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[ GR No. L-12793, Dec 29, 1959 ]



106 Phil. 808

[ G. R. No. L-12793, December 29, 1959 ]




On August 11, 1949, Medina  Brothers & Company,  a registered  partnership, filed an  application for  sales  patent  over a portion of public land  containing an approximate area of 377.5000 hectares situated  in Ilagan, Isabela, stating therein that the land applied for has fixed boundary limits and are marked with live trees  as  indicated on  a sketch made on the  back of the application.  After the requisite publication, the property was sold at  public auction and  was awarded  to  the  applicant  as the highest bidder in an order of award issued on December 7, 1951.

On November 14, 1949,  the  company cause the tract of land subject of the sales application to be surveyed by a private surveyor who later submitted his report  to the Director of Lands, the same having been approved  by this official  on June 7, 1950.  As the new survey showed that the land applied for had an  area of 439.8925 hectares, or a difference  of 62.3925 hectares from  the  portion originally applied for, the company requested the Bureau of Lands to issue an amended order of award, which request was granted, and on December 7, 1951 the Director  of Lands modified its previous order stating therein that the "dispositions contained therein  shall  refer  to the same area of 439.8925 hectares." The partnership has begun paying the installments contained in the award and is not in arrears in the  payment of its  obligation to said Bureau.

On July 14, 1951, Cayetano Agcaoili and Blas Agcaoili filed each an application for homestead patent over two portions  of  public land situated  in the same municipality of Ilagan, Isabela, which adjoined the land applied for by  the company  on the northeastern part.  The portions applied for  by the Agcaoili brothers were investigated  by a surveyor of the Bureau of Lands who reported  that both brothers are in actual possession of certain portions of the land applied for by them  indicating therein the relative position of the portions occupied.  It so happened, however, that  the portions occupied by the Agcaoili brothers are embraced within the sales application  filed by Medina Brothers & Company.  Consequently, the  company  filed its protest with the  office of the district  land officer of Isabela complaining of the encroachment of  its land on the part of the Agcaoili brothers and in view  of this conflict, the Director of Lands ordered that it be  investigated by a local district land officer.

The investigation having been conducted, the district land officer submitted his report recommending that the homestead applications of the Agcaoilis  be cancelled and the sales application of  the company given due course. The  Agcaoilis filed  several  motions  for  reconsiderations, and  when the same were  denied,  they  appealed to the Department of  Agriculture  and Natural Resources.  On April 20, 1955, the Underseceretary of  Agriculture  and Natural  Resources, Hon. Jaime N. Ferrer, rendered decision setting aside the decision of the district land officer as affirmed by the Director of Lands and ordering that the homestead applications  of the Agcaoilis be reinstated and given due course and that the sales application of the company be amended by excluding therefrom the portions covered by the homestead  applications of the Agcaoilis. When its motion for reconsideration was denied,  the company  filed the present petition for  certiorari before the Court of First Instance  of Isabela  seeking to  set aside the decision of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources alleging that said  official has committed a grave abuse of discretion.

On June 18, 1957,  the trial court rendered decision finding that the Secretary  of Agriculture and Natural Resources has committed a grave abuse of discretion  in reversing or setting aside  the decision  of the  Director of Lands and, forthwith, ordered that the sales application of petitioning company be given due  course and the homestead applications of the Agcaoili brothers be  cancelled.

The Agacaoili brothers took the present  appeal.

The main question for  determination hinges on whether the conflict between the sales  application of the  company and the homestead  applications of the Agcaoili  brothers should be  resolved in favor of the former  as decided by the trial court or in favor of the latter as decided by the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  In deciding this conflict in  favor of the  company, the trial court took into account certain material facts which in its opinion are determinative of the controversy such  as the date of the filing of the applications  of  the parties, the date of the  award, the area applied for by them, and their  compliance  with  the  pertinent  provisions of the Public Land  Law and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder.

Thus, in holding  that  the sales  application of the  company  should  be given  preference over  that of the homestead  patent applications  of the  Agcaoili brothers, the trial  court made the following pertinent observation:
"The evidence of record shows that the sales application of the petitioners, Medina Brothers and Company  was filed  on August 11, 1949 (Exh. '1'); whereas the respective homestead applications  of the respondents Bias Agcaoili and Cayetano Agcaoili were filed on July 14, 1951   (Exhs.  '18' &  '19').  So it is clear that the sales application of the petitioners was filed  about two years ahead  of that of the homestead applications of the respondents Blas Agcaoili and Cayetano  Agcaoili.  The order of award of the sales application of the petitioners  was issued  on  December 7, 1951  (Exh. '2') and payment of the first installment was  effected by them on October 15, 1951  (Exh. 'B-5'); whereas  the respective homestead applications of the respondents Bias  Agcaoili and  Cayetano Agcaoili were approved on January  2, 1953.  So it is also clear  that the sales application of the petitioners was  awarded a little over one year ahead of the approval of the homestead applications of the respondents homesteaders.  With respect to  area, it appears that the  survey of the sales application of the petitioners was  made  on November 14, and 16, 1949 and January 13 and 14, 1950 and approved  by the Director of Lands on June 7, 1950 as shown by the plan MSA-V1744-D of the sales application of the petitioners, Exh. 'A', and the respective occupancy of the respondent homesteaders do not  appear therein because the homestead applications in question were not yet filed then.  It is obvious, therefore, that when the land applied for by the petitioners was surveyed in 1950,  the approved plan indicates clearly that the true and exact area of  the land embraced in their sales application is 439.8925  hectares which is  62.8925 hectares  in excess  of that stated in their  sales application.  But the Director of Lands, acting within the  scope of his authority, after the determination of the true  and/or correct area of the land in a proper and officially approved survey, had, on  May 4, 1953,  modified the order  dated December 7, 1951 and held therein in no uncertain terms that the 'disposition (meaning award) refers to the same land with an  area  of 439.8925 hectares.'  In fine the  disposition or award of the 439.8925 hectares by the government  retroacts as of December 7, 1951 when no homestead application was yet filed on any portion thereof and naturally the sales  application of the petitioners was deemed or impliedly amended with respect to area since  said date. Consequently the order of  the Director of Lands dated March 25, 1954 giving due  course to the sales  application  of the petitioners and ordering the cancellation of  the homestead applications of the respondents Agcaoilis is in accordance with law because it gave preference right to the petitioners due to their having acquired a vested right not only over the 377.5000 hectares  but  also over the disputed area, much ahead of the  approval of the homestead applications of the respondents homesteaders."
We find, however, that in reaching the foregoing conclusion the trial court  overlooked certain  facts which in our opinion may tip the  scale  in favor  of the opinion of  the Secretary of  Agriculture  and Natural Resources giving priority to the application of the Agcaoili brothers. Thus, we find  that the application filed by the company on August 11, 1949 for a  portion  of  public land only contains  an estimated area of  377.5000 hectares; said application was published  in accordance  with law and the auction  sale thereof carried  out  on the basis of the area appearing therein; and  when the award was  made on December 7, 1951, the  same was  made also on the  basis of  the  same  area of 377.5000 hectares.  Then a survey was made of the land  upon the request of the company and the result  was an increase  in area to 439.8925 hectares,  or an  excess of  62.3925   hectares  from the area originally applied  for.   The survey  was  made  in  1949 and 1950.  The Agcaoili brothers filed their homestead applications  on July 14, 195.1, and on May 4,  1953, upon the request  of the  company, the order  of  award was amended stating therein that "the dispositions contained therein shall refer to  the  same  land with  an  area  of 439.8925  hectares."

It therefore appears  clear  that what was bought  at public auction sale by the company and which was later awarded to it on December 7, 1951 was only a parcel of land containing an area of  377.5000  hectares, and that the amended order  of award was made only after the Agcaoili brothers had submitted their homestead applications.  Considering that the portions  applied by these brothers were included in the excess portion containing an area of 62 hectares which was not covered by the land originally awarded to the company, we are of the opinion that the company cannot claim preference over the excess because that is what was  applied for by the Agcaoili brothers.

It is true that when the official  survey  of  the land was  made with the  approval of the Director of Lands the survey showed a discrepancy of about 62 hectares from the land  originally applied for, but such discrepancy cannot merely be due to a technical error or lack of accuracy in surveying as stated by the district land officer in his report in connection with the conflicting claims of the parties, because it appears that the new survey made by the private surveyor did not follow  the  boundaries stated in the original area applied for  by the  company which are fixed and composed  of live. trees on the  northeastern portion which deviation  has  resulted  in  the survey covering more area  than  what was included in the application.
It should be noted  that these fixed natural boundaries appear in the  sketch drawn on the  back  of its sales application  such that the  same  cannot  be ignored  or mistaken.  It should also be stated  that  the trial  court, in order  to  satisfy  itself of  what is  the real situation of the portions  disputed by the parties, designated  a public land surveyor to make a new survey of the  land subject of the complaint in the presence of both parties, or  their representatives, and  the result of the survey he made substantially  corroborated the claim that the original survey  made did not faithfully follow the fixed  boundaries of the land.   The pertinent portion of the report of  Public  Land Surveyor Villapando follows:
"The figures in  black and red lines are shown in their true relative positions.  The figure in blue lines, which is the area as it appears in the application of the Medinas (Exh. 'I-A'), is shown in its PROBALE position relative to the figure in black lines  (Plan No. MSA1744-D marked Exh. 'A') and the figure in red lines (Actual occupation of the Agcaoilis).  In other  words  its position in the sketch plan is only approximate.  This is so because its  geographic position is undefined.  As  such it is  subject to Shift.   For example  it  is possible to shift the said figure (in blue  lines) such that  points A, B and C, shall approximately fall on, and coincide with points  a, b and c, respectively, while, at the same time, points W, X, Y and Z shall  approximately coincide with  points  18, 19,  20 and 22, respectively, thus, in effect pushing the area in controversy  (in red)  OUTSIDE the area as APPLIED for by the Medina Bros, and Company. The area in dispute, however, will  always remain  inside the area as SURVEYED for  the  Medinas, no  matter how  the figure in blue lines is shifted."
In deciding the complaint in favor of the Agcaoili brothers, the Secretary  of Agriculture and  Natural  Resources made the following important observation:
"In the decision of this Office herein sought to be reconsidered, all the points raised in this instant  motion for reconsideration have been fully discussed.  The record is clear that the area applied for by  the appellee was for 377.5000 hectares; that the order of award was also for the same area; that the  survey which was made in 1949-1950 increased the  area to 439.8925 hectares; that in the  said survey the boundaries stated in the original area applied for by the appellee was not faithfully followed by the surveyor; that the corners of the boundaries of the area applied for by the appellee were fixed and composed of live trees in the northeastern portion thereon; that said boundaries were sketched on the back of the sales application and the order of award; and that, on the other hand, the appellants filed their  application  on July 14, 1951, before the order of award was made.

"The record is clear that the homestead application of the appellants were approved and that they  had cultivated and introduced improvements thereon.  On the other hand, the  appellee  have not even touched those areas in  conflict.

"This Office in promulgating its  decision of April 26, 1955, took into consideration the  respective standing  of  the parties.  It cannot be denied that the appellants have no other sources of income but their homesteads, and that they are poor farmers living by the produce of the land.  On the otherhand, the Medina  Brothers, were well-to-do businessmen."
Considering the  equities of the parties in the light of the facts  as found by the Secretary of  Agriculture  and Natural Resources, we are persuaded to affirm, as we hereby do, the decision of said Secretary on the conflict under consideration.

Wherefore, the decision appealed from is reversed.  The Court declares the excess of 62.3925 hectares which resulted in the survey made by a private surveyor as approved by the Director of Lands to be a portion of the public domain and open  for application as homestead by the Agcaoili brothers thereby giving due  course to the applications of the latter.   No  pronouncement as  to  costs.

Paras, C.  J., Bengzon, Padilla, Labrador, Concepcion, Endencia, Barrera, and Gutierrez David, JJ., concur.