[G.R. No. 74323. September 21, 1990.]
WENCESLAO HERNANDEZ, petitioner, vs. HON. INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT, SALVADOR P. DE GUZMAN, JR., QUINTIN FLORES, JUAN GARCIA, ARSENIO FLORES, FRANCISCO FLORES, AURELIO LEVISTE and SIMON LEVISTE, respondents.
F.M. Poonin & Associates for petitioner.
Magno T. Bueser for Quintin Flores, et al.
D E C I S I O N
MEDIALDEA, J p:
"The property subject matter of this case is landed estate consisting of 53 hectares of coconut land, more or less, located in Barangay Perez, Calauan, Laguna, formerly owned by the spouses Salvador and Escolastica Tolentino, now both deceased, who had during their lifetime ten (10) children, and as of 1969 owned by SALESC, Inc., possession was relinquished to Wenceslao Hernandez in 1957 under a civilian lease. The houses of the plaintiff are built in the cluster inside the property where they and their respective family reside, at least as of 1973 according to defendant Wenceslao Hernandez. They built their houses clumped together within one area because of the dange(r) and threat posed by the Hukbalahap movement.
"The court finds the plaintiffs as bonafide agricultural tenants over the plantation since world war II when the property was personally cultivated by late Salvador Tolentino and, upon his demise, by the late Escolastica M. Tolentino. The several letters written by Mrs. Tolentino, by herself and thru her daughter Benita, addressed to Quintin Flores, are eloquent testimonies of a tenancy relationship inasmuch as the plaintiffs are identified as 'bantay' over the property and who are entitled to a share in the harvest. The letter dated March 14, 1951 (Exh. 'D') addressed to Quintin Flores by the late Escolastica M. Vda. de Tolentino herself reads as follows:
'Hindi itong kondisyon na itong ikaapat na bahagi ang ibibigay ko sa inyo; ang kondisyon na ibibigay ko sa inyo ay para sa isang taong ito, hanggang sa katapusan ng taong ito, ay kalahati, at sa mga susunod na taon, ay tercio parte na lamang. Ito ay sa mga halaman lamang bukod sa niyog.
'Bilangin ang mga puno ng halaman sa kani kanilang lugar, bawa't bantay kung ilang lanzones. Kung ilan ang abocado, star apple, at iba pang halaman ng itinanim ng Mang Badong. Nakikita nila na malalaki na ang mga halaman kaya nagprisinta seguro dine sa akin.'
"Coconut land is considered under our laws as agricultural (See RA 1199 and 3844) and a share tenant is one whose renumeration (sic) for cultivating land owned or possessed by another is determined by a proportional percentage of the harvest. The act of cultivation includes cleaning or clearing of the under brush within the plantation (Delos Reyes v. Espineli, 30 SCRA 574). Plaintiffs have shown through their evidence that they have been in possession of their respective areas in the plantation which they clean and clear for the purpose of improving the harvest and they are paid at the rate of 1/6 of the harvest under the late Mrs. Escolastica M. Tolentino and reduced to only 1/7 under the tenure of defendant Wenceslao Hernandez.
"The Court cannot accept the version of the defendants that the plaintiffs were evicted from the premises in the year 1952 or 1953, or even in 1954. The receipts evidencing the sale of the coconuts to Potenciano for the years 1953 to 1957 inclusive (see Exhs. 'R' to 'U' inclusive) which were produced by the plaintiffs prove that plaintiffs not only were in the premises all along but had a hand or participation in the harvest and its sale to Potenciano Gallevo; the Tolentinos are educated people as may be gleaned from their family picture marked as Exh. 'P' and it is a surprise to the court why their documentation of their relationship with the plaintiffs is haphazard. In fact, the practically illiterate plaintiffs have shown some system in keeping track of the meager records made available to them by the defendants. They were even able to produce the safe conduct passes issued by Mr. Arturo M. Tolentino (See Exhs. 'C' and 'F'); although said passes are only for a few days validity, the court considers the said limitation as an act of prudence on the part of the Tolentinos who apparently wanted to avoid the theft of their coconuts which could otherwise be hauled even before and after the harvest time. And even if the court takes into consideration the protestations made by the defendant, the most it could do is create a doubt, in which case the same shall be resolved in favor of the plaintiffs (see Sec. 56, RA 1199; Sec. 16, PD 946). The court notes that Wenceslao Hernandez admitted that when he occupied the premises for the first time when the same was leased to him, the plaintiffs were already inside the property planting crops, and this belies the testimony of SALESC, Inc. that the plaintiffs had already been driven out from the premises in the year 1952 or thereabout.
"At any rate, it is immaterial if the plaintiffs had been ejected as tenants in 1952 or 1953. They are anchoring this suit on the fact that they remained as agricultural tenants on the plantation even during the tenure of Wenceslao Hernandez beginning the year 1957. The plaintiffs have been in continuous, uninterrupted possession of the plantation as evidenced by their houses built thereon which Hernandez himself admitted on the witness stand as having been constructed by the plaintiffs who, according to him, insisted on constructing the same inspite of his refusal to give them permission; if indeed he had refused them permission to build their houses on the property, why did Hernandez not call the authorities or report the same to the landowner?
"The civil law lease executed by SALESC Incorporated in favor of Wenceslao Hernandez was reduced to writing only in 1970 (See Exhs. '2,' '2-A' to '2-J'). Wenceslao Hernandez was not prohibited from taking in agricultural tenants. In the absence of such prohibition, it follows that whomever the civil lessee takes in a(s) agricultural tenant shall bind the landowner.
"The court hereby finds that the land holding of the 'plaintiff are twelve hectares for Quintin Flores, fourteen hectares for Juan Garcia, eight hectares for Arsenio Flores, seven hectares for Francisco Flores, five hectares for Aurelio Leviste and seven hectares for Simon Leviste (see Exhs. 'A-1' and 'A-1-A' and that aside from the coconut trees planted thereon, the plaintiffs planted citrus, lanzones, coffee, pineapples and bananas. Plaintiffs used to have their houses in their respective landholdings but with the advent of the Hukbalahap movement in the area, they were constrained to build their houses in a cluster in the landholding of Juan Garcia. Also, the evidence submitted by the parties shows that the plaintiffs received as their share from the coconut harvest starting the year 1980 only 1/7 of the same. Attached to the records of this case is an 'Urgent Manifestation and Motion dated October 24, 1983 filed by the plaintiffs, giving the Court a breakdown of the coconut harvest of the property and the shares received by the plaintiffs as a whole and the court therefore holds that for the period February to December, 1980, 440,103 coconuts were harvested and the 1/7 share of the plaintiffs stood at P13,454.50; for the period February to December, 1981, 484,811 coconuts were harvested and plaintiffs' 1/7 share stood at P13,105.00 for the period February to December, 1982, 408,464 were harvested and plaintiffs' share stood at P13,280.20, and from February to October, 1983, 421,181 coconuts were harvested and plaintiffs' share stood at P18,844.10. Inasmuch as the plaintiffs' aforesaid shares is computed to only 1/7 which is equal to only 14.28% the defendants should add thereto the sum of P64,601.49 to make it equal to 30%." (pp. 36-39, Rollo).
"WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants as follows:
"1. Declaring the plaintiffs as the true and lawful tenants of SALESC, Inc. and of Wenceslao Hernandez, in and over the property owned by SALESC, Inc. and under lease to the latter, more particularly twelve hectares for Quintin Flores, fourteen hectares for Juan Garcia, eight hectares for Arsenio Flores, seven hectares for Francisco Flores, five hectares for Aurelio Leviste and seven hectares for Simon Leviste, and which landholdings are found and depicted in the sketches marked as Exhibits 'A-1' and 'A-1-A';
"2. Ordering defendant Wenceslao Hernandez to pay to the plaintiffs the sum of P64,601.49 representing the unpaid balance of the shares they are entitled to receive from January 22, 1980 when this complaint was filed to October 31, 1983;
"3. Upon the finality of this decision to submit to the court an accounting of the harvest upwards indicating therein the 30% share of the plaintiffs, the amounts already received by the plaintiffs and the balance, and the latter to pay to the plaintiffs, the said balance;
"4. The payments to the plaintiffs under the above paragraphs 2 and 3 shall be with interest at the legal rate from the time the delivery of said shares to the plaintiffs accrued to the time full payment is made, and said interest shall stop running either upon payment of the amounts to the plaintiffs or upon deposit of the same with the Clerk of Court;
"5. Declaring the sharing between the plaintiffs as tenants on the one hand and the defendants as the landowner on the other hand to be 70% of the net harvest in favor of the landowner and 30% of the net coconut harvest in favor of the plaintiffs for their respective landholdings as of January 22, 1980; and with respect to the other crops, 20% for the landowner and 80% for the tenant for the bananas; 20% for the landowner and 80% for the tenant for the pineapples; 70% for the landowner and 30% for the tenant for lanzones; and 70% for the landowner and 30% for the tenant for coffee, also retroactive to the date of the filing of this action;
"6. Ordering defendant Wenceslao Hernandez to pay to the plaintiffs the sum of P15,000.00 by way of reimbursement of plaintiffs' attorney's fees;
"The counterclaim interposed by the defendants are dismissed for lack of merit. The cross-claim filed by SALESC, Inc. against Wenceslao Hernandez is likewise denied considering that the latter was not specifically prohibited from appointing tenants and the tenants appointed by said defendant are the very tenants left by SALESC, Inc. on the premises.
"SO ORDERED." (pp. 31-32, Rollo).
"1. The respondent appellate court committed a grave error and misapprehension of facts when it upheld the conclusion of the trial court that the private respondents are agricultural tenants of the petitioner in the land in question, and in not declaring that they are not tenants;
"2. The respondent appellate court committed a grave error and mistaken application of law when it finds that an agricultural leasehold system exists between the private respondents and the petitioner." (p. 69, Rollo).
". . . The definition of cultivation is not limited merely to the tilling, plowing or harrowing of the land. It includes the promotion of growth and the care of the plants, or husbanding the ground to forward the products of the earth by general industry. The raising of coconuts is a unique agricultural enterprise. Unlike rice, the planting of coconut seedlings does not need harrowing and plowing. Holes are merely dug on the ground of sufficient depth and distance, the seedlings placed in the holes and the surface thereof covered by soil. Some coconut trees are planted only every thirty to a hundred years. The major work in raising coconuts begins when the coconut trees are already fruit-bearing. Then it is cultivated by smudging or smoking the plantation, taking care of the coconut trees, applying fertilizer, weeding and watering, thereby increasing the produce. The fact that respondent Benitez, together with his family, handles all phases of farmwork from clearing the landholding to the processing of copra, although at times with the aid of hundred laborers, thereby cultivating the land, shows that he is a tenant, not a mere farm laborer.' (Guerrero v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-44570, May 30, 1986, 142 SCRA 136; Coconut Cooperative Marketing Association, Inc. (COCOMA) v. Court of Appeals, Nos. L-46281-83, August 19, 1988, 164 SCRA 568).
It may thus be said that the caretaker of an agricultural land can also be considered the cultivator of the land (Latag v. Banog, G.R. No. 20098, January 31, 1966, 16 SCRA 88).