FORTICH vs. CORONA G.R. No. 131457, April 24, 1998

Facts:  This case involves a 144-hectare land located at San Vicente, Sumilao, Bukidnon, owned by the Norberto Quisumbing, Sr. Management and Development Corporation (NQSRMDC), one of the petitioners. Pursuant to Section 20 of R.A. No. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, the Sangguniang Bayan of Sumilao, Bukidnon, on March 4, 1993, enacted Ordinance No. 24 converting or re-classifying 144 hectares of land in Bgy. San Vicente, said Municipality, from agricultural to industrial/institutional with a view of providing an opportunity to attract investors who can inject new economic vitality, provide more jobs and raise the income of its people. Notwithstanding the foregoing favorable recommendation, however, on November 14, 1994, the DAR, thru Secretary Garilao, invoking its powers to approve conversion of lands under Section 65 of R.A. No. 6657, issued an Order denying the instant application for the conversion of the subject land from agricultural to agro-industrial and, instead, placed the same under the compulsory coverage of CARP and directed the distribution thereof to all qualified beneficiaries. After a careful evaluation of the petition vis-a-vis the grounds upon which the denial thereof by Secretary Garilao was based, we find that the instant application for conversion by the Municipality of Sumilao, Bukidnon is impressed with merit. To be sure, converting the land in question from agricultural to agro-industrial would open great opportunities for employment and bring about real development in the area towards a sustained economic growth of the municipality. On the other hand, distributing the land to would-be beneficiaries (who are not even tenants, as there are none) does not guarantee such benefits. In pursuance of the spirit and intent of the said legal mandate and in view of the favorable recommendations of the various government agencies, the subject Order of Department of Agrarian Reform, was SET ASIDE, DAR filed a motion for reconsideration of the OP decision which having been filed beyond the reglementary period of fifteen (15) days. The DAR filed a second motion for reconsideration of the June 23, 1997 Order of the President.

Some alleged farmer-beneficiaries began their hunger strike in front of the DAR Compound in Quezon City to protest the OP Decision of March 29, 1996. On October 10, 1997, some persons claiming to be farmer-beneficiaries of the NQSRMDC property filed a motion for intervention (styled as Memorandum In Intervention) in O.P. Case No. 96-C-6424, asking that the OP Decision allowing the conversion of the entire 144-hectare property be set aside.  President Fidel V. Ramos then held a dialogue with the strikers and promised to resolve their grievance within the framework of the law. He created an eight (8)-man Fact Finding Task Force (FFTF) chaired by Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero to look into the controversy and recommend possible solutions to the problem. On November 7, 1997, the Office of the President resolved the strikers’ protest by issuing the so-called “Win/Win” Resolution penned by then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona. A copy of the “Win-Win” Resolution was received by Governor Carlos O. Fortich of Bukidnon, Mayor Rey B. Baula of Sumilao, Bukidnon, and NQSRMDC on November 24, 1997 28 and, on December 4, 1997, they filed the present petition for certiorari, prohibition (under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court) and injunction with urgent prayer for a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction (under Rule 58, ibid.), against then Deputy Executive Secretary Renato C. Corona and DAR Secretary Ernesto D. Garilao. Hence this case.

Issue: Whether the Office of the president still have Jurisdiction when it entertained the Second Motion for Reconsideration and became the basis of the Win-Win Resolution?

Held: No, When the Office of the President issued the Order dated June 23, 1997 declaring the Decision of March 29, 1996 final and executory, as no one has seasonably filed a motion for reconsideration thereto, the said Office had lost its jurisdiction to re-open the case, more so modify its Decision. Having lost its jurisdiction, the Office of the President has no more authority to entertain the second motion for reconsideration filed by respondent DAR Secretary, which second motion became the basis of the assailed “Win-Win” Resolution. Section 7 of Administrative Order No. 18 and Section 4, Rule 43 of the Revised Rules of Court mandate that only one (1) motion for reconsideration is allowed to be taken from the Decision of March 29, 1996. And even if a second motion for reconsideration was permitted to be filed in “exceptionally meritorious cases,” as provided in the second paragraph of Section 7 of AO 18, still the said motion should not have been entertained considering that the first motion for reconsideration was not seasonably filed, thereby allowing the Decision of March 29, 1996 to lapse into finality. Thus, the act of the Office of the President in re-opening the case and substantially modifying its March 29, 1996 Decision which had already become final and executory, was in gross disregard of the rules and basic legal precept that accord finality to administrative determinations.

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