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Fortich vs Corona, G.R. No. 131457, April 24, 1998, 289 SCRA 624 (1998)
This case involves a 144-hectare land located at San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, owned by the Norberto Quisumbing, Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC), one of the petitioners.
In 1984, the land was leased as a pineapple plantation to the Philippine Packing Corporation, now Del Monte Philippines, Inc. (DMPI), a multinational corporation, for a period of ten (10) years under the Crop Producer and Growers Agreement duly annotated in the certificate of title. The lease expired in April, 1994.
In October, 1991, during the existence of the lease, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) placed the entire 144-hectare property under compulsory acquisition and assessed the land value at P2.38 million.
In February, 1992, NQSRMDC sought and was granted by the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB), through its Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) in DARAB Case No. X-576, a writ of prohibition with preliminary injunction.
Provincial Development Council (PDC) of Bukidnon, headed by Governor Carlos O. Fortich, passed Resolution No. 6, dated January 7, 1993, designating certain areas along Bukidnon-Sayre Highway as part of theBukidnon Agro-Industrial Zones where the subject property is situated.
On March 4, 1993, the Sangguniang Bayan of Sumilao, Bukidnon enacted Ordinance No. 24 converting or re-classifying 144 hectares of land in Bgy. San Vicente, said Municipality, from agricultural to industrial/institutional
On 12 October 1993, the Bukidnon Provincial Land Use Committee approved the said Ordinance. Accordingly, on 11 December 1993, the instant application for conversion was filed by Mr. Gaudencio Beduya in behalf of NQSRMDC/BAIDA (Bukidnon Agro-Industrial Development Association).
On November 14, 1994, the DAR, thru Secretary Garilao, invoking its powers to approve conversion of lands under Section 65 of R.A. No. 6657, issued an Order denying the instant application for the conversion of the subject land from agricultural to agro-industrial and, instead, placed the same under the compulsory coverage of CARP and directed the distribution thereof to all qualified beneficiaries.
Governor Carlos O. Fortich of Bukidnon appealed the order of denial to the Office of the President and prayed for the conversion/reclassification of the subject land.
To prevent the enforcement of the DAR Secretary’s order, NQSRMDC, on June 29, 1995, filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari, prohibition with preliminary injunction.
On October 23, 1995, CA issued a Resolution ordering the parties to observe status quo pending resolution of the petition.
In resolving the appeal, the Office of the President, through then Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres, issued a Decision in OP Case No. 96-C-6424, dated March 29, 1996, reversing the DAR Secretary’s decision and approving the conversion of a one hundred forty-four (144)-hectare land from agricultural to agro-industrial/institutional area.
On May 20, 1996, DAR filed a motion for reconsideration of the OP decision.
NQSRMDC found out that the DAR, without giving just compensation, caused the cancellation of NQSRMDCs title on August 11, 1995 and had it transferred in the name of the Republic of the Philippines. Thereafter, on September 25, 1995, DAR caused the issuance of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No. 00240227 andhad it registered in the name of 137 farmer-beneficiaries.
On April 10, 1997, NQSRMDC filed a complaint with the RTC of Malaybalay, Bukidnon (Branch 9) for annulment and cancellation of title, damages and injunction against DAR and 141 others. RTC issued TRO against DAR and 141 others.
On June 23, 1997, an Order was issued by then Executive Secretary Ruben D. Torres denying DARs motion for reconsideration for having been filed beyond the reglementary period of fifteen (15) days. The said order further declared that the March 29, 1996 OP decision had already become final and executory.
On October 9, 1997 alleged farmer-beneficiaries protested the March 29, 1996 Decision of the Office of the President
This led the Office of the President, through then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona, to issue the so-called Win-Win Resolution on November 7, 1997, substantially modifying its earlier Decision after it had already become final and executory. The said Resolution modified the approval of the land conversion to agro-industrial area only to the extent of forty-four (44) hectares, and ordered the remaining one hundred (100) hectares to be distributed to qualified farmer-beneficiaries.
Whether or not the final and executory Decision dated March 29,1996 converting the land in question from agricultural to agro-industrial can still be substantially modified by the Win-Win Resolution.
No. When the Office of the President issued the Order dated June 23,1997 declaring the Decision of March 29, 1996 final and executory, as no one has seasonably filed a motion for reconsideration thereto, the said Office had lost its jurisdiction to re-open the case, more so modify its Decision, the pertinent portions of which read:
“After a careful evaluation of the petition vis--vis the grounds upon which the denial thereof by Secretary Garilao was based, we find that the instant application for conversion by the Municipality of Sumilao, Bukidnon is impressed with merit. To be sure, converting the land in question from agricultural to agro-industrial would open great opportunities for employment and bring about real development in the area towards a sustained economic growth of the municipality. On the other hand, distributing the land to would-be beneficiaries (who are not even tenants, as there are none) does not guarantee such benefits.
Nevertheless, on the issue that the land is considered a prime agricultural land with irrigation facility it maybe appropriate to mention that, as claimed by petitioner, while it is true that there is, indeed, an irrigation facility in the area, the same merely passes thru the property (as a right of way) to provide water to the ricelands located on the lower portion thereof. The land itself, subject of the instant petition, is not irrigated as the same was, for several years, planted with pineapple by the Philippine Packing Corporation.
On the issue that the land has long been covered by a Notice of Compulsory Acquisition (NCA) and that the existing policy on withdrawal or lifting on areas covered by NCA is not applicable, suffice it to state that the said NCA was declared null and void by the Department of Agrarian ReformAdjudication Board (DARAB) as early as March 1, 1992. Deciding in favor of NQSRMDC, the DARAB correctly pointed out that under Section 8 of R.A. No. 6657, the subject property could not validly be the subject of compulsory acquisition until after the expiration of the lease contract with Del Monte Philippines, a Multi-National Company, or until April 1994, and ordered the DAR Regional Office and the Land Bank of the Philippines, both in Butuan City, to `desist from pursuing any activity or activities covering petitioners land.
Neither can the assertion that there is no clear and tangible compensation package arrangements for the beneficiaries hold water as, in the first place, there are no beneficiaries to speak about, for the land is not tenanted as already stated.
Nor can procedural lapses in the manner of identifying/reclassifying the subject property for agro-industrial purposes be allowed to defeat the very purpose of the law granting autonomy to local government units in the management of their local affairs. Stated more simply, the language of Section 20 of R.A. No. 7160, supra, is clear and affords no room for any other interpretation. By unequivocal legal mandate, it grants local government units autonomy in their local affairs including the power to convert portions of their agricultural lands and provide for the manner of their utilization and disposition to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities.’’