I. The Petitions for Dismissal
Shortly after notice of the judgment of July 25, 1994 in the consolidated cases at bar was served on counsel of Ortigas & Co. Ltd., it filed a "Motion for Reconsideration (Re: Dismissal of Respondent Judge)," dated August 15, 1994, pointing out that while it had been awarded the basic reliefs it sought, the prayer set out in its Memorandum 1 — that Hon. Judge Tirso D.C. Velasco be purged from the judiciary — had not been granted. It made reference to a "litany of glaring errors committed by respondent Judge" — disregarding the mandatory notice requirement in reconstitution proceedings; "reviving" a long interred petition; disregarding the Decisions of this Court and its warning to take extra care in reconstitution proceedings; relying on incredible and unbelievable evidence; bad faith in disallowing the appeals of Ortigas and the Republic of the Philippines; and allowing execution pending appeal — and argued that collectively, these errors amply establish Judge Velasco’s "gross bad faith and connivance in the fraudulent reconstitution of the fake titles." 2
The Manila Banking Corporation (TMBC) joined Ortigas in the petition for Velasco’s removal from the Judiciary. 3 In fact, as early as July 12, 1993, it had filed an administrative complaint against the Judge for gross ignorance of the law, serious misconduct prejudicial to the interest of the service, patent bias and partiality in favor of Dolores Molina, and hostility to those opposing her claims — involving the same orders and rulings which were annulled by this Court’s Decision of July 25, 1995. The case was docketed as Administrative Matter No. RTJ-93-1108, entitled "Epimaco V . Oreta (On Behalf of the Manila Banking Corporation) v. Hon. Tirso D.C. Velasco, etc." It was, however, dismissed without prejudice by the First Division in a Resolution dated October 18, 1995 principally for being premature. 4chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
II. Relevant Pleadings Prior to Submission of Case for Resolution
The Court required Judge Velasco to file a comment on the petition for his removal within ten (10) days, 5 but filing thereof was, at his instance, held in abeyance." . . pending resolution of petitioner Molina’s motion for reconsideration of the said decision of July 25, 1994 . . ." 6 That motion for reconsideration was denied with finality by Resolution of January 23, 1995, which also accordingly ordered Judge Velasco "to SUBMIT within ten (10) days from notice . . . his comment on the ‘Motion for Reconsideration (Re: Dismissal of Respondent Judge)’ . . . dated August 15, 1994." In a subsequent Resolution, 7 the Court directed inter alia that "no further pleadings, motions or papers be henceforth filed in these cases except only as regards the issues directly involved in the ‘Motion for Reconsideration (Re: Dismissal of Respondent Judge)’ of Ortigas & Co. Ltd., dated August 15, 1994."cralaw virtua1aw library
Judge Velasco submitted his Comment on March 17, 1995.
By Resolution dated July 24, 1995, the Court declared the consolidated cases at bar "closed and terminated;" directed entry of judgment; reiterated the order that no further pleadings, motions or papers be henceforth filed except only as regards the issues directly involved in the motion for the dismissal of the Judge, dated August 15, 1994; and directed the Clerk of Court to transmit the mittimus in both cases to the corresponding Courts of origin for appropriate action. Then, after passing upon and disposing of other incidents, including inter alia the liability of Dolores Molina and her lawyers for contempt of court, 8 the Court promulgated another Resolution (dated May 20, 1996) granting the parties thirty (30) days from notice within which to file memoranda, if they be so minded, in relation to the application for Judge Velasco’s removal from the Judiciary. Judge Velasco filed his memorandum on June 26, 1996; TMBC and Ortigas filed theirs on July 15, 1996 and September 11, 1996, respectively. No hearing was conducted. The parties did not ask for it. Having raised no issue of fact requiring presentation of proof, they were evidently disposed to submit the case for resolution on the basis of their pleadings and memoranda in relation to the facts on record.
The seriousness of the charges and of the penalty thereto corresponding have impelled the referral of the case to the Court En Banc.
III. Judge’s Theory that Case Moot and Academic
In his memorandum, Judge Velasco theorizes that "the recycled petition for . . . (his) dismissal in the THIRD DIVISION of the Supreme Court (had been rendered) moot and academic" by: (1) the dismissal on October 18, 1995 of the administrative case against him (Adm. Matter No. RTJ-93-1108), and (2) the entry of the final and executory judgment of the Second Division "dated July 25, 1994 in G.R. No. 109645 and G.R No. 112564 . . ." The theory is utterly untenable.
The dismissal of the complaints in Adm. Matter No. RTJ-93-1108 was "without prejudice to their revival should the Court in its adjudication of the cases now pending before it pertaining to these cases find the Decisions/Orders issued by respondent Judges to have been issued in violation of judicial norms of conduct warranting disciplinary action." 9 And other pertinent Resolutions have made clear that Judge Velasco’s administrative liability would be dealt with separately from the merits of the consolidated cases; that the finality and entry of the consolidated judgment would have no effect on the determination of said liability; that the proceedings, in other words, would be kept open solely as regards the petition for the Judge’s removal. The Resolution of January 23, 1995, for instance, which denied with finality Molina’s motion for reconsideration of the consolidated decision of July 25, 1994 (inclusive of said motion’s supplements), not only ordered the Judge to submit his comment on the petition for his dismissal from the service (its filing having been deferred pending resolution of Molina’s aforesaid motion for reconsideration), but also directed that "no further pleadings, motions or papers (should) be henceforth filed in these cases except only as regards the issues directly involved in the ‘Motion for Reconsideration (Re: Dismissal of Respondent Judge)’ of Ortigas & Co. Ltd., dated August 15, 1994." — indubitably indicating that the inquiry into Judge Velasco’s administrative liability would be pursued despite the attainment of finality of the judgment, then quite imminent. These dispositions were reiterated in the Resolutions of March 1, 1995 and July 24, 1995. 10 All this, apart from the fact that Judge Velasco’s administrative liability was never directly in issue in the proceedings leading to the rendition of the consolidated judgment in the cases at bar.
IV. Specific Accusations
At Judge Velasco’s door are laid accusations of grievous transgressions of quite elementary procedural and jurisdictional rules.
A. Proceeding with Reconstitution Case Without Jurisdiction
The first of these is that he acted on and indeed favorably resolved the reconstitution proceeding instituted by Molina despite full awareness that he had no jurisdiction over it, the pre-requisites therefor not having been complied with. The validity of the accusation cannot but be conceded.
Section 13 of Republic Act No. 26, 11 sets down the indispensable requisites 12 for the acquisition by the court of jurisdiction over a proceeding for reconstitution of title, these being:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1) publication, at petitioner’s expense, of notice of the petition for reconstitution twice in successive issues of the Official Gazette, and posting thereof on the main entrance of the provincial building and of the municipal building of the municipality or city in which the land is situated, at least thirty days prior to the date of hearing;
2) specific statement in the notice of the number of the lost or destroyed certificates of title if known, the name of the registered owner, the name of the occupants or persons in possession of the property, the owner of the adjoining properties and all other interested parties, the location, area and boundaries of the property, and the date on which all persons having any interest therein must appear and file their claim or objection to the petition;
3) sending, by registered mail or otherwise, at the expense of the petitioner, of a copy of the notice to every person named therein (i.e., the occupants or persons in possession of the property, the owner of the adjoining properties and all other interested parties) whose address is known, at least thirty days prior to the date of the hearing; and
4) submission by petitioner at the hearing of proof of the publication, posting and service of the notice as directed by the court.
Judge Velasco was made aware of the petitioner’s failure to comply with these peremptory requirements. In truth, in his Order of July 3, 1992, he confessed his inability to "declare as of now that . . . (his Court) had already acquired jurisdiction over . . . (the) case considering the manifestation of . . . (Solicitor) Ma. Eloisa Castro that the requirement of notice to the other adjacent owners has not as yet been submitted to the Court . . ." Having thus been put on guard that an essential feature of the proceeding was fatally flawed — essential because it affected his very power to act thereon — he became unavoidably obliged to review the record and, of course, the legal provisions laying down the germane jurisdictional requirements. Had he done so, he would have quickly discovered that the notice of the petition for reconstitution, as published and posted, did not state the names of the occupants or persons in possession of the property, the owner of the adjoining properties and all other interested parties, and that petitioner had not (as she could not have) sent copies of the notice to said persons. These omissions are clearly albeit implicitly conceded by petitioner herself — when she filed an ex parte motion dated July 13, 1992 praying that notices be sent to certain individuals — and by His Honor — when he granted that motion by Order dated July 16, 1992. However, what the Velasco Court actually did, through the Clerk of Court, was to send notices of the hearing scheduled on July 16, 1992 to persons OTHER than those mentioned by the law, namely:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
1) the "president of the Corinthian Neighborhood Association or Corinthian Homeowners Association thru the Barangay Chairman of Barangay Corinthian because the adjoining property designated as Vicente Madrigal is now part of this Barangay Corinthian;"
2) the "Director, Bureau of Lands, Plaza Cervantes, Manila, as adjoining owner designated as Public Land:" and
3) the "City Engineer of Quezon City for the adjoining boundaries designated as Roads or Road Lot." chanrobles.com : virtual law library
By no means may these notices be deemed to meet the fundamental prerequisites for acquisition of jurisdiction in reconstitution cases. For clearly, as this Court said in its Decision of July 25, 1994, the officers of the neighborhood or homeowners’ association "are not the adjoining owners contemplated by law, on whom notice of the reconstitution proceedings must be served . . .; nor did they, by their receipt of notice of the petition (or the process server’s admonition) incur the obligation to transmit such notice to the actual owners of the adjoining lots, assuming they had knowledge of the latter’s identities." 13 Nor may said notices be considered substantially satisfactory, simply on the basis of respondent Judge’s claim of "honest belief" that notice on the officers of the Corinthian Neighborhood Association was sufficient because the "occupants or homeowners (whom the law required to be notified) are themselves, bonafide members of the Association," and said officers "were specifically charged by the process server to inform their respective constituents about the notice." The claim is put forth with no little effrontery, considering its patent puerility, and underscores the Judge’s cavalier attitude towards the stringent jurisdictional requirements of the law.
His Honor advances the equally preposterous theory that since Atty. Ongkiko appeared "in behalf of the Association" — which shows, he says, that the latter had received the notice of hearing, it was "up to him to make further inquiries . . . (this being) his own lookout as representative of the Association." Of the same ilk is his excuse for omitting to serve any notice on Ortigas, i.e., that its "claims can be properly determined in a separate, ordinary action where the issue of ownership can be threshed out, and not in a reconstitution proceeding . . ." That excuse is a flimsy attempt to mask his deliberate refusal to the allegations of the oppositors, including the government itself, that there was nothing to reconstitute because Molina’s title was fabricated and completely void.
It is thus abundantly clear that no notice of the reconstitution petition was ever given to the owners of the adjoining properties and other interested parties, and no publication in the Official Gazette, or posting in the indicated public places, of notices of the petition stating the names of these persons was ever accomplished. Respondent Judge ignored these patent defects — which effectively precluded his Court’s acquiring jurisdiction over the reconstitution proceeding — and proceeded to act on the case and preside, in fine, over a proceeding void ab initio.
B. Unwarranted Dismissal of Appeals
Respondent Judge moreover disregarded well-known and firmly established doctrines respecting dismissal of appeals and execution of judgments, in a manner that clearly favored petitioner Molina.
A rule of long standing and uniform application is that dismissals by Regional Trial Courts of appeals from their judgments are allowed only under the conditions stated in Sections 13 and 14, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court. Section 14 provides that a "motion to dismiss an appeal may be filed . . . prior to the transmittal of the record to the appellate court," the grounds being limited to those "mentioned in the preceding section," i.e., Section 13, to wit: "where the notice of appeal, appeal bond, or record on appeal is not filed within the period of time herein provided." In other words, the only ground for dismissal of an appeal from the Regional Trial Court is the failure of an appellant to file the notice of appeal, or the record on appeal — in cases of multiple appeals — the requirement of an appeal bond having been eliminated.
It has no power to disallow an appeal on any other ground, e.g., that it is frivolous, or the case has become moot, etc. The reason is obvious: otherwise, "the way would be opened for courts . . . to forestall review or reversal of their decisions by higher courts, no matter how erroneous or improper such decisions should be." 14
Neither may the Trial Court dismiss appeals on the grounds mentioned in Rule 50 of the Rules of Court, or other recognized grounds, e.g., that the cause has become moot, or the appeal is frivolous or manifestly dilatory — for authority to do so "is not certainly with the court a quo whose decision is in issue, but with the appellate court." 15
But in defiance of these familiar precepts, respondent Judge dismissed appeals attempted to be taken from his judgment in favor of Molina by Ortigas and the Solicitor General.
He dismissed Ortigas’ appeal, pronouncing its notice of appeal as a "mere scrap of paper" because Ortigas allegedly had no material interest in the litigation. Not only was this contrary to the doctrine just discussed, it also went against relevant facts and related substantive provisions of law. As observed by this Court in the judgment of July 25, 1994: 16
"There is in the first place, the conceded fact that Ortigas still retained title to a considerable number of street lots within the land in question, which it would lose if the entire area were declared to belong to Molina. Again, the respondent Judge’s acknowledgment of Ortigas’ status of vendor of all the subdivision lots covered by Molina’s adverse claim., was implicit recognition of its right and obligation to defend its vendees’ titles being impugned by Molina precisely on the theory that Ortigas’ titles were void, a right and obligation arising from the warranty against eviction imposed on it by law. The avoidance of liability for eviction is certainly an interest of sufficient substance to concede to Ortigas capacity to litigate as party in interest in the reconstitution proceeding, prescinding from its stated intention of preventing the perpetration of fraud by Molina upon Ortigas’ vendees and successors-in-interest and upon the public at large."cralaw virtua1aw library
Respondent Judge pleads "good faith," saying that when he dismissed Ortigas’ appeal, he had no furtive design, self-interest, ill-will or ulterior purposes in his mind and heart. The record shows otherwise and precludes acceptance of his plea.
Judge Velasco also threw out the appeal of the Office of the Solicitor General. He branded the appeal "sham" because said Office had "not filed any formal opposition to the petition and neither has it introduced and/or formally offered any evidence to warrant its dismissal, etc.," and declared that the appeal was tardily attempted. Again, the ruling on the matter in the judgment of July 25, 1994 is relevant and cogent: 17
"Prescinding from the patent fact that the records do contain (1) the formal objection of the OSG to Molina’s petition for reconstitution on the ground inter alia that no actual notice had been given to the adjacent owners, an omission that the Trial Judge had precisely acknowledged, (2) the report of the Land Registration Authority drawing the Court’s attention to irregularities in the petition, e.g., that the plan relied upon by Molina, Psd-16740 ‘appears to be derived from two different surveys, numbered Psu-1148 & Psu-20191, neither of which appear(s) to have been the subject of original registration; thus it is presumed that no original title had been issued from which TCT-124088 could have emanated;’ that said plan ‘is a portion of (LRC) SWO-15352 which is being applied for registration of title in Land Reg. Case No. Q-336, LRC Rec. No. N-50589,’ etc., (3) the notice of appeal of the OSG from the judgment of September 23, 1992, (4) the motion of the OSG for reconsideration of the Order of October 14, 1992 — unmistakably indicating the active opposition of the OSG to the Molina petition for reconstitution — the rule, as already explained, is that Trial Courts have no competence to dismiss appeals on the stated ground or any other going to the merits thereof. While it may be assumed that Trial Courts are morally convinced of the correctness of the judgments and orders that they promulgate, and hence, in most cases, they honestly believe that appeals from their judgments or final orders are inutile, frivolous, dilatory, this gives them no warrant to reject appeals on these grounds; otherwise, the right of appeal would be rendered largely illusory."cralaw virtua1aw library
A fallacy known in logic as non sequitur is what his Honor offers by way of refutation of this accusation. He argues that government agencies "directly involved in this kind of proceeding . . . (were) duly notified" — such as "the Land Management Bureau, the DENR, the Register of Deeds . . . and the City Engineers Office of Quezon City" — and since "they . . . (had) not registered any opposition to the petition," the Solicitor General’s appeal is "sham and unnecessary." The conclusion does not follow, it has no bearing whatever on the stated premise; and the Judge’s plea of "good faith" founded on such an obviously contrived argument cannot but be rejected. Furthermore, ranking officials of the Land Registration Authority had in fact impugned Molina’s title, as will shortly be recounted. 18
C. Unwarranted Order of Execution Pending Appeal
The next misdeed ascribed to Judge Velasco concerns his Order of October 14, 1992 by which he authorized the immediate execution of the judgment rendered by him just twenty-one (21) days earlier (on September 23, 1992), directing reconstitution of Molina’s title. In that Order he opined that, on the ostensible basis of cited precedents. Ortigas’ appeal was "frivolous and interposed only for purposes of delay;" hence, immediate execution was warranted not only by Molina’s advanced age, but also to "prevent wastage of (her) income," "avoid the possibility of . . . judgment becoming illusory or to "prevent further damage" to her or "minimize damage unduly suffered by . . . (her)." chanrobles virtuallawlibrary
Now, it is axiomatic that execution of judgments pending appeal is allowed only as an exception to the general rule that only judgment which have become final and executory may be executed. The principle is set forth in Section 2, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court.
"SEC. 2. Execution pending appeal. — On motion of the prevailing party with notice to the adverse party the court may, in its discretion, order execution to issue even before the expiration of the time to appeal, upon good reasons to be stated in a special order. If a record on appeal is filed thereafter, the motion and the special order shall be included therein."cralaw virtua1aw library
The element that gives validity to an order of execution pending appeal, it will be noted, is the existence of good reasons, to be stated in a special order. The discretion to authorize immediate execution, is sound discretion, which so authorizes it only where there are good reasons therefor. 19 Execution pending appeal is not to be availed of and applied routinely, but only in extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, particularly as regards land registration or cadastral cases, the rule should be applied with even more circumspection in light of: (1) the declared inapplicability of the Rules of Court "to land registration, cadastral and election cases, naturalization and insolvency proceedings, and other cases not . . . provided for, except by analogy or in a suppletory character and whenever practicable and convenient;" and (2) the holding in Director of Lands v. Reyes, 68 SCRA 177 (1975) that "execution pending appeal is not applicable in a land registration proceeding," for the reason that it "is fraught with dangerous consequences . . . (as) (i)nnocent purchasers may be misled into purchasing real properties upon reliance on a judgment which may be reversed on appeal." 20
Respondent Judge’s concession to Molina of immediate execution of the judgment in her favor thus constitutes yet another breach of established principles.
Insofar as immediate execution is premised on the theory that Ortigas’ appeal was "frivolous and interposed only for purposes of delay," such rationalization is indefensible for the reasons already stated relative to the Judge’s disallowance of Ortigas’ appeal. And insofar as it is sought to be justified upon the broad and general grounds cited by His Honor, i.e., in order "to prevent wastage of income," or "avoid the possibility of . . . judgment becoming illusory or to minimize damage unduly suffered by the prevailing party or to prevent further damage," as well as by Molina’s "advanced age" — the proffered rationale is just so much gobbledygook. In the first place, respondent Judge was aware that Molina’s title was in conflict with Ortigas’ document of ownership — which had been in existence for many, many years, and had been subject of, and upheld in, several decisions and final resolutions of the highest court of the land. Any reasonably prudent person in his shoes should have realized that there could be some serious questions about Molina’s title. Assuming, however, that the Judge had been convinced by Molina’s proofs that Ortigas’ titles were gravely flawed, he may not (as this Court’s judgment of July 25, 1996 emphasizes) ascribe "such infallibility to his judgment as to preclude the possibility of its being overturned on appeal, (and) condemn any appeal sought to be taken therefrom as idle and merely generative of needless injury to the prevailing party." Otherwise, the exception would come to be the general rule; it would then be possible for the prevailing party in every case to bring about immediate execution by merely alleging that any projected appeal would result in injury to him because his income would be wasted, or he would be caused further damage; or, if he should happen to be of advanced age, that he would not survive an appeal.
Of course as it turned out, respondent Judge’s decision was not as invulnerable as he posited. Indeed, it was riddled with invalidating imperfections, and only the most biased would have imputed such soundness to it as to spawn optimism of its affirmance by this Court. All things considered, the gross impropriety of authorizing that judgment’s immediate execution is quite apparent.
D. Disregard of Factors Cogently Militating Against Reconstitution
Again, respondent Judge proceeded with the reconstitution case and rendered judgment in disregard, and even in defiance, of powerfully cogent circumstances of which he was fully aware, deepening the doubt as to the bona fides of his claim, just discussed, of frivolousness of the appeals from his judgment, and of the existence of good reasons for its immediate execution.
1. Lack of Jurisdiction
The first of these circumstances is, as already stressed, the non-fulfillment of the legal requisites for his Court’s acquisition of jurisdiction over the Molina reconstitution case, a fatal defect he sought to trivialize and evade by ordering service of notice on inconsequential parties — who clearly were not those contemplated by law or obliged to relay the notice to the proper persons.
2. Adverse Evidence of High-Ranking Officials of LRA
A second circumstance ignored by His Honor although it obviously made obligatory the exercise of extreme caution in assessment of the merits of Molina’s application, was the fact that Government agencies and officials directly in charge of enforcement of land registration laws had pointed to pernicious, if not invalidating, defects in her title.
At the commencement of the reconstitution proceedings, the Land Registration Authority presented to the Judge a report explicitly identifying irregularities in Molina’s title. 21 And high-ranking officers of the Land Registration Authority testified in support of that report: Atty. Benjamin Bustos, Chief of the Reconstitution Division, who declared that Molina’s plans had never been subject of registration proceedings; Engineer Felino Cortez, Chief of the Ordinary and Cadastral Decree Division, who said there were discrepancies in the plans and technical description submitted by Molina; and Mr. Privadi J. G. Dalire, Chief of the Geodetic Surveys Division of the Land Management Bureau, who testified that the plans of Molina could not refer to the land allegedly covered thereby.
Atty. Bustos explained, among other things, that the absence of corresponding registration proceedings indicated that there was no original certificate of title from which the transfer certificate of title — a photocopy of which was presented by Molina — could have emanated. He recommended denial of her application for reconstitution, stating that every transfer certificate of title regularly issued has a control number allotted by the Land Registration Authority, and while Molina claims that her title was issued in 1967, the records show that the number on Molina’s title was not released to the Quezon City Register of Deeds until 1975; and Molina’s alleged title overlapped 19 other genuine titles.
Engineer Cortez testified inter alia that two plans submitted by Molina, dated 1910 and 1918, were suspect because the eastern and western boundaries were parallel, an unlikely position for land that was probably forested at that time; and that the record number of one of the plans submitted, 781, referred to property in Palawan, not Quezon City.
The evidence given by Mr. Dalire of the Land Management Bureau 22 indicates that the procedure in the assignment of subdivision numbers renders it impossible for Psd-16740 to be a subdivision survey of both Psu-1148 and Psu-20191 — as Molina submits — although both refer to land in Bo. Ugong, Pasig, Rizal. The official record of approved surveys discloses that Psd-16740 pertains to a survey conducted by a certain R Guerrero for the Heirs of Jose dela Viña over land located in Valle Hermoso, Negros Oriental (not Quezon City).
3. Published Precedents Re Ortigas’ Titles and Re-constitution Proceedings
Respondent Judge also disregarded precedents laid down by this Court germane to the issues before him. Admitted on all sides was that Molina’s titles overlapped those of Ortigas. Ortigas had in fact explicitly pleaded such overlapping and drawn His Honor’s attention to this Court’s rulings vindicating its titles. It did so, for instance, in its "Manifestation and Motion" dated September 7, 1992, to which it appended a copy of this Court’s Decision of August 7, 1992 in the so-called WIDORA Case. 23 His Honor was thus charged with knowledge that Ortigas’ titles had more than once been passed upon and upheld by the highest court of the land. And he should have known, too — as emphasized in this Court’s judgment of July 25, 1994 — that those relevant precedents 24 operated to put Ortigas’ titles over the lands thereby embraced beyond the pale of further judicial inquiry; and that no court in the country now has competence to take cognizance of applications for the registration anew of said lands in the name of persons other than Ortigas or its predecessor-in-interest, or successors and assigns, or entertain further challenges to the validity and efficacy of the latter’s titles.
He was in the premises, also charged with knowledge of this Court’s pronouncements in Alabang Development Corporation Et. Al. v. Valenzuela, 25 and other precedents, 26 to the effect that — 27
". . . courts must exercise the greatest caution in entertaining . . . petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost certificates of title, particularly where the petitions are filed, as in this case, after an inexplicable delay of 25 years after the alleged loss. . . . We can take judicial notice of innumerable litigations and controversies that have been spawned by the reckless and hasty grant of such reconstitution of alleged lost or destroyed titles as well as of the numerous purchasers who have been victimized by forged or fake titles or their areas simply ‘expanded’ through ‘table surveys’ with the cooperation of unscrupulous officials.
The Court stresses once more that lands already covered by duly issued existing Torrens titles (which become incontrovertible upon the expiration of one year from their issuance under section 38 of the Land Registration Act) cannot be the subject of petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles filed by third parties without first securing by final judgment the cancellation of such existing titles. (And as the Court reiterated in the recent case of Silvestre v. Court of Appeals [G.R. Nos. L-32694 and L-33119, July 16, 1982], ‘in cases of annulment and/or reconveyance of title, a party seeking it should establish not merely by a preponderance of evidence but by clear and convincing evidence that the land sought to be reconveyed is his’) The courts simply have no jurisdiction over petitions by such third parties for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles over lands that are already covered by duly issued subsisting titles in the names of their duly registered owners. The very concept of stability and indefeasibility of titles covered under the Torrens System of registration rules out as anathema the issuance of two certificates of title over the same land to two different holders thereof. A fortiori, such proceedings for ‘reconstitution’ without actual notice to the duly registered owners and holders of Torrens Titles to the land are null and void. Applicants, land officials and judges who disregard these basic and fundamental principles will be held duly accountable therefor."cralaw virtua1aw library
and that — 28
"Time and again, the integrity and inviolability of Torrens titles issued pursuant to the Land Registration Act (Act 496) and Presidential Decree No. 1529 have been shaken by the very courts whose unwavering duty should be to protect the rights and interests of title holders but instead have favored claimants under the guise of reconstitution filed after a long lapse of time after the Japanese occupation, alleging the existence of original and duplicate certificates of title issued pursuant to a court decree but have subsequently been lost or destroyed including the record of the land registration case on account of the war and lay claim to valuable parcels of land previously titled and registered under the Torrens registration system and are even able to dispose these properties to unsuspecting homelot buyers and speculating land developers. The courts must be cautious and careful in granting reconstitution . . . based on documents and decrees made to appear authentic from mere xerox copies and certification of officials supposedly signed with the seals of their office affixed thereon, considering the ease and facility with which documents are made to appear as official and authentic. It is the duty of the court to scrutinize and verify carefully all supporting documents, deeds and certifications. Each and every fact, circumstance or incident which corroborates or relates to the existence and loss of the title should be examined."cralaw virtua1aw library
Despite all these rulings, some of which bear striking similarities to the reconstitution case at bar, respondent Judge ignored the binding admonition that lands already covered by existing titles "cannot be the subject of petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles filed by third parties without first securing by final judgment the cancellation of such existing titles;" and that "courts simply have no jurisdiction over petitions by such third parties for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles over lands that are already covered by duly issued subsisting titles in the names of their duly registered owners." His opinion that Ortigas should ventilate the issue of ownership, not in the reconstitution proceeding, but in a separate suit, defied this admonition. What is worse, he ordered immediate execution of his indefensible judgment, and made it possible for Molina get title to the property and dispose of it, which she forthwith proceeded to do. As observed in this Court’s judgment of July 25, 1994, 29
". . . Molina succeeded in having her title (TCT No. 124088) reconstituted; and it was assigned a new number: TCT No. RT-58287. Molina caused the land thereby covered to be subdivided into five (5) parcels and obtained separate titles for them (the reconstituted title being, of course, consequently cancelled in the process). These titles over the five (5) subdivided lots, TCTs Numbered 83163, 83164, 83165, 83166 and 83167, were all issued in the name of Dolores V. Molina. Later, TCT No. 83164 was cancelled and replaced by TCT No. 83869 in the name of Gateway Enterprises Co., Inc., to which Molina had apparently sold the land therein described for P24,408,000.00. (Footnote 17: ‘Rollo, p. 222. N.B. Ortigas claims that sales by Molina have grossed something like 750 million pesos.’)"
4. Reconstitution Petition Based on Plainly Inferior Evidence
Molina had nothing but a mere photocopy of a suppositional title as basis for her application for reconstitution, and nothing but self-contradictory tales as regards her acquisition of ownership of the land, and of her possession of the corresponding documents of title. 30
Yet respondent Judge insists his judgment was founded on "concrete, hard-bitten evidence . . . thoroughly examined." 31 He cites a purported subdivision plan (Psd-16740) found in the microfilm files of the Land Management Bureau, on which he opted to rely; this, despite the candid admission of witness Amado Bangayan — the Assistant Chief of the Record Management Division of the Land Management Bureau, who, as custodian of all survey plans, was presented by Molina to authenticate this item of proof — that never having seen the original of Psd-16740, he could not attest to the genuineness or authenticity thereof.
He also points to the evidence given by another witness of Molina, Ernesto Benitez of the Patent and Reconstitution Section of the Land Registration Authority, who pronounced correct the technical description of the area set out in a document entitled "1st Indorsement," which he had prepared and submitted directly to Judge Velasco. He opted to give credit to such evidence despite the testimony of Benitez’s superior, Atty. Bustos, that Benitez had no authority to issue that certification. 32 cdti
Why His Honor chose to rely on Bangayan and Benitez — despite declared dubiousness of their competence — or why their doubtful testimony should be deemed of superior credibility as against the evidence of no less than three higher ranking officials of the Land Registration Authority, supra, and the several judgments and final orders handed down by this Court respecting the titles which Molina would in effect nullify and supersede — is not explained. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a tenable explanation in the premises.
His submission, that Bangayan and Benitez were entitled to the legal presumption that they acted regularly and were clothed with authority in the performance of their official functions," is specious for, as just pointed out, Bangayan had candidly admitted to incompetence to attest to the genuineness or authenticity of the document depicted in the microfilm subject of his testimony, never having seen the original; and Benitez’ superior officer — Atty. Benjamin Bustos, Chief of the Reconstitution Division, of the Land Registration Authority — had categorically denied Benitez’ authority to certify to the correctness of the technical description in his "1st Indorsement" submitted directly to Judge Velasco. In other words, the recorded evidence precluded recourse to the presumption of regularity in performance of official functions. Moreover, there is the unanswered question of why his Honor should invoke that presumption in respect of Bangayan and Benitez, and not as regards their superior officials whose testimony was contrary to theirs — the above mentioned Atty. Bustos, and Engineer Felino Cortez, Chief of the Ordinary and Cadastral Decree Division, and Mr. Privadi J. G. Dalire, Chief of the Geodetic Surveys Division of the Land Management Bureau.
The obvious flimsiness of the evidence given by Molina’s witnesses (Bangayan and Benitez) magnifies the equally evident feebleness of her own testimony which, having been dealt with in some detail in the Decision of July 25, 1994, 33 will no longer be summarized in this opinion. It suffices to point out that Molina’s testimony and her other proofs can hardly be described, as His Honor does, as "overwhelming," or as "concrete, hard-bitten," or even as "preponderant," and that with all their defects plainly discernible in the record, respondent Judge nevertheless chose to rest his opinion on the same.
Equally specious is his argument that the "overturning of his decision should not be equated with bias, bad faith or gross misconduct, for if at all, a mistake was committed, . . . it can only be regarded as an honest error of judgment incurred on complex points of law. . .." 34 The points of law involved, concerning dismissal of appeals and execution pending appeal are not complex, unsettled or controversial. They are well established, familiar, uniformly applied legal principles. His was not a case of not knowing or failing to understand relevant doctrine, but of a deliberate disregard of them. He wilfully ignored those points of law, just as he ignored the precedents directly brought to his attention — of which, in any case, he was charged with knowledge — as well as the evidence traversing Molina’s.
The disregard by Judge Velasco (1) of the palpable absence of jurisdiction on the part of his Court over the reconstitution case in question, (2) of the adverse evidence given by LRA officials of higher rank and greater authority than those employees presented by Molina as her witnesses, (3) of the published precedents (i) regarding Ortigas’ titles and (ii) respecting reconstitution proceedings of which the general public, and particularly judges, are charged with notice, and (4) of the patent flaws in Molina’s proofs, simply cannot be explained away as an honest mistake of judgment or an innocent error in the exercise of discretion. It can only be viewed as an attempt through misuse of judicial processes to give a semblance of merit to a clearly unmeritorious cause and accord undeserved benefits to the party espousing and promoting said cause.
V. Final Disposition
The respondent’s acts herein condemned are of so serious and indefensible a character as to call for the penalty of dismissal from the service, specially so when it is considered that the disciplinary proceeding at bar is not the first initiated against him. The record reveals that there have been eight (8) other administrative cases filed against him, and while six of which of these have been dismissed, 35 one is still pending, 36 and another resulted in the imposition on him of a fine of P20,000.00 for ignorance of the law, with a stern warning that a repetition of similar acts will be dealt with more severely. 37
VI. Deliberation and Voting by the Court
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, the conclusions in this per curiam resolution were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court. Except for four (4) Justices who abstained from voting on account of their close personal association with a party but whose identities are not here disclosed, all the Members of the Court whose signatures appear hereunder concurred in this judgment. One justice took no part because he was on leave during the deliberations.
WHEREFORE, Judge Tirso D. C. Velasco is hereby DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations. Immediately upon service on him of notice of this judgment, he shall be deemed to have VACATED his office, and his authority to act in any manner whatsoever as Judge shall be considered to have automatically CEASED.chanrobles lawlibrary : rednad
, Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ.
1. At pp. 43-44.
2. Rollo of G.R. No. 109645 at 707 et seq.
3. In its memorandum, it adopted in general terms Ortigas’s arguments, and cited other grounds for disciplinary action against the Judge: (1) taking cognizance of LRC Case No. Q-5404, notwithstanding non-compliance with the mandatory notice requirement to the adjacent property owners; (2) reinstating, without authority, Molina’s withdrawn petition; (3) directing reconstitution of title over properties titled in the name of Manila Interpublic and Breeders Feeds; (4) disregarding other evidence establishing the nullity of Molina’s claims; (5) striking-out the notices of appeal filed, contrary to well-settled jurisprudence; and (6) ordering immediate execution of his decision pending appeal.
4. The Court ruled that the complaints should be dismissed because the issues raised were "subjudice, but . . . (the dismissal) is without prejudice to their revival should the Court in its adjudication of the cases now pending before it pertaining to these cases find the Decisions/Orders issued by respondent Judges to have been issued in violation of judicial norms of conduct warranting disciplinary action."cralaw virtua1aw library
5. By Resolution dated Sept. 14, 1994.
6. By Resolution dated Dec. 7, 1994.
7. Dated March 1, 1995.
8. E.g., extended Resolution promulgated on March 4, 1996 by the Third Division (to which the cases had been transferred in accordance with established procedure) — which found Dolores Molina guilty of contempt for wilful disregard of the orders of the Court and sentenced her to pay a fine of P1,000.00. SEE also Resolutions of July 25, 1995 and October 25, 1995 treating of the fine of P1,000.00 imposed on one of Molina’s lawyers for contempt of court.
9. SEE footnote 4, supra.
10. SEE footnote 7, supra.
11. "An Act Providing A Special Procedure For The Reconstitution of Torrens Certificate of Title Lost or Destroyed."cralaw virtua1aw library
12. SEE cases collated in footnote 32 of the main decision (234 SCRA 482).
13. 234 SCRA 485 (1994).
14. SEE Moran, Comments on the Rules, 1979 ed., Vol. 2, p. 433, citing cases.
15. SEE Moran, op. cit., p. 509; Feria, Civil Procedure, 1969 ed., pp. 728-729.
16. 234 SCRA 495.
17. 234 SCRA 496-497.
18. SEE footnote 23 and related text, infra.
19. SEE Heiman v. Cabrera, 73 Phil. 707; de la Rosa, Et. Al. v. City of Baguio, Et Al., 91 Phil. 721; Asturias, Et. Al. v. Victoriano, Et Al., 98 Phil. 581, cited in Feria, Civil Procedure, 1969 Ed., p. 553.
20. In this case, the Trial Court rendered judgment granting, over the opposition of the Director of Lands, the Director of Forestry, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, an application for registration of "a vast tract of land, containing an area of 16,800 hectares, more or less," and thereafter authorized immediate execution of its decision at the applicant’s instance, directing "the issuance of a decree of registration of the entire land . . . subject to the final outcome of the appeal."cralaw virtua1aw library
21. Prepared by Benjamin M. Bustos, Reconstituting Officer and Chief of the Reconstituting Division of the Land Registration Authority, dated July 17, 1992.
22. Annex B, Memorandum of petitioner Ortigas & Co., Ltd., Rollo at pp. 1182, et seq.
23. "Widows & Orphans Association, Inc. v. Court of Appeals," 212 SCRA 360-390; See Annex C, Memorandum of petitioner Ortigas (p. 57), Rollo of G.R. No. 109645 at pp. 1181 et seq.
24. Cia. Agricola de Ultramar v. Domingo, 6 Phil. 146 (1906) affirming the validity of Original Decree of Registration No. 1425, issued in G.L.R.O. Record No. 917 on April 26, 1905 by the Land Registration Court of Manila, in relation to the Hacienda de Mandaloyon, a tract of land in what is now Manila, Quezon City, and Pasig, in favor of the Compañia Agricola de Ultramar, predecessor-in-interest of Ortigas, whose titles, TCTs No. 77652 and 77653 are genuine derivatives of the title of the Cia. Agricola de Ultramar; Ortigas v. Hon. Ruiz 148 SCRA 326, 331 (1987): additional affirmation of confirmation by Decree No. 1425 of ownership of Compañia Agricola de Ultramar of the Hacienda de Mandaloyon; Minute Resolution dated 16 February 1985 in Del Rosario v. Ortigas, G.R No. 66110, refusing review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals which pertinently ruled that the extant documentary sources of the boundaries of the Hacienda de Mandaloyon are the technical descriptions thereof appearing in the initial notice of hearing in G.L.RO. Record No. 917, duly published in two (2) newspapers of general circulation in 1904, the technical descriptions of the land covered by TCT Nos. 77652 and 77653 showing that the land lies within the Hacienda; Minute Resolution in Navarro v. Ortigas, G.R. No. 50156, May 7, 1979 (affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 53125-R dated December 13, 1978), and in del Rosario v. Ortigas, G.R No. 66110, February 16, 1985 (sustaining the judgment of the Court of Appeals in AC-G.R. CV No. 61456 dated December 29, 1983), both Navarro and del Rosario sustaining the holding that TCT Nos. 77652 and 77653 had become indefeasible and incontrovertible.
25. 116 SCRA 261.
26. Republic v. Court of Appeals, 94 SCRA 865 (1979); Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, and Demetria Sta. Maria Vda. de Bernal, etc., 102 SCRA 370; Tahanan Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 118 SCRA 273.
27. 116 SCRA 277-278, citing Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, 102 SCRA 370.
28. 118 SCRA 273, 313-314.
29. 234 SCRA 470-471.
30. 234 SCRA, pp. 487-489. To recapitulate: — (1) On November 14, 1991 she alleged she was in possession of the owner’s duplicate of the title she wished to be reconstituted. On April 3, 1992, she declared that in mid-September, 1991, she discovered that said duplicate was missing (so, it could not have been in her possession in November, 1991). (2) In 1978 she twice alleged that she became owner of the land subject of the reconstitution case by acquisitive prescription. In 1990, she claimed to be owner thereof by purchase from her husband’s relatives. (3) She testified that she tried to obtain title to the land in the 1960’s, and even sought the help of President Marcos, her "boyfriend." Earlier, she had averred she could not attend to the titling of the land because she was the sole breadwinner of her family. (4) She recognized the ownership by the Mormon religious corporation of land covered by its title (No. 348048), situated within the area being claimed by her. she thereby admitted ownership of Ortigas over the same, since it was from the latter that the Mormons had bought the property.
31. Comment, Rollo, G.R No. 109645, p. 950
32. See TSN of September 2, 1992 at pp. 6 et seq.
33. See footnote 30. supra
34. Comment, id. at p. 905.
35. RTJ-87-126, RTJ-90-529, RTC-90-641, RTJ-92-810, RTJ-93-1084, RTJ-93-1108, RTJ-94-1209.
36. OCA IPI No. 97-287-RTJ.
37. Buzon, Jr. v. Velasco, A. M. No. RTJ-94-1209, February 13, 1996, 253 SCRA 601.