February 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 185603, February 10, 2016 - REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. LOCAL SUPERIOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS OF RAGUSA, Respondent.
G.R. No. 185603, February 10, 2016
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. LOCAL SUPERIOR OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS OF RAGUSA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review on certiorari1 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by the Republic of the Philippines (petitioner) seeking the reversal of the Decision2 dated December 4, 2008 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 90179, which affirmed the Decision3 dated March 9, 2007 of the 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Silang-Amadeo, Silang, Cavite in LRC No. 2006-324.
The undisputed facts as recounted by the CA, are as follows:
The applicant is a religious institution created and organized under Philippine law. The complaint alleges that the applicant acquired the subject property by way of purchase, as evidenced by a Deed of Sale on September 19, 2005, and has since been in applicant's continuous, uninterrupted, open and public possession in the concept of an owner from the said date. Prior to such purchase, applicant's predecessors-in-interest have been in the same kind of possession over the subject parcel of land as early as 1940, or for more than fifty years. It was further alleged in the complaint that this subject parcel of land is not occupied by any other individual or entity. Furthermore, as required by the Rules, the names and full addresses of the adjoining lot owners were also alleged in the complaint.
The jurisdictional requirements having [been] complied with, the trial court set the application for registration for hearing.
In the proceedings below, [the petitioner], through the Office of the Solicitor General, interposed its Opposition to the application, citing the following grounds:
First, neither the applicant nor its predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the parcel of land in question for a period of not less than thirty years.
Secondly, the tax declarations and tax payments offered by applicants in evidence do not serve as muniments of title over the subject property, especially since they appear to be of recent vintage.
Thirdly, [t]he claim of ownership in fee simple on the basis of a Spanish title or grant can no longer be availed of by the applicant who has failed to file an appropriate application for registration within a period of six months from February 16,1976 as required by P.D. No. 892.
Lastly, the parcel of land applied for is a portion of the public domain belonging to the [petitioner], and thus, not subject to appropriation.
After the proceedings have been conducted, the trial court rendered a judgment granting the Application for Registration. The pertinent portions of the assailed Decision state:After shifting [sic] through the documentary evidence adduced by the applicant, there is no doubt that the latter's predecessor[s] -in-interest, Andres Velando, and Juana Velando, had been exercising absolute ownership and possession over the subject property since 1948 up to 2005 or for a period of fifty[-]seven (57) years or from time immemorial. This Court takes judicial notice that the existing tax declarations that are intact in the Municipal Assessor's Office of Silang started only in 1948.
It appears that as early as in 1948, Andres Velando had been issued with Tax Declaration No. 2078 (Exh. "K"). Thereafter, he continuously paid the realty taxes thereon under Tax Declaration No. 1434 for taxable years of 1961 up to 1962. In total, he took actual and continuous possession therein for a period of fourteen (14) years. After his death, his daughter, Juana Velando stepped into his shoes by causing the transfer of the realty assessment in her name under Tax Declaration No. 10550 (Exh. "M") in 1963 and continuously up to 2005, to wit: 8398, 6323, 5457, 5901, 3958, 97-09632, 18 026 00190, 18 026 01005, and 18 026 01006 (Exs. "N", "O", "P", "Q", "R", ["S"], "T", "U", and "V")[.]
Upon collating the respective possessions of applicant's pre[d]ecessors-in-interest, Andres Velando and Juana Velando, the length of time could be reckoned to the extent of fifty[-]six (56) years, which shall be tacked with the actual, public and open possession by herein applicant of one (1) year wherein the latter also continuously declared it for taxation purposes under Tax Declaration No. 18 026 01015 (Exh. "W["]). As a consequence thereof, their consolidated possession and ownership would total to fifty[-]seven (57) years.4 (Citation omitted)
The trial court approved the application for registration of the Local Superior of the Institute of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Ragusa's (respondent) title.5 The petitioner appealed the trial court's decision to the CA, pointing out that the certification issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Forest Management Services clearly shows that the subject lot was declared alienable and disposable only on March 15, 1982. Thus, considering that the present application for registration was filed less than 30 years later, or on March 2, 2006, the confirmation of title in the name of the respondent was erroneous because the 30-year period of possession should be reckoned only from the time that the lot applied for was declared alienable.6
On December 4, 2008, the CA affirmed the trial court's decision.7 The CA hinged its judgment on the respondent's and its predecessors-in-interest's period of possession which dated back to 1943, as testified to by one of the previous possessors, Romulo Gonzales (Gonzales), thus:
It has been established that the period of possession of the applicant and its predecessors-in-interest commenced as far back as 1943. This is clear from the testimony of [Gonzales], one of the previous o[wn]ers of the subject property, who testified that he first came to know of the said property when he was 10 years old in 1943 and even then, he already knew that his grandfather Andres Velando was the owner of the same, judging from the fact that the latter had introduced improvements thereon. The said testimony coming from a witness whose credibility was never disputed is enough to establish possession in the concept of an owner, x x x - - -
x x x x
In the case before Us, the witness was already ten years old when he first came to know of his grandfather's ownership of the property. Surely, at that age, he was already capable of perceiving such matter. Moreover, there is reason to believe that such p[exception was strengthened and confirmed by his subsequent observations on the said property over time. Given this, We do not find difficulty in giving credence to his testimony.8 (Citation omitted)
The CA also made reference to Republic of the Philippines v. Bibonia9 and Republic of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals (Naguit case),10 stating that "[t]he fact that the state has already classified such land as alienable only goes to show that it no longer intends to keep it as its own. What matters, therefore, is that when the time the application was made, the said land was already declared alienable. A contrary ruling would only negate the classification of such land as alienable, because following oppositor-applicant's reasoning, registration of such lands would still not be possible even if the state has already relinquished its claim over the same."11
Unsatisfied, the petitioner filed the present petition raising the lone issue:
THE [CA] SERIOUSLY ERRED ON A QUESTION OF LAW IN RULING THAT THE APPLICANT'S PERIOD OF POSSESSION IS SUFFICIENT TO WARRANT REGISTRATION OF TITLE IN RESPONDENT'S NAME.12
Open and continuous possession in
the concept of an owner on or before
June 12, 1945
The petitioner's contention was that the CA "considered respondent's possession over the subject tract of land sufficient to grant the confirmation of title in his name — even as such possession was obtained before the declaration that the same is alienable and disposable land of the public domain. In so doing, the [CA] ignored the well-settled principle of law that it is only from the date of declaration of such land as alienable that the period for counting the statutory requirement of possession will start."13
A perusal of the respondent's Application for Registration14 revealed that the application is based on Section 14(1) of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, and not prescription as what the petitioner implied:
4. Applicant acquired the subject parcel of land by way of purchase on September 19, 2005 and have since there [sic] up to the present, been in continuous, uninterrupted, open, public and in the concept of an owner possession [sic] thereof. On the other hand, its predecessors-in-interest have been in the same kind of possession over this parcel of land since 1940 up to the present[.]15
Section 14 of P.D. No. 1529 states the following:
Section 14. Who may apply. The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary(1) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12,1945, or earlier.
(2) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provision of existing laws.
(3) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands or abandoned river beds by right of accession or accretion under the existing laws.
(4) Those who have acquired ownership of land in any other manner provided for by law. (Emphasis ours)
There are three obvious requisites for the filing of an application for registration of title stated in Section 14(1) of P.D. No. 1529. First, that the property in question is alienable and disposable land of the public domain; second, that the applicants by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation; and third that such possession is under a bonafide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier.16
To prove its open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession in the concept of an owner on or before June 12, 1945, the respondent presented its witnesses, one of whom is Gonzales, a former possessor of the subject land. Gonzales executed a judicial affidavit17 whereupon he was subjected to direct and cross examination during trial. The following can be gleaned from his affidavit:
Q: When were you born? A: I was born on September 5,1933 at Silang, Cavite, Sir. Q: So if you were born on September 5, 1933, you were 10 years old in 1943, am I correct? A: Yes, sir. Q: During that time who owned this parcel of land? A: It was owned by my grandfather, Andres Belando, Sir. Q: What were the improvements, if any, that could be found thereon during [sic] at that time? A: It was planted to [sic] palay, pineapple, papaya and some coconut trees. Q: After Andres Belando, who became the owner of this property? A: He was succeeded by Juana Belando. Q: What are the improvements that Juana Belando introduced? A: What I know is that my mother maintained the improvements introduced by her father, sir. Q: Did you know if this property was enclosed with fence? A: Yes Sir. It was previously fenced with kakwate and sarasa. At present, it is now fenced with partly concrete and partly stakes [sic] with barbed wires.18
As Gonzales was already 12 years old in 1945, surely he could have perceived the fact that his grandfather had already possessed the land, planted trees and introduced improvements thereon. It is of no moment that the earliest tax declaration presented was dated 1948. In Republic of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals,19 it was held that the belated declaration of the lot for tax purposes does not necessarily mean that possession by the previous owners thereof did not commence in 1945 or earlier. As long as the testimony supporting possession for the required period is credible, the court will grant the petition for registration.20 Additionally, the trial court took judicial notice of the fact that tax declarations kept intact in the Municipal Assessor's Office of Silang started only in 1948. Tacking the possession of its predecessors-in-interest, the respondent fulfilled the requirement of possession in the concept of an owner prior to 1945.
Land must be alienable and disposable at
the time of application for registration
The Court has resolved the issue on the correct interpretation of Section 14(1) of P.D. No. 1529 in Naguit case where it was held that "the more reasonable interpretation of Section 14(1) is that it merely requires the property sought to be registered as already alienable and disposable at the time the application for registration of title is filed."21
"Unlike Section 14(1), Section 14(2) explicitly refers to the principles on prescription under existing laws. Accordingly, we are impelled to apply the civil law concept of prescription, as set forth in the Civil Code, in our interpretation of Section 14(2). There is no similar demand on our part in the case of Section 14(1)."22 In Republic of the Philippines v. Iglesia ni Cristo,23 the Court affirmed the earlier pronouncements in Naguit and Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Republic of the Philippines24 thus:
Moreover, we wish to emphasize that our affirmation of Naguit in Malabanan — as regards the correct interpretation of Sec. 14(1) of PD 1529 relative to the reckoning of possession vis-a-vis the declaration of the property of the public domain as alienable and disposable — is indeed more in keeping with the spirit of the Public Land Act, as amended, and of PD 1529. These statutes were enacted to conform to the State's policy of encouraging and promoting the distribution of alienable public lands to spur economic growth and remain true to the ideal of social justice.25 (Citation omitted)
Thus, if the basis of the application is Section 14(1), it is enough for an applicant to comply with the requirements provided there under. The petitioner's argument to exclude any period of possession prior to the date when the lot was classified as alienable and disposable in computing the period of possession is irrelevant, and would take the respondent's application outside the purview of Section 14(1) and place it under Section 14(2), which is an entirely different concept.
The respondent, to establish the alienable and disposable character of the land, submitted a certification26 from the DENR-Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) which states that the subject land is verified to be within the "Alienable and Disposable land per land Classification Map No. 3013 established under Project No. 20-A and approved as such under FAO 4-1656 on March 15, 1982." However, in light of the Court's ruling in Republic of the Philippines v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc.,27 the DENR-CENRO certification is insufficient to prove the alienable and disposable character of the land sought to be registered:
[I]t is not enough for the PENRO or CENRO to certify that a land is alienable and disposable. The applicant for land registration must prove that the DENR Secretary had approved the land classification and released the land of the public domain as alienable and disposable, and that the land subject of the application for registration falls within the approved area per verification through survey by the PENRO or CENRO. In addition, the applicant for land registration must present a copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary and certified as a true copy by the legal custodian of the official records, x x x.28ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
For this reason, the Court finds that a remand of this case to the court a quo for further reception of evidence is in order. The respondent must be able to demonstrate the alienable and disposable character of the land in accordance with the requirements set forth in T.A.N. Properties; only then would the application for registration be granted. Similarly, in Republic v. Bantigue Point Development Corporation,29 the Court remanded the case to the trial court to afford the respondent therein an opportunity to submit a certified true copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary, failing which would result in the denial of the application for registration.chanrobleslaw
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The case is REMANDED to the 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Silang-Amadeo, Silang, Cavite, for reception of evidence to prove that the property sought to be registered is alienable and disposable land of the public domain.
Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Peralta, and Perez, JJ., cocnur.
Jardeleza, J., on leave.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
1Rollo, pp. 8-22.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Mariflor P. Punzalan Castillo, with Associate Justices Isaias P. Dicdican and Japar B. Dimaampao concurring; id. at 24-38.
3 Issued by Presiding Judge Ma. Victoria N. Cupin-Tesorero; id. at 125-135.
4 Id. at 26-28.
5 Id. at 125-135.
6 Id. at 28-29.
7 Id. at 24-38.
8 Id. at 35-37.
9 552 Phil. 345 (2007).
10 489 Phil. 405 (2005).
11Rollo, p. 34.
12 Id. at 13.
13 Id. at 8.
14 Id. at 52-58.
15 Id. at 54.
16 Supra note 10, at 413.
17Rollo, pp. 109-111.
18 Id. at 110.
19 402 Phil. 498 (2001).
20 Id. at 510-511. Also cited in Sps. Recto v. Republic of the Phils., 483 Phil. 81, 89 (2004).
21 Supra note 10, at 414.
22Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Rep. of the Phils., 605 Phil. 244, 277 (2009).
23 609 Phil. 218(2009).
24 605 Phil. 244 (2009).cralawred
25 Supra note 23, at 229-230.
26 Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit "X", p. 35.cralawred
27 578 Phil. 441 (2008).
28 Id. at 452-453.
29 684 Phil. 192 (2012).