ROXAS & CO., INC. vs COURT OF APPEALS
G.R. No. 127876 December 17, 1999
This case involves three (3) haciendas in Nasugbu, Batangas owned by petitioner and the validity of the acquisition of these haciendas by the government under Republic Act No. 6657, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988. Petitioner Roxas & Co. is a domestic corporation and is the registered owner of three haciendas, namely, Haciendas Palico, Banilad and Caylaway, all located in the Municipality of Nasugbu, Batangas. Hacienda Palico is 1,024 hectares in area and is registered under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 985. On May 6, 1988, petitioner filed with respondent DAR a voluntary offer to sell Hacienda Caylaway pursuant to the provisions of E.O. No. 229. Haciendas Palico and Banilad were later placed under compulsory acquisition by respondent DAR in accordance with the CARL.
1. Whether this Court can take cognizance of this petition despite petitioner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
2. Whether the acquisition proceedings over the three haciendas were valid and in accordance with law.
3. Assuming the haciendas may be reclassified from agricultural to non-agricultural, whether this court has the power to rule on this issue.
1. As a general rule, before a party may be allowed to invoke the jurisdiction of the courts of justice, he is expected to have exhausted all means of administrative redress. This is not absolute, however. There are instances when judicial action may be resorted to immediately. Among these exceptions are: (1) when the question raised is purely legal; (2) when the administrative body is in estoppel; (3) when the act complained of is patently illegal; (4) when there is urgent need for judicial intervention; (5) when the respondent acted in disregard of due process; (6) when the respondent is a department secretary whose acts, as an alter ego of the President, bear the implied or assumed approval of the latter; (7) when irreparable damage will be suffered; (8) when there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy; (9) when strong public interest is involved; (10) when the subject of the controversy is private land; and (11) in quo warranto proceedings.
Petitioner rightly sought immediate redress in the courts. There was a violation of its rights and to require it to exhaust administrative remedies before the DAR itself was not a plain, speedy and adequate remedy. Respondent DAR issued Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA's) to farmer beneficiaries over portions of petitioner's land without just compensation to petitioner. A Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) is evidence of ownership of land by a beneficiary under R.A. 6657, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988.
2. Petitioner's allegation of lack of due process goes into the validity of the acquisition proceedings themselves. Before we rule on this matter, however, there is need to lay down the procedure in the acquisition of private lands under the provisions of the law.
A. Modes of Acquisition of Land under R. A. 6657
B. The Compulsory Acquisition of Haciendas Palico and Banilad
C. The Voluntary Acquisition of Hacienda Caylaway
Finally, the failure of respondent DAR to comply with the requisites of due process in the acquisition proceedings does not give this Court the power to nullify the CLOA's already issued to the farmer beneficiaries. To assume the power is to short-circuit the administrative process, which has yet to run its regular course. Respondent DAR must be given the chance to correct its procedural lapses in the acquisition proceedings. In Hacienda Palico alone, CLOA's were issued to farmer beneficiaries in 1993. Since then until the present, these farmers have been cultivating their lands. It goes against the basic precepts of justice, fairness and equity to deprive these people, through no fault of their own, of the land they till. Anyhow, the farmer beneficiaries hold the property in trust for the rightful owner of the land.
2. The agency charged with the mandate of approving or disapproving applications for conversion is the DAR. At the time petitioner filed its application for conversion, the Rules of Procedure governing the processing and approval of applications for land use conversion was the DAR A.O. No. 2, Series of 1990. Under this A.O., the application for conversion is filed with the MARO where the property is located. The MARO reviews the application and its supporting documents and conducts field investigation and ocular inspection of the property. The findings of the MARO are subject to review and evaluation by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO). The PARO may conduct further field investigation and submit a supplemental report together with his recommendation to the Regional Agrarian Reform Officer (RARO) who shall review the same. For lands less than five hectares, the RARO shall approve or disapprove applications for conversion. For lands exceeding five hectares, the RARO shall evaluate the PARO Report and forward the records and his report to the Undersecretary for Legal Affairs. Applications over areas exceeding fifty hectares are approved or disapproved by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform.
The petition is granted in part and the acquisition proceedings over the three haciendas are nullified for respondent DAR's failure to observe due process therein. In accordance with the guidelines set forth in this decision and the applicable administrative procedure, the case is hereby remanded to respondent DAR for proper acquisition proceedings and determination of petitioner's application for conversion.