G.R. NOS. 162335 & 162605 - SEVERINO M. MANOTOK IV, ET AL. v. HEIRS OF HOMER L. BARQUE, ETC.
[G.R. NOS. 162335 & 162605 : December 18, 2008]
SEVERINO M. MANOTOK IV, FROILAN M. MANOTOK, FERNANDO M. MANOTOK III, MA.MAMERTA M. MANOTOK, PATRICIA L. TIONGSON, PACITA L. GO, ROBERTO LAPERAL III, MICHAELMARSHALL V. MANOTOK, MARY ANN MANOTOK, FELISA MYLENE V. MANOTOK, IGNACIO MANOTOK, JR., MILAGROS V. MANOTOK, SEVERINO MANOTOK III, ROSA R. MANOTOK, MIGUEL A.B. SISON, GEORGE M. BOCANEGRA, CRISTINA E. SISON, PHILIPP L. MANOTOK, JOSE CLEMENTE L. MANOTOK, RAMON SEVERINO L. MANOTOK, THELMA R. MANOTOK, JOSE MARIA MANOTOK, JESUS JUDE MANOTOK, JR., and MA. THERESA L. MANOTOK, represented by their Attorney-in-fact, Rosa R. Manotok, Petitioners, v. HEIRS OF HOMER L. BARQUE, Represented by TERESITA BARQUE HERNANDEZ, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
The perceived advantages of the Torrens system of registration of land titles have helped stabilize land ownership in the Philippines. Its underlying principle is security with facility in dealing with land.1 Its fundamental purpose is to quiet title to land, to perpetually enjoin any question in the legality of the title,2 hence, the titles issued under the system are indefeasible. Yet the Torrens system is imperfect in that it remains susceptible to fraud, either in the original registration proceedings or in subsequent transactions.3
These petitions feature apparently fraudulent practices relating to the attempts at registration of the subject property. Necessarily, they call for the correct application of entrenched principles in land registration. At the same time, they afford this Court the opportunity to again defend the Torrens system against unscrupulous elements who use its formalities to actualize the theft of property, and to exert judicial might in ensuring that fraud does not prevail in the end.
These petitions were referred to the Court en banc by the Special First Division which had initially ruled on them, most comprehensively in a Decision dated 12 December 2005.4 They were accepted by the Court en banc in a Resolution dated 26 July 2006. Subsequently, the parties presented their various contentions before the Court in an oral argument held on 24 July 2007, followed by the submission of their respective memoranda. While the cases were under consideration of the Court en banc, the participation of the Office of the Solicitor General was required,5 and a set of new parties was allowed leave to intervene.6
The antecedent facts are stated in full in our 2005 Decision, but are summarized herein for convenience.
On 11 June 1988, a fire gutted portions of the Quezon City Hall, immolating, among others, records stored in the Office of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City. That fire has attained notoriety due to the numerous certificates of title on file with that office, which were destroyed as a consequence. The resulting effects of that blaze on specific property registration controversies have been dealt with by the Court in a number of cases since then.7 These petitions are perhaps the most heated, if not the most contentious of those cases thus far.
Respondents Heirs of Homer Barque (the Barques) filed a petition8 with the Land Registration Authority (LRA) for administrative reconstitution of the original of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 210177 (the Barque title) issued in the name of Homer Barque. They alleged that the Barque title was among the records destroyed by the 1988 fire. In support of their petition, the Barques submitted copies of the alleged owner's duplicate of the Barque title, real estate tax receipts, tax declarations and a Plan FLS 3168-D covering the property.
Learning of the Barques' petition, Severino M. Manotok IV, et al. (the Manotoks) filed their opposition thereto. The Manotoks claimed that the lot covered by the Barque title formed part of the land covered by their reconstituted title TCT No. RT-22481  (the Manotok title) in the name of Severino Manotok, et. al. They further alleged that the Barque title was spurious.
A brief description of the property involved is in order. Both the Barques' and the Manotoks' titles advert to land belonging to Lot No. 823 of the Piedad Estate situated in the then Municipality of Caloocan, Province of Rizal. The Barque title actually involves two parcels of land as part of Lot No. 823 of the Piedad Estate, with an aggregate area of 342,945 square meters, while the Manotok title concerns only one parcel of land, but with a similar area of 342,945 square meters.
On 30 June 1997, Atty. Benjamin M. Bustos, as reconstituting officer of the LRA, denied9 the petition for reconstitution of the Barque title, declaring that:
x x x
1. Lots 823-A and 823-B, Fls-3168-D, containing areas of 171,473 Sq. Mtrs. and 171,472 Sq. Mtrs., respectively, covered by TCT No. 210177, appear to duplicate Lot 823 Piedad Estate, containing an area of 342,945 Sq. Mtrs., covered by TCT No. 372302 registered in the name of Severino M. Manotok, et. al., reconstituted under Adm. Reconstitution No. Q-213 dated February 01, 1991;
2. The submitted plan Fls-3168-D is a spurious document as categorically stated by Engr. Privadi J.G. Dalire, Chief, Geodetic Surveys Division, Land Management Bureau, in his letter dated February 19, 1997.
x x x
The Barques' motion for reconsideration was denied by Atty. Bustos in an Order10 dated 10 February 1998; hence, the Barques appealed to the LRA.
The LRA reversed Atty. Bustos on appeal. It ruled that the reconstituting officer should not have required the submission of documents other than the owner's duplicate certificate of title as basis for denying the petition and should have confined himself to the owner's duplicate certificate of title. The LRA further found anomalies in the Manotoks' title. It observed that:
Based on the documents presented, petitioners have established by clear and convincing evidence that TCT NO. 210177 was, at the time of the destruction thereof, valid, genuine, authentic and effective. Petitioners duly presented the original of the owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 210177 .... The logbook of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City lists TCT No. 210177 as among the titles lost .... The Register of Deeds of Quezon City himself acknowledged the existence and authenticity of TCT No. 210177 when he issued a certification to the effect that TCT No. 210177 was one of the titles destroyed and not salvaged from the fire that gutted the Quezon City Hall on 11 June 1988 ....
It is likewise noteworthy that the technical description and boundaries of the lot reflected in TCT No. 210177 absolutely conform to the technical description and boundaries of Lot 823 Piedad Estate ... as indicated in the B. L. Form No. 28-37-R dated 11-8-94 and B. L. Form No. 31-10 duly issued by the Bureau of Lands ....
It therefore becomes evident that the existence, validity, authenticity and effectivity of TCT No. 210177 was established indubitably and irrefutably by the petitioners. Under such circumstances, the reconstitution thereof should be given due course and the same is mandatory'.
It would be necessary to underscore that the certified copy of Plan FLS 3168 D was duly issued by the office of Engr. Ernesto Erive, Chief, Surveys Division LMS-DENR-NCR whose office is the lawful repository of survey plans for lots situated within the National Capital Region including the property in question. Said plan was duly signed by the custodian thereof, Carmelito Soriano, Chief Technical Records and Statistics Section, DENR-NCR. Said plan is likewise duly supported by Republic of the Philippines Official Receipt No. 2513818 Q dated 9-23-96 .... Engr. Erive in his letter dated 28 November 1996 addressed to Atty. Bustos - confirmed that a microfilm copy of Plan FLS 3168D is on file in the Technical Records and Statistics Section of his office. Engr. Dalire, in his letter dated 2 January 1997 addressed to Atty. Bustos even confirmed the existence and authenticity of said plan.'
The claim of Engr. Dalire in his letter dated 19 February 1997 that his office has no records or information about Plan FLS 3168-D is belied by the certified copy of the computer print-out duly issued by the Bureau of Lands indicating therein that FLS 3168D is duly entered into the microfilm records of the Bureau of Lands and has been assigned Accession Number 410436 appearing on Page 79, Preliminary Report No. 1, List of Locator Cards and Box Number 0400 and said computer print-out is duly supported by an Offical Receipt '.
The said Plan FLS 3168D is indeed authentic and valid coming as it does from the legal repository and duly signed by the custodian thereof. The documentary evidence presented is much too overwhelming to be simply brushed aside and be defeated by the fabricated statements and concoctions made by Engr. Dalire in his 19 February 1997 letter. '
Notwithstanding its conclusion that the Manotok title was fraudulently reconstituted, the LRA noted that only the Regional Trial Court (RTC) could cancel the Manotok title as a Torrens title. It thus ruled,11 that:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, it is hereby ordered that reconstitution of TCT No. 210177 in the name of Homer L. Barque, Sr. shall be given due course after cancellation of TCT No. RT-22481 (372302) in the name of Manotoks upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
The Manotoks filed a motion for reconsideration, which was opposed by the Barques with a prayer that the reconstitution be ordered immediately. The LRA denied12 the Manotoks' motion for reconsideration and the Barques' prayer for immediate reconstitution.
Both the Manotoks and the Barques appealed the LRA decision to the Court of Appeals (CA). The Barques' Petition for Review 13 was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, while the Manotoks' petition for
review14 was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66642. The Barques prayed that the LRA be directed to immediately reconstitute the Barque title without being subjected to the condition that the Manotok title should first be cancelled by a court of competent jurisdiction. On the other hand, the Manotoks argued in their own petition that the LRA erred in imputing that the Manotok title was spurious and fake.
Meanwhile, in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, Felicitas Manahan filed a motion for leave to intervene.15 She sought the dismissal of the cases in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 and CA-G.R. SP No. 66642 and claimed ownership over the subject property.
On 13 September 2002, the Second Division of the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision16 in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, denying the Barques' petition and affirming the LRA Resolution. The Barques filed a motion for reconsideration.17 Subsequently, the Special Division of Five of the Former Second Division rendered an Amended Decision18 dated 7 November 2003 wherein it held that:
WHEREFORE, our decision dated 13 September 2002 is hereby reconsidered. Accordingly, the Register of Deeds of Quezon City is hereby directed to cancel TCT No. RT-22481 of private respondents and the LRA is hereby directed to reconstitute forthwith petitioners' valid, genuine and existing Certificate of Title No. T-210177.19
The Manotoks filed a motion for the reconsideration of the amended decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, but this was denied.20
On the other hand, as to the Manotoks' petition, CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, the Third Division of the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision21 on 29 October 2003 which affirmed the resolution of the LRA.22 The appellate court held that the LRA correctly deferred in giving due course to the Barques' petition for reconstitution, since there was as yet no final judgment upholding or annulling the Barque title. The Barques filed a motion for reconsideration of this ruling.23 As had occurred with the Barques' petition, the Third Division of the Court of Appeals granted the Barques' motion for reconsideration and on 24 February 2004, promulgated its Amended Decision24 wherein it held that:
WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby GRANTED. The Decision of this Court dated 29 October 2003 is RECONSIDERED and a new one is entered ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 and directing the LRA to reconstitute forthwith respondents' TCT No. T-210177.
Aggrieved with the twin decisions of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 and CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, both ordering the cancellation of the Manotok title, the Manotoks filed separate petitions for review before this Court docketed as G.R. No. 162605 and G.R. No. 162335, respectively. On 2 August 2004, the Court ordered the consolidation of G.R. No. 162605 with G.R. No. 162335.25
On 12 December 2005, the Court's First Division rendered its Decision26 affirming the two decisions of the Court of Appeals.27 The Manotoks filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Court's First Division denied in a Resolution dated 19 April 2006.28 Thereafter, the Manotoks' filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Motion for Reconsideration, with their Motion for Reconsideration attached. The Court denied the same in a Resolution dated 19 June 2006, and the Court further ordered that entry of judgment be made.29 Thus on 2 May 2006, entry of judgment was made in the Book of Entries of Judgment.30
The Barques filed multiple motions with the Court's First Division concerning the execution of the judgment, including a Motion for Issuance of Writ of Possession or For Execution.31 In response, the Manotoks filed an Urgent Motion to Refer Motion for Possession to the Supreme Court En Banc (with prayer to set motion for oral argument). In a Resolution dated 19 July 2006, the Special First Division referred these cases to the Court en banc, and on 26 July 2006, the Court en banc promulgated a Resolution accepting the cases.32
On 7 September 2006, Felicitas Manahan and Rosendo Manahan filed a motion to intervene, to which was attached their petition in intervention.33 Movants alleged that the property subject of the petition in G.R. No. 162335 and G.R. No. 162605 was owned by them. They claimed that their predecessor-in-interest, Vicente Manahan, was issued Sales Certificate No. 511 which covered lot 823 of the Piedad Estate. Moreover, they attached to their petition the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that the documents of the Manotoks were not as old as they were purported to be.34 The Director of the Legal Division of the Land Management Bureau (LMB) recommended to the Director of the LMB that:
'steps be taken in the proper court for the cancellation of TCT No. RT-22481(372302) and all its derivative titles so that the land covered may be reverted to the State.35
Ultimately, the Court found it necessary to involve the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in these cases, directing the OSG to file its Comment. The OSG filed its Comment on 04 April 2007. Oral arguments were eventually held on 24 July 2007.
After the oral arguments, the Court required the parties, the intervenors, and the Solicitor General to submit their respective memoranda.
As can be gleaned from the foregoing statement of facts, these petitions are attended by a few procedural unorthodoxies, such as, for example, the Court en bancs move on the Special First Division's referral for reevaluation of these petitions when an entry of judgment had already been made in favor of the Barques. Yet the prevailing consensus within the Court en banc was to proceed with the reevaluation of these cases on a pro hac vice basis. There are good reasons for the Court to act in such rare manner in these cases. Most urgently, the Court had felt that the previous rulings by the First Division and the Special First Division warranted either affirmation or modification by the Court acting en banc.
It is a constitutional principle that "no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the [C]ourt in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed except by the court sitting en banc." It has been argued that the 2005 Decision of the First Division is inconsistent with precedents of the Court, and leaving that decision alone without the imprimatur of the Court en banc would lead to undue confusion within the bar and bench, with lawyers, academics and judges quibbling over whether the earlier ruling of the Division constitutes the current standard with respect to administrative reconstitution of titles. Our land registration system is too vital to be stymied by such esoteric wrangling, and the administrators and courts which implement that system do not deserve needless hassle.
The Office of the Solicitor General correctly pointed out that this Court before had sanctioned the recall entries of judgment.36 The power to suspend or even disregard rules of procedure can be so pervasive and compelling as to alter even that which this Court itself has already declared to be final.37 The militating concern for the Court en banc in accepting these cases is not so much the particular fate of the parties, but the stability of the Torrens system of registration by ensuring clarity of jurisprudence on the field.
It is beyond contention, even by the parties, that since the Court en banc resolved to accept these petitions in 2006, we have effectively been reviewing the 12 December 2005 Decision of the Court's First Division, as well as the Resolutions dated 19 April and 19 June 2006 of that same Division. This Resolution is the result of that review. As earlier stated, we have opted to do so on a pro hac vice basis to lend much needed jurisprudential clarity as only the Court en banc can constitutionally provide.
In the context of an administrative reconstitution proceeding before the LRA, the Barques have sought that the LRA exercise the power to cancel the Manotok title and forthwith cause the reconstitution of their own title. The LRA refused to do so, although it did rule that the Manotok title was spurious and thus subject to cancellation through the proper judicial proceeding. Upon appellate review of that LRA decision, the Court of Appeals initially upheld the LRA's position, but ultimately, upon motion for reconsideration, directed the cancellation of the Manotok title and the reconstitution of the Barque title.
Our succeeding discussion centers on the ordered mechanism for the cancellation of Torrens titles in the Philippines.
To recall, both assailed Amended Decisions of the Court of Appeals notably directed the cancellation of the Manotok title even as it mandated the reconstitution of the Barque title. The obvious question is whether the Court of Appeals was empowered to direct the annulment of the Manotok title through the petitions raised before it by the Barques and the Manotoks. It could not.
Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, also known as the Property Registration Decree, provides that "[a] certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack [and] cannot be altered, modified, or cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law."38 Clearly, the cancellation of the Manotok title cannot arise incidentally from the administrative proceeding for reconstitution of the Barque title even if the evidence from that proceeding revealed the Manotok title as fake. Nor could it have emerged incidentally in the appellate review of the LRA's administrative proceeding.
There is no doubt that the Court of Appeals does not have original jurisdiction to annul Torrens titles or to otherwise adjudicate questions over ownership of property. Its exclusive original jurisdiction is determined by law, particularly by Batas Pambansa (B.P. 129). Section 9 of that law restricts the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals to special civil actions and to actions for annulment of judgments of the regional trial court.39 Still, the Court of Appeals did acquire jurisdiction over the Barques' and the Manotoks' petitions, albeit in the exercise of its exclusive appellate jurisdiction40 over the ruling of the LRA, also pursuant to Section 9 of B.P. Blg. 129, as amended. Thus, for the appellate court to be able to direct the cancellation of a Torrens title in the course of reviewing a decision of the LRA, the LRA itself must have statutory authority to cancel a Torrens title in the first place.
Note that the Office of the Solicitor General, which acts as counsel for the government and its agencies including the LRA, refutes the contention that the LRA has jurisdiction to cancel the Manotok title, much less jurisdiction to rule on the validity of a certificate of title. It invokes the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC under Paragraph 2, Section 19 of B.P. Blg. 129, conferring jurisdiction on the RTC over "all civil actions which involve the title to or possession of real property, or any interest therein x x x." That the RTC has "exclusive original jurisdiction" over actions seeking the cancellation of title to real property is so cardinal in our remedial law that it is reflected in hundreds if not thousands of examples in jurisprudence.
Nonetheless, we may inquire whether, notwithstanding the statutory delineation of "exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC," there is statutory basis for the LRA to exercise jurisdiction over the cancellation of Torrens titles. If there is, we can perhaps assess such law separately from B.P. Blg. 129.
Section 6 of P.D. No. 1529 enumerates the general functions of the Land Registration Commissioner, as follows:
SEC. 6. General Functions –
(1) The Commissioner of Land Registration shall have the following functions:
(a) Issue decrees of registration pursuant to final judgments of the courts in land registration proceedings and cause the issuance by the Registers of Deeds of the corresponding certificates of title;
(b) Exercise supervision and control over all Registers of Deeds and other personnel of the Commission;
(c) Resolve cases elevated en consulta by, or on appeal from decision of, Registers of Deeds;
(d) Exercise executive supervision over all clerks of court and personnel of the Court of First Instance throughout the Philippines with respect to the discharge of their duties and functions in relation to the registration of lands;
(e) Implement all orders, decisions, and decrees promulgated relative to the registration of lands and issue, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, all needful rules and regulations therefor;
(f) Verify and approve subdivision, consolidation, and consolidation-subdivision survey plans of properties titled under Act No. 496 except those covered by P.D. No. 957.
Nowhere in the aforecited provision is it stated that the LRA has the power to cancel titles. Indeed, the Barques are unable to point to any basis in law that confirms the power of the LRA to effect such cancellation, even under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 26 as amended by Rep. Act No. 6732, which authorizes the administrative reconstitution of titles in limited cases. In fact, as we shall see shortly such laws take great care to ensure that a petition for administrative reconstitution of title will not disturb existing Torrens titles.
It is thus clear that neither the Court of Appeals nor the LRA had jurisdiction to cancel the Manotok title. The next matter of inquiry is whether the LRA had acted correctly in ordering, conditional as it may have been, the administrative reconstitution of the Barque title.
Under Rep. Act No. 26 as amended by Rep. Act No. 6732, administrative reconstitution of titles is permitted where the certificates of titles have been lost due to "flood, fire and other force majeure." The petitioner in such a case is required to execute an affidavit, containing the following averments:
(1) That no deed or other instrument affecting the property had been presented for registration, or, if there be any, the nature thereof, the date of its presentation, as well as the names of the parties, and whether the registration of such deed or instrument is still pending accomplishment;
(2) That the owner's duplicate certificate or co-owner's duplicate is in due form without any apparent intentional alterations or erasures;
(3) That the certificate of title is not the subject of litigation or investigation, administrative or judicial, regarding its genuineness or due execution or issuance;
(4) That the certificate of title was in full force and effect at the time it was lost or destroyed;
(5) That the certificate of title is covered by a tax declaration regularly issued by the Assessor's Office; andcralawlibrary
(6) That real estate taxes have been fully paid up to at least two (2) years prior to the filing of the petition for reconstitution.41
Section 19 of Rep. Act No. 26, as amended by Rep. Act No. 6732, further provides:
Sec. 19. If the certificate of title considered lost or destroyed, and subsequently found or recovered, is not in the name of the same person in whose favor the reconstituted certificate of title has been issued, the Register of Deeds or the party concerned should bring the matter to the attention of the proper regional trial court, which, after due notice and hearing, shall order the cancellation of the reconstituted certificate of title and render, with respect to the memoranda of new liens and encumbrances, if any, made in the reconstituted certificate of title, after its reconstitution, such judgment as justice and equity may require: Provided, however, That if the reconstituted certificate of title has been cancelled by virtue of any deed or instrument, whether voluntary or involuntary, or by an order of the court, and a new certificate of title has been issued, the procedure prescribed above, with respect to the memorandum of new liens and encumbrances made on the reconstituted certificate of title, after its reconstitution, shall be followed with respect to the new certificate of title, and to such new liens and encumbrances, if any, as may have been on the latter, after the issuance thereof.42
Rep. Act No. 6732 itself also states:
Section 11. A reconstituted title obtained by means of fraud, deceit or other machination is void ab initio as against the party obtaining the same and all persons having knowledge thereof.
Section 12. Any person who by means of fraud, deceit or other machination obtains or attempts to obtain a reconstituted title shall be subject to criminal prosecution and, upon conviction, shall be liable for imprisonment for a period of not less than two years but not exceeding five years or the payment of a fine of not less than Twenty thousand pesos but not exceeding Two hundred thousand pesos or both at the discretion of the court.
Any public officer or employee who knowingly approves or assists in securing a decision allowing reconstitution in favor of any person not entitled thereto shall be subject to criminal prosecution and, upon conviction, shall be liable for imprisonment of not less than five years but not exceeding ten years or payment of a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos but not exceeding One hundred thousand pesos or both at the discretion of the court and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.43
These provisions indubitably establish that the administrative reconstitution of Torrens titles is intended for non-controversial cases, or especially where the subject property is not covered by an existing title in favor of a person other than the applicant. Such an implication is consonant with the rule that the reconstitution proceedings are not the venue for confirmation or adjudication of title, but merely a means by which a previously adjudicated title whose original has been lost or destroyed may be reissued to its owner.44
The Solicitor General pertinently cites the rule in Alabang Development Corporation v. Valenzuela,45 which we held that "[t]he 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."46 That such doctrine was established for cases of judicial reconstitution does not bar its application to cases of administrative reconstitution. None of the provisions pertaining to administrative reconstitution in Rep. Act No. 26 or 6732 extraordinarily empowers the LRA to exercise jurisdiction over a petition for reconstitution, where the property is already covered by a Torrens title. After all, the LRA in such case is powerless to void the previous title or to diminish its legal effect. Even assuming that the previously issued title is obviously fraudulent or attended by flaws and as such cannot be countenanced by the legal system, the corrective recourse lies with the courts, and not with the LRA.
If a petition for administrative reconstitution is filed with the LRA, and it appears from the official records that the subject property is already covered by an existing Torrens title in the name of another person, there is nothing further the LRA can do but to dismiss the petition. The dismissal of such petition is subject to judicial review, but the only relevant inquiry in such appellate proceeding is on whether or not there is a previously existing title covering that property. Neither the LRA nor the Court of Appeals at that point may inquire into the validity of the title or the competing claims over the property. The only remedy is an action before the RTC for the cancellation of the existing title, whether by the competing claimant or by the OSG on behalf of the Republic.
The 2005 Decision placed heavy reliance on Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership v. Velasco,47 where in the course of reviewing an action for judicial reconstitution of title, the Court opted not to remand the reconstitution case filed by Molina to the court of origin in order to permit the appeals of Ortigas and the Solicitor General, which had been improvidently disallowed by the trial court. Instead, owing to the "fatal infirmities" of Molina's cause of action, the Court itself nullified the reconstituted titles issued by the trial court. Ortigas had been cited by the Court of Appeals and also by the 2005 Decision, in ruling on the Barques' petition.
The unusual "shortcut" that occurred in Ortigas had become necessary because in that case the trial court had denied or stricken out the notices of appeal respectively filed by Ortigas and the Solicitor General from the order for reconstitution of Molina's titles. Had these notices of appeal been allowed, the Court of Appeals would have then reviewed the trial court's decision on appeal, with the ultimately correct resolution which was the annulment of Molina's titles. Ortigas was forced to institute a special civil action of certiorari and mandamus with this Court, praying for either of these alternative results–the more prudent recourse of directing the trial court to act on the notices of appeal and to forward the case records to the Court of Appeals, or the more immediate remedy of bypassing the appellate process and the Court itself by directly annulling Molina's titles.
The Court of Appeals herein could not have equated its annulment of the Manotok title with that undertaken by the Court in Ortigas since, unlike in Ortigas, the Court of Appeals was not endowed with the proper appellate jurisdiction to annul the Manotok title. As earlier pointed out, since the LRA had no original jurisdiction to cancel the Manotok title, it follows that the Court of Appeals had no jurisdictional competence to extend the same relief, even while reviewing the LRA's ruling. Clearly, Ortigas cannot be applied as a binding precedent to these cases. The fundamental jurisdictional defects that attended the actions of both Divisions of the Court of Appeals have effectively diminished Ortigas as a persuasive authority.
The 2005 Decision accepted the findings of the LRA and the Court of Appeals that the Manotok title was spurious and accordingly sanctioned its cancellation, even though no direct attack on the title had been initiated before a trial court. That the 2005 Decision erred in that regard is a necessary consequence following our earlier explanation of why the mere existence of the Manotok title necessarily barred the LRA from inquiring into the validity of that title.
Moreover, it would have been pointless for the LRA or the Court of Appeals to have ruled definitively on the validity of the Barques' claim to title. After all, since neither the LRA nor the Court of Appeals could cause the cancellation of the Manotok title, any declaration that the Barque claim was valid would be inutile and inoperable. Still, in order to effectively review and reverse the assailed rulings, it would be best for this Court to test the premises under which the LRA and the Court of Appeals had concluded that the Barques had a valid claim to title. The available record before the Court is comprehensive enough to allow us to engage in that task.
The Barque title, or TCT No. 210177, under which the Barques assert title to Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate, states that it was transferred from TCT No. 13900.48 The Barques assert that they bought the subject property from a certain Setosta. Thus, it could be deduced that TCT No. 13900 should have been registered under the name of Setosta. However, it was not. TCT No. 13900 was registered under the name of Manotok Realty, Inc.49 This detracts from the Barques' claim that the Manotoks do not have title to the property, as in fact the Barque title was a transfer from a title registered under the name of the Manotoks. The Barques have failed to explain the anomaly.
The Barques hinge their claim on a purported subdivision plan, FLS-3168-D, made in favor of Setosta. However, based on the records, it appears that there is a conflict as to its actual existence in the files of the government. Revelatory is the exchange of correspondence between the LMB and the LRA. The LMB did not have any copy of FLS-3168-D in the EDP listing,50 nor did the LMB have a record of the plan.51 However, a microfilm copy of FLS-3168-D was on file in the Technical Records and Statistical Section of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Capital Region (DENR-NCR).52 The copy with the Technical Records and Statistical Section, which bore the stamp of the LMB, was denied by the LMB as having emanated from its office.53
Further, the letter dated 2 January 1997 from the LMB stated that the copy of FLS-3168-D as verified from its microfilm file was the same as the copy sent by the Technical Records and Statistics Section of the National Capital Region Lands Management Sector.54 The LMB, however, denied issuing such letter and stated that it was a forged document.55 To amplify the forged nature of the document, the LMB sent a detailed explanation to prove that it did not come from its office.56 In a letter to the administrator of the LRA, the hearing officer concluded that "it is evident that there is an attempt to mislead us into favorable action by submitting forged documents, hence it is recommended that this case [be] referred to the PARAC for investigation and filing of charges against perpetrators as envisioned by this office under your administration."57
There are significant differences between the technical description of Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate as stated in FLS-3168-D, the subdivision plan relied on by the Barques, and the technical description provided by the DENR.58 The DENR-confirmed technical description reads:
Bounded on the E., along line-2 by Payatas Estate; on the SE., by Tuazon Estate; along line 3-4 by Lot 824; along line 4-5 by Lot 818; and on the N., along line 5-1 by Lot 822, all of Piedad Estate.59
However, if we examine the subdivision plan, there are critical changes with respect to the boundaries named therein. In effect, the boundaries as described in the subdivision plan would read:
Bounded on the E., along line-2 by Diez Francisco; on the SE., by Diez Francisco; along line 3-4 by Lot 824; along line 4-5 by Lot 826; and on the N., along line 5-1 by Lot 822, all of Piedad Estate."60
The Barques offered no credible explanation for the discrepancy between the subdivision plan it relies on and the DENR record. They also do not contradict the finding of the National Archives that there is no copy in its files of the deed of sale allegedly executed between Setosta and Barque.61
Lastly, in the 1st indorsement issued by the Land Projection Section of the LRA dated 23 August 2006, that Section stated that upon examination it was found out that the land as described in the Barque title "when plotted thru its tie line falls outside Quezon City." This is material, since Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate is within the boundaries of Quezon City.62 A similar finding was made by the Land Management Bureau (LMB). It attested that the line or directional azimuth of Lot No. 823 per the Barque title locates it at 5,889 meters away from point 1 of Lot No. 823 of the Piedad Estate.63
These discrepancies highlight the error of the LRA and the Court of Appeals in acknowledging the right of the Barques to seek reconstitution of their purported Barque title. Even assuming that the petition for reconstitution should not have been dismissed due to the Manotok title, it is apparent that the Barques' claim of ownership is exceedingly weak.
In the course of fully reevaluating these cases, the Court could not turn a blind eye on the evidence and points raised against the Manotok title. The apparent flaws in the Manotoks' claim are considerable and disturbing enough. The Court, as the ultimate citadel of justice and legitimacy, is a guardian of the integrity of the land registration system of the Philippines. We will be derelict in our duty if we remain silent on the apparent defects of the Manotok title, reflective as they are of a scourge this Court is dedicated to eliminate.
Many of these flaws have especially emerged through the petition-for-intervention of Felicitas and Rosendo Manahan, whom we have allowed to intervene in these cases. The Manahans had filed a petition with the OSG seeking that it initiate cancellation/reversion proceedings against the Manotok title. That petition was referred by the OSG to the LMB of the DENR, which duly investigated the claim of the Manahans. The Chief of the Legal Division of the LMB recommended that the appropriate proceedings be taken in the proper court for the cancellation of the Manotok title, through a Memorandum dated 17 April 2000.64
Around the same time, the LMB referred to the DENR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Roseller S. dela Peña a query on whether a deed of conveyance could be issued to Felicitas Manahan. The DENR Undersecretary, in answering that query through a Memorandum dated 6 July 2000, pointed out that the titles of the Manotoks could not have been derived from OCT No. 614, the mother title of Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate.65 The chain of transfers leading from OCT No. 614 to the Manotok title was a TCT No. 22813, purportedly issued by the Office of the Register of Deeds for the Province of Rizal. The copy of said TCT No. 22813 submitted to the Court is truncated in the upper half, to the point that it is not visually discernible what year the same was issued. More crucially, a certification was issued by the Register of Deeds of Rizal dated 7 January 2000 stating thus:
After a thorough verification from the files of this Office, it appears that the documents leading to the issuance of TCT No. 22813, Blk. T-92 cannot be found from the files of this Office.66
These findings were twice verified with due diligence and reconfirmed by the DENR, according to Undersecretary Dela Peña.67
The DENR also requested the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in conducting the said investigation. The NBI examined various sales certificates and assignment of sales certificates in the names of the purported predecessors-in-interest of the Manotoks Regina Geronimo, Modesto Zacarias, and Felicisimo Villanueva–certificates that were all dated prior to 1930. In its Chemistry Report No. C-99-152 dated 10 June 1999, the Forensic Chemistry Division of the NBI concluded that the said documents "could not be as old as it (sic) purports to be."68
According to the Manahans, the LMB did eventually forward to the Office of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City a Deed of Conveyance for registration and mandatory issuance of title to Felicitas Manahan as grantee, pursuant to Section 122 of the Land Registration Act. The registration of said Deed of Conveyance was referred to the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority en consulta in 2001.
Also on record69 is an Investigation Report on Lot No. 823 of the Piedad Estate dated 5 July 1989, authored by Evelyn C. dela Rosa, Land Investigator of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), NCR-North Sector and addressed to the CENRO Officer, North CENRO. It was narrated therein that Lot No. 823 had actually been in the possession of a Valentin Manahan beginning in 1908. In 1939, Valentin Manahan applied for the purchase of the land, and he was issued Sales Certificate No. 511. The Investigation Report stated:
Records show that the Sale Certificate No. 511 covering Lot 823, Piedad Estate, was issued to Valentin Manahan as purchaser and transferred to Hilaria de Guzman Manahan as (Assignee) and sold to Felicitas Manahan by way of Deed of Absolute Sale dated August 23, 1974. Based on my research at the Land Management Bureau (LMB), Central Office, it appears that original claimant of lot 823 was Valentin Manahan.70
All told, these apparent problems with the Manotoks' claim dissuade us from being simply content in reflexively dismissing the administrative petition for reconstitution filed by the Barques. Indeed, we have to take further action.
The most formidable impediment to the Court reacting to the problems apparent in the Manotok title is the fact that we are not engaged in the review of an original action for the cancellation of such title. If, as in Ortigas, the validity of the questionable title were now properly at issue, the Court would without hesitancy rule on such question. Because it is not, the matter of how next to proceed warrants more deliberation.
The conservative approach would be to still affirm the continuing validity of the Manotok title until the proper case for its cancellation is filed with the regional trial court. Within that context, it would also be a plausible recourse for us is to direct the Solicitor General to duly investigate the circumstances behind the transmission of Lot No. 823, formerly a Friar Land, to private persons. Thereafter, the Solicitor General can file the appropriate proceedings for cancellation if warranted. However, it is already apparent, following the evaluation of these cases, that there is evidence–unrefuted thus far–indicating that the Manotoks' claim to title is just as flawed as that of the Barques.
Can the Court declare the Manotok title void? In the 2002 decision in Alonso v. Cebu Country Club,71 the subject property therein had originally formed part of the Banilad Friar Lands. Cebu Country Club had undertaken the administrative reconstitution of the title to the property, leading Alonso to file a complaint for nullification of such title in order to vindicate his own claims to the property. Alonso's complaint was dismissed by the trial court and the Court of Appeals. While the case was pending with this Court, the Solicitor General was required to comment on the validity of Cebu Country Club's administratively reconstituted title. Ultimately, the Court concluded that Cebu Country Club had not been able to establish a clear title over the contested estate, and in the dispositive portion of its decision declared "that Lot No. 727 D-2 of the Banilad Friar Lands Estate covered by Original Certificate of Title Nos. 251, 232, and 253 legally belongs to the Government of the Philippines."
The following year, the Court, acting on the motions for reconsideration in Alonso,72 extensively discussed why it had taken that extraordinary step even though the Republic of the Philippines, through the Solicitor General, had not participated or intervened in that case before the lower courts.
It must be borne in mind that the disputed property is part of the "Friar Lands" over which the Government holds title and are not public lands but private or patrimonial property of the Government and can be alienated only upon proper compliance with the requirements of Act No. 1120 or the Friar Lands Act.
x x x
It was thus primordial for the respondent to prove its acquisition of its title by clear and convincing evidence in view of the nature of the land. In fact, it is essential for both respondent and petitioners to establish that it had become private property. Both parties failed to do so. As we have held earlier, petitioners have not succeeded to prove their claim of ownership over the subject property.
x x x
Neither may the rewards of prescription be successfully invoked by respondent, as it is an iron-clad dictum that prescription can never lie against the Government. Since respondent failed to present the paper trail of the property's conversion to private property, the lengthy possession and occupation of the disputed land by respondent cannot be counted in its favor, as the subject property being a friar land, remained part of the patrimonial property of the Government. Possession of patrimonial property of the Government, whether spanning decades or centuries, can not ipso facto ripen into ownership. Moreover, the rule that statutes of limitation do not run against the State, unless therein expressly provided, is founded on "the great principle of public policy, applicable to all governments alike, which forbids that the public interests should be prejudiced by the negligence of the officers or agents to whose care they are confided."
x x x
Finally, our declaration that Lot 727-D-2 of the Banilad Friar Lands Estate legally belongs to the Government does not amount to reversion without due process of law insofar as both parties are concerned. The disputed property is a Friar Land and both parties failed to show that it had ceased to belong to the patrimonial property of the State or that it had become private property.73
The Alonso approach especially appeals to us because, as in this case, the subject property therein was a Friar Land which under the Friar Lands Law (Act No. 1120) may be disposed of by the Government only under that law. Thus, there is greater concern on the part of this Court to secure its proper transmission to private hands, if at all.
At the same time, the Court recognizes that there is not yet any sufficient evidence for us to warrant the annulment of the Manotok title. All that the record indicates thus far is evidence not yet refuted by clear and convincing proof that the Manotoks' claim to title is flawed. To arrive at an ultimate determination, the formal reception of evidence is in order. This Court is not a trier of fact or otherwise structurally capacitated to receive and evaluate evidence de novo. However, the Court of Appeals is sufficiently able to undertake such function.
The remand of cases pending with this Court to the Court of Appeals for reception of further evidence is not a novel idea. It has been undertaken before - in Republic v. Court of Appeals74 and more recently in our 2007 Resolution in Manotok v. Court of Appeals.75 Our following explanation in Manotok equally applies to this case:
Under Section 6 of Rule 46, which is applicable to original cases for certiorari, the Court may, whenever necessary to resolve factual issues, delegate the reception of the evidence on such issues to any of its members or to an appropriate court, agency or office. 80 The delegate need not be the body that rendered the assailed decision.
The Court of Appeals generally has the authority to review findings of fact. Its conclusions as to findings of fact are generally accorded great respect by this Court. It is a body that is fully capacitated and has a surfeit of experience in appreciating factual matters, including documentary evidence.
In fact, the Court had actually resorted to referring a factual matter pending before it to the Court of Appeals. In Republic v. Court of Appeals, this Court commissioned the former Thirteenth Division of the Court of Appeals to hear and receive evidence on the controversy, more particularly to determine "the actual area reclaimed by the Republic Real Estate Corporation, and the areas of the Cultural Center Complex which are 'open spaces' and/or 'areas reserved for certain purposes,' determining in the process the validity of such postulates and the respective measurements of the areas referred to." The Court of Appeals therein received the evidence of the parties and rendered a "Commissioner's Report" shortly thereafter. Thus, resort to the Court of Appeals is not a deviant procedure.
The provisions of Rule 32 should also be considered as governing the grant of authority to the Court of Appeals to receive evidence in the present case. Under Section 2, Rule 32 of the Rules of Court, a court may, motu proprio, direct a reference to a commissioner when a question of fact, other than upon the pleadings, arises upon motion or otherwise, in any stage of a case, or for carrying a judgment or order into effect. The order of reference can be limited exclusively to receive and report evidence only, and the commissioner may likewise rule upon the admissibility of evidence. The commissioner is likewise mandated to submit a report in writing to the court upon the matters submitted to him by the order of reference. In Republic, the commissioner's report formed the basis of the final adjudication by the Court on the matter. The same result can obtain herein.76
The primary focus for the Court of Appeals, as an agent of this Court, in receiving and evaluating evidence should be whether the Manotoks can trace their claim of title to a valid alienation by the Government of Lot No. 823 of the Piedad Estate, which was a Friar
Land. On that evidence, this Court may ultimately decide whether annulment of the Manotok title is warranted, similar to the annulment of the Cebu Country Club title in Alonso. At the same time, the Court recognizes that the respective claims to title by other parties such as the Barques and the Manahans, and the evidence they may submit on their behalf, may have an impact on the correct determination of the status of the Manotok title. It would thus be prudent, in assuring the accurate evaluation of the question, to allow said parties, along with the OSG, to participate in the proceedings before the Court of Appeals. If the final evidence on record definitively reveals the proper claimant to the subject property, the Court would take such fact into consideration as it adjudicates final relief.
For the purposes above-stated, the Court of Appeals is tasked to hear and receive evidence, conclude the proceedings and submit to this Court a report on its findings and recommended conclusions within three (3) months from notice of this Resolution.
To assist the Court of Appeals in its evaluation of the factual record, the Office of the Solicitor General is directed to secure all the pertinent relevant records from the Land Management Bureau and the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources and submit the same to the Court of Appeals.
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated 12 June 2005, and the Resolutions dated 19 April and 19 June 2006 of the Court's First Division are hereby SET ASIDE, and the Entry of Judgment recorded on 2 May 2006 is RECALLED. The Amended Decision dated 24 February 2004 in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, the Amended Decision dated 7 November 2003 and the Resolution dated 12 March 2004 in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, and the Resolutions of the Land Registration Authority dated 24 June 1998 and 14 June 1998 in Admin. Recons. No. Q-547-A are all REVERSED and SET ASIDE.
The instant cases are hereby REMANDED to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings in accordance with this Resolution. The Court of Appeals is directed to raffle these remanded cases immediately upon receipt of this Resolution.
This Resolution is immediately executory.
1 F. Ponce, The Philippine Torrens System: A Texbook on Land Titles, Deeds, Liens, Descent and Mortgage at 120.
2 Id. at 121.
3 Id. at 125.
4 G.R. No. 162605, rollo, pp. 666-732. See also 477 SCRA 339.
5 Id. at
6 Id. at 969-A.
7 See, e.g., Medina v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 107595, 2 February 1994, 229 SCRA 601; Ortigas & Co. Ltd. v. Velasco, G.R. NOS. 109645 & 112564, 25 July 1994, 234 SCRA 455; In Re: Azucena Garcia, 393 Phil. 718 (2000); University of the Philippines v. Rosario, 407 Phil. 924 (2001); Republic v. Holazo, G.R. No. 146846, 31 August 2004, 437 SCRA 345; Cañero v. University of the Philippines, G.R. No. 156380, 8 September 2004, 437 SCRA 630; Encinas v. National Bookstore, G.R. No. 162704, 28 July 28, 2005, 464 SCRA 572; Premiere Development Bank v. Court of Appeals, G.R. NOS. 128122, 128184 & 128229, 18 March 2005, 485 SCRA 234; Subido v. Republic, G.R. No. 152149, 25 April 2006, 488 SCRA 178: Heirs of Nicolas v. Development Bank, G.R. No. 137548, 3 September 2007, 532 SCRA 38.
8 Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, p. 74.
9 Id. at 86.
10 Id at 87.
11 Id at 95.
12 Id at 96.
13 CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, rollo, p. 2-23.
14 CA-G.R. SP No. 66642 rollo, p.7-45.
15 CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, rollo, pp. 172-201.
16 Id. at 244-248.
17 Id. at 256-275.
18 Penned by Justice Buenaventura J. Guerrero and concurred in by Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr, Edgardo P. Cruz and Danilo B. Pine. Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. dissented.
19 CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, rollo, p. 432.
20 Justice Enriquez maintained his dissent.
21 Penned by Justice Eubulo G. Verzola and concurred in by Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam.
22 CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, rollo, p. 144-149.
23 Id. at 151-171.
24 Id. at 218.
25 G.R. No.162605. Rollo, p. 386.
26 Penned by Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and concurred in by the Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr and by Justices Leonardo A. Quisumbing and Adolfo S. Azcuna. Justice Antonio T. Carpio dissented.
27 Id. at 667-684.
28 Id. at 830.
29 Id. at 881. Entry of judgment was recorded on 2 May 2006.
30 Id. at 884.
31 Id. at 908-918.
32 Id. at. 947-A.
33 G.R. No. 162335, rollo, p. 891.
34 Id at 1320.
35 Id at 1075.
36 Citing Barnes v. Padilla, G.R. No. 160753, 30 September 2004, 439 SCRA 675; Chiong v. Hon. Cosico, 434 Phil. 753 (2002).
37 Ginete v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 127596, 24 September 1988, 292 SCRA 38.
38 See Sec. 48, Pres. Decree No. 1529.
39 Sec. 9(1) & (2), B.P. 129, as amended.
40 See Sec. 9(3), B.P. 129, as amended.
41 See Rep. Act No. 26, Sec. 5, as amended by Rep. Act No. 6732.
42 See Rep. Act No. 26, Sec. 19, as amended.
43 See Rep. Act No. 6732, Secs. 11 & 12, Rep. Act No. 6732.
44 See e.g., Serra Serra v. Court of Appeals, G.R. NOS. L-34080 & 34693, March 22, 1991, 195 SCRA 482.
45 201 Phil. 727 (1982).
46 Id. See also Serra Serra v. Court of Appeals, supra note 44.
47 G.R. NOS. 109645 & 112564, 25 July 1994, 234 SCRA 455.
48 Rollo, p. 127.
49 Id. at 1200-1201.
50 Rollo, p. 157.
51 Id. at 132.
52 Id. at 134.
53 Rollo, p. 136.
54 Id. at 137.
55 Id. at 142.
56 Id. at 144.
57 Id. at 143.
58 See "Annex A," Memorandum of Intervenor. "Extracted from Technical Descriptions appearing on Deed of Conveyance No. 200022 with Sales Cert. No. 511 issued by the OIC Director of Land Management Bureau on Oct. 30, 2000 and was further checked and verified against the Land use Map of Q.C., C.M. 14-40 N. 121-05 E., Sec. 4-A, Brgy. of Matandang Balara on file at the Projection Unit of LSVS-DENR-NCR and plan Sp-00-000779 on file at TSS-DENR-NCR."
60 Annex "G," Respondents' Memorandum.
61 Rollo, p. 210.
62 Id. at 949.
63 See id. at 1107.
64 Id. at 1075
65 Id. at 1077.
68 Id. at 1320.
69 See id. at 1321-1322.
71 426 Phil. 61 (2002).
72 See 462 Phil. 546 (2003) .
73 Id. at 563-566.
74 359 Phil. 530 (1998).
75 G.R. NOS. 123346 & 134385, 14 December 2007, 540 SCRA 304.
76 Id. at 351-352.
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