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Province of Camarines Sur
Court of Appeals
G.R. No. 103125, May 17, 1993,
222 SCRA 173 (1993)
On December 22, 1988, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the Province of Camarines Sur passed Resolution No. 129, Series of 1988, authorizing the Provincial Governor to purchase or expropriate property contiguous to the provincial capitol site, in order to establish a pilot farm for non-food and non-traditional agricultural crops and a housing project for provincial government employees.
Pursuant to the Resolution, the Province, through its Governor, Hon. Villafuerte, filed two separate cases for expropriation against Ernesto N. San Joaquin and Efren N. San Joaquin.
The San Joaquins moved to dismiss the complaints on the ground of inadequacy of the price offered for their property.The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and authorized the Province of Camarines Sur to take possession of the property upon the deposit with the Clerk of Court of the amount of Php5,714.00, the amount provisionally fixed by the trial court to answer for damages that private respondents may suffer in the event that the expropriation cases do not prosper. The trial court issued a writ of possession in an order dated January18, 1990.
The Solicitor General stated that under Section 9 of the Local Government Code, there was no need for the approval by the Office of the President of the exercise by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of the right of eminent domain. However, the Solicitor General expressed the view that the Province of Camarines Sur must first secure the approval of the Department of Agrarian Reform of the plan to expropriate the lands of petitioners for use as a housing project.
The Court of Appeals set aside the order of the trial court, allowing the Province of Camarines Sur to take possession of private respondents' lands and the order denying the admission of the amended motion to dismiss. It also ordered the trial court to suspend the expropriation proceedings until after the Province of Camarines Sur shall have submitted the requisite approval of the Department of Agrarian Reform to convert the classification of the property of the private respondents from agricultural to non-agricultural land.
Whether or not the expropriation of agricultural lands by local government units is subject, to the prior approval of the Secretary of the Agrarian Reform, as the implementator of the agrarian reform program
No. It is true that local government units have no inherent power of eminent domain and can exercise it only when expressly authorized by the legislature (City of Cincinnati v. Vester, 28l US 439, 74 L.ed. 950, 50 SCt. 360). It is also true that in delegating the power to expropriate, the legislature may retain certain control or impose certain restraints on the exercise thereof by the local governments (Joslin Mfg. Co. v. Providence, 262 US 668 67 L. ed. 1167, 43 S Ct. 684). While such delegated power may be a limited authority, it is complete within its limits. Moreover, the limitations on the exercise of the delegated power must be clearly expressed, either in the law conferring the power or in other legislations.
Resolution No. 129, Series of 1988, was promulgated pursuant to Section 9 of B.P. Blg. 337, the Local Government Code, which provides:
A local government unit may, through its head and acting pursuant to a resolution of its Sanggunian exercise the right of eminent domain and institute condemnation proceedings for public use or purpose.
Section 9 of B.P. Blg. 337 does not intimate in the least that local government, units must first secure the approval of the Department of Land Reform for the conversion of lands from agricultural to non-agricultural use, before they can institute the necessary expropriation proceedings. Likewise, there is no provision in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law which expressly subjects the expropriation of agricultural lands by local government units to the control of the Department of Agrarian Reform. The closest provision of law that the Court of Appeals could cite to justify the intervention of the Department of Agrarian Reform in expropriation matters is Section 65 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which reads:
Sec. 65. Conversion of Lands. — After the lapse of five (5) years from its award, when the land ceases to be economically feasible and sound for, agricultural purposes, or the locality has become urbanized and the land will have a greater economic value for residential, commercial or industrial purposes, the DAR, upon application of the beneficiary or the landowner, with due notice to the affected parties, and subject to existing laws, may authorize the reclassification or conversion of the land and its disposition: Provided, That the beneficiary shall have fully paid his obligation.
The opening, adverbial phrase of the provision sends signals that it applies to lands previously placed under the agrarian reform program as it speaks of "the lapse of five (5) years from its award."The rules on conversion of agricultural lands found in Section 4 (k) and 5 (1) of Executive Order No. 129-A, Series of 1987, cannot be the source of the authority of the Department of Agrarian Reform to determine the suitability of a parcel of agricultural land for the purpose to which it would be devoted by the expropriating authority. While those rules vest on the Department of Agrarian Reform the exclusive authority to approve or disapprove conversions of agricultural lands for residential, commercial or industrial uses, such authority is limited to the applications for reclassification submitted by the land owners or tenant beneficiaries.
Statutes conferring the power of eminent domain to political subdivisions cannot be broadened or constricted by implication (Schulman v. People, 10 N.Y. 2d. 249, 176 N.E. 2d. 817, 219 NYS 2d. 241).
To sustain the Court of Appeals would mean that the local government units can no longer expropriate agricultural lands needed for the construction of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc, without first applying for conversion of the use of the lands with the Department of Agrarian Reform, because all of these projects would naturally involve a change in the land use. In effect, it would then be the Department of Agrarian Reform to scrutinize whether the expropriation is for a public purpose or public use.
Ordinarily, it is the legislative branch of the local government unit that shall determine whether the use of the property sought to be expropriated shall be public, the same being an expression of legislative policy. The courts defer to such legislative determination and will intervene only when a particular undertaking has no real or substantial relation to the public use.