Petitioners Cesar Caguin, Cleofas Vitor, Teresita Vitor, Jose Levitico Dalay, Marcelo Dalay, Esperanza Mario, Celestina Cosico, Ma. Ruth Pacurib, and Raquel San Juan, through the Legal Assistance Division of the DAR, claim that findings of fact of the DARAB should have been respected by the CA; that the CLOAs covering the subject properties were registered in 1994 and 1995 but respondents only assailed the validity of the same in 2000; and that the said CLOAs are already incontestable and indefeasible. Moreover, petitioners highlight the fact that the parties in this case are not partners to any tenancy venture. Invoking this Court’s ruling in Heirs of Julian dela Cruz v. Heirs of Alberto Cruz, petitioners submit that the DAR Secretary has jurisdiction in this case, not the DARAB.
On the other hand, respondents prefatorily manifest that out of the 44 respondents before the CA, only 9 signed the petition filed before this Court, and that petitioners’ counsel failed to indicate the full names of petitioners in the petition. Respondents argue that the errors assigned by petitioners are matters not pertaining to questions of law but rather to the CA’s factual findings. Respondents rely on the CA’s findings that their constitutional right to due process was violated because no notice of coverage was sent to them and that they were deprived of payment of just compensation. Moreover, respondents claim that they are not barred by prescription and petitioners cannot raise this issue for the first time on appeal; that they have been paying the real property taxes and are actually in possession of the subject properties; and that documents, which petitioners failed to refute, show that the said properties are private lands owned by respondents and their predecessors-in-interest. Respondents stress that the action initially filed before the PARAD was not a protest considered as an Agrarian Law Implementation (ALI) case, but for quieting and cancellation of title, reconveyance, and damages; that the 2003 DARAB Rules of Procedure clearly states that the DARAB has jurisdiction to cancel CLOAs registered with the LRA; and that the assailed CLOAs were already registered with the RD of Laguna.
The petition is impressed with merit.
Verily, our ruling in Heirs of Julian dela Cruz v. Heirs of Alberto Cruz is instructive:
The Court agrees with the petitioners’ contention that, under Section 2(f), Rule II of the DARAB Rules of Procedure, the DARAB has jurisdiction over cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of CLOAs which were registered with the LRA. However, for the DARAB to have jurisdiction in such cases, they must relate to an agrarian dispute between landowner and tenants to whom CLOAs have been issued by the DAR Secretary. The cases involving the issuance, correction and cancellation of the CLOAs by the DAR in the administrative implementation of agrarian reform laws, rules and regulations to parties who are not agricultural tenants or lessees are within the jurisdiction of the DAR and not of the DARAB.
It is established and uncontroverted that the parties herein do not have any tenancy relationship. In one case, this Court held that even if the parties therein did not have tenancy relations, the DARAB still has jurisdiction. However, the said case must be viewed with particularity because, based on the material allegations of the complaint therein, the incident involved the implementation of the CARP, as it was founded on the question of who was the actual tenant and eventual beneficiary of the subject land. Hence, this Court held therein that jurisdiction should remain with the DARAB and not with the regular courts.
However, this case is different. Respondents’ complaint was bereft of any allegation of tenancy and/or any matter that would place it within the ambit of DARAB’s jurisdiction.
While it is true that the PARAD and the DARAB lack jurisdiction in this case due to the absence of any tenancy relations between the parties, lingering essential issues are yet to be resolved as to the alleged lack of notice of coverage to respondents as landowners and their deprivation of just compensation. Let it be stressed that while these issues were discussed by the PARAD in his decision, the latter was precisely bereft of any jurisdiction to rule particularly in the absence of any notice of coverage for being an ALI case. Let it also be stressed that these issues were not met head-on by petitioners. At this juncture, the issues should not be left hanging at the expense and to the prejudice of respondents.
However, this Court refuses to rule on the validity of the CARP coverage of the subject properties and the issuance of the assailed CLOAs. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction precludes the courts from resolving a controversy over which jurisdiction was initially lodged with an administrative body of special competence. The doctrine of primary jurisdiction does not allow a court to arrogate unto itself authority to resolve a controversy, the jurisdiction over which is initially lodged with an administrative body of special competence. The Office of the DAR Secretary is in a better position to resolve the particular issue of non-issuance of a notice of coverage – an ALI case – being primarily the agency possessing the necessary expertise on the matter. The power to determine such issue lies with the DAR, not with this Court.
A final note.
It must be borne in mind that this Court is not merely a Court of law but of equity as well. Justice dictates that the DAR Secretary must determine with deliberate dispatch whether indeed no notice of coverage was furnished to respondents and payment of just compensation was unduly withheld from them despite the fact that the assailed CLOAs were already registered, on the premise that respondents were unaware of the CARP coverage of their properties; hence, their right to protest the same under the law was defeated. Respondents’ right to due process must be equally respected. Apropos is our ruling in Heir of Nicolas Jugalbot v. Court of Appeals:
[I]t may not be amiss to stress that laws which have for their object the preservation and maintenance of social justice are not only meant to favor the poor and underprivileged. They apply with equal force to those who, notwithstanding their more comfortable position in life, are equally deserving of protection from the courts. Social justice is not a license to trample on the rights of the rich in the guise of defending the poor, where no act of injustice or abuse is being committed against them.
As the court of last resort, our bounden duty to protect the less privileged should not be carried out to such an extent as to deny justice to landowners whenever truth and justice happen to be on their side. For in the eyes of the Constitution and the statutes, EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW remains the bedrock principle by which our Republic abides.