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624 Phil. 163


[ G.R. No. 167891, January 15, 2010 ]




Before us is a petition for review of the Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated October 28, 2004 and its Resolution dated April 19, 2005, denying the motion for reconsideration thereof.

The facts are as follows:

Leopoldo delos Reyes owned a parcel of land, denominated as Lot No. 2351 (Cad. 320-D), with an area of 25,513 square meters (sq m), located in Barangay Sumandig in Hacienda Buenavista, San Ildefonso, Bulacan. In 1963, he allowed petitioner Jesus Fajardo to cultivate said land. The net harvests were divided equally between the two until 1975 when the relationship was converted to leasehold tenancy. Per Order[2] from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Regional Office, Region III, San Fernando, Pampanga, rent was provisionally fixed at 27.42 cavans per year, which Jesus Fajardo religiously complied with. From the time petitioner cultivated the land, he was allowed by Leopoldo delos Reyes to erect a house for his family on the stony part of the land, which is the subject of controversy.

On January 26, 1988, Leopoldo delos Reyes died. His daughter and sole heir, herein respondent Anita Flores, inherited the property. On June 28, 1991, Anita Flores and Jesus Fajardo executed an agreement, denominated as "KASUNDUAN NG PAGHAHATI NG LUPA AT PAGTATALAGA NG DAAN UKOL SA MAGKABILANG PANIG."[3] This was followed by another agreement, "KASUNDUAN SA HATIAN SA LUPA," executed on July 10, 1991, wherein the parties agreed to deduct from Lot No. 2351 an area of 10,923 sq m, allotting the same to petitioner. Apparently, there was a conflict of claims in the interpretation of the Kasunduan between Anita Flores and Jesus Fajardo, which was referred to the DAR, Provincial Agrarian Reform Office, Baliuag, Bulacan.[4] In the Report and Recommendation dated May 3, 2000, the Legal Officer advised the parties to ventilate their claims and counterclaims with the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB), Malolos, Bulacan.[5]

On December 22, 2000, a complaint for ejectment was filed by herein respondent Anita Flores, assisted by her husband Bienvenido Flores, against petitioners with the Municipal Trial Court (MTC), San Ildefonso, Bulacan. In the complaint, she alleged that, as the sole heir of the late Leopoldo delos Reyes, she inherited a parcel of land consisting of stony land, not devoted to agriculture, and land suitable and devoted to agriculture located in Barangay Sumandig, San Ildefonso, Bulacan; that, sometime in the 1960s, during the lifetime of Leopoldo delos Reyes, Jesus Fajardo requested the former to allow him to work and cultivate that portion of land devoted to agriculture; that Jesus Fajardo was then allowed to erect a house on the stony part of the land, and that the use and occupation of the stony part of the land was by mere tolerance only; and that the land, which was divided equally between the two parties, excluded the stony portion. In February 1999, respondent approached petitioners and verbally informed them of her intention to repossess the stony portion, but petitioners refused to heed the request.

Petitioners filed a Motion to Dismiss, alleging that Lot No. 2351, with an area of 25,513 sq m, was agricultural land; that they had been continuously, uninterruptedly, and personally cultivating the same since 1960 up to the present; that the MTC had no jurisdiction over the case, considering that the dispute between the parties, regarding the Kasunduan, was referred to the DARAB; and that the assumption by the DARAB of jurisdiction over the controversy involving the lot in question therefore precluded the MTC from exercising jurisdiction over the case.

Resolving the Motion to Dismiss, the MTC ruled that, while at first glance, the court did not have jurisdiction over the case, considering that it was admitted that petitioner was allowed to cultivate the land, a closer look at the Kasunduan, however, revealed that what was divided was only the portion being tilled. By contrast, the subject matter of the complaint was the stony portion where petitioners' house was erected. Thus, the court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the subject matter.[6]

On April 25, 2001, the MTC rendered judgment in favor of respondent. The dispositive portion reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiff (respondent), ORDERING defendants (petitioners) -

1) and all persons claiming rights under them to VACATE the subject premises where they have erected their house, which is a portion of Lot No. 2351, Cad-320-D situated [in] Barangay Sumandig, San Ildefonso, Bulacan;

2) to DEMOLISH their house on the subject premises;

3) to PAY plaintiff the sum of P400.00 a month by way of reasonable compensation for their use and occupation of the subject premises starting [in] June 2000 and every month thereafter until they finally vacate the same; and

4) to PAY attorney's fees of P10,000.00 and the cost of suit.[7]

On appeal, the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 16, Third Judicial Region, Malolos, Bulacan, affirmed the MTC Decision in toto upon a finding that no reversible error was committed by the court a quo in its Decision[8] dated August 29, 2002.

On motion for reconsideration, however, the RTC issued an Order on December 10, 2002, reversing its decision dated August 29, 2002. The RTC found that the issue involved appeared to be an agrarian dispute, which fell within the contemplation of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, and thus ordered the dismissal of the case for lack of jurisdiction.

A petition for review was then filed by respondents with the CA to annul the Order of the RTC dated December 10, 2002.

On October 28, 2004, the CA rendered the assailed decision, which reinstated the MTC decision. It disagreed with the findings of the RTC and ruled that the part of Lot No. 2351 where petitioners' house stood was stony and residential in nature, one that may not be made to fall within the ambit of the operation of Philippine agrarian laws, owing to its non-agriculture character. The CA explained that, on the strength of the two instruments, the parties made a partition and divided the agricultural portion of Lot No. 2351 equally among themselves. By virtue of said division, the parties effectively severed and terminated the agricultural leasehold/tenancy relationship between them; thus, there was no longer any agrarian dispute to speak of. Fajardo had already acquired the benefits under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law when one-half of the agricultural portion of Lot No. 2351 was allotted to him. Petitioners cannot, therefore, be allowed to continue possession of a part of the stony portion, which was not included in the land he was cultivating.[9] The dispositive portion of the CA Decision reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, finding that the court a quo seriously erred when it reversed itself, its Order dated December 10, 2002 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the Decision dated April 25, 2001 of the MTC of San Ildefonso, Bulacan is hereby REINSTATED.[10]

The subsequent motion for reconsideration was denied; hence, this petition.

The issue in this case is whether it is MTC or the DARAB which has jurisdiction over the case.

There is no dispute that, on June 28, 1991, the parties executed an agreement, denominated as "KASUNDUAN NG PAGHAHATI NG LUPA AT PAGTATALAGA NG DAAN UKOL SA MAGKABILANG PANIG." Therein, it was admitted that Jesus Fajardo was the tiller of the land. This Kasunduan was subsequently followed by another agreement, "KASUNDUAN SA HATIAN SA LUPA," whereby an area of 10,923 sq m of Lot No. 2351 was given to petitioners. The portion of the land where petitioners' house is erected is the subject of the instant case for unlawful detainer. Respondent argues that this portion is not included in the deed of partition, while petitioners insist that it is.

We agree with the RTC when it clearly pointed out in its Order dated December 10, 2002 that the resolution of this case hinges on the correct interpretation of the contracts executed by the parties. The issue of who has a better right of possession over the subject land cannot be determined without resolving first the matter as to whom the subject property was allotted. Thus, this is not simply a case for unlawful detainer, but one that is incapable of pecuniary estimation, definitely beyond the competence of the MTC.[11]

More importantly, the controversy involves an agricultural land, which petitioners have continuously and personally cultivated since the 1960s. In the Kasunduan, it was admitted that Jesus Fajardo was the tiller of the land. Being agricultural lessees, petitioners have a right to a home lot and a right to exclusive possession thereof by virtue of Section 24, R.A. No. 3844 of the Agricultural Land Reform Code.[12] Logically, therefore, the case involves an agrarian dispute, which falls within the contemplation of R.A. No. 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

An agrarian dispute[13] refers to any controversy relating to tenurial arrangements, whether leasehold, tenancy, stewardship, or otherwise, over lands devoted to agriculture, including disputes concerning farmworkers' associations or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangements. It includes any controversy relating to compensation of lands acquired under this Act and other terms and conditions of transfer of ownership from landowner to farmworkers, tenants, and other agrarian reform beneficiaries, whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of farm operator and beneficiary, landowner and tenant, or lessor and lessee. It relates to any controversy relating to, inter alia, tenancy over lands devoted to agriculture.[14]

Undeniably, the instant case involves a controversy regarding tenurial arrangements. The contention that the Kasunduans, which allegedly terminated the tenancy relationship between the parties and, therefore, removed the case from the ambit of R.A. No. 6657, is untenable. There still exists an agrarian dispute because the controversy involves the home lot of petitioners, an incident arising from the landlord-tenant relationship.

.Amurao v. Villalobos is quite instructive:

The instant case undeniably involves a controversy involving tenurial arrangements because the Kasulatan will definitely modify, nay, terminate the same. Even assuming that the tenancy relationship between the parties had ceased due to the Kasulatan, there still exists an agrarian dispute because the action involves an incident arising from the landlord and tenant relationship.

In Teresita S. David v. Agustin Rivera, this Court held that:

[I]t is safe to conclude that the existence of prior agricultural tenancy relationship, if true, will divest the MCTC of its jurisdiction the previous juridical tie compels the characterization of the controversy as an "agrarian dispute." x x x Even if the tenurial arrangement has been severed, the action still involves an incident arising from the landlord and tenant relationship. Where the case involves the dispossession by a former landlord of a former tenant of the land claimed to have been given as compensation in consideration of the renunciation of the tenurial rights, there clearly exists an agrarian dispute. On this point the Court has already ruled:

"Indeed, section 21 of the Republic Act No. 1199, provides that `all cases involving the dispossession of a tenant by the landlord or by a third party and/or the settlement and disposition of disputes arising from the relationship of landlord and tenant . . . shall be under the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Agrarian Relations.' This jurisdiction does not require the continuance of the relationship of landlord and tenant--at the time of the dispute. The same may have arisen, and often times arises, precisely from the previous termination of such relationship. If the same existed immediately, or shortly, before the controversy and the subject-matter thereof is whether or not said relationship has been lawfully terminated, or if the dispute springs or originates from the relationship of landlord and tenant, the litigation is (then) cognizable by the Court of Agrarian Relations . . ."

In the case at bar, petitioners' claim that the tenancy relationship has been terminated by the Kasulatan is of no moment. As long as the subject matter of the dispute is the legality of the termination of the relationship, or if the dispute originates from such relationship, the case is cognizable by the DAR, through the DARAB. The severance of the tenurial arrangement will not render the action beyond the ambit of an agrarian dispute.[15]

Furthermore, the records disclose that the dispute between the parties, regarding the interpretation of the Kasunduan, was, in fact, raised and referred to the DAR, which in turn referred the case to the DARAB.[16] In view of the foregoing, we reiterate Hilario v. Prudente,[17] that:

The doctrine of primary jurisdiction precludes the courts from resolving a controversy over which jurisdiction has initially been lodged with an administrative body of special competence. For agrarian reform cases, jurisdiction is vested in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR); more specifically, in the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB).

WHEREFORE, the Decision dated October 28, 2004 of the Court of Appeals is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Order of the Regional Trial Court dated December 10, 2002 is REINSTATED.


Corona, (Chairperson), Velasco, Jr., Peralta, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang, with Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa, concurring; rollo, pp. 71-80.

[2] Records, pp. 54-55.

[3] Id. at 6.

[4] Id. at 15.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 33.

[7] Rollo, pp. 58-59.

[8] Id. at 60-63.

[9] Id. at 77-78.

[10] Supra note 1, at 79.

[11] Rollo, p. 65.

[12] R.A. No. 3844, Sec. 24, provides that:

Sec. 24, Right to a Home Lot. - The agricultural lessee shall have the right to continue in the exclusive possession and enjoyment of any home lot he may have occupied upon the effectivity of this Code, which shall be considered as included in the leasehold.

[13] R.A. No. 6657, Sec. 3(d).

[14] Amurao v.Villalobos, G.R. No. 157491, June 20, 2006, 491 SCRA 464.

[15] Id. at 474-475.

[16] Rollo, p. 66.

[17] G.R. No. 150635, September 11, 2008, 564 SCRA 485.

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