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G.R. No. 79538.

October 18, 1990

FELIPE YSMAEL, JR. & CO., INC., petitioner,

vs.

THE DEPUTY EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, THE SECRETARY OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL


RESOURCES, THE DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU OF FOREST DEVELOPMENT and TWIN PEAKS
DEVELOPMENT AND REALTY CORPORATION, respondents.

FACTS:

On October 12, 1965, petitioner entered into a timber license agreement with the Department of
Agriculture and Natural Resources, represented by then Secretary Jose Feliciano, wherein it was issued
an exclusive license to cut, collect and remove timber except prohibited species within a specified portion
of public forest land with an area of 54,920 hectares located in the municipality of Maddela, province of
Nueva Vizcaya from October 12, 1965 until June 30, 1990.

However, on August 18, 1983, the Director of the Bureau of Forest Development (Bureau), Director
Edmundo Cortes, issued a memorandum order stopping all logging operations in Nueva Vizcaya and
Quirino provinces, and cancelling the logging concession of petitioner and nine other forest
concessionaires, pursuant to presidential instructions and a memorandum order of the Minister of Natural
Resources Teodoro Pena.

Subsequently, petitioners timber license agreement was cancelled. He sent a letter addressed to then
President Ferdinand Marcos which sought reconsideration of the Bureau's directive, citing in support
thereof its contributions to forest conservation and alleging that it was not given the opportunity to be
heard prior to the cancellation of its logging operations, but no favorable action was taken on his letter;

Barely one year thereafter, approximately one-half of the area formerly covered by petitioners TLA was
re-awarded to Twin Peaks Development and Realty Corporation under a new TLA which was set to
expire on July 31, 2009, while the other half was allowed to be logged by Filipinas Loggers, Inc. without
the benefit of a formal award or license. The latter entities were controlled or owned by relatives or
cronies of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos.

Soon after the change of government in February 1986, petitioner sent a letter dated March 17, 1986 to
the Office of the President, and another letter dated April 2, 1986 to Minister Ernesto Maceda of the
Ministry of Natural Resources [MNR], seeking: (1) the reinstatement of its timber license agreement
which was cancelled in August 1983 during the Marcos administration; (2) the revocation of TLA No. 356
which was issued to Twin Peaks Development and Realty Corporation without public bidding and in
violation of forestry laws, rules and regulations; and, (3) the issuance of an order allowing petitioner to
take possession of all logs found in the concession area. However, petitioner's request was denied.
Petitioner moved for reconsideration reiterating, among others, its request that the timber license
agreement issued to private respondent be declared null and void. The MNR however denied this
motion. Petitioner subsequently appealed from the orders of the MNR to the Office of the President. The
Office of the President, acting through then Deputy Executive Secretary Catalino Macaraig, denied
petitioner's appeal for lack of merit. Petitioner filed with the Court a petition for certiorari, with prayer for
the issuance of a restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction,
ISSUE: Whether or not petitioner has the right to seek the nullification of the Bureau orders cancelling
his timber license agreement and the granting of TLA to private respondent, which were issued way back
in 1983 and 1984, respectively.

HELD:

NO. The failure of petitioner to file the petition for certiorari within a reasonable period of time renders
the petitioner susceptible to the adverse legal consequences of laches. Laches is defined as the failure or
neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time to do that which by exercising due diligence,
could or should have been done earlier, or to assert a right within a reasonable time, warranting a
presumption that the party entitled thereto has either abandoned it of declined to assert it. The rule is that
unreasonable delay on the part of a plaintiff in seeking to enforce an alleged right may, depending upon
the circumstances, be destructive of the right itself. Verily, the laws did these who are vigilant, not those
who sleep upon their rights. In the case at bar, petitioner waited for at least three years before it finally
filed a petition for certiorari with the Court attacking the validity of the assailed Bureau actions in 1983 and
1984. Considering that petitioner, throughout the period of its inaction, was not deprived of the
opportunity to seek relief from the courts which were normally operating at the time, its delay constitutes
unreasonable and inexcusable neglect, tantamount to laches. Accordingly, the writ of certiorari requiring
the reversal of these orders will not lie. There is a more significant factor which bars the issuance of a
writ of certiorari in favor of petitioner and against public respondents herein. A long line of cases
establish the basic rule that the courts will not interfere in matters which are addressed to the sound
discretion of government agencies entrusted with the regulation of activities coming under the special
technical knowledge and training of such agencies. More so where, as in the present case, the interests
of a private logging company are pitted against that of the public at large on the pressing public policy
issue of forest conservation. For this Court recognizes the wide latitude of discretion possessed by the
government in determining the appropriate actions to be taken to preserve and manage natural
resources, and the proper parties who should enjoy the privilege of utilizing these resources. Timber
licenses, permits and license agreements are the principal instruments by which the State regulates the
utilization and disposition of forest resources to the end that public welfare is promoted. And it can hardly
be gainsaid that they merely evidence a privilege granted by the State to qualified entities, and do not
vest in the latter a permanent or irrevocable right to the particular concession area and the forest products
therein. They may be validly amended, modified, replaced or rescinded by the Chief Executive when
national interests so require. Thus, they are not deemed contracts within the purview of the due process
of law clause.

Sunville Timber v Abad G.R. No. 85502

CRUZ, J.:

The Court will focus its attention only on one of the issues raised in this petition - the correct application of
the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies.

The petitioner was granted a Timber License Agreement (TLA), authorizing it to cut, remove and utilize
timber within the concession area covering 29,500 hectares of forest land in Zamboanga del Sur, for a
period of ten years expiring on September 31, 1992.
On July 31, 1987, the herein private respondents filed a petition with the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources for the cancellation of the TLA on the ground of serious violations of its conditions and
the provisions of forestry laws and regulations.

The same charges were subsequently made, also by the herein private respondents, in a complaint for
injunction with damages against the petitioner, which was docketed as Civil Case No. 2732 in the
Regional Trial Court of Pagadian City.

The petitioner moved to dismiss this case on three grounds, to wit: 1) the court had no jurisdiction over
the complaint; 2) the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted administrative remedies; and 3) the injunction
sought was expressly prohibited by Section 1 of PD 605.

Judge Alfonso G. Abad denied the motion to dismiss on December 11, 1987, [1] and the
motion for reconsideration on February 15, 1988.[2] The petitioner then elevated the matter to the
respondent Court of Appeals, which sustained the trial court in a decision dated July 4, 1988, [3] and in its
resolution of September 27, 1988, denying the motion for reconsideration. [4]

The Court of Appeals held that the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies was not without
exception and pointed to the several instances approved by this Court where it could be dispensed with.
The respondent court found that in the case before it, the applicable exception was the urgent need for
judicial intervention, which it explained thus:

The lower court found out that sometime on July 1981, the City Council of Pagadian in its Resolution No.
111 requested the Bureau of Forest Development to reserve 1,000 hectares in Lison Valley. This request
remained unacted upon. Instead in 1982, a TLA covering 29,500 hectares, including the area requested,
was given to petitioner.

Then, the fear expressed by the City Council of Pagadian in its resolution became reality.

"As averred in the complaint, the erosion caused by the logging operations of the defendant has caused
heavy siltation not only in the Labangan River (as predicted by the City Council of Pagadian City in 1981)
but also in the Tukuran River, Salug River, Sindangan River, and Sibuguey River. In other words, the
adverse effects of the logging operations of the defendant have already covered a wider area than that
feared to lie adversely affected by the City Council of Pagadian City.

"Floods are unknown phenomena in heavily forested areas years back, particularly in the Island of
Mindanao. When the grant of logging concessions started, so was the denudation of forests. x x x It is
common knowledge that heavy floods have occurred in areas/places adjoining logging concessions."
(Resolution dated December 11, 1987, p. 5)

Thus, it is urgent that indiscriminate logging be stopped. Irreparable damage would ensue unless the
court intervenes. Reliance on the DENR may not be enough, judging from its inaction on the council's
request seven years back.

The respondent court cited in support of this conclusion the case of De Lara v. Cloribel, [5] where
"irreparable damage and injury" was allowed as an exceptional ground, and Arrow Transportation
Corporation v. Board of Transportation,[6] where the doctrine was waived because of "the strong public
interest in having the matter settled" as soon as possible.

The decision also declared invalid Section 1 of PD 605, which provides:


Section 1. No court of the Philippines shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order, preliminary
injunction or preliminary mandatory injunction in any case involving or growing out of the issuance,
approval or disapproval, revocation or suspension of, or any action whatsoever by the proper
administrative official or body on concessions, licenses, permits, patents, or public grants of any kind in
connection with the disposition, exploitation, utilization, exploration and/or development of the natural
resources of the Philippines.

This was held to be an encroachment on the judicial power vested in the Supreme Court and the lower
courts by Article VIII, Section 1, of the Constitution. The respondent court cited Export Processing Zone
Authority v. Dulay,[7] where several presidential decrees were declared unconstitutional for divesting this
courts of the judicial power to determine just compensation in expropriation cases.

The petitioner is now before this Court, contending that the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative
remedies was not correctly applied and that the declaration of the unconstitutionality of Section 1 of PD
605 was improper.

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies calls for resort first to the appropriate administrative
authorities in the resolution of a controversy falling under their jurisdiction before the same may be
elevated to the courts of justice for review. Non-observance of the doctrine results in lack of a cause of
action,[8] which is one of the grounds allowed in the Rules of Court for the dismissal of the complaint. The
deficiency is not jurisdictional. Failure to invoke it operates as a waiver of the objection as a ground for a
motion to dismiss and the court may then proceed with the case as if the doctrine had been observed.

One of the reasons for the doctrine of exhaustion is the separation of powers, which enjoins upon the
Judiciary a becoming policy of non-interference with matters coming primarily (albeit not exclusively)
within the competence of the other departments. The theory is that the administrative authorities are in a
better position to resolve questions addressed to their particular expertise and that errors committed by
subordinates in their resolution may be rectified by their superiors if given a chance to do so. A no less
important consideration is that administrative decisions are usually questioned in the special civil actions
of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus, which are allowed only when there is no other plain, speedy and
adequate remedy available to the petitioner. It may be added that strict enforcement of the rule could also
relieve the courts of a considerable number of avoidable cases which otherwise would burden their
heavily loaded dockets.[9]

As correctly suggested by the respondent court, however, there are a number of instances when the
doctrine may be dispensed with and judicial action validly resorted to immediately. Among these
exceptional cases are: 1) when the question raised is purely legal; [10] 2) when the administrative body is in
estoppel;[11] 3) when the act complained of is patently illegal;[12] 4) when there is urgent need for judicial
intervention;[13] 5) when the claim involved is small;[14] 6) when irreparable damage will be suffered;[15] 7)
when there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy;[16] 8) when strong public interest is
involved;[17] 9) when the subject of the controversy is private land;[18]and 10)
in quo warranto proceedings.[19]

The private respondents now submit that their complaint comes under the exceptions because forestry
laws do not require observance of the doctrine as a condition precedent to judicial action; the question
they are raising is purely legal; application of the doctrine will cause great and irreparable damage; and
public interest is involved.

We rule for the petitioner.


Even if it be assumed that the forestry laws do not expressly require prior resort to administrative
remedies, the reasons for the doctrine above given, if nothing else, would suffice to still require its
observance. Even if such reasons were disregarded, there would still be the explicit language of pertinent
laws vesting in the DENR the power and function "to regulate the development, disposition, extraction,
exploration and use of the country's forests" and "to exercise exclusive jurisdiction" in the "management
and disposition of all lands of the public domain,"[20] and in the Forest Management Bureau (formerly the
Bureau of Forest Development) the responsibility for the enforcement of the forestry laws and
regulations[21] here claimed to have been violated. This comprehensive conferment clearly implies at the
very least that the DENR should be allowed to rule in the first instance on any controversy coming under
its express powers before the courts of justice may intervene.

The argument that the questions raised in the petition are purely legal is also not acceptable. The private
respondents have charged, both in the administrative case before the DENR and in the civil case before
the Regional Trial Court of Pagadian City, that the petitioner has violated the terms and conditions of the
TLA and the provisions of forestry laws and regulations. The charge involves factual issues calling for the
presentation of supporting evidence. Such evidence is best evaluated first by the administrative
authorities, employing their specialized knowledge of the agreement and the rules allegedly violated,
before the courts may step in to exercise their powers of review.

As for the alleged urgent necessity for judicial action and the claimed adverse impact of the case on the
national interest, the record does not show that the petitioners have satisfactorily established these
extraordinary circumstances to justify deviation from the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies
and immediate resort to the courts of justice. In fact, this particular submission must fall flat against the
petitioner's uncontested contention that it has since 1988 stopped its operations under the TLA in
compliance with the order of the DENR.

In the petition for prohibition filed with the respondent court, the petitioner alleged that its logging
operations had been suspended pursuant to a telegram [22] received on February 23, 1988, by the District
Forester from the Regional Executive Director of the DENR, Zamboanga City, reading as follows:

DISTRICT FORESTER

PAGADIAN CITY

QUOTED HEREUNDER IS RADIO MESSAGE DATED FEBRUARY 22, 1988 FROM SECRETARY
FULGENCIO S. FACTORAN, JR. QUOTE EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY CMA SUSPEND ALL LOGGING
OPERATIONS OF SUNVILLE IN VIEW OF SERIOUS VIOLATIONS OF FOREST PROTECTION AND
REFORESTATION UNQUOTE SUBMIT REPORT ASAP.

RED BATCAGAN

The petition now before us contains the allegation that the "petition for cancellation of petitioner's TLA is
still pending up to this date and that petitioner's logging operations (were) ordered suspended by the
Secretary of the DENR pending further investigation."[23]

In the memorandum filed by the petitioner with this Court, it is informed that "the Secretary of the DENR
suspended petitioner's logging operations until further investigation. The suspension is still in force up to
this date after the lapse of almost 3 years."[24]

These statements have not been disputed by the private respondents in their pleadings before the
respondent court and this Court and are therefore deemed admitted.
There is no question that Civil Case No. 2732 comes within the jurisdiction of the respondent court.
Nevertheless, as the wrong alleged in the complaint was supposedly committed as a result of the
unlawful logging activities of the petitioner, it will be necessary first to determine whether or not the TLA
and the forestry laws and regulations had indeed been violated. To repeat for emphasis, determination of
this question is the primary responsibility of the Forest Management Bureau of the DENR. The application
of the expertise of the administrative agency in the resolution of the issue raised is a condition precedent
for the eventual examination, if still necessary, of the same question by a court of justice.

In view of the above observations, we find that there was no need for the respondent court to declare the
unconstitutionality of Section 1 of PD 605. The rule is that a question of constitutionality must be avoided
where the case can be decided on some other available ground,[25]as we have done in the case before
us. The resolution of this same question must await another case, where all the indispensable requisites
of a judicial inquiry into a constitutional question are satisfactorily established. In such an event, it will be
time for the Court "to make the hammer fall, and heavily," in the words of Justice Laurel, if such action is
warranted.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision of the respondent court dated July 4, 1988, and
its resolution dated September 27, 1988, as well as the resolutions of the trial court dated December 11,
1987 and February 15, 1988, are all REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Civil Case No. 2732 in the Regional
Trial Court of Pagadian City is hereby DISMISSED.

SOORDERED.

Narvasa, (Chairman), Grio-Aquino, and Medialdea, JJ., concur.

REPUBLIC v. CA and BERNABE

G.R. No. L-40402 March 16, 1987; Paras, J.:

FACTS:

Lot No. 622 of the Mariveles Cadastre was declared public land in a decision rendered before the last war in Cadastral
Case No. 19, LRC Cadastral Record No. 1097. On July 6, 1965 such lot was segregated from the forest
zone and released and certified by the Bureau of Forestry as an Agricultural Land for disposition under
the Public Land Act. On April 26, 1967, Respondents filed in the CFI of Bataan a petition to reopen
Cadastral Case No. 19 to perfect their rights and register their titles to said lots. They alleged that they
acquired ownership and possession of said parcels of land by purchase from the original owners thereof,
whose possession of the same including that of the herein respondents, has always been continuous, open, active,
exclusive, public, adverse and in the concept of owners for more than 30 years. The Director of Forestry filed
an opposition to the above petition but later withdrew the same
upon verification of findings that this portion of the timberland had already been released from the mass o
f thepublic forests. Subsequently, the Acting Prov. Fiscal of Bataan, for and in behalf of the Director of Lands filed his
opposition alleging that the land is STILL Public Land and as such cannot be the subject of a
landregistration proceeding under Act 496.The lower court adjudicated in favor or respondent Bernabes,
finding that the latter have complied with all the terms and conditions entitling them to a grant. This decision having
become final, the Commissioner of Land Registration issued the corresponding decrees of registration. On the other hand,
petitioner DL through the Solicitor Gen. filed a petition for review of the decrees. Afterwards, he filed an Amended Petition for
Review, adding: that respondents executed simulated deeds of sale conveying portions of the
subject parcels to third parties for fictitious considerations in order to remove the same from the coverage
of Sec. 38 of Act 496, but in truth, buyers are mere dummies of petitioners; hence, not purchasers for
value. The CFI denied this petition and on appeal, the CA affirmed the questioned decision. Petitioners

Motion for Reconsideration having been denied for lack of merit; hence, this petition.

ISSUE:

WON THE LOTS CLAIMED BY RESPONDENTS COULD LEGALLY BE THE SUBJECT OF AJUDICIAL
CONFIRMATION OF TITLE UNDER SEC. 48 (b) OF COMMONWEALTH ACT 141 AS AMENDEDBY R.A. 1942.

HELD:

NEGATIVE. The Supreme Court ruled that Sec. 48 (b) of CA 141, as amended, applies exclusively to public lands.
Forest lands or areas covered with forests are excluded. Thus, possession of forest lands, however long
cannot ripen into private ownership. A parcel of forest land is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bureau
of Forestry and beyond the power and jurisdiction of the cadastral court to register under the Torrens System.Thus, even if
the reopening of the cadastral proceedings was at all possible, private respondents have not qualified for a grant under
Section 48 (b) of CA 141. They can only be credited with 1 year, 9 mos. and 20days of possession and occupation of
the lots involved, counted from July 6, 1965 when the lots involved had been segregated from the forest
zone and released by the BOF as an agricultural land for disposition under the Public Land Act. As such,
respondents and their predecessors in interest could not have possessed the lots for the required period
of 30 years as disposable agricultural land

LAGUAV.CUSI
G.R. No. L-44649
April 15, 1988
Ponente: Guiterrez, Jr.

FACTS: This is a mandamus case filed against respondents for closing a logging road
without authority. The private respondents extended that as the acts complained of by the petitioners
arose out of the legitimate exercise of respondent East coast Development Enterprises rights as a
timber licensee, more particularly in the use of its logging roads, therefore, the resolution of this question is properly and
legally within the Bureau of Forest Development, citing as authority Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 705. The lower court
affirmed the respondents defense, stating that the petitioners must first seek recourse with the Bureau of Forest
Development to determine the legality of the closure of the logging roads, before seeking redress with the regular courts for
damages.

ISSUE: W/N the regular courts can take cognizance of the damages case without first seeking the
determination of the Bureau regarding the legality of the closure. YES.RATIO: P.D. No. 705 upon which the
respondent court based its order does not vest any power in the Bureau of Forest Development to determine
whether or not the closure of a logging road is legal or illegal and to make such determination a pre -
requisite before an action for damages may be maintained. Moreover, the complaint instituted by the
petitioners is clearly for damages based on the alleged illegal closure of the logging road. Whether or not such
closure was illegal is a matter to be established on the part of the petitioners and a matter to be disproved
by the private respondents. This should appropriately be threshed out in a judicial proceeding.
It is beyond the power and authority of the Bureau of Forest Development to determine the unlawful closure of a
passage way, much less award or deny the payment of damages based on such closure. Not every activity inside a forest
area is subject to the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Forest Development
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, REPRESENTED BY THE DIRECTOR OF FOREST
DEVELOPMENT AND
THE DIRECTOR OF LANDS, petitioner,
vs.
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, AND MARTINA CARANTES FOR AND IN BEHALF OF
THE
HEIRS OF SALMING PIRASO,respondents.
G.R. No. 56948; September 30, 1987

Facts:

CFI of Baguio an application for the registration of the land, which the latter claimed to be in their
possession and occupation openly, continuously, exclusively, notoriously since 1915. The Director of
lands, through the Solicitor General and the Director of Forestry, opposed the application on the
ground that the said portion land is within the Central Cordillera Forest Reserve as shown in the
reports and testimonies of the district foresters.
That the area sought to be registered is neither released for disposition nor alienation; and that the herein
applicant has no registerable title over the whole parcel of land either in fact or in law."

The CFI granted the application, which was also affirmed by the CA. The governments failure to
show that the disputed land is more valuable for forest purposes is one of the reasons for the CAs ruling.
It also noted the failure to prove that trees are thriving in the land.

Issue/s: Whether or not the land in dispute is alienable and disposable.

Held: No. The Court ruled that the petitioner clearly proved thru the reports and testimonies of
the district foresters that the land applied for registration is a part of a forestland. As to the
claim of the applicants that they have been in possession of the land since 1915, the court
cited its decision in Director of Forestry v. Munoz (23 SCRA 1184), where it stated that
possession of forest lands, no matter how long, cannot ripen into private ownership.

In its decision, the Court also addressed the CAs ruling by citing its decision in Heirs
of Amunatequi v. Director of Forestry (126 SCRA 69, 75), where it ruled, A forested area
classified as forest land of the public domain does not lose such classification simply
because loggers or settlers may have stripped it of its forest cover. xxxForestlands do not
have to be on mountains or in out of the way places. xxxThe classification is descriptive of its
legal nature or status and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks likexxx

The Court again reiterated that there must first be a formal Government declaration
that the forestland has been re-classified into alienable and disposable agricultural land,
before private persons in accordance with the various modes of acquiring public
agricultural lands can acquire it.
Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. L-46048 November 29, 1988

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, as represented by the DIRECTOR OF FORESTRY (now Director


of Forest Development), petitioner,
vs.
HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, MIGUEL MARCELO, CELIA ZURBITO, HEIRS OF JOSE
ZURBITO, namely, SOLEDAD VDA. DE ZURBITO, GASPAR, GUADALUPE, ADELAIDA, FELIPE,
JOSE and CECILIO, all surnamed ZURBITO, respondents.

The Solicitor General for petitioner.

Antonio P. Fortuno for respondents Miguel Marcelo and Celia Zurbito.

Melquides Paredes for respondent Heirs of Jose Zurbito.

Eduardo M. Marcaida, Jr. for respondent Soledad B. Vda. de Zurbito.

REGALADO, J.:

Petition for review on certiorari of the decision 1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 49640-R 2 which
affirmed, with modifications, the decision of the Court of First Instance of Masbate in Land Registration
Case No. N-9419, LRC Record

No. N-9414, thereof. The proceedings in the court a quo started on February 8, 1955 when herein private
respondent Miguel Marcelo filed an application for the registration of two (2) parcels of land with an
aggregate area of 116.8441 hectares, situated in Sitio Calulod Barrio Pauwa Masbate, Masbate. 3

Oppositions were filed by the Government and private parties. The opposition of the Director of Forestry
(now Forest Development), which is the one involved in the present recourse, was based on the ground
that the 22 hectares of the aggregate area of the two parcels of land applied for form part of Timberland
Block F, Land Classification Project No. 3, L.C. Map No. 452, Masbate, Masbate, certified on December
22, 1924. 4

The antecedent facts, as found by the trial court and quoted with approval by the respondent court, are as
follows:

The evidence of the herein applicant disclosed that from 1909 and during the conjugal
union of the spouses Jose Zurbito and Soledad Zurbito, they commenced to purchase
small parcels of land from various owners adjoining the 30 hectares of land located in
Calulod Pauwa (sic), Masbate, which Jose Zurbito inherited from his parents. The land
thus acquired by the spouses comprises the two parcels of land which (the spouses)
described in Plan Psu-104631. The parcels of land which the spouses bought have (sic)
fruit-bearing coconut trees at the time they were purchased, some of which are estimated
to be one year old. Jose Zurbito, however, continued to plant more coconut trees and
there are now no less than 10,000 trees on the land. A small area outside of the coconut
plantations is devoted to pasture and the marshy portion not covered by nipa palms has
been converted into a fishpond. The spouses occupied and cultivated these properties
and their possession was peaceful, adverse, public, open, and in the concept of owners.
Upon the death of Jose Zurbito on June 22, 1955 (sic), his wife Soledad Buencamino
Zurbito and his children succeeded to his estate and continued his possession. The
estate of Jose Zurbito was placed under administratix (sic) thereof. On April 13, 1943,
Soledad vda. de Zurbito sold, under a deed of absolute sale, her rights, title, interest and
participation in the parcels of land subject of this registration proceedings in favor of the
herein applicant, Dr. Miguel Marcelo, who is also her son-in-law, for and in consideration
of the sum of P10,000.00 (Exhibit H). Then on October 24, 1944, Soledad vda. de
Zurbito, as administratix of the estate of the deceased Jose Zurbito and in behalf of her
children, Engracia, Gaspar and Felipe, co-signed with her other children, namely,
Guadalupe, Adelaide, Jose and Celia, a deed of sale with a right to repurchase wherein
they sold to Miguel Marcelo for and in consideration of the sum of P12,000.00 the
remaining one-half undivided portion of the properties mentioned in the previous deed of
sale. Under the provisions of the aforementioned deed, the vendors were given the
option to repurchase the properties within five years from the date thereof (October 24,
1944) extendible for another period of one year at the option of vendors. It is further
stipulated that upon failure of the vendors to redeem the properties, within the alloted
(sic) time, title shall automatically vest in the vendee, Dr. Miguel Marcelo. inasmuch as
the properties were already covered by another pacto de retro sale in favor of one Adela
Romero, part of the consideration of the sale was paid to the said Adela Romero in order
to redeem the properties from her. When the vendors-a-retro failed to repurchase the
properties within the period agreed upon, Dr. Marcelo consolidated ownership of the
properties by executing and registering in 1954 an affidavit of consolidation dated
December 2,1953 in the office of the Register of Deeds of Masbate (Exhibits M, M-1 and
M-2).<re||an1w> The evidence of the applicant shows that after Dr. Marcelo
consolidated ownership of the properties in 1954 and paid the delinquent taxes in the
sum of P2,691.21, he allowed his mother-in-law, Soledad vda. de Zurbito, to continue
managing the properties because he and his wife are living in Manila where he is
engaged in the practice of medicine. Soledad vda. de Zurbito attended to the affairs of
the hacienda, paid the taxes due thereon, deducted from the income whatever expenses
she might have incurred including her subsistence and remitted to Dr. Marcelo in Manila
the excess, if any. This arrangement was made in consideration of the personal
relationship between the applicant and Soledad vda. de Zurbito. 5

With respect to the opposition of the Government, said decision states, inter alia:

The Director of Lands did not adduce evidence to show that the land is part of the public
domain and left to the applicant the burden of proving that in the absence of any form of
grant from the state, he acquired an imperfect or incomplete title thereto, and has all the
qualifications and perfumed (sic) all the conditions prescribed by law to justify the
registration of the land in his name.

The Opposition of the Director of Forestry is centered on the claim that approximately 22
hectares of the land is within the forest zone indicated in the sketch (Exhibit 22-
government) as Exh. 22-B. In his report, Forester Anacleto B. Espinas stated that the
area is a portion of Block F, Timber Land, Land Classification project No. 3, Masbate,
Masbate, certified on December 22, 1924, L.C. Map No. 452. Inside this portion is a
fishpond containing an area of 15 hectares covered by fishpond lease agreement of
Leocadio Guzon with the Bureau of Fisheries. After the expiration of the fishpond permit
granted to Leocadio Guzon, the Director of Lands refused to approve the private land
survey of the fishpond as a prerequisite to the renewal of the lease agreement with the
Bureau of Fisheries on the ground that the land in question is under litigation. The
authentic document evidencing the classification of the land applied for registration as a
forest zone has (sic) been presented. Neither the order setting aside the said portion as
timber land by the Director of Forestry nor the original plan nor a certified copy thereof
showing the segregation from which the sketch (Exhibit 22-government) has been traced
or copied, was introduced. Without these proofs, the testimony alone of a forester will not
be considered sufficient and convincing for the Court to adjudge the area in question as
timber land (Director of Lands vs. Abaldonado CA G.R. No. 177-R; 45 O.G. 2128). It has
been held that this will not convert ipso facto the land into a forest land. (vigor vs. Director
of Lands, CA-G.R. No. 24582- R, October 21, 196 ; 57 O.G. 5888). ... 6

After trial, the Court a quo promulgated its decision the decretal portion whereof provides:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:

Confirming and ordering the registration of the title over the property described in Plan
Psu-104631 (Exhibit A) and its technical descriptions (Exhibits B and C) in the name of
Miguel Marcelo, married to Celia Zurbito, Filipino, of legal age and residing at 687
General Geronimo, Sampaloc, Manila.

Once this decision becomes final and executory, let a decree of confirmation be issued in
favor of the applicant. 7

The Director of Forestry (now Director of Forest Development) and the Heirs of Jose Zurbito, as
oppositors, appealed the aforequoted decision to respondent Court of Appeals.

On January 26, 1977, respondent court rendered judgment declaring the applicant and the private
oppositors, now the private respondents herein, as co-owners, in stated shares, of the entire property
involved. A motion for reconsideration filed by oppositor-appellant Director of Forestry was denied.

Hence, this petition.

The decisive issue for resolution is whether the 22 hectares area which forms part of the land applied for
registration by and decreed in favor of herein private respondents is disposable agricultural land.
Petitioner relies mainly upon the testimony of District Forester Anacleto Espinas who submitted a report
that the land in dispute is within a forestal zone and cannot, therefore, be awarded to private respondents
in land registration proceedings.

A careful perusal of his testimony, 8 however, reveals that, insofar as relevant to this issue, said witness
merely Identified and described the condition of the area claimed by the Government and verified the
location thereof as stated in Plan Psu-104631 which, as heretofore stated, is covered by Land
Classification Project No. 3 under LC Map No. 452, Masbate, Masbate, certified on December 22,
1924. 9 As correctly observed by the trial court, supra, no authentic document evidencing the
classification of the land applied for registration as a forest zone was ever presented by the oppositor
Director of Forestry.

Furthermore, said forester admitted that the subject area is planted with fruit-bearing coconut trees and
nipa palms, and that it is only partly covered by mangroves. 10 Petitioner would, however, insist that
since the contested area has manglares or mangrove swamps, then, pursuant to Section 1820 of the
Revised Administrative Code, such swamplands with nipa and mangrove growth are distinctly classified
as forestal areas.
It has, however, been held that said statutory provision does not warrant the conclusion sought to be
drawn therefrom, thus:

... For instance, section 1820 of the administrative Code of 1917 provides: "For the
purpose of this chapter, "public forest" includes, except as otherwise specially indicated,
all unreserved public land, including nipa and mangrove swamps, and all forest reserves
of whatever character. This definition of public forest", it will be noted, is merely "for the
purpose of this chapter". A little further on, section 1827 provides: "Lands in public
forests, not including forest reserves, upon the certification of the Director of Forestry that
said lands are better adapted and more valuable for agricultural than for forest purposes
and not required by the public interests to be kept under forest, shall be declared by the
Department Head to be agricultural lands. ..."

xxx xxx xxx

Either way we look at this question we encounter difficulty. Indubitably, there should be
conservation of the natural resources of the Philippines. x x x On the other hand, the
presumption should be, in lieu of contrary proof, that land is agricultural in nature. One
very apparent reason is that it is for the good of the Philippine Islands to have the large
public domain come under private ownership. Such is the natural attitude of the
sagacious citizen.

If in this instance, we give judicial sanction to a private claim, let it be noted that the
Government, in the long run of cases, has its remedy. Forest reserves of public land can
be established as provided by law. When the claim of the citizen and the claim of the
Government as to a particular piece of property collide, if the Government desires to
demonstrate that the land is in reality a forest, the Director of Forestry should submit to
the court convincing proof that the land is not more valuable for agricultural than for forest
purposes. Great consideration, it may be stated, should, and undoubtedly will be, paid by
the courts to the opinion of the technical expert who speaks with authority on forestry
matters. But a mere formal opposition on the part of the Attorney-General for the Director
of Forestry, unsupported by satisfactory evidence, will not stop the courts from giving title
to the claimant. 11

Furthermore, in Garchitorena Vda. de Centenera vs. Obias, et. al., 12 in disposing of the opposition of the
Director of Forestry to an application for land registration, it was explicity held that:

This opposition rests mainly upon the proposition that in the land covered by the
application there are mangrove lands as shown in this opponent's Exhibit 1, but we think
this opposition of the Director of Forestry is untenable, inasmuch as it has been definitely
decided that mangrove lands are not forest lands in the sense in which this phrase is
used in the Act of Congress (Montano vs. Insular Government, 12 Phil., 572; and Jocson
vs. Director of Forestry, 39 Phil., 560).

It is not disputed that the aforesaid Land Classification Project No. 3, classifying the 22-hectare area as
timberland, was certified by the Director of Lands only on December 22, 1924, whereas the possession
thereof by private respondents and their predecessor-in-interest commenced as early as 1909. While the
Government has the right to classify portions of Public land, the primary right of a private individual who
Possessed and cultivated the land in good faith much prior to such classification must be recognized and
should not be prejudiced by after-events which could not have been anticipated. Thus, We have held that
the Government, in the first instance may, by reservation, decide for itself what portions of public land
shall be considered forestry land, unless private interests have intervened before such reservation is
made. 13
On the matter of classification of the land into either agricultural or forestal area, petitioner's invocation of
Section 1838 of the Revised Administrative Code is not in point since said provision is merely a general
conferment of authority and administrative control on the Director of Forestry to lease or grant to qualified
persons, under the conditions therein stated, permits for the use of forest lands or vacant non-agricultural
public lands. However, as to whether the particular land in question is forestry or any other class of land is
a question of fact to be settled by the proof in each particular case. 14

Regarding the contention that the controverted lot has been the subject of a fishpond lease agreement
between the Bureau of Fisheries and one of the private respondents and is, therefore, incapable of
registration, even under considerations of only the res inter alios rule the act of that party cannot bind the
applicant in the land registration proceeding. Furthermore, the Bureau of Fisheries has no jurisdiction to
administer or dispose of swamplands or mangrove lands forming part of the public domain until such
lands have been released for fishery or other purposes. 15

WHEREFORE, the judgment appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Melencio-Herrera (Chairperson), Paras, Padilla and Sarmiento JJ., concur.