G.R. No. L-15829 December 4, 1967ROMAN R. SANTOS,
HON. FLORENCIO MORENO, as Secretary of PublicWorks and Communications and JULIAN C. CARGULLO,
Gil R. Carlos and Associates for petitioner-appellee.Office of the Solicitor General for respondents-appellants.
The Honorable Secretary of Public Works &Communications appeals from the decision of the Court of First Instance of Manila declaring of private ownershipcertain creeks situated in barrio San Esteban, Macabebe,Pampanga.
The Zobel family of Spain formerly owned vast track of marshland in the municipality of Macabebe, Pampangaprovince. Called Hacienda San Esteban, it was administeredand managed by the Ayala y Cia. From the year 1860 toabout the year 1924 Ayala y Cia., devoted the hacienda tothe planting and cultivation of nipa palms from which itgathered nipa sap or "tuba." It operated a distillery plant inbarrio San Esteban to turn nipa tuba into potable alcoholwhich was in turn manufactured into liquor.Accessibility through the nipa palms deep into the haciendaposed as a problem. Ayala y Cia., therefore dug canalsleading towards the hacienda's interior where most of theminterlinked with each other. The canals facilitated thegathering of tuba and the guarding and patrolling of thehacienda by security guards called "arundines." By thegradual process of erosion these canals acquired thecharacteristics and dimensions of rivers.In 1924 Ayala y Cia shifted from the business of alcoholproduction to bangus culture. It converted Hacienda SanEsteban from a forest of nipa groves to a web of fishponds.To do so, it cut down the nipa palm, constructed dikes andclosed the canals criss-crossing the hacienda.Sometime in 1925 or 1926 Ayala y Cia., sold a portion of Hacienda San Esteban to Roman Santos who alsotransformed the swamp land into a fishpond. In so doing, heclosed and built dikes across Sapang Malauling Maragul,Quiñorang Silab, Pepangebunan, Bulacus, Nigui and Nasi.The closing of the man-made canals in Hacienda SanEsteban drew complaints from residents of the surroundingcommunities. Claiming that the closing of the canals causedfloods during the rainy season, and that it deprived them of their means of transportation and fishing grounds, saidresidents demanded re-opening of those canals.Subsequently, Mayor Lazaro Yambao of Macabebe,accompanied by policemen and some residents went toHacienda San Esteban and opened the closure dikes atSapang Malauling Maragul Nigui and Quiñorang Silab.Whereupon, Roman Santos filed Civil Case No. 4488 in theCourt of First Instance of Pampanga which preliminarilyenjoined Mayor Yambao and others from demolishing thedikes across the canals. The municipal officials of Macabebecountered by filing a complaint (docketed as Civil Case No.4527) in the same court. The Pampanga Court of FirstInstance rendered judgment in both cases against RomanSantos who immediately elevated the case to the SupremeCourt.In the meantime, the Secretary of Commerce andCommunications
conducted his own investigation and foundthat the aforementioned six streams closed by RomanSantos were natural, floatable and navigable and wereutilized by the public for transportation since timeimmemorial. He consequently ordered Roman Santos onNovember 3, 1930 to demolish the dikes across said sixstreams. However, on May 8, 1931 the said official revokedhis decision of November 3, 1930 and declared the streamsin question privately owned because they were artificiallyconstructed. Subsequently, upon authority granted under Act3982 the Secretary of Commerce and Communicationsentered into a contract with Roman Santos whereby theformer recognized the private ownership of SapangMalauling Maragul, Quiñorang Silab, Pepangebunan,Bulacus, Nigui and Nasi and the latter turned over for publicuse two artificial canals and bound himself to maintain themin navigable state. The Provincial Board of Pampanga andthe municipal councils of Macabebe and Masantol objectedto the contract. However, the Secretary of Justice, in hisopinion dated March 6, 1934, upheld its legality. RomanSantos withdraw his appeals in the Supreme Court.With respect to the portion of Hacienda San Esteban stillowned by the Zobel family, the municipal authorities of Macabebe filed in 1930 an administrative complaint, in theBureau of Public Works praying for the opening of the dikesand dams across certain streams in Hacienda San Esteban.Whereupon, the district engineer of Pampanga and arepresentative of the Bureau of Public Works conductedinvestigations. In the meantime, the Attorney General, upona query from the Secretary of Commerce andCommunications, rendered an opinion dated October 11,1930 sustaining the latter's power to declare streams aspublicly owned under Sec. 4 of Act 2152, as amended by Act3208.On September 29, 1930 the investigator of the Bureau of Public Works, Eliseo Panopio, submitted his reportrecommending the removal of the dikes and dams inquestion. And on the basis of said report, the Secretary of Commerce and Communications rendered his decision onNovember 3, 1930 ordering Ayala y Cia., to demolish thedikes and dams across the streams named therein situatedin Hacienda San Esteban. Ayala y Cia., moved for reconsideration, questioning the power of the Secretary of Commerce and Communications to order the demolition of said dikes.Days before the Secretary of Commerce andCommunications rendered his aforementioned decision,Ayala y Cia., thru counsel, made representations with theDirector of Public Works for a compromise agreement. In itsletter dated October 11, 1930, Ayala y Cia., offered to admitpublic ownership of the following creeks:Antipolo, Batasan Teracan, Biuas or Batasan,Capiz, Carbon, Cutut, Dalayap, Enrique, Iba,Inaun, Margarita, Malauli or Budbud, MatalabaPalapat, Palipit Maisao, Panlovenas, Panquitan,Quinapati, Quiñorang, Bubong or Malauli Malati,Salop, Sinubli and Vitas.provided the rest of the streams were declared private.Acting on said offer, the Director of Public Works instructedthe surveyor in his office, Eliseo Panopio, to proceed toPampanga and conduct another investigation.On January 23, 1931 Panopio submitted his report to theDirector of Public Works recommending that some streamsenumerated therein be declared public and some private onthe ground that they were originally dug by the haciendaowners. The private streams were:Agape, Atlong, Cruz, Balanga, Batasan, BatasanMatlaue, Balibago, Baliti, Bato, Buengco Malati,Bungalin, Bungo Malati, Bungo Maragui, Buta-buta, Camastiles, Catlu, Cauayan or Biabas, Cela,Dampalit, Danlimpu, Dilinquente, Fabian,Laguzan, Lalap Maburac, Mabutol, Macabacle,Maragul or Macanduli, Macabacle or Mababo,Maisac, Malande, Malati, Magasawa, Maniup,Manulit, Mapanlao, Maisac, Maragul MariablusMalate, Masamaral, Mitulid, Nasi, Nigui or Bulacus, Palipit, Maragul, Pangebonan,Paumbong, Pasco or Culali, Pilapil, Pinac Malati,Pinac, Maragul or Macabacle, Quiñorang Silab or