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[NARRA NICKEL MINING v. REDMONT CONSOLIDATED MINES CORP.](https://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/cde5d?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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DIVISION

[ GR No. 195580, Apr 21, 2014 ]

NARRA NICKEL MINING v. REDMONT CONSOLIDATED MINES CORP. +

DECISION



THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 195580, April 21, 2014 ]

NARRA NICKEL MINING AND DEVELOPMENT CORP., TESORO MINING AND DEVELOPMENT, INC., AND MCARTHUR MINING, INC., PETITIONERS, VS. REDMONT CONSOLIDATED MINES CORP., RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

VELASCO JR., J.:

Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 filed by Narra Nickel and Mining Development Corp. (Narra), Tesoro Mining and Development, Inc. (Tesoro), and McArthur Mining Inc. (McArthur), which seeks to reverse the October 1, 2010 Decision[1] and the February 15, 2011 Resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA).

The Facts

Sometime in December 2006, respondent Redmont Consolidated Mines Corp. (Redmont), a domestic corporation organized and existing under Philippine laws, took interest in mining and exploring certain areas of the province of Palawan.  After inquiring with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), it learned that the areas where it wanted to undertake exploration and mining activities where already covered by Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) applications of petitioners Narra, Tesoro and McArthur.

Petitioner McArthur, through its predecessor-in-interest Sara Marie Mining, Inc. (SMMI), filed an application for an MPSA and Exploration Permit (EP) with the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB), Region IV-B, Office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  Subsequently, SMMI was issued MPSA-AMA-IVB-153 covering an area of over 1,782 hectares in Barangay Sumbiling, Municipality of Bataraza, Province of Palawan and EPA-IVB-44 which includes an area of 3,720 hectares in Barangay Malatagao, Bataraza, Palawan.  The MPSA and EP were then transferred to Madridejos Mining Corporation (MMC) and, on November 6, 2006, assigned to petitioner McArthur.[2]

Petitioner Narra acquired its MPSA from Alpha Resources and Development Corporation and Patricia Louise Mining & Development Corporation (PLMDC) which previously filed an application for an MPSA with the MGB, Region IV-B, DENR on January 6, 1992.  Through the said application, the DENR issued MPSA-IV-1-12 covering an area of 3.277 hectares in barangays Calategas and San Isidro, Municipality of Narra, Palawan.  Subsequently, PLMDC conveyed, transferred and/or assigned its rights and interests over the MPSA application in favor of Narra.

Another MPSA application of SMMI was filed with the DENR Region IV-B, labeled as MPSA-AMA-IVB-154 (formerly EPA-IVB-47) over 3,402 hectares in Barangays Malinao and Princesa Urduja, Municipality of Narra, Province of Palawan.  SMMI subsequently conveyed, transferred and assigned its rights and interest over the said MPSA application to Tesoro.

On January 2, 2007, Redmont filed before the Panel of Arbitrators (POA) of the DENR three (3) separate petitions for the denial of petitioners' applications for MPSA designated as AMA-IVB-153, AMA-IVB-154 and MPSA IV-1-12.

In the petitions, Redmont alleged that at least 60% of the capital stock of McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are owned and controlled by MBMI Resources, Inc. (MBMI), a 100% Canadian corporation.  Redmont reasoned that since MBMI is a considerable stockholder of petitioners, it was the driving force behind petitioners' filing of the MPSAs over the areas covered by applications since it knows that it can only participate in mining activities through corporations which are deemed Filipino citizens.  Redmont argued that given that petitioners' capital stocks were mostly owned by MBMI, they were likewise disqualified from engaging in mining activities through MPSAs, which are reserved only for Filipino citizens.

In their Answers, petitioners averred that they were qualified persons under Section 3(aq) of Republic Act No. (RA) 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which provided:

Sec. 3 Definition of Terms. As used in and for purposes of this Act, the following terms, whether in singular or plural, shall mean:

x x x x

(aq) "Qualified person" means any citizen of the Philippines with capacity to contract, or a corporation, partnership, association, or cooperative organized or authorized for the purpose of engaging in mining, with technical and financial capability to undertake mineral resources development and duly registered in accordance with law at least sixty per cent (60%) of the capital of which is owned by citizens of the Philippines: Provided, That a legally organized foreign-owned corporation shall be deemed a qualified person for purposes of granting an exploration permit, financial or technical assistance agreement or mineral processing permit.

Additionally, they stated that their nationality as applicants is immaterial because they also applied for Financial or Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) denominated as AFTA-IVB-09 for McArthur, AFTA-IVB-08 for Tesoro and AFTA-IVB-07 for Narra, which are granted to foreign-owned corporations.  Nevertheless, they claimed that the issue on nationality should not be raised since McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are in fact Philippine Nationals as 60% of their capital is owned by citizens of the Philippines.  They asserted that though MBMI owns 40% of the shares of PLMC (which owns 5,997 shares of Narra),[3] 40% of the shares of MMC (which owns 5,997 shares of McArthur)[4] and 40% of the shares of SLMC (which, in turn, owns 5,997 shares of Tesoro),[5] the shares of MBMI will not make it the owner of at least 60% of the capital stock of each of petitioners.  They added that the best tool used in determining the nationality of a corporation is the "control test," embodied in Sec. 3 of RA 7042 or the Foreign Investments Act of 1991.  They also claimed that the POA of DENR did not have jurisdiction over the issues in Redmont's petition since they are not enumerated in Sec. 77 of RA 7942.  Finally, they stressed that Redmont has no personality to sue them because it has no pending claim or application over the areas applied for by petitioners.

On December 14, 2007, the POA issued a Resolution disqualifying petitioners from gaining MPSAs. It held:

[I]t is clearly established that respondents are not qualified applicants to engage in mining activities.  On the other hand, [Redmont] having filed its own applications for an EPA over the areas earlier covered by the MPSA application of respondents may be considered if and when they are qualified under the law.  The violation of the requirements for the issuance and/or grant of permits over mining areas is clearly established thus, there is reason to believe that the cancellation and/or revocation of permits already issued under the premises is in order and open the areas covered to other qualified applicants.

x x x x

WHEREFORE, the Panel of Arbitrators finds the Respondents, McArthur Mining Inc., Tesoro Mining and Development, Inc., and Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corp. as, DISQUALIFIED for being considered as Foreign Corporations.  Their Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) are hereby x x x DECLARED NULL AND VOID.[6]

The POA considered petitioners as foreign corporations being "effectively controlled" by MBMI, a 100% Canadian company and declared their MPSAs null and void.  In the same Resolution, it gave due course to Redmont's EPAs.  Thereafter, on February 7, 2008, the POA issued an Order[7] denying the Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioners.

Aggrieved by the Resolution and Order of the POA, McArthur and Tesoro filed a joint Notice of Appeal[8] and Memorandum of Appeal[9] with the Mines Adjudication Board (MAB) while Narra separately filed its Notice of Appeal[10] and Memorandum of Appeal.[11]

In their respective memorandum, petitioners emphasized that they are qualified persons under the law.  Also, through a letter, they informed the MAB that they had their individual MPSA applications converted to FTAAs.  McArthur's FTAA was denominated as AFTA-IVB-09[12] on May 2007, while Tesoro's MPSA application was converted to AFTA-IVB-08[13] on May 28, 2007, and Narra's FTAA was converted to AFTA-IVB-07[14] on March 30, 2006.

Pending the resolution of the appeal filed by petitioners with the MAB, Redmont filed a Complaint[15] with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), seeking the revocation of the certificates for registration of petitioners on the ground that they are foreign-owned or controlled corporations engaged in mining in violation of Philippine laws. Thereafter, Redmont filed on September 1, 2008 a Manifestation and Motion to Suspend Proceeding before the MAB praying for the suspension of the proceedings on the appeals filed by McArthur, Tesoro and Narra.

Subsequently, on September 8, 2008, Redmont filed before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 92 (RTC) a Complaint[16] for injunction with application for issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or writ of preliminary injunction, docketed as Civil Case No. 08-63379.  Redmont prayed for the deferral of the MAB proceedings pending the resolution of the Complaint before the SEC.

But before the RTC can resolve Redmont's Complaint and applications for injunctive reliefs, the MAB issued an Order on September 10, 2008, finding the appeal meritorious.  It held:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Mines Adjudication Board hereby REVERSES and SETS ASIDE the Resolution dated 14 December 2007 of the Panel of Arbitrators of Region IV-B (MIMAROPA) in POA-DENR Case Nos. 2001-01, 2007-02 and 2007-03, and its Order dated 07 February 2008 denying the Motions for Reconsideration of the Appellants.  The Petition filed by Redmont Consolidated Mines Corporation on 02 January 2007 is hereby ordered DISMISSED.[17]

Belatedly, on September 16, 2008, the RTC issued an Order[18] granting Redmont's application for a TRO and setting the case for hearing the prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction on September 19, 2008.

Meanwhile, on September 22, 2008, Redmont filed a Motion for Reconsideration[19] of the September 10, 2008 Order of the MAB.  Subsequently, it filed a Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration[20] on September 29, 2008.

Before the MAB could resolve Redmont's Motion for Reconsideration and Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, Redmont filed before the RTC a Supplemental Complaint[21] in Civil Case No. 08-63379.

On October 6, 2008, the RTC issued an Order[22] granting the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction enjoining the MAB from finally disposing of the appeals of petitioners and from resolving Redmont's Motion for Reconsideration and Supplement Motion for Reconsideration of the MAB's September 10, 2008 Resolution.

On July 1, 2009, however, the MAB issued a second Order denying Redmont's Motion for Reconsideration and Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration and resolving the appeals filed by petitioners.

Hence, the petition for review filed by Redmont before the CA, assailing the Orders issued by the MAB.  On October 1, 2010, the CA rendered a Decision, the dispositive of which reads:

WHEREFORE, the Petition is PARTIALLY GRANTED.  The assailed Orders, dated September 10, 2008 and July 1, 2009 of the Mining Adjudication Board are reversed and set aside.  The findings of the Panel of Arbitrators of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that respondents McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are foreign corporations is upheld and, therefore, the rejection of their applications for Mineral Product Sharing Agreement should be recommended to the Secretary of the DENR.

With respect to the applications of respondents McArthur, Tesoro and Narra for Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) or conversion of their MPSA applications to FTAA, the matter for its rejection or approval is left for determination by the Secretary of the DENR and the President of the Republic of the Philippines.

SO ORDERED.[23]

In a Resolution dated February 15, 2011, the CA denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioners.

After a careful review of the records, the CA found that there was doubt as to the nationality of petitioners when it realized that petitioners had a common major investor, MBMI, a corporation composed of 100% Canadians.  Pursuant to the first sentence of paragraph 7 of Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion No. 020, Series of 2005, adopting the 1967 SEC Rules which implemented the requirement of the Constitution and other laws pertaining to the exploitation of natural resources, the CA used the "grandfather rule" to determine the nationality of petitioners.  It provided:

Shares belonging to corporations or partnerships at least 60% of the capital of which is owned by Filipino citizens shall be considered as of Philippine nationality, but if the percentage of Filipino ownership in the corporation or partnership is less than 60%, only the number of shares corresponding to such percentage shall be counted as of Philippine nationality.  Thus, if 100,000 shares are registered in the name of a corporation or partnership at least 60% of the capital stock or capital, respectively, of which belong to Filipino citizens, all of the shares shall be recorded as owned by Filipinos.  But if less than 60%, or say, 50% of the capital stock or capital of the corporation or partnership, respectively, belongs to Filipino citizens, only 50,000 shares shall be recorded as belonging to aliens.[24] (emphasis supplied)

In determining the nationality of petitioners, the CA looked into their corporate structures and their corresponding common shareholders.  Using the grandfather rule, the CA discovered that MBMI in effect owned majority of the common stocks of the petitioners as well as at least 60% equity interest of other majority shareholders of petitioners through joint venture agreements.  The CA found that through a "web of corporate layering, it is clear that one common controlling investor in all mining corporations involved x x x is MBMI."[25]  Thus, it concluded that petitioners McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are also in partnership with, or privies-in-interest of, MBMI.

Furthermore, the CA viewed the conversion of the MPSA applications of petitioners into FTAA applications suspicious in nature and, as a consequence, it recommended the rejection of petitioners' MPSA applications by the Secretary of the DENR.

With regard to the settlement of disputes over rights to mining areas, the CA pointed out that the POA has jurisdiction over them and that it also has the power to determine the of nationality of petitioners as a prerequisite of the Constitution prior the conferring of rights to "co-production, joint venture or production-sharing agreements" of the state to mining rights.  However, it also stated that the POA's jurisdiction is limited only to the resolution of the dispute and not on the approval or rejection of the MPSAs.  It stipulated that only the Secretary of the DENR is vested with the power to approve or reject applications for MPSA.

Finally, the CA upheld the findings of the POA in its December 14, 2007 Resolution which considered petitioners McArthur, Tesoro and Narra as foreign corporations.  Nevertheless, the CA determined that the POA's declaration that the MPSAs of McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are void is highly improper.

While the petition was pending with the CA, Redmont filed with the Office of the President (OP) a petition dated May 7, 2010 seeking the cancellation of petitioners' FTAAs.  The OP rendered a Decision[26] on April 6, 2011, wherein it canceled and revoked petitioners' FTAAs for violating and circumventing the "Constitution x x x[,] the Small Scale Mining Law and Environmental Compliance Certificate as well as Sections 3 and 8 of the Foreign Investment Act and E.O. 584."[27]  The OP, in affirming the cancellation of the issued FTAAs, agreed with Redmont stating that petitioners committed violations against the abovementioned laws and failed to submit evidence to negate them.  The Decision further quoted the December 14, 2007 Order of the POA focusing on the alleged misrepresentation and claims made by petitioners of being domestic or Filipino corporations and the admitted continued mining operation of PMDC using their locally secured Small Scale Mining Permit inside the area earlier applied for an MPSA application which was eventually transferred to Narra.  It also agreed with the POA's estimation that the filing of the FTAA applications by petitioners is a clear admission that they are "not capable of conducting a large scale mining operation and that they need the financial and technical assistance of a foreign entity in their operation, that is why they sought the participation of MBMI Resources, Inc."[28]  The Decision further quoted:

The filing of the FTAA application on June 15, 2007, during the pendency of the case only demonstrate the violations and lack of qualification of the respondent corporations to engage in mining.  The filing of the FTAA application conversion which is allowed foreign corporation of the earlier MPSA is an admission that indeed the respondent is not Filipino but rather of foreign nationality who is disqualified under the laws.  Corporate documents of MBMI Resources, Inc. furnished its stockholders in their head office in Canada suggest that they are conducting operation only through their local counterparts.[29]

The Motion for Reconsideration of the Decision was further denied by the OP in a Resolution[30] dated July 6, 2011.  Petitioners then filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari of the OP's Decision and Resolution with the CA, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 120409.  In the CA Decision dated February 29, 2012, the CA affirmed the Decision and Resolution of the OP.  Thereafter, petitioners appealed the same CA decision to this Court which is now pending with a different division.

Thus, the instant petition for review against the October 1, 2010 Decision of the CA.  Petitioners put forth the following errors of the CA:

I.

The Court of Appeals erred when it did not dismiss the case for mootness despite the fact that the subject matter of the controversy, the MPSA Applications, have already been converted into FTAA applications and that the same have already been granted.

II.

The Court of Appeals erred when it did not dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction considering that the Panel of Arbitrators has no jurisdiction to determine the nationality of Narra, Tesoro and McArthur.

III.

The Court of Appeals erred when it did not dismiss the case on account of Redmont's willful forum shopping.

IV.

The Court of Appeals' ruling that Narra, Tesoro and McArthur are foreign corporations based on the "Grandfather Rule" is contrary to law, particularly the express mandate of the Foreign Investments Act of 1991, as amended, and the FIA Rules.

V.

The Court of Appeals erred when it applied the exceptions to the res inter alios acta rule.

VI.

The Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that the conversion of the MPSA Applications into FTAA Applications were of "suspicious nature" as the same is based on mere conjectures and surmises without any shred of evidence to show the same.[31]

We find the petition to be without merit.

This case not moot and academic

The claim of petitioners that the CA erred in not rendering the instant case as moot is without merit.

Basically, a case is said to be moot and/or academic when it "ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical use or value."[32]  Thus, the courts "generally decline jurisdiction over the case or dismiss it on the ground of mootness."[33]

The "mootness" principle, however, does accept certain exceptions and the mere raising of an issue of "mootness" will not deter the courts from trying a case when there is a valid reason to do so.  In David v. Macapagal-Arroyo (David), the Court provided four instances where courts can decide an otherwise moot case, thus:

1.) There is a grave violation of the Constitution;
2.) The exceptional character of the situation and paramount public interest is involved;
3.) When constitutional issue raised requires formulation of controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar, and the public; and
4.) The case is capable of repetition yet evading review.[34]

All of the exceptions stated above are present in the instant case.  We of this Court note that a grave violation of the Constitution, specifically Section 2 of Article XII, is being committed by a foreign corporation right under our country's nose through a myriad of corporate layering under different, allegedly, Filipino corporations.  The intricate corporate layering utilized by the Canadian company, MBMI, is of exceptional character and involves paramount public interest since it undeniably affects the exploitation of our Country's natural resources.  The corresponding actions of petitioners during the lifetime and existence of the instant case raise questions as what principle is to be applied to cases with similar issues.  No definite ruling on such principle has been pronounced by the Court; hence, the disposition of the issues or errors in the instant case will serve as a guide "to the bench, the bar and the public."[35]  Finally, the instant case is capable of repetition yet evading review, since the Canadian company, MBMI, can keep on utilizing dummy Filipino corporations through various schemes of corporate layering and conversion of applications to skirt the constitutional prohibition against foreign mining in Philippine soil.

Conversion of MPSA applications to FTAA applications

We shall discuss the first error in conjunction with the sixth error presented by petitioners since both involve the conversion of MPSA applications to FTAA applications.  Petitioners propound that the CA erred in ruling against them since the questioned MPSA applications were already converted into FTAA applications; thus, the issue on the prohibition relating to MPSA applications of foreign mining corporations is academic.  Also, petitioners would want us to correct the CA's finding which deemed the aforementioned conversions of applications as suspicious in nature, since it is based on mere conjectures and surmises and not supported with evidence.

We disagree.

The CA's analysis of the actions of petitioners after the case was filed against them by respondent is on point.  The changing of applications by petitioners from one type to another just because a case was filed against them, in truth, would raise not a few sceptics' eyebrows.  What is the reason for such conversion?  Did the said conversion not stem from the case challenging their citizenship and to have the case dismissed against them for being "moot"?  It is quite obvious that it is petitioners' strategy to have the case dismissed against them for being "moot."

Consider the history of this case and how petitioners responded to every action done by the court or appropriate government agency: on January 2, 2007, Redmont filed three separate petitions for denial of the MPSA applications of petitioners before the POA.  On June 15, 2007, petitioners filed a conversion of their MPSA applications to FTAAs.  The POA, in its December 14, 2007 Resolution, observed this suspect change of applications while the case was pending before it and held:

The filing of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement application is a clear admission that the respondents are not capable of conducting a large scale mining operation and that they need the financial and technical assistance of a foreign entity in their operation that is why they sought the participation of MBMI Resources, Inc.  The participation of MBMI in the corporation only proves the fact that it is the Canadian company that will provide the finances and the resources to operate the mining areas for the greater benefit and interest of the same and not the Filipino stockholders who only have a less substantial financial stake in the corporation.

x x x x

x x x The filing of the FTAA application on June 15, 2007, during the pendency of the case only demonstrate the violations and lack of qualification of the respondent corporations to engage in mining.  The filing of the FTAA application conversion which is allowed foreign corporation of the earlier MPSA is an admission that indeed the respondent is not Filipino but rather of foreign nationality who is disqualified under the laws. Corporate documents of MBMI Resources, Inc. furnished its stockholders in their head office in Canada suggest that they are conducting operation only through their local counterparts.[36]

On October 1, 2010, the CA rendered a Decision which partially granted the petition, reversing and setting aside the September 10, 2008 and July 1, 2009 Orders of the MAB.  In the said Decision, the CA upheld the findings of the POA of the DENR that the herein petitioners are in fact foreign corporations thus a recommendation of the rejection of their MPSA applications were recommended to the Secretary of the DENR.  With respect to the FTAA applications or conversion of the MPSA applications to FTAAs, the CA deferred the matter for the determination of the Secretary of the DENR and the President of the Republic of the Philippines.[37]

In their Motion for Reconsideration dated October 26, 2010, petitioners prayed for the dismissal of the petition asserting that on April 5, 2010, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed and issued in their favor FTAA No. 05-2010-IVB, which rendered the petition moot and academic.  However, the CA, in a Resolution dated February 15, 2011 denied their motion for being a mere "rehash of their claims and defenses."[38]  Standing firm on its Decision, the CA affirmed the ruling that petitioners are, in fact, foreign corporations.  On April 5, 2011, petitioners elevated the case to us via a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45, questioning the Decision of the CA.  Interestingly, the OP rendered a Decision dated April 6, 2011, a day after this petition for review was filed, cancelling and revoking the FTAAs, quoting the Order of the POA and stating that petitioners are foreign corporations since they needed the financial strength of MBMI, Inc. in order to conduct large scale mining operations.  The OP Decision also based the cancellation on the misrepresentation of facts and the violation of the "Small Scale Mining Law and Environmental Compliance Certificate as well as Sections 3 and 8 of the Foreign Investment Act and E.O. 584."[39]  On July 6, 2011, the OP issued a Resolution, denying the Motion for Reconsideration filed by the petitioners.

Respondent Redmont, in its Comment dated October 10, 2011, made known to the Court the fact of the OP's Decision and Resolution.  In their Reply, petitioners chose to ignore the OP Decision and continued to reuse their old arguments claiming that they were granted FTAAs and, thus, the case was moot.  Petitioners filed a Manifestation and Submission dated October 19, 2012,[40] wherein they asserted that the present petition is moot since, in a remarkable turn of events, MBMI was able to sell/assign all its shares/interest in the "holding companies" to DMCI Mining Corporation (DMCI), a Filipino corporation and, in effect, making their respective corporations fully-Filipino owned.

Again, it is quite evident that petitioners have been trying to have this case dismissed for being "moot."  Their final act, wherein MBMI was able to allegedly sell/assign all its shares and interest in the petitioner "holding companies" to DMCI, only proves that they were in fact not Filipino corporations from the start.  The recent divesting of interest by MBMI will not change the stand of this Court with respect to the nationality of petitioners prior the suspicious change in their corporate structures.  The new documents filed by petitioners are factual evidence that this Court has no power to verify.

The only thing clear and proved in this Court is the fact that the OP declared that petitioner corporations have violated several mining laws and made misrepresentations and falsehood in their applications for FTAA which lead to the revocation of the said FTAAs, demonstrating that petitioners are not beyond going against or around the law using shifty actions and strategies.  Thus, in this instance, we can say that their claim of mootness is moot in itself because their defense of conversion of MPSAs to FTAAs has been discredited by the OP Decision.

Grandfather test

The main issue in this case is centered on the issue of petitioners' nationality, whether Filipino or foreign.  In their previous petitions, they had been adamant in insisting that they were Filipino corporations, until they submitted their Manifestation and Submission dated October 19, 2012 where they stated the alleged change of corporate ownership to reflect their Filipino ownership.  Thus, there is a need to determine the nationality of petitioner corporations.

Basically, there are two acknowledged tests in determining the nationality of a corporation: the control test and the grandfather rule.  Paragraph 7 of DOJ Opinion No. 020, Series of 2005, adopting the 1967 SEC Rules which implemented the requirement of the Constitution and other laws pertaining to the controlling interests in enterprises engaged in the exploitation of natural resources owned by Filipino citizens, provides:

Shares belonging to corporations or partnerships at least 60% of the capital of which is owned by Filipino citizens shall be considered as of Philippine nationality, but if the percentage of Filipino ownership in the corporation or partnership is less than 60%, only the number of shares corresponding to such percentage shall be counted as of Philippine nationality.  Thus, if 100,000 shares are registered in the name of a corporation or partnership at least 60% of the capital stock or capital, respectively, of which belong to Filipino citizens, all of the shares shall be recorded as owned by Filipinos.  But if less than 60%, or say, 50% of the capital stock or capital of the corporation or partnership, respectively, belongs to Filipino citizens, only 50,000 shares shall be counted as owned by Filipinos and the other 50,000 shall be recorded as belonging to aliens.

The first part of paragraph 7, DOJ Opinion No. 020, stating "shares belonging to corporations or partnerships at least 60% of the capital of which is owned by Filipino citizens shall be considered as of Philippine nationality," pertains to the control test or the liberal rule.  On the other hand, the second part of the DOJ Opinion which provides, "if the percentage of the Filipino ownership in the corporation or partnership is less than 60%, only the number of shares corresponding to such percentage shall be counted as Philippine nationality," pertains to the stricter, more stringent grandfather rule.

Prior to this recent change of events, petitioners were constant in advocating the application of the "control test" under RA 7042, as amended by RA 8179, otherwise known as the Foreign Investments Act (FIA), rather than using the stricter grandfather rule.  The pertinent provision under Sec. 3 of the FIA provides:

SECTION 3. Definitions. - As used in this Act:

a.)  The term Philippine national shall mean a citizen of the Philippines; or a domestic partnership or association wholly owned by the citizens of the Philippines; a corporation organized under the laws of the Philippines of which at least sixty percent (60%) of the capital stock outstanding and entitled to vote is wholly owned by Filipinos or a trustee of funds for pension or other employee retirement or separation benefits, where the trustee is a Philippine national and at least sixty percent (60%) of the fund will accrue to the benefit of Philippine nationals: Provided, That were a corporation and its non-Filipino stockholders own stocks in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered enterprise, at least sixty percent (60%) of the capital stock outstanding and entitled to vote of each of both corporations must be owned and held by citizens of the Philippines and at least sixty percent (60%) of the members of the Board of Directors, in order that the corporation shall be considered a Philippine national. (emphasis supplied)

The grandfather rule, petitioners reasoned, has no leg to stand on in the instant case since the definition of a "Philippine National" under Sec. 3 of the FIA does not provide for it.  They further claim that the grandfather rule "has been abandoned and is no longer the applicable rule."[41]  They also opined that the last portion of Sec. 3 of the FIA admits the application of a "corporate layering" scheme of corporations.  Petitioners claim that the clear and unambiguous wordings of the statute preclude the court from construing it and prevent the court's use of discretion in applying the law. They said that the plain, literal meaning of the statute meant the application of the control test is obligatory.

We disagree.  "Corporate layering" is admittedly allowed by the FIA; but if it is used to circumvent the Constitution and pertinent laws, then it becomes illegal.  Further, the pronouncement of petitioners that the grandfather rule has already been abandoned must be discredited for lack of basis.

Art. XII, Sec. 2 of the Constitution provides:

Sec. 2.  All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State.  With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated.  The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State.  The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.  Such agreements may be for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and under such terms and conditions as may be provided by law.
 
x x x x

The President may enter into agreements with Foreign-owned corporations involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, petroleum, and other mineral oils according to the general terms and conditions provided by law, based on real contributions to the economic growth and general welfare of the country. In such agreements, the State shall promote the development and use of local scientific and technical resources. (emphasis supplied)

The emphasized portion of Sec. 2 which focuses on the State entering into different types of agreements for the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources with entities who are deemed Filipino due to 60 percent ownership of capital is pertinent to this case, since the issues are centered on the utilization of our country's natural resources or specifically, mining.  Thus, there is a need to ascertain the nationality of petitioners since, as the Constitution so provides, such agreements are only allowed corporations or associations "at least 60 percent of such capital is owned by such citizens." The deliberations in the Records of the 1986 Constitutional Commission shed light on how a citizenship of a corporation will be determined:

Mr. BENNAGEN: Did I hear right that the Chairman's interpretation of an independent national economy is freedom from undue foreign control?  What is the meaning of undue foreign control?

MR. VILLEGAS: Undue foreign control is foreign control which sacrifices national sovereignty and the welfare of the Filipino in the economic sphere.

MR. BENNAGEN:   Why does it have to be qualified still with the word "undue"?  Why not simply freedom from foreign control?  I think that is the meaning of independence, because as phrased, it still allows for foreign control.

MR. VILLEGAS: It will now depend on the interpretation because if, for example, we retain the 60/40 possibility in the cultivation of natural resources, 40 percent involves some control; not total control, but some control.

MR. BENNAGEN:   In any case, I think in due time we will propose some amendments.

MR. VILLEGAS: Yes.  But we will be open to improvement of the phraseology.

Mr. BENNAGEN: Yes.

Thank you, Mr. Vice-President.

x x x x

MR. NOLLEDO: In Sections 3, 9 and 15, the Committee stated local or Filipino equity and foreign equity; namely, 60-40 in Section 3, 60-40 in Section 9, and 2/3-1/3 in Section 15.

MR. VILLEGAS: That is right.

MR. NOLLEDO: In teaching law, we are always faced with the question: 'Where do we base the equity requirement, is it on the authorized capital stock, on the subscribed capital stock, or on the paid-up capital stock of a corporation'?  Will the Committee please enlighten me on this?

MR. VILLEGAS: We have just had a long discussion with the members of the team from the UP Law Center who provided us with a draft.  The phrase that is contained here which we adopted from the UP draft is '60 percent of the voting stock.'

MR. NOLLEDO: That must be based on the subscribed capital stock, because unless declared delinquent, unpaid capital stock shall be entitled to vote.

MR. VILLEGAS: That is right.

MR. NOLLEDO: Thank you.

With respect to an investment by one corporation in another corporation, say, a corporation with 60-40 percent equity invests in another corporation which is permitted by the Corporation Code, does the Committee adopt the grandfather rule?


MR. VILLEGAS: Yes, that is the understanding of the Committee.

MR. NOLLEDO: Therefore, we need additional Filipino capital?

MR. VILLEGAS:  Yes.[42] (emphasis supplied)

It is apparent that it is the intention of the framers of the Constitution to apply the grandfather rule in cases where corporate layering is present.  Elementary in statutory construction is when there is conflict between the Constitution and a statute, the Constitution will prevail.  In this instance, specifically pertaining to the provisions under Art. XII of the Constitution on National Economy and Patrimony, Sec. 3 of the FIA will have no place of application.  As decreed by the honorable framers of our Constitution, the grandfather rule prevails and must be applied.

Likewise, paragraph 7, DOJ Opinion No. 020, Series of 2005 provides:

The above-quoted SEC Rules provide for the manner of calculating the Filipino interest in a corporation for purposes, among others, of determining compliance with nationality requirements (the 'Investee Corporation').  Such manner of computation is necessary since the shares in the Investee Corporation may be owned both by individual stockholders ('Investing Individuals') and by corporations and partnerships ('Investing Corporation').  The said rules thus provide for the determination of nationality depending on the ownership of the Investee Corporation and, in certain instances, the Investing Corporation.

Under the above-quoted SEC Rules, there are two cases in determining the nationality of the Investee Corporation.  The first case is the 'liberal rule', later coined by the SEC as the Control Test in its 30 May 1990 Opinion, and pertains to the portion in said Paragraph 7 of the 1967 SEC Rules which states, '(s)hares belonging to corporations or partnerships at least 60% of the capital of which is owned by Filipino citizens shall be considered as of Philippine nationality.'  Under the liberal Control Test, there is no need to further trace the ownership of the 60% (or more) Filipino stockholdings of the Investing Corporation since a corporation which is at least 60% Filipino-owned is considered as Filipino.

The second case is the Strict Rule or the Grandfather Rule Proper and pertains to the portion in said Paragraph 7 of the 1967 SEC Rules which states, "but if the percentage of Filipino ownership in the corporation or partnership is less than 60%, only the number of shares corresponding to such percentage shall be counted as of Philippine nationality."  Under the Strict Rule or Grandfather Rule Proper, the combined totals in the Investing Corporation and the Investee Corporation must be traced (i.e., "grandfathered") to determine the total percentage of Filipino ownership.

Moreover, the ultimate Filipino ownership of the shares must first be traced to the level of the Investing Corporation and added to the shares directly owned in the Investee Corporation x x x.

x x x x

In other words, based on the said SEC Rule and DOJ Opinion, the Grandfather Rule or the second part of the SEC Rule applies only when the 60-40 Filipino-foreign equity ownership is in doubt (i.e., in cases where the joint venture corporation with Filipino and foreign stockholders with less than 60% Filipino stockholdings [or 59%] invests in other joint venture corporation which is either 60-40% Filipino-alien or the 59% less Filipino).  Stated differently, where the 60-40 Filipino-foreign equity ownership is not in doubt, the Grandfather Rule will not apply. (emphasis supplied)

After a scrutiny of the evidence extant on record, the Court finds that this case calls for the application of the grandfather rule since, as ruled by the POA and affirmed by the OP, doubt prevails and persists in the corporate ownership of petitioners.  Also, as found by the CA, doubt is present in the 60-40 Filipino equity ownership of petitioners Narra, McArthur and Tesoro, since their common investor, the 100% Canadian corporation MBMI, funded them.  However, petitioners also claim that there is "doubt" only when the stockholdings of Filipinos are less than 60%.[43]

The assertion of petitioners that "doubt" only exists when the stockholdings are less than 60% fails to convince this Court.  DOJ Opinion No. 20, which petitioners quoted in their petition, only made an example of an instance where "doubt" as to the ownership of the corporation exists.  It would be ludicrous to limit the application of the said word only to the instances where the stockholdings of non-Filipino stockholders are more than 40% of the total stockholdings in a corporation.  The corporations interested in circumventing our laws would clearly strive to have "60% Filipino Ownership" at face value.  It would be senseless for these applying corporations to state in their respective articles of incorporation that they have less than 60% Filipino stockholders since the applications will be denied instantly.  Thus, various corporate schemes and layerings are utilized to circumvent the application of the Constitution.

Obviously, the instant case presents a situation which exhibits a scheme employed by stockholders to circumvent the law, creating a cloud of doubt in the Court's mind.  To determine, therefore, the actual participation, direct or indirect, of MBMI, the grandfather rule must be used.

McArthur Mining, Inc.

To establish the actual ownership, interest or participation of MBMI in each of petitioners' corporate structure, they have to be "grandfathered."

As previously discussed, McArthur acquired its MPSA application from MMC, which acquired its application from SMMI.  McArthur has a capital stock of ten million pesos (PhP 10,000,000) divided into 10,000 common shares at one thousand pesos (PhP 1,000) per share, subscribed to by the following:[44]

Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Madridejos Mining Corporation
Filipino
5,997
PhP 5,997,000.00
PhP 825,000.00
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,998
PhP 3,998,000.00
PhP 1,878,174.60
Lauro L. Salazar
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Fernando B. Esguerra
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Manuel A. Agcaoili
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Michael T. Mason
American
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,708,174.60
(emphasis supplied)


Interestingly, looking at the corporate structure of MMC, we take note that it has a similar structure and composition as McArthur.  In fact, it would seem that MBMI is also a major investor and "controls"[45] MBMI and also, similar nominal shareholders were present, i.e. Fernando B. Esguerra (Esguerra), Lauro L. Salazar (Salazar), Michael T. Mason (Mason) and Kenneth Cawkell (Cawkell):

Madridejos Mining Corporation

Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Olympic Mines & Development Corp.
Filipino
6,663
PhP 6,663,000.00
PhP 0
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,331
PhP 3,331,000.00
PhP 2,803,900.00
Amanti Limson
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Fernando B. Esguerra
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Lauro Salazar
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Emmanuel G. Hernando
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Michael T. Mason
American
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,809,900.00
(emphasis supplied)


Noticeably, Olympic Mines & Development Corporation (Olympic) did not pay any amount with respect to the number of shares they subscribed to in the corporation, which is quite absurd since Olympic is the major stockholder in MMC.  MBMI's 2006 Annual Report sheds light on why Olympic failed to pay any amount with respect to the number of shares it subscribed to.  It states that Olympic entered into joint venture agreements with several Philippine companies, wherein it holds directly and indirectly a 60% effective equity interest in the Olympic Properties.[46]  Quoting the said Annual report:

On September 9, 2004, the Company and Olympic Mines & Development Corporation ("Olympic") entered into a series of agreements including a Property Purchase and Development Agreement (the Transaction Documents) with respect to three nickel laterite properties in Palawan, Philippines (the "Olympic Properties").  The Transaction Documents effectively establish a joint venture between the Company and Olympic for purposes of developing the Olympic Properties.  The Company holds directly and indirectly an initial 60% interest in the joint venture.  Under certain circumstances and upon achieving certain milestones, the Company may earn up to a 100% interest, subject to a 2.5% net revenue royalty.[47] (emphasis supplied)

Thus, as demonstrated in this first corporation, McArthur, when it is "grandfathered," company layering was utilized by MBMI to gain control over McArthur.  It is apparent that MBMI has more than 60% or more equity interest in McArthur, making the latter a foreign corporation.

Tesoro Mining and Development, Inc.

Tesoro, which acquired its MPSA application from SMMI, has a capital stock of ten million pesos (PhP 10,000,000) divided into ten thousand (10,000) common shares at PhP 1,000 per share, as demonstrated below:

Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Sara Marie Mining, Inc.
Filipino
5,997
PhP 5,997,000.00
PhP 825,000.00
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,998
PhP 3,998,000.00
PhP 1,878,174.60
Lauro L. Salazar
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Fernando B. Esguerra
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Manuel A. Agcaoili
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Michael T. Mason
American

1

PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,708,174.60
(emphasis supplied)


Except for the name "Sara Marie Mining, Inc.," the table above shows exactly the same figures as the corporate structure of petitioner McArthur, down to the last centavo.  All the other shareholders are the same: MBMI, Salazar, Esguerra, Agcaoili, Mason and Cawkell.  The figures under "Nationality," "Number of Shares," "Amount Subscribed," and "Amount Paid" are exactly the same.  Delving deeper, we scrutinize SMMI's corporate structure:

Sara Marie Mining, Inc.

Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Olympic Mines & Development Corp.
Filipino
6,663
PhP 6,663,000.00
PhP 0
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,331
PhP 3,331,000.00
PhP 2,803,900.00
Amanti Limson
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Fernando B. Esguerra
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Lauro Salazar
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Emmanuel G. Hernando
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Michael T. Mason
American
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,809,900.00
(emphasis supplied)


After subsequently studying SMMI's corporate structure, it is not farfetched for us to spot the glaring similarity between SMMI and MMC's corporate structure.  Again, the presence of identical stockholders, namely: Olympic, MBMI, Amanti Limson (Limson), Esguerra, Salazar, Hernando, Mason and Cawkell.  The figures under the headings "Nationality," "Number of Shares," "Amount Subscribed," and "Amount Paid" are exactly the same except for the amount paid by MBMI which now reflects the amount of two million seven hundred ninety four thousand pesos (PhP 2,794,000).  Oddly, the total value of the amount paid is two million eight hundred nine thousand nine hundred pesos (PhP 2,809,900).

Accordingly, after "grandfathering" petitioner Tesoro and factoring in Olympic's participation in SMMI's corporate structure, it is clear that MBMI is in control of Tesoro and owns 60% or more equity interest in Tesoro.  This makes petitioner Tesoro a non-Filipino corporation and, thus, disqualifies it to participate in the exploitation, utilization and development of our natural resources.

Narra Nickel Mining and Development Corporation

Moving on to the last petitioner, Narra, which is the transferee and assignee of PLMDC's MPSA application, whose corporate structure's arrangement is similar to that of the first two petitioners discussed.  The capital stock of Narra is ten million pesos (PhP 10,000,000), which is divided into ten thousand common shares (10,000) at one thousand pesos (PhP 1,000) per share, shown as follows:

Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Patricia Louise Mining & Development Corp.
Filipino
5,997 PhP 5,997,000.00 PhP 1,677,000.00
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,998 PhP 3,996,000.00 PhP 1,116,000.00
Higinio C. Mendoza, Jr.
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00 PhP 1,000.00
Henry E. Fernandez
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00 PhP 1,000.00
Manuel A. Agcaoili
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00 PhP 1,000.00
Ma. Elena A. Bocalan
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00 PhP 1,000.00
Bayani H. Agabin
Filipino

1

PhP 1,000.00 PhP 1,000.00
Robert L. McCurdy
American
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,800,000.00
(emphasis supplied)


Again, MBMI, along with other nominal stockholders, i.e., Mason, Agcaoili and Esguerra, is present in this corporate structure.

Patricia Louise Mining & Development Corporation 

Using the grandfather method, we further look and examine PLMDC's corporate structure:

     
Name
Nationality
Number of
Shares
Amount
Subscribed
Amount Paid
Palawan Alpha
South Resources
Development Corporation
Filipino
6,596
PhP 6,596,000.00
PhP 0
MBMI Resources, Inc.
Canadian
3,396
PhP 3,396,000.00
PhP 2,796,000.00
Higinio C. Mendoza, Jr.
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Fernando B. Esguerra
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Henry E. Fernandez
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Lauro L. Salazar
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Manuel A. Agcaoili
Filipino

1

PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Bayani H. Agabin
Filipino
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Michael T. Mason
American
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00
Kenneth Cawkell
Canadian
1
PhP 1,000.00
PhP 1,000.00

 

Total
10,000
PhP 10,000,000.00
PhP 2,708,174.60
(emphasis supplied)


Yet again, the usual players in petitioners' corporate structures are present.  Similarly, the amount of money paid by the 2nd tier majority stock holder, in this case, Palawan Alpha South Resources and Development Corp. (PASRDC), is zero.

Studying MBMI's Summary of Significant Accounting Policies dated October 31, 2005 explains the reason behind the intricate corporate layering that MBMI immersed itself in:

JOINT VENTURES
The Company's ownership interests in various mining ventures engaged in the acquisition, exploration and development of mineral properties in the Philippines is described as follows:


(a) Olympic Group

The Philippine companies holding the Olympic Property, and the ownership and interests therein, are as follows:

Olympic- Philippines (the "Olympic Group")

Sara Marie Mining Properties Ltd. ("Sara Marie")
33.3%
Tesoro Mining & Development, Inc. (Tesoro)
60.0%

Pursuant to the Olympic joint venture agreement the Company holds directly and indirectly an effective equity interest in the Olympic Property of 60.0%.  Pursuant to a shareholders' agreement, the Company exercises joint control over the companies in the Olympic Group.

(b) Alpha Group

The Philippine companies holding the Alpha Property, and the ownership interests therein, are as follows:

Alpha- Philippines (the "Alpha Group")
Patricia Louise Mining Development Inc. ("Patricia")
34.0%
Narra Nickel Mining & Development Corporation (Narra)
60.4%

Under a joint venture agreement the Company holds directly and indirectly an effective equity interest in the Alpha Property of 60.4%.  Pursuant to a shareholders' agreement, the Company exercises joint control over the companies in the Alpha Group.[48] (emphasis supplied)

Concluding from the above-stated facts, it is quite safe to say that petitioners McArthur, Tesoro and Narra are not Filipino since MBMI, a 100% Canadian corporation, owns 60% or more of their equity interests.  Such conclusion is derived from grandfathering petitioners' corporate owners, namely: MMI, SMMI and PLMDC.  Going further and adding to the picture, MBMI's Summary of Significant Accounting Policies statement regarding the "joint venture" agreements that it entered into with the "Olympic" and "Alpha" groups involves SMMI, Tesoro, PLMDC and Narra.  Noticeably, the ownership of the "layered" corporations boils down to MBMI, Olympic or corporations under the "Alpha" group wherein MBMI has joint venture agreements with, practically exercising majority control over the corporations mentioned.  In effect, whether looking at the capital structure or the underlying relationships between and among the corporations, petitioners are NOT Filipino nationals and must be considered foreign since 60% or more of their capital stocks or equity interests are owned by MBMI.

Application of the res inter alios acta rule 

Petitioners question the CA's use of the exception of the res inter alios acta or the "admission by co-partner or agent" rule and "admission by privies" under the Rules of Court in the instant case, by pointing out that statements made by MBMI should not be admitted in this case since it is not a party to the case and that it is not a "partner" of petitioners.

Secs. 29 and 31, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Court provide:

Sec. 29.  Admission by co-partner or agent.- The act or declaration of a partner or agent of the party within the scope of his authority and during the existence of the partnership or agency, may be given in evidence against such party after the partnership or agency is shown by evidence other than such act or declaration itself.  The same rule applies to the act or declaration of a joint owner, joint debtor, or other person jointly interested with the party.

Sec. 31. Admission by privies.- Where one derives title to property from another, the act, declaration, or omission of the latter, while holding the title, in relation to the property, is evidence against the former.

Petitioners claim that before the above-mentioned Rule can be applied to a case, "the partnership relation must be shown, and that proof of the fact must be made by evidence other than the admission itself."[49] Thus, petitioners assert that the CA erred in finding that a partnership relationship exists between them and MBMI because, in fact, no such partnership exists.

Partnerships vs. joint venture agreements 

Petitioners claim that the CA erred in applying Sec. 29, Rule 130 of the Rules by stating that "by entering into a joint venture, MBMI have a joint interest" with Narra, Tesoro and McArthur.  They challenged the conclusion of the CA which pertains to the close characteristics of "partnerships" and "joint venture agreements."  Further, they asserted that before this particular partnership can be formed, it should have been formally reduced into writing since the capital involved is more than three thousand pesos (PhP 3,000).  Being that there is no evidence of written agreement to form a partnership between petitioners and MBMI, no partnership was created.

We disagree.

A partnership is defined as two or more persons who bind themselves to contribute money, property, or industry to a common fund with the intention of dividing the profits among themselves.[50]  On the other hand, joint ventures have been deemed to be "akin" to partnerships since it is difficult to distinguish between joint ventures and partnerships.  Thus:

[T]he relations of the parties to a joint venture and the nature of their association are so similar and closely akin to a partnership that it is ordinarily held that their rights, duties, and liabilities are to be tested by rules which are closely analogous to and substantially the same, if not exactly the same, as those which govern partnership.  In fact, it has been said that the trend in the law has been to blur the distinctions between a partnership and a joint venture, very little law being found applicable to one that does not apply to the other.[51]

Though some claim that partnerships and joint ventures are totally different animals, there are very few rules that differentiate one from the other; thus, joint ventures are deemed "akin" or similar to a partnership.  In fact, in joint venture agreements, rules and legal incidents governing partnerships are applied.[52]

Accordingly, culled from the incidents and records of this case, it can be assumed that the relationships entered between and among petitioners and MBMI are no simple "joint venture agreements."  As a rule, corporations are prohibited from entering into partnership agreements; consequently, corporations enter into joint venture agreements with other corporations or partnerships for certain transactions in order to form "pseudo partnerships." Obviously, as the intricate web of "ventures" entered into by and among petitioners and MBMI was executed to circumvent the legal prohibition against corporations entering into partnerships, then the relationship created should be deemed as "partnerships," and the laws on partnership should be applied.  Thus, a joint venture agreement between and among corporations may be seen as similar to partnerships since the elements of partnership are present.

Considering that the relationships found between petitioners and MBMI are considered to be partnerships, then the CA is justified in applying Sec. 29, Rule 130 of the Rules by stating that "by entering into a joint venture, MBMI have a joint interest" with Narra, Tesoro and McArthur.

Panel of Arbitrators' jurisdiction

We affirm the ruling of the CA in declaring that the POA has jurisdiction over the instant case.  The POA has jurisdiction to settle disputes over rights to mining areas which definitely involve the petitions filed by Redmont against petitioners Narra, McArthur and Tesoro.  Redmont, by filing its petition against petitioners, is asserting the right of Filipinos over mining areas in the Philippines against alleged foreign-owned mining corporations.  Such claim constitutes a "dispute" found in Sec. 77 of RA 7942:

Within thirty (30) days, after the submission of the case by the parties for the decision, the panel shall have exclusive and original jurisdiction to hear and decide the following:

(a) Disputes involving rights to mining areas
(b) Disputes involving mineral agreements or permits

We held in Celestial Nickel Mining Exploration Corporation v. Macroasia Corp.:[53]

The phrase "disputes involving rights to mining areas" refers to any adverse claim, protest, or opposition to an application for mineral agreement.  The POA therefore has the jurisdiction to resolve any adverse claim, protest, or opposition to a pending application for a mineral agreement filed with the concerned Regional Office of the MGB.  This is clear from Secs. 38 and 41 of the DENR AO 96-40, which provide:

Sec. 38.

x x x x

Within thirty (30) calendar days from the last date of publication/posting/radio announcements, the authorized officer(s) of the concerned office(s) shall issue a certification(s) that the publication/posting/radio announcement have been complied with.  Any adverse claim, protest, opposition shall be filed directly, within thirty (30) calendar days from the last date of publication/posting/radio announcement, with the concerned Regional Office or through any concerned PENRO or CENRO for filing in the concerned Regional Office for purposes of its resolution by the Panel of Arbitrators pursuant to the provisions of this Act and these implementing rules and regulations.  Upon final resolution of any adverse claim, protest or opposition, the Panel of Arbitrators shall likewise issue a certification to that effect within five (5) working days from the date of finality of resolution thereof.  Where there is no adverse claim, protest or opposition, the Panel of Arbitrators shall likewise issue a Certification to that effect within five working days therefrom.

x x x x

No Mineral Agreement shall be approved unless the requirements under this Section are fully complied with and any adverse claim/protest/opposition is finally resolved by the Panel of Arbitrators.

Sec. 41.

x x x x

Within fifteen (15) working days form the receipt of the Certification issued by the Panel of Arbitrators as provided in Section 38 hereof, the concerned Regional Director shall initially evaluate the Mineral Agreement applications in areas outside Mineral reservations.  He/She shall thereafter endorse his/her findings to the Bureau for further evaluation by the Director within fifteen (15) working days from receipt of forwarded documents.  Thereafter, the Director shall endorse the same to the secretary for consideration/approval within fifteen working days from receipt of such endorsement.

In case of Mineral Agreement applications in areas with Mineral Reservations, within fifteen (15) working days from receipt of the Certification issued by the Panel of Arbitrators as provided for in Section 38 hereof, the same shall be evaluated and endorsed by the Director to the Secretary for consideration/approval within fifteen days from receipt of such endorsement. (emphasis supplied)
It has been made clear from the aforecited provisions that the "disputes involving rights to mining areas" under Sec. 77(a) specifically refer only to those disputes relative to the applications for a mineral agreement or conferment of mining rights.

The jurisdiction of the POA over adverse claims, protest, or oppositions to a mining right application is further elucidated by Secs. 219 and 43 of DENR AO 95-936, which read:

Sec. 219. Filing of Adverse Claims/Conflicts/Oppositions.- Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 28, 43 and 57 above, any adverse claim, protest or opposition specified in said sections may also be filed directly with the Panel of Arbitrators within the concerned periods for filing such claim, protest or opposition as specified in said Sections.

Sec. 43. Publication/Posting of Mineral Agreement.-

x x x x

The Regional Director or concerned Regional Director shall also cause the posting of the application on the bulletin boards of the Bureau, concerned Regional office(s) and in the concerned province(s) and municipality(ies), copy furnished the barangays where the proposed contract area is located once a week for two (2) consecutive weeks in a language generally understood in the locality.  After forty-five (45) days from the last date of publication/posting has been made and no adverse claim, protest or opposition was filed within the said forty-five (45) days, the concerned offices shall issue a certification that publication/posting has been made and that no adverse claim, protest or opposition of whatever nature has been filed.  On the other hand, if there be any adverse claim, protest or opposition, the same shall be filed within forty-five (45) days from the last date of publication/posting, with the Regional Offices concerned, or through the Department's Community Environment and Natural Resources Officers (CENRO) or Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officers (PENRO), to be filed at the Regional Office for resolution of the Panel of Arbitrators.  However previously published valid and subsisting mining claims are exempted from posted/posting required under this Section.

No mineral agreement shall be approved unless the requirements under this section are fully complied with and any opposition/adverse claim is dealt with in writing by the Director and resolved by the Panel of Arbitrators. (Emphasis supplied.)

It has been made clear from the aforecited provisions that the "disputes involving rights to mining areas" under Sec. 77(a) specifically refer only to those disputes relative to the applications for a mineral agreement or conferment of mining rights.

The jurisdiction of the POA over adverse claims, protest, or oppositions to a mining right application is further elucidated by Secs. 219 and 43 of DENRO AO 95-936, which reads:

Sec. 219. Filing of Adverse Claims/Conflicts/Oppositions.- Notwithstanding the provisions of Sections 28, 43 and 57 above, any adverse claim, protest or opposition specified in said sections may also be filed directly with the Panel of Arbitrators within the concerned periods for filing such claim, protest or opposition as specified in said Sections.

Sec. 43. Publication/Posting of Mineral Agreement Application.-

x x x x

The Regional Director or concerned Regional Director shall also cause the posting of the application on the bulletin boards of the Bureau, concerned Regional office(s) and in the concerned province(s) and municipality(ies), copy furnished the barangays where the proposed contract area is located once a week for two (2) consecutive weeks in a language generally understood in the locality.  After forty-five (45) days from the last date of publication/posting has been made and no adverse claim, protest or opposition was filed within the said forty-five (45) days, the concerned offices shall issue a certification that publication/posting has been made and that no adverse claim, protest or opposition of whatever nature has been filed.  On the other hand, if there be any adverse claim, protest or opposition, the same shall be filed within forty-five (45) days from the last date of publication/posting, with the Regional offices concerned, or through the Department's Community Environment and Natural Resources Officers (CENRO) or Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officers (PENRO), to be filed at the Regional Office for resolution of the Panel of Arbitrators.  However, previously published valid and subsisting mining claims are exempted from posted/posting required under this Section.

No mineral agreement shall be approved unless the requirements under this section are fully complied with and any opposition/adverse claim is dealt with in writing by the Director and resolved by the Panel of Arbitrators. (Emphasis supplied.)

These provisions lead us to conclude that the power of the POA to resolve any adverse claim, opposition, or protest relative to mining rights under Sec. 77(a) of RA 7942 is confined only to adverse claims, conflicts and oppositions relating to applications for the grant of mineral rights.  POA's jurisdiction is confined only to resolutions of such adverse claims, conflicts and oppositions and it has no authority to approve or reject said applications.  Such power is vested in the DENR Secretary upon recommendation of the MGB Director.  Clearly, POA's jurisdiction over "disputes involving rights to mining areas" has nothing to do with the cancellation of existing mineral agreements. (emphasis ours)

Accordingly, as we enunciated in Celestial, the POA unquestionably has jurisdiction to resolve disputes over MPSA applications subject of Redmont's petitions.  However, said jurisdiction does not include either the approval or rejection of the MPSA applications, which is vested only upon the Secretary of the DENR.  Thus, the finding of the POA, with respect to the rejection of petitioners' MPSA applications being that they are foreign corporation, is valid.

Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, in his Dissent, asserts that it is the regular courts, not the POA, that has jurisdiction over the MPSA applications of petitioners.

This postulation is incorrect.

It is basic that the jurisdiction of the court is determined by the statute in force at the time of the commencement of the action.[54]

Sec. 19, Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 or "The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980" reads:

Sec. 19.  Jurisdiction in Civil Cases. Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction:

1. In all civil actions in which the subject of the litigation is incapable of pecuniary estimation.

On the other hand, the jurisdiction of POA is unequivocal from Sec. 77 of RA 7942:

Section 77.  Panel of Arbitrators.

x x x Within thirty (30) days, after the submission of the case by the parties for the decision, the panel shall have exclusive and original jurisdiction to hear and decide the following:

(c) Disputes involving rights to mining areas
(d) Disputes involving mineral agreements or permits

It is clear that POA has exclusive and original jurisdiction over any and all disputes involving rights to mining areas.  One such dispute is an MPSA application to which an adverse claim, protest or opposition is filed by another interested applicant.  In the case at bar, the dispute arose or originated from MPSA applications where petitioners are asserting their rights to mining areas subject of their respective MPSA applications.  Since respondent filed 3 separate petitions for the denial of said applications, then a controversy has developed between the parties and it is POA's jurisdiction to resolve said disputes.

Moreover, the jurisdiction of the RTC involves civil actions while what petitioners filed with the DENR Regional Office or any concerned DENRE or CENRO are MPSA applications.  Thus POA has jurisdiction.

Furthermore, the POA has jurisdiction over the MPSA applications under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction.  Euro-med Laboratories v. Province of Batangas[55] elucidates:

The doctrine of primary jurisdiction holds that if a case is such that its determination requires the expertise, specialized training and knowledge of an administrative body, relief must first be obtained in an administrative proceeding before resort to the courts is had even if the matter may well be within their proper jurisdiction.

Whatever may be the decision of the POA will eventually reach the court system via a resort to the CA and to this Court as a last recourse.

Selling of MBMI's shares to DMCI

As stated before, petitioners' Manifestation and Submission dated October 19, 2012 would want us to declare the instant petition moot and academic due to the transfer and conveyance of all the shareholdings and interests of MBMI to DMCI, a corporation duly organized and existing under Philippine laws and is at least 60% Philippine-owned.[56]  Petitioners reasoned that they now cannot be considered as foreign-owned; the transfer of their shares supposedly cured the "defect" of their previous nationality.  They claimed that their current FTAA contract with the State should stand since "even wholly-owned foreign corporations can enter into an FTAA with the State."[57]  Petitioners stress that there should no longer be any issue left as regards their qualification to enter into FTAA contracts since they are qualified to engage in mining activities in the Philippines.   Thus, whether the "grandfather rule" or the "control test" is used, the nationalities of petitioners cannot be doubted since it would pass both tests.

The sale of the MBMI shareholdings to DMCI does not have any bearing in the instant case and said fact should be disregarded.  The manifestation can no longer be considered by us since it is being tackled in G.R. No. 202877 pending before this Court.  Thus, the question of whether petitioners, allegedly a Philippine-owned corporation due to the sale of MBMI's shareholdings to DMCI, are allowed to enter into FTAAs with the State is a non-issue in this case.

In ending, the "control test" is still the prevailing mode of determining whether or not a corporation is a Filipino corporation, within the ambit of Sec. 2, Art. II of the 1987 Constitution, entitled to undertake the exploration, development and utilization of the natural resources of the Philippines.  When in the mind of the Court there is doubt, based on the attendant facts and circumstances of the case, in the 60-40 Filipino-equity ownership in the corporation, then it may apply the "grandfather rule."

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is DENIED.  The assailed Court of Appeals Decision dated October 1, 2010 and Resolution dated February 15, 2011 are hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Peralta, Abad, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Leonen, J., I dissent, see separate opinion.





May 14, 2014


N O T I C E  OF J U D G M E N T


Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on ___April 21, 2014___ a Decision, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on May 14, 2014 at 2:30 p.m.


Very truly yours,
(SGD)
LUCITA ABJELINA SORIANO
Division Clerk of Court



[1] Penned by Associate Justice Ruben C. Ayson and concurred in by Associate Justices Amelita G. Tolentino and Normandie B. Pizzaro.

[2] Rollo, p. 573.

[3] Id. at 86.

[4] Id. at 82.

[5] Id. at 84.

[6] Id. at 139-140.

[7] Id. at 379.

[8] Id. at 378.

[9] Id. at 390.

[10] Id. at 411.

[11] Id. at 414.

[12] Id. at 353.

[13] Id. at 367, see application on p. 368.

[14] Id. at 334-337.

[15] Id. at 438.

[16] Id. at 460.

[17] Id. at 202.

[18] Id. at 473.

[19] Id. at 486.

[20] Id. at 522.

[21] Id. at 623.

[22] Id. at 629.

[23] Id. at 95-96.

[24] Department of Justice Opinion No. 020, Series of 2005, adopting the 1967 SEC Rules.

[25] Rollo, p. 89.

[26] Id. at 573-590, O.P. Case No. 10-E-229, penned by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr.

[27] Id. at 587.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 588.

[30] Id. at 591-594.

[31] Id. at 20-21.

[32] David v. Macapagal-Arroyo, G.R. No. 171396, etc., May 3, 2006, 489 SCRA 160.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Rollo, pp. 138-139.

[37] Id. at 95-96.

[38] Id. at 101.

[39] Id. at 587.

[40] Id. at 679-689.

[41] Id. at 33.

[42] "Proposed Resolution No. 533- Resolution to Incorporate in the Article on National Economy and Patrimony a Provision on Ancestral Lands," III Record, Constitutional Commission, R.C.C. No. 55 (August 13, 1986).

[43] Rollo, p. 44, quoting DOJ Opinion No. 20.

[44] Id. at 82.

[45] Id.

[46] Id. at 83.

[47] Id.

[48] Id. at 87-88.

[49] Id. at 48.

[50] CIVIL CODE, Art. 1767.

[51] §4, 46 Am Jur 2d, pp. 24-25.

[52] §30, 46 Am Jur 2d "law relating to dissolution and termination of partnerships is applicable to joint ventures"; §17, 46 Am Jur 2d "In other words, an agreement to combine money, effort, skill, and knowledge, and to purchase land for the purpose of reselling or dealing with it at a profit, is a partnership agreement, or a joint venture having in general the legal incidents of a partnership"; §50, 46 Am Jur 2d "The relationship between joint venturers, like that existing between partners, is fiduciary in character and imposes upon all the participants the obligation of loyalty to the joint concern and of the utmost good faith, fairness, and honesty in their dealings with each other with respect to matters pertaining to the enterprise"; §57 "It has already been pointed out that the rights, duties, and liabilities of joint venturers are governed, in general, by rules which are similar or analogous to those which govern the corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of partners, except as they are limited by the fact that the scope of a joint venture is narrower than that of the ordinary partnership.  As in the case of partners, joint venturers may be jointly and severally liable to third parties for the debts of the venture"; §58, 46 Am Jur 2d "It has also been held that the liability for torts of parties to a joint venture agreement is governed by the law applicable to partnerships."

[53] G.R. Nos. 169080, 172936, 176226 & 176319, December 19, 2007, 541 SCRA 166.

[54] Lee, et al. v. Presiding Jusge, et al., G.R. No. 68789, November 10, 1986; People v. Paderna, No. L-28518, January 29, 1968.

[55] G.R. No. 148106, July 17, 2006.

[56] Rollo, p. 684.

[57] Id. at 687.


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