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[ GR No. L-13829, Nov 28, 1959 ]



106 Phil. 666

[ G.R. No. L-13829, November 28, 1959 ]




Before the Bureau of Lands, Roberto Denopol and Emilio Junto disputed over. the  possession  and cultivation  of  a 29-hectare public land in Dimataling, Zamboanga del Sur. After proper investigation, the Director of Lands allotted 24  hectares  to  Junto  (by homestead) and 5 hectares to Denopol (by sales application).  The latter appealed to the Secretary of  Agriculture and Natural Resources,  who in due .course confirmed the Director's award.

To the courthouse of that province resorted Denopol by petition for certiorari.  However, realizing that the award rested on the finding  of  Junto's prior possession of and cultivation of the land apportioned to  him, and that such factual  finding  of said administrative officials  was  final under the law,  the judge declined to interfere, denied the petition.

Now we have this appeal, wherein Denopol imputes abuse of discretion to those executive officers, because according to  the  evidence  before  them  his possession  antedated Junto's.

This appeal may not be sustained.[1]  Courts administer justice in accordance with the  provisions of the  statute applicable to the case;  and sec. 4 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 expressly provides that decisions of the Director of Lands  as to questions of fact involving lands of the public domain are final and conclusive  when approved by the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  In compliance with this directive, courts have uniformly held the factual determination of said officers to  be  conclusive upon them.  They, however, recognize exceptions by general principles  of jurisprudence; fraud, imposition or mistake other  than error in estimating the value or effect of the evidence  (Ortua vs. Singson  Encarnacion, 59 Phil., 443).

Undoubtedly aware of the above views, petitioner Denopol asserted in the court below collusion between Junto and the  investigators  of the Bureau  of  Lands;  but he failed  to prove  such  assertion.   He  also alleged that in such investigation, he had not been adequately represented by counsel nor given sufficient notice.  On this point the Hon. Mateo  Canonoy, District Judge, said that according to the record, there was sufficient notice, and although "it is true that  he was not represented by a qualified member of the bar but he was assisted by a "procurador" or friend who served  as his counsel and  who  cross-examined the witnesses  of his opponent.  The herein respondent -was not also represented by a qualified member of the bar.  Be that as it may, the absence of counsel to assist  any or both parties is not reversible error, since this was only an administrative proceeding."

We  have no hesitation to indorse His Honor's view above stated.

In this  appeal,  the principal  contention of Denopol is that "the  conclusions drawn  from the facts  found by the Director  of Lands confirmed by the Secretary of Agriculture  and  Natural Resources are erroneous and not warranted by law."  Then he proceeds at  length to challenge this finding or that statement  of the said officers, alleging lack  of evidence or  citing adverse testimony, inferences and exhibits.  As  indicated, in the  Ortua case  (supra} errors in estimating the value or effect  of the evidence will not be gone  into a  proceedings like this.   He may not, therefore,  expect us to. rule  on each  and  every flaw he discovers  upon  reading the evidence before those officials. It should be proper at this point to quote what the Department Head declared:
"*  * *   Roberto Denopol presented  his motion for reconsideration  and  reinvestigation with  the  Director  of  Lands who  denies the same  in  his  order  of  September 22, 1953.   From this order of the Director of  Lands,  Roberto Denopol  has elevated the case on  appeal  to  this  Office,  alleging as  ground thereof, that he is entitled  to  the  whole  land  in question  by right of settlement because he has  been in  occupation  thereof and  had  improved tile area before  applicant-appellee came to  the land in 1949; and that he would have been able to  prove his assertion  if he were present daring the ocular  inspection  of the premises conducted by a representative  of the Bureau  of Lands, but because the said  ocular inspection was made in his absence, he was deprived of his  right to properly establish his claim."

"A  review  of the records  of this case shows  that there is no merit in those allegations  of the appellant  because  it has been shown that the ocular inspection of the premises in question was conducted  by the representative of the Bureau  of  Lands  in connection with the investigation of this case and  in the presence of the contending parties; that the appellant had testified in the said investigation; presented  his witnesses; that he had  pointed out to the investigating officer  the site of his  pre-war  house and  also his clearings and cultivation in the land in question;  and that  the investigating officer had found  that the occupation  and improvement of the appellant were confined on  the  portion  awarded to  him Lot No. 74-"A", while the  appellee is  the occupant and cultivator of the major portion of Lot No. 74, which remains  covered by his application***."
And the Director of Lands found in his order of September 22, 1953:
"*   * *  In the  ocular investigation, it was found that the major part of the contested land is 'cogonal', specially the portion allotted to respondent Junto where he  has under actual cultivation to corn and rice quite a sizeable area;  The  alleged cultivation and improvements of claimant Denopol were  found in the portion 74-"A" where respondent Junto also has some cultivation and  two dwelling houses. There  are 80  coconut trees  standing  in  this  portion  planted by claimant Denopol as  tenant of   Alejandro Sumbria, according to Junto's witnesses, altho Denopol  alleges that he planted them in Ms own right."

"Claimant Denopol has not filed any public land application  and i? relying  mainly upon his  tax  declaration.  His oral  evidence is not  sufficient  to support his  claim over the  entire  29 hectares comprising the contested area, specially over portion 74 where he has no actual possession or existing improvements.  His  cultivation in portion 74-"A", even conceding his claim to  the 80 coconut trees therein, is  so  insignificant as to  justify a claim to the entire contested  area.  On the other hand,  the occupation of respondent Junto of the portion allotted to him and his actual cultivation  of quite a big area therein, entitles him to acquire the said portion." .

From the facts gathered at the  investigation, principally those found  at the  ocular inspection, it is evident that Denopo's claim to settlement right  over the entire Lot No. 74; Pls-250,  cannot be sustained.  The conclusions of fact arrived at by the District Land Officer are correct, and amply the  evidence. ***."
In disputing the above statements, the  appellant  insists that  the findings and inspection  reports  of Rufo Ibarra, who conducted the investigation as well  as the ocular  inspection contained nothing to support the conclusions.  It must  be remembered, however, that the  Bureau and the Department  had other papers before them,  in  addition to such report: draft of the inspection, testimony of witnesses and other official documents, for instance, the official  report of the lands officer dated January 30, 1950, who visited and examined  the land applied for by Junto.  This  official certified that Emilio Junto had been occupying and cultivating it  since 19,40, as the original  occupant,.and that it was not claimed by anybody;   (Exh.  B).

Denopol apparently misses one point, which the Director of Lands mentioned.   Up  to the time the controversy was rebutted, he had not filed any public land application for this lot. In fact, he claimed to  be the  "absolute owner" thereof.  Such being the case, it is no  wonder the Government preferred Junto who had duly submitted a Homestead Application and had  taken the trouble of securing its permission and approval.[2]

In a parallel situation, this Court denied in 1940, a petition for certiorari to revise an administrative decision of the land department on a public land controversy.[3]  Borrowing from the language used therein, we may dispose of this appeal by saying,  inasmuch as the Department Head had found as a fact that the application and occupation of the land (24-hectare portion)  by  Emilio  Junto preceded the opposition and alleged possession of  Roberto Denopol, we are powerless to afford relief by altering such conclusion. Other instances in which  we applied  identical ruling are cited in the margin.[4]

Wherefore, the appealed decision is  affirmed, with  costs against appellant.

Paras, C. J., Padilla, Montemayor, Bautista Angelo, Labrador, Endencia, Barrera, and Gutierrez David, JJ., concur.

[1] In violation of the Rules Rule 48, sec. 17 (f) appellant failed to attach to his brief copy of the decision of the court below.  We overlook the deficiency in view of the result.

[2] Indeed, the Government acted liberally in allowing Denopol to purchase the portion actually improved by him, 5 hectares.

[3] Alejandrino vs. Aquino, 70 Phil., 113.

[4] Alejo vs. Garchitorena, 83 Phil., 924; De Guzman vs. De Guzman, 104 Phil., 24, Julian vs. Apostol, 52 Phil., 422.