decision/resolution of the Bureau of Lands, dated December 28, 1978, approving petitionerís application for patent;
b) Decision of the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, dated January 20, 1994, ordering the Regional Executive Director of DENR Region III to cause the reversion of OCT No. P-10119 of petitioner in favor of respondents;
c) Complete copy of the Resolution of July 14, 2000 denying petitionerís motion for reconsideration.
Contrary to the provisions of Rule 43, Sec. 6 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. (Underscoring supplied),
dismissed the same.
Petitionerís motion for reconsideration of the resolution of dismissal of the Court of Appeals having been denied by Resolution of January 12, 2001,13 she comes to this Court on what she style as a petition for certiorari.
By Resolution of April 4, 2001,14 this Court denied the present petition due to late filing, lack of certification against forum shopping and failure to sufficiently show that the appellate court committed any reversible error. On motion for reconsideration15 of petitioner, however, the petition was, by Resolution of June 25, 2001,16 reinstated.
Upon this Courtís directive in the same Resolution of June 25, 2001, respondents filed their comment. Also upon this Courtís directive,17 the parties filed their respective memoranda. Petitioner subsequently filed her reply memorandum dated April 22, 2003.
Petitioner submits as "the only issues to be resolved" the following:
I. WHETHER OR NOT THERE IS SUBSTANTIAL COMPLIANCE BY THE PETITIONER IN HER INCOMPLETE CERTIFICATION OF NON-FORUM SHOPPPING [ AND]
II. WHETHER OR NOT THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT IS CORRECT IN ITS DECISION IN FAVOR OF PEDRO MENDOZA AND JOSE GONZALES
On the first issue, petitioner admits having failed to undertake to report to the appellate court within 5 days from knowledge of any case involving the same issues filed in other courts or tribunals. She argues, however, that such failure maybe overlooked provided there is actually no forum shopping, she citing18 this Courtís ruling in, inter alia, Cabardo v. Court of Appeals19 as follows:
Lastly, petitionerís failure to state in the certificate of non-forum shopping that he undertakes to inform the Court of any petition which might be filed, as required under Revised Circular No. 28-91, may be overlooked since it does not appear that any petition related to this case has ever been filed in any other court. On the other hand, to dismiss the petition on this ground would be to uphold technicality over substantial justice
She hastens to add that she had not filed in any court, tribunal or agency any action or petition involving the same issues as those presented in the case at bar, hence, she asserts that she had not committed any act of forum shopping.
With respect to the other grounds-bases of the appellate courtís dismissal of her petition as specified in its above-quoted Resolution of September 8, 2000, petitioner submits as follows:
[A]s to the other grounds why the petition for review was dismissed . . . , they must have been cured by the motion for reconsideration in which the required true copies were submitted. That must have been the reason why the Honorable Court of Appeals merely cited the non-compliance with certification on non-forum shopping as ground for the dismissal of the petition for review in its Resolution of the motion for reconsideration.
. . . [A]s regards the registry receipts proving notice to the other parties, said receipts were indeed attached to the petition for review, but not on the proper page where they would be attached. They were wrongly attached to page 4 of the Decision of the DENR dated March 11, 1999 . . .20
On the merits, petitioner argues that while only questions of law may be raised in a "petition for certiorari," there are instances when questions of fact may be considered therein. And she draws attention to what she alleges to be erroneous factual findings of the Office of the President.
In their Comment21 to the petition, respondents, who are silent on the procedural aspect of the case, quote the entire decision of the Office of the President and contend that the decision was "based [o]n evidence that supports the factual circumstances."
Special circumstances or compelling reasons have been held to justify relaxing the rule requiring certification on forum-shopping. For
Technical rules of procedure should be used to promote, not frustrate justice. While the swift unclogging of court dockets is a laudable objective, granting substantial justice is an even more urgent ideal. The certificate of non-forum shopping is a mandatory requirement. Nonetheless, this requirement must not be interpreted too literally to defeat the ends of justice.22
Considering that the resolution of the controversy between the parties revolves admittedly on factual issues and that these issues involve the regularity and legality of the disposition under the Public Land Law of 7.2293 hectares of public land to petitioner, this Court relaxes the rule on certification on forum shopping and directs the remand of the case to the Court of Appeals for decision on the merits.
WHEREFORE, the assailed Court of Appeals Resolutions of September 8, 2000 and January 12, 2001 are hereby SET ASIDE.
Let the case be REMANDED to the Court of Appeals for decision on the merits.
Vitug*, Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Corona, JJ., concur.
* On official leave.
1 Rollo at 60.
2 Rollo at 61.
3 Id. at 59.
4 Id. at 95-96.
5 Id. at 73.
6 Id. at 108-113.
7 Id. at 112.
8 Id. at 115-118.
9 Id. at 119-123.
10 Id. at 122-123.
11 Id. at 123.
12 Id. at 8-9.
13 Id. at 57.
14 Id. at 167-168.
15 Id. at 169-176.
16 Id. at 177.
17 Resolution of December 2, 2002, Id. at 241.
18 Rollo at 37.
19 290 SCRA 131 (1998).
20 Rollo at 38-39.
22 Twin Towers Condominium Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 398 SCRA 203, 212 (2003).
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