G. R. No. 127060 - November 19, 2002
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner,
COURT OF APPEALS, FLORENTINO CENIZA, SANTIAGO CENIZA,
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision1 dated September 28, 1994, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 31728, affirming the decision2 in LRC Case No. N-46 of the Regional Trial Court in Mandaue City, Branch XXVIII, which declared private respondents as the owners entitled to the registration of the lots in question.
The antecedent facts of the case are as follows:
Apolinar Ceniza was the declared owner in 1948 of Lot No. 1104, located at Cabancalan, Mandaue City, under Tax Declaration No. 01686. When he died, his heirs took possession of the property and in 1960 partitioned the same through a deed of extrajudicial partition. Apolinars children, namely, Santiago, Estanislao, Florencia, Manuela, Mercedes and Florentino, all surnamed Ceniza, each got 1/8 share of the property. His grandchildren, namely, the siblings Remedios Adolfo, Melecio Ceniza, and Constancia Zanoria, each got 1/24 share, while Apolinars other grandchildren, namely, the siblings Concepcion Suico, Benjamin Ceniza, Lilia Ceniza and Delfin Ceniza, each got 1/32 share.
Private respondent Florentino Ceniza purchased the shares of his sisters Manuela and Mercedes and the share pertaining to the siblings Jesusa,3 Benjamin and Delfin. Together with his share, Florentino became the owner of Lot Nos. 1104-A&C and had them tax declared in his name.
Florencias share, a portion of Lot No. 1104-B, was purchased by Mercedes who in turn bartered the same with the share acquired by Santiago, another private respondent in this case.
A portion of Santiagos property was bought by his daughter, Asuncion Ceniza, married to private respondent Atillano Bongo and who successfully obtained a tax declaration therefor.
From the portion purchased by Asuncion Ceniza, another private respondent, Romeo Simbajon, purchased an area of 270 square meters. Romeo also acquired a tax declaration in his name. He was the husband of Felicitas Ceniza, another daughter of Santiago.
The share acquired by Estanislao, another child of Apolinar, was also a portion of Lot No. 1104-B. He also caused the tax declaration pertaining to the said lot transferred in his name.
The siblings Remedios Adolfo and Constancia Zanoria, married to private respondent Pablo Ramos, bought the share of their brother, Melecio Ceniza. Remedios share, in turn, was transferred to her heirs, private respondents Edgar, Emma, Jerry, Glenn, Gina, Lorna, Chona, Evelyn, Hubert, Amiel, all surnamed Adolfo, and the heirs of their brother Leoncio Adolfo, namely, his wife Elenita Adolfo, and children David and Prestine May Adolfo.
On November 4, 1986, private respondents applied for registration of their respective titles over the property they inherited from Apolinar Ceniza, with the Regional Trial Court of Mandaue City, Branch 28. Petitioner Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General opposed the application on the following grounds:
In a decision dated February 28, 1990, the Regional Trial Court of Mandaue City granted the application.4 It held that since the applicants possession of the land for more than thirty (30) years was continuous, peaceful, adverse, public and to the exclusion of everybody, the same was "in the concept of owners." Since the land was neither encumbered nor subject to any other application for registration, the trial court ordered that, upon the finality of its decision, the decrees of registration should be issued in favor of the applicants.
The Solicitor General interposed an appeal for petitioner Republic of the Philippines before the Court of Appeals.
In a decision dated September 28, 1994, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. It held that the ruling in Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals,5 that before public land could be registered in the name of a private individual, it must first be established that the land had been classified alienable and disposable, "refers to public lands and not to those which have acquired the nature of a private property in view of the continuous possession thereof by its claimants." The Court of Appeals held:
In this case, it was sufficiently established by appellees that they have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the subject lots even before the year 1927, or fifty nine (59) years before the application was filed (TSN, April 13, 1989, pp. 3-4; February 6, 1989, p. 7-11; June 2, 1988, pp. 3, 8-9). This period more than sufficiently satisfies the 30 years requirement of the Public Land Act for property to be considered as private land. Significantly, Section 4, Presidential Decree No. 1073 provides:
Sec. 4. The provisions of Section 48(b) and Section 4(c), Chapter VIII, of the Public Land Act are hereby amended in the sense that these provisions shall apply only to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain which have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation by the applicant himself or thru his predecessor-in-interest, under a bonafide claim of ownership, since June 12, 1945.
Appellant was thus no longer required to prove that the property in question is classified as alienable and disposable land of the public domain. Clearly, the property no longer forms part of the public domain. The long and continuous possession thereof by appellees converted said property to a private one. This finds support in the ruling in Director of Lands vs. Bengzon, 152 SCRA 369, to wit:
"x x x alienable public land held by a possessor, personally or through his predecessor-in-interest, openly, continuously and exclusively for the prescribed statutory period (30) years under the Public Land Act, as amended is converted to private property by the mere lapse or completion of said period, ipso jure." The above is a reaffirmation of the principle established in the earlier cases of Cariño v. Insular Government, Suzi v. Razon, and Herico v. Dar, that open exclusive and undisputed possession of alienable public land for the period prescribed by law creates the legal fiction whereby the land, upon completion of the requisite period ipso jure and without the need of judicial or other sanction, ceases to be public land and becomes private property. x x x In interpreting the provisions of Section 48 (b) of Commonwealth Act No. 141, this Court said in Herico v. Dar, "x x x when the conditions as specified in the foregoing provision are complied with, the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the torrens title to be issued upon the strength of the patent."
The Court of Appeals then cited Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court.6 In that case, this Court ruled that "alienable public land held by a possessor, personally or through his predecessors-in-interest, openly, continuously and exclusively for the prescribed statutory period (30 years under the Public Land Act, as amended) is converted to private property by the mere lapse or completion of said period, ipso jure." Moreover, appellant Republics claim that the property in question remains to be "public land" under the Constitution, is "refuted" by this Courts pronouncement in Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court that "the Constitution cannot impair vested rights."
The Court of Appeals concluded its decision with the following observations:
Finally, we note that no opposition was filed by the Bureaus of Lands and Forestry to contest the application of appellees on the ground that the property still forms part of the public domain. Nor is there any showing that the lots in question are forestal land, unlike the case of Director of Lands vs. Court of Appeals, 133 SCRA 701, wherein the Director of Lands questioned the petition for registration filed by the applicant therein on the claim that the property applied for registration in his favor was classified and proven to be forestal land.
Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied in a resolution dated October 29, 1996. Traversing petitioners argument that under Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution, all lands of the public domain are owned by the State, the Court of Appeals stated that said provision "further states that agricultural lands are excluded from those lands that may not be alienated." It further ruled:
In the instant case, among the documents presented by appellees are Real Estate tax receipts that sufficiently show that the subject land is mainly utilized for agricultural purposes devoted to the planting of coconut, corn x x x and sugar cane x x x aside from using the same for residential purposes x x x.
It is noticeable that appellant failed to present any proof to establish its claim that the land in question is not alienable. Although on July 10, 1989, the court a quo issued an order "directing the Bureau of Forest Development [BFD] to submit xx within thirty (30) days from its receipt of [said order] a report on the status of the land xx to determine whether said land or any portion thereof is within the forest zone xxx" (Record, p. 63), the BFD failed to comply. Moreover, appellant never contested appellees application nor did it may (sic) any manifestation that the land in question is not alienable. Likewise, the prosecutor representing the Republic of the Philippines during the trial did not even contest the classification of the land as stated in the evidence of appellees. Their belated objection should therefore not prejudice appellees who openly and in good faith presented all the documents pertinent to their claims.
Presidential Decree No. 1073 extended the period within which a qualified person may apply for confirmation of an imperfect or incomplete title by judicial legalization to December 31, 1987. The filing of this case in October, 1986 was therefore seasonable. Under the decree, this right is available to a person who has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation, by himself and through his predecessors-in-interest, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership since June 12, 1945. We reiterate that appellees have proven themselves to have been in possession of the subject land even prior to June 12, 1945.
Hence, this petition for review, alleging that the Court of Appeals erred in: (1) holding that private respondents have registerable title to the lots in question, and (2) ordering the registration thereof in their names.7
The issues raised before us are: (a) whether there is a need for private respondents to establish that the land subject of their application was alienable and disposable despite proofs showing their possession thereof for more than 30 years; and (b) whether private respondents were able to meet the period required by the Public Land Act, as amended.
Petitioner contends that before a public land can be registered in the name of a private individual, it must be shown first that (a) the land has been classified alienable and disposable, and (b) the applicant, by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, has been in continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or prior thereto.
Petitioner claims that private respondents failed to meet the said requirements. They did not cite any official proclamation or presented the land classification map covering the subject parcels of land to prove that they are alienable and disposable public lands. Neither did private respondents adduce evidence to show that they had been in possession of the land since June 12, 1945. Although they were able to show possession by Apolinar, their predecessor-in-interest, since 1948, and private respondents actual possession beginning in 1960, no proof was presented to show possession prior to 1948. Consequently, private respondents are not entitled to have the subject parcels of land registered in their names.
In their comment, private respondents cite Section 48(b),8 before it was amended by PD No. 1073, and Section (50)9 of the Public Land Act as the applicable law in this case. They maintain that the land subject of their application is an agricultural land devoted to corn and other root crops. Further, they have been in possession of the land since 1927. Estanislao Ceniza, one of the children of Apolinar and who was already ten years old at that time, testified that his father was the one in possession of the land, appropriating its fruits and paying its realty taxes. When their father died in 1947, Apolinars chidren took possession of the land. They also appropriated the fruits and paid realty taxes therefor. In 1960, Apolinars heirs partitioned the property, declared their respective shares in their names for tax purposes and paid the realty taxes.
Apart from this, private respondents claim that the land in question has long been a private one, it being a part of Hacienda de Mandaue de Cebu, which in turn was recognized as a private land by the Court of First Instance of Cebu in several decisions dated February 27, 1934, March 27, 1935, May 6, 1937 and August 6, 1937.
Indeed, before one can be granted a confirmation of title to lands of the public domain, the Public Land Act "requires that the applicant must prove (a) that the land is alienable public land and (b) that his open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same must either be since time immemorial or for the period prescribed in the Public Land Act." Only when these conditions are met may the possessor of the land acquire, by operation of law, "a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued."10
Conclusively, the Court of Appeals erred when it held that mere adverse possession in accordance with law for a period likewise provided for by law would automatically entitle the possessor to the right to register public land in his name. The applicant has to establish first the disposable and alienable character of the public land. Otherwise, all public lands, regardless of their classification, can be subject of registration of private titles, as long as the applicant shows that he meets the required years of possession. Worth noting is the case of Bracewell v. Court of Appeals,11 where the applicant had been in possession of the property since 1908 but it was conclusively shown by the government that the land was classified as alienable or disposable only on 27 March 1972. The Court said:
x x x. Thus, even granting that petitioner and his predecessors-in-interest had occupied the same since 1908, he still cannot claim title thereto by virtue of such possession since the subject parcels of land were not yet alienable land at that time nor capable of private appropriation. The adverse possession which may be the basis of a grant of title or confirmation of an imperfect title refers only to alienable or disposable portions of the public domain.12 (Italics supplied)
To prove that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable, an applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order;13 an administrative action;14 investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators;15 and a legislative act or a statute.16
In this case, private respondents presented a certification dated November 25, 1994, issued by Eduardo M. Inting, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office in Cebu City, stating that the lots involved were "found to be within the alienable and disposable (sic) Block-I, Land Classification Project No. 32-A, per map 2962 4-I555 dated December 9, 1980."17 This is sufficient evidence to show the real character of the land subject of private respondents application.18 Further, the certification enjoys a presumption of regularity in the absence of contradictory evidence,19 which is true in this case. Worth noting also was the observation of the Court of Appeals stating that:
no opposition was filed by the Bureaus of Lands and Forestry to contest the application of appellees on the ground that the property still forms part of the public domain. Nor is there any showing that the lots in question are forestal land....20
Thus, while the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that mere possession of public land for the period required by law would entitle its occupant to a confirmation of imperfect title, it did not err in ruling in favor of private respondents as far as the first requirement in Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is concerned, for they were able to overcome the burden of proving the alienability of the land subject of their application.
As correctly found by the Court of Appeals, private respondents were able to prove their open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the subject land even before the year 1927. As a rule, we are bound by the factual findings of the Court of Appeals.21 Although there are exceptions, petitioner did not show that this is one of them.22
WHEREFORE, the petition for review on certiorari is DENIED and the decision, as well as the resolution, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 31728 are AFFIRMED.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Vitug, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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