APO FRUITS vs COURT OF APPEALS (April 2008)

April 9, 2014
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Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 164195             April 30, 2008

APO FRUITS CORPORATION and HIJO PLANTATION, INC., petitioner,

vs.

THE HON. COURT OF APPEALS and LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

On 6 February 2007, the Third Division of this Court promulgated its Decision in this case, partially granting the Petition for Review on Certiorari of Apo Fruits Corporation (AFC) and Hijo Plantation, Inc. (HPI). According to the dispositive portion of said Decision:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED. While the Decision, dated 12 February 2004, and Resolution, dated 21 June 2004, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 76222, giving due course to LBP’s appeal, are hereby AFFIRMED, this Court, nonetheless, RESOLVES, in consideration of public interest, the speedy administration of justice, and the peculiar circumstances of the case, to give DUE COURSE to the present Petition and decide the same on its merits. Thus, the Decision, dated 25 September 2001, as modified by the Decision, dated 5 December 2001, of the Regional Trial Court of Tagum City, Branch 2, in Agrarian Cases No. 54-2000 and No. 55-2000 is AFFIRMED. No costs.1

The fallo of the affirmed Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Agrarian Cases No. 54-2000 and No. 55-2000, as it was originally promulgated on 25 September 2001, reads:

WHEREFORE, consistent with all the foregoing premises, judgment is hereby rendered by this Special Agrarian Court where it has determined judiciously and now hereby fixed the just compensation for the 1,388.6027 hectares of lands and its improvements owned by the plaintiffs: APO FRUITS CORPORATION and HIJO PLANTATION, INC., as follows:

First – Hereby ordering after having determined and fixed the fair, reasonable and just compensation of the 1,338.6027 hectares of land and standing crops owned by plaintiffs – APO FRUITS CORPORATION and HIJO PLANTATION, INC., based at only P103.33 per sq. meter, ONE BILLION THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY-THREE MILLION ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-NINE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,383,179,000.00), Philippine Currency, under the current value of the Philippine Peso, to be paid jointly and severally to the herein PLAINTIFFS by the Defendants-Department of Agrarian Reform and its financial intermediary and co-defendant Land Bank of the Philippines, thru its Land Valuation Office;

Second – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay plaintiffs-APO FRUITS CORPORATION and HIJO PLANTATION, INC., interests on the above-fixed amount of fair, reasonable and just compensation equivalent to the market interest rates aligned with 91-day Treasury Bills, from the date of the taking in December 9, 1996, until fully paid, deducting the amount of the previous payment which plaintiffs received as/and from the initial valuation;

Third – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay jointly and severally the Commissioners’ fees herein taxed as part of the costs pursuant to Section 12, Rule 67 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, equivalent to, and computed at Two and One-Half (2 ½) percent of the determined and fixed amount as the fair, reasonable and just compensation of plaintiffs’ land and standing crops plus interest equivalent to the interest of the 91-Day Treasury Bills from date of taking until full payment;

Fourth – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay jointly and severally the attorney’s fees to plaintiffs equivalent to, and computed at ten (10%) Percent of the determined and fixed amount as the fair, reasonable and just compensation of plaintiffs’ land and standing crops, plus interest equivalent to the 91-Day Treasury Bills from date of taking until the full amount is fully paid;

Fifth – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office to deduct from the total amount fixed as fair, reasonable and just compensation of plaintiffs’ properties the initial payment paid to the plaintiffs;

Sixth – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay the costs of the suit; and

Seventh – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay all the aforementioned amounts thru The Clerk of Court of this Court, in order that said Court Officer could collect for payment any docket fee deficiency, should there be any, from the plaintiffs.2

It was subsequently modified, as follows, by the RTC in an Order dated 5 December 2001:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the following modifications as they are hereby made on the dispositive portion of this Court’s consolidated decision be made and entered in the following manner, to wit:

On the Second Paragraph of the Dispositive Portion which now reads as follows, as modified:

Second – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay plaintiffs-APO FRUITS CORPORATION and HIJO PLANTATION, INC., interest at the rate of Twelve (12%) Percent per annum on the above-fixed amount of fair, reasonable and just compensation computed from the time the complaint was filed until the finality of this decision. After this decision becomes final and executory, the rate of TWELVE (12%) PERCENT per annum shall be additionally imposed on the total obligation until payment thereof is satisfied, deducting the amounts of the previous payments by Defendant-LBP received as initial valuation;

On the Third Paragraph of the Dispositive Portion which Now Reads As Follows, As Modified:

Third – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay jointly and severally the Commissioners’ fees herein taxed as part of the costs pursuant to Section 12, Rule 67 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, equivalent to, and computed at Two and One-Half (2 ½) percent of the determined and fixed amount as the fair, reasonable and just compensation of plaintiffs’ land and standing crops and improvements;

On the Fourth Paragraph of the Dispositive Portion which Now Reads As follows, As Modified:

Fourth – Hereby ordering Defendants – DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM and/or LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, thru its Land Valuation Office, to pay jointly and severally the attorney’s fees to plaintiffs equivalent to, and computed at ten (10%) Percent of the determined and fixed amount as the fair, reasonable and just compensation of plaintiffs’ land and standing crops and improvements.

Except for the above-stated modifications, the consolidated decision stands and shall remain in full force and effect in all other respects thereof.3

From the 6 February 2007 Decision of the Third Division, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) filed an Omnibus Motion seeking the (a) reconsideration of the said decision; (b) referral of the case to the Supreme Court sitting en banc; and (c) setting of its motion for oral argument.4

In its 19 December 2007 Resolution, the Third Division partially granted the Motion for Reconsideration of LBP by modifying its 6 February 2007 Decision, and ruled:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Motion for Reconsideration is PARTIALLY GRANTED as follows:

(1) The award of 12% interest rate per annum in the total amount of just compensation is DELETED.

(2) This case is ordered REMANDED to the RTC for further hearing on the amount of Commissioners’ Fees.

(3) The award of attorney’s fees is DELETED.

(4) The Motion for Referral of the case to the Supreme Court sitting En Banc and the request or setting of the Omnibus Motion for Oral Arguments are all DENIED for lack of merit. In all other respects, our Decision dated 6 February 2007 is MAINTAINED.5

Consequently, all the parties sought reconsideration of the afore-quoted Resolution.

LBP filed another Omnibus Motion seeking (a) reconsideration of the Resolution dated 19 December 2007 of the Third Division denying LBP’s motion to refer the case to the Supreme Court en banc; and (b) leave of court to file a second Motion for Reconsideration6 on the issue of just compensation for the subject properties. LBP thus prays –

WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court (Third Division), TO REFER this case to the Honorable Court sitting En Banc, and upon referral thereof, for this Honorable Court sitting En Banc to rule as follows:

1. ALLOW respondent LBP to file a Second Motion for Reconsideration on the issue of just compensation for subject properties, and ADMIT and CONSIDER the said motion in the resolution of the instant case;

2. RECONSIDER the Resolution dated 19 December 2007 which affirmed the Special Agrarian Court’s valuation for subject properties amounting to One Billion Three Hundred Eighty Three Million One Hundred Seventy Nine Thousand Pesos (Php1,383,179,000.00) which is almost TRIPLE the landowner-petitioners’ offered sum of only Four Hundred Sixty Eight Million Pesos (Php468,000,000.00) as just compensation for subject properties under the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) Scheme;

3. AFFIRM in toto respondent LBP’s revaluation for subject properties amounting to Four Hundred Eleven Million Seven Hundred Sixty Nine Thousand One Hundred Sixty Eight Pesos & 32/100 (Php411,769,168.32) as just compensation.7

On the other hand, AFC and HPI filed their Motion for Partial Reconsideration of the Resolution dated 19 December 2007, based on the following grounds:

I.

PETITIONERS RESPECTFULLY SUBMIT THAT THE HONORABLE COURT MAY HAVE OVERLOOKED MATERIAL FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES AND THEREFORE ERRED IN NOT HOLDING THAT:

a. PETITIONERS’ RECOURSE TO THE DARAB, AFTER REJECTING THE INITIAL VALUATIONS OF RESPONDENT LBP, IS WARRANTED UNDER EXISTING LAWS AND JURISPRUDENCE WHEN THE TWO COMPLAINTS FOR DETERMINATION OF THE JUST COMPENSATION WERE FILED ON 14 FEBRUARY 1997 WITH DARAB.

b. AT THE VERY LEAST, LBP SHOULD BE MADE TO PAY TWELVE PERCENT (12%) INTEREST ON THE BALANCE OF P975,223,885.21 (REPRESENTING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE JUDGMENT AWARD OF P1,383,179,000.00 AND THE AMOUNT ALREADY PAID FOR THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES TOTALING P407,955,114.79.

II.

RESPONDENT LBP DELIBERATELY DELAYED THE PROCEEDINGS, THUS FAILED TO COMPLY WITH ITS CONSTITUTIONAL OBLIGATION TO MAKE A PROMPT AND FULL PAYMENT OF JUST COMPENSATION; THIS FACT ALONE SHOULD WARRANT THE AWARD OF ATTORNEYS’ FEES.8

While all the foregoing motions were still pending resolution, the LPB filed on 28 February 2008 a very urgent/verified motion/application for issuance of temporary restraining order/writ of preliminary injunction, praying that this Court –

a) ISSUE a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction, to enjoin during the pendency of the proceedings and until the issue raised on appeal and the amount of just compensation of subject property are finally resolved, Hon. Justino G. Aventurado, Judge, Regional Trial Court of Tagum City, Davao del Norte, Branch 2, Sheriffs and/or all persons acting on his behalf, from executing the Partial Writ of Execution implementing the Resolution dated 19 December 2007.

b) QUASH or INVALIDATE the Notices of Garnishment dated 27 February 2008 and similar notices covering “goods, effects, interests, credits, monies, stocks, shares, any interests in shares and stocks, and any other personal properties” in the name of respondent LBP which are in the possession of the Treasurer of the Philippines, Deutsche Bank, and other financial institutions.9

On 12 March 2008, this Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order –

[E]njoining Hon. Justino G. Aventurado, Judge, Regional Trial Court of Tagum City, Davao del Norte, Branch 2, Sheriffs and all persons acting on his behalf from implementing the Partial Writ of Execution dated 26 February 2008 effective immediately and to DIRECT the parties and all concerned to MAINTAIN the STATUS QUO prior to the issuance of the notice of Garnishment to different financial institutions or entities dated 27 February 2008 until further orders from this Court.10

The Court shall now resolve the pending motions of LBP, AFC and HPI.

As to LBP’s Omnibus Motion for Reconsideration of the Resolution dated 19 December 2007 denying its Motion for the referral of the case to the Supreme Court en banc, LBP argues that the reversal of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Sps. Banal,11 Land Bank of the Philippines v. Celada12 and Land Bank of the Philippines v. Lim,13 constitute a clear and significant constitutional issue that should be passed upon by this Court sitting en banc pursuant to Article VIII, Section 4(2) of the 1987 Constitution mandating that “no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the court in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed except by the court sitting en banc.”

The argument of LBP is without basis.

The Third Division has explained at length in its 19 December 2007 Resolution that:

[I]t is abundantly clear that this case does not in any way modify or reverse our holdings in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Banal and Land Bank of the Philippines v. Celada. To reiterate, in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Celada, the RTC acting as SAC arrived at the determination of just compensation based only on one single factor, namely, its observation that there was a patent disparity between the price given to the landowner as compared to the other landowners in that case. This is not true in the present case as we have repeatedly held that the RTC acting as SAC considered all material and relevant factors to arrive at a correct and proper determination of just compensation. On the other hand, in Land Bank of the Philippines v. Banal, the valuation of the RTC acting as SAC was set aside for the reason that the same was arrived at without a hearing and based only on the memoranda of the parties. In this case, the trial court conducted several hearings and ocular inspections before it rendered its decision.14

Similarly, the Resolution dated 19 December 2007 of the Third Division, refusing to reconsider its Decision dated 6 February 2007, on the just compensation due to AFC and HPI, does not effectively reverse the Court’s en banc Decision in Lim,15 contrary to the persistent averment of the LBP.

The Third Division is not evading the prescription in Lim. As is stark in the assailed ponencia, the Court affirmed the due consideration given by the RTC of the factors specified in Section 17, Republic Act No. 6657. Again, the proper valuation of the subject premises was reached with clear regard for the acquisition cost of the land, current market value of the properties, its nature, actual use and income, inter alia – factors that are material and relevant in determining just compensation. These are the very same factors laid down in a formula by DAR A.O. No. 5. Due regard was thus given by the RTC to Republic Act No. 6657, DAR A.O. No. 5 and prevailing jurisprudence when it arrived at the value of just compensation due to AFC and HPI in this case.

Moreover, the Court en banc in Luz Lim found that the RTC erred in determining the just compensation due therein respondents, by simply adopting the price previously paid by therein petitioner LBP for the land of respondents’ brother, absolutely disregarding the mandatory factors in the appropriate administrative orders. While the RTC therein did refer to other factors which it supposedly considered, ultimately, it only made use of the same value paid by the LBP for the land of respondents’ brother. The same is not true in this case. It cannot be said herein that the RTC anchored its determination of just compensation for the land of AFC and HPI on only one particular factor.

Given the differences in the factual background of the case at bar and those cited by LBP, it cannot be said that the Third Division is reversing any doctrine or principle laid down by jurisprudence. There is therefore no basis for the prayer of LBP to refer the case to the Supreme Court en banc. The Supreme Court sitting En Banc is not an appellate court vis-à-vis its Divisions, and it exercises no appellate jurisdiction over the latter. Each division of the Court is considered not a body inferior to the Court en banc, and sits veritably as the Court en banc itself.16 It bears to stress further that a resolution of the Division denying a party’s motion for referral to the Court en banc of any Division case, shall be final and not appealable to the Court en banc.17 Since, at this point, the Third Division already twice denied the motion of LBP to refer the present Petition to the Supreme Court en banc, the same must already be deemed final for no more appeal of its denial thereof is available to LBP.

In addition, the Omnibus Motion of LBP, to the extent that it seeks reconsideration of the amount of just compensation which the Court affirmed in its Decision dated 6 February 2007, is a second motion for reconsideration, because the Court already denied an identical prayer in its previous Resolution dated 19 December 2007. Thus, the prayer of LBP for leave to file a second motion for reconsideration must be denied for a second motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading under Rule 52, Section 2 of the Rules of Court, which provides that, “No second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final resolution by the same party shall be entertained.”

Anent AFC and HPI’s Motion for Partial Reconsideration praying for the reinstatement of the award of interest and attorney’s fees, the Court finds the same to be devoid of merit.

The Court has already thoroughly discussed in its 19 December 2007 Resolution the reasons for reversing its award to AFC and HPI of interest and attorney’s fees. It has duly considered all matters attendant to these issues in its assailed 19 December 2007 Resolution, and since AFC and HPI failed to present any new arguments thereon, there is no reason for the Court to delve further on the same.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court hereby DENIES WITH FINALITY the following:

1. The Omnibus Motion for Reconsideration of Land Bank of the Philippines, for being a second motion for reconsideration, which is a prohibited pleading; and

2. The Motion for Partial Reconsideration of Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc., for being without merit.

Necessarily, the Court LIFTS the Temporary Restraining Order it issued dated 12 March 2008. Let entry of judgment be made in this case in due course.

SO ORDERED.

Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, Nachura, Reyes, JJ., concur.

READ CASE DIGEST HERE.

Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 439-440.

2 Id. at 122-124.

3 Id. at 142-144.

4 Id. at 442-488.

5 Id. at 621.

6 Dated 22 January 2008, id. at 624-665.

7 Id. at 736-737.

8 Id. at 765-766.

9 Id. at 920-921.

10 Rollo, p. 1159.

11 478 Phil. 701 (2004).

12 G.R. No. 164876, 23 January 2006, 479 SCRA 495.

13 G.R. No. 171941, 2 August 2007, 529 SCRA 129.

14 Rollo, pp. 619-620.

15 Note that the Decision in Lim was promulgated on 2 August 2007, after the promulgation of the Decision in this case on 6 February 2007 but before the issuance of the Resolution dated 19 December 2007.

16 Firestone Ceramics, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 389 Phil. 810, 818 (2000). In accordance with Supreme Court Circular No. 2-89, providing “Guidelines and Rules in the Referral to the Court En Banc of Cases Assigned to A Division.”

17 Supreme Court Circular No. 2-89, paragraph 5.

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