February 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 199537, February 10, 2016 - REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. ANDREA TAN, Respondent.
G.R. No. 199537, February 10, 2016
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. ANDREA TAN, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition for review on certiorari filed by the Republic of the Philippines (Republic) from the May 29, 2009 decision1 and October 18, 2011 resolution2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB-CV No. 00702. The CA denied the Republic's appeal from LRC Case No. N-1443 wherein the Municipal Trial Court in Consolacion, Cebu, granted respondent Andrea Tan's application for land title registration.
On October 2, 2002, Tan applied for the original registration of title of Lot No. 4080, Cad. 545-D (new) situated in Casili, Consolacion, Cebu (the subject lot). She alleged that she is the absolute owner in fee simple of the said 7,807 square-meter parcel of residential land she purchased from a certain Julian Gonzaga on September 17, 1992. Her application was docketed as LRC Case No. N-144.
After complying with the jurisdictional requirements, the land registration court issued an order of general default, excepting the State which was duly represented by the Solicitor General.
During the trial, Tan proved the following facts:
- The subject lot is within Block 1, Project No. 28, per LC Map No. 2545 of Consolacion, Cebu;
- The subject lot was declared alienable and disposable on September 1, 1965, pursuant to Forestry Administrative Order No. 4-1063;
- Luciano Gonzaga who was issued Tax Declaration Nos. 01465 in 1965 and 02983 in 1972 initially possessed the subject lot.
- After Luciano's death, Julian Gonzaga inherited the subject lot;
- Andrea Tan purchased the subject lot from Julian Gonzaga on September 17, 1992;
- She, through her predecessors, had been in peaceful, open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession of the subject lot in the concept of an owner for over thirty (30) years.
On 28 April 2004, the land registration court granted Tan's application. The court confirmed her title over the subject lot and ordered its registration.
The Republic appealed the case to the CA, arguing that Tan failed to prove that she is a Filipino citizen who has been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject lot, in the concept of an owner, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, immediately preceding the filing of her application. The appeal was docketed as CA-G.R. CEB-CV No. 00702.
On May 29, 2009, the CA denied the appeal. The CA observed that under the Public Land Act, there are two kinds of applicants for original registration: (1) those who had possessed the land since June 12, 1945; and (2) those who already acquired the property through prescription. The respondent's application fell under the second category.
The CA noted that before land of the public domain can be acquired by prescription, it must have been declared alienable and disposable agricultural land. The CA pointed to the certification issued by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) as evidence that the subject was classified as alienable and disposable on September 1, 1965, pursuant to Land Classification Project No. 28. The CA concluded that Tan had already acquired the subject lot by prescription.
On July 2, 2009, the Republic moved for reconsideration. Citing Republic v. Herbieto,4 it argued that an applicant for judicial confirmation of title must have been in possession and occupation of the subject land since June 12, 1945, or earlier, and that the subject land has been likewise already declared alienable and disposable since June 12, 1945, or earlier.5
On October 18, 2011, the CA denied the motion for reconsideration citing the then recent case of Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Rep. of the Philippines6 which abandoned the ruling in Herbieto. Malabanan declared that our law does not require that the property should have been declared alienable and disposable since June 12, 1945, as long as the declaration was made before the application for registration is filed.7
On January 5, 2012, the Republic filed the present petition for review on certiorari.
The Republic argues: (1) that the CA misapplied the doctrine in Malabanan; and (2) that the CENRO certification and tax declarations presented were insufficient to prove that the subject lot was no longer intended for public use.
Meanwhile, the respondent insists that she has already proven her title over the subject lot. She maintains that the classification of the subject lot as alienable and disposable public land by the DENR on September 1, 1965, per Land Classification Project No. 28, converted it into patrimonial property of the State.
From the submissions, the lone issue is whether a declaration that Government-owned land has become alienable and disposable sufficiently converts it into patrimonial property of the State, making it susceptible to acquisitive prescription.
We find the petition meritorious.
All lands of the public domain belong to the State. It is the fountain from which springs any asserted right of ownership over land. Accordingly, the State owns all lands that are not clearly within private ownership. This is the Regalian Doctrine which has been incorporated in all of our Constitutions and repeatedly embraced in jurisprudence.8 Under the present Constitution, lands of the public domain are not alienable except for agricultural lands.9
The Public Land Act10 (PLA) governs the classification, grant, and disposition of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. It is the primary substantive law on this matter. Section 11 thereof recognizes judicial confirmation of imperfect titles as a mode of disposition of alienable public lands.11 Relative thereto, Section 48(b) of the PLA identifies who are entitled to judicial confirmation of their title:
(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition or ownership, since June 12, 1945, immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title, except when prevented by war or force majeure. Those shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this chapter. (As amended by PD 1073.)
The Property Registration Decree12 (PRD) complements the PLA by prescribing how registrable lands, including alienable public lands, are brought within the coverage of the Torrens system. Section 14 of the PRD enumerates the qualified applicants for original registration of title:
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:
(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.13ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
The PRD also recognizes prescription as a mode of acquiring ownership under the Civil Code.14 Nevertheless, prescription under Section 14(2) must not be confused with judicial confirmation of title under Section 14(1). Judicial confirmation of title requires:
- That the applicant is a Filipino citizen;15
- That the applicant, by himself or through his predecessors-in- interest, has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the property since June 12, 1945;16
- That the property had been declared alienable and disposable as of the filing of the application.17
Only private property can be acquired by prescription. Property of public dominion is outside the commerce of man.18 It cannot be the object of prescription19 because prescription does not run against the State in its sovereign capacity.20 However, when property of public dominion is no longer intended for public use or for public service, it becomes part of the patrimonial property of the State.21 When this happens, the property is withdrawn from public dominion and becomes property of private ownership, albeit still owned by the State.22 The property is now brought within the commerce of man and becomes susceptible to the concepts of legal possession and prescription.
In the present case, respondent Tan's application is not anchored on judicial confirmation of an imperfect title because she does not claim to have possessed the subject lot since June 12, 1945. Her application is based on acquisitive prescription on the claim that: (1) the property was declared alienable and disposable on September 1, 1965; and (2) she had been in open continuous, public, and notorious possession of the subject lot in the concept of an owner for over thirty (30) years.
In our 2009 decision and 2013 resolution23 in Malabanan, we already held en banc that a declaration that property of the public dominion is alienable and disposable does not ipso facto convert it into patrimonial property. We said:
Accordingly, there must be an express declaration by the State that the public dominion property is no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Without such express declaration, the property, even if classified as alienable or disposable, remains property of the public dominion, pursuant to Article 420(2), and thus incapable of acquisition by prescription. It is only when such alienable and disposable lands are expressly declared by the State to be no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth that the period of acquisitive prescription can begin to run. Such declaration shall be in the form of a law duly enacted by Congress or a Presidential Proclamation in cases where the President is duly authorized by law.24ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
While a prior declaration that the property has become alienable and disposable is sufficient in an application for judicial confirmation of title under Section 14(1) of the PRD, it does not suffice for the purpose of prescription under the Civil Code.25 Before prescription can even begin to run against the State, the following conditions must concur to convert the subject into patrimonial property:
- The subject lot must have been classified as agricultural land in compliance with Sections 2 and 3 of Article XII of the Constitution;
- The land must have been classified as alienable and disposable;26
- There must be a declaration from a competent authority that the subject lot is no longer intended for public use, thereby converting it to patrimonial property.
Only when these conditions are met can applicants begin their public and peaceful possession of the subject lot in the concept of an owner.
In the present case, the third condition is absent. Even though it has been declared alienable and disposable, the property has not been withdrawn from public use or public service. Without this, prescription cannot begin to run because the property has not yet been converted into patrimonial property of the State. It remains outside the commerce of man and the respondent's physical possession and occupation thereof do not produce any legal effect. In the eyes of the law, the respondent has never acquired legal possession of the property and her physical possession thereof, no matter how long, can never ripen into ownership.chanrobleslaw
WHEREFORE, we hereby GRANT the petition. The May 29, 2009 decision and October 18, 2011 resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB-CV No. 00702 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The respondent's application for Land Registration is DENIED for lack of merit. No pronouncement as to costs.
Carpio, (Chairperson), Del Castillo, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Leonen, J., see separate concurring opinion.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
1 Rollo, pp. 37-44. Penned by Associate Justice Florito S. Macalino and concurred in by Associate Justices Stephen C. Cruz and Rodil V. Zalameda.
2 Id. at 31-35. Penned by Associate Justice Gabriel T. Ingles and concurred in by Associate Justices Parnpio A. Abarintos and Eduardo B. Peralta, Jr.
3 Id. at 45-48. Through Presiding Judge Jocelyn G. Uy-Po.
4 G.R. No. 156117, 26 May 2005, 459 SCRA 183, 186.
5Rollo, p. 52.
6 605 Phil. 244 (2009).
7 Id. at 269, citing Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 144507, 17 January 2005 448 SCRA 442.
8La Bugal-B 'laan Tribal Association, Inc. v. Sec. Ramos, 465 Phil. 860, 866 (2004); Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources v. Yap, G.R. No. 167707, 8 October 2008, 568 SCRA 164, 200; Republic v. Ching, G.R. No. 186166, 20 October 2010, 634 SCRA 415.
9 Art. XII, Section 2, 3, Phil. Const.
10 Commonwealth Act No. 141 (as amended), [The Public Land Act], (1936).
11 Section 11. Public lands suitable for agricultural purposes can be disposed of only as follows:
- For homestead settlement;
- By sale;
- By lease; and
- By confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles:
(a) By judicial legalization
(b) By administrative legalization (free patent)
12 Presidential Decree No. 1529, [PROPERTY REGISTRATION DECREE] (1978).
13 Section 14, PROPERTY REGISTRATION DECREE.
14 See CIVIL CODE, Arts. 712 and 1106.
15 Section 48 (b), PUBLIC LAND ACT.
16 Section 48 (b), PUBLIC LAND ACT; Section 14(1), PROPERTY REGISTRATION DECREE.
17Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Republic of the Philippines, 704 SCRA 561, 581 (2013); Republic v. Court of Appeals, supra note 7.
18 Art. 1113, CIVIL CODE.
19 Art. 1113, CIVIL CODE.
20 Art. 1108, CIVIL CODE.
21 Art. 422, CIVIL CODE.
22 Art. 425, CIVIL CODE.
23Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Republic of the Philippines, supra note 17.
24Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Rep. of the Philippines, supra note 7.cralawred
25 Art. 1134. Ownership and other real rights over immovable property are acquired by ordinary prescription through possession often years.
Art. 1137. Ownership and other real rights over immovables also prescribe through uninterrupted adverse possession thereof for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith.
26 Sec. 6, Public Land act.
I concur in the result.
Respectfully, I disagree with the ponencia's statement that "the State owns all lands that are not clearly within private ownership."1 This statement is an offshoot of the idea that our Constitution embraces the Regalian Doctrine as the most basic principle in our policies involving lands.
The Regalian Doctrine has not been incorporated in our Constitution. Pertinent portion of the Constitution provides:
SEC. 2. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State[.]2
Thus, there is no basis for the presumption that all lands belong to the state. The Constitution limits state ownership of lands to "lands of the public domain[.]"3 Lands that are in private possession in the concept of an owner since time immemorial are considered never to have been public.4 They were never owned by the state.
In Cariño v. Insular Government:5
The [Organic Act of July 1, 1902] made a bill of rights, embodying the safeguards of the Constitution, and, like the Constitution, extends those safeguards to all. It provides that "no law shall be enacted in said islands which shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person therein the equal protection of the laws." § 5. In the light of the declaration that we have quoted from § 12, it is hard to believe that the United States was ready to declare in the next breath that.. . it meant by "property" only that which had become such by ceremonies of which presumably a large part of the inhabitants never had heard, and that it proposed to treat as public land what they, by native custom and by long association, — one of the profoundest factors in human thought, — regarded as their own.
... It might, perhaps, be proper and sufficient to say that when, as far back as testimony or memory goes, the land has been held by individuals under a claim of private ownership, it will be presumed to have been held in the same way from before the Spanish conquest, and never to have been public land.6
Hence, documents of title issued for such lands are not to be considered as a state grant of ownership. They serve as confirmation of property rights already held by persons. They are mere evidence of ownership.7 The recognition of private rights over properties that have long been held as private is consistent with our constitutional duty to uphold due process.8
The state cannot, on the sole basis of the land's "unclear" private character, always successfully oppose applications for registration of titles, especially when the land involved has long been privately held and historically regarded by private persons as their own.9
This case can be resolved without resort to the fiction of the Regalian Doctrine.
Respondent Andrea Tan's application for registration was granted by the land registration court.10 The Court of Appeals affirmed the land registration court's Decision based on the certification issued by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) that the land was already classified as alienable and disposable.11
By submitting the CENRO's certification, therefore, respondent applicant admitted that prior to her possession, the land was part of the public domain. However, she failed to clearly show that the land was classified as alienable and disposable public land.
In several cases, we have clearly ruled that the CENRO's certificate is not sufficient.
ACCORDINGLY, I concur that the Petition should be GRANTED.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
1 Ponencia, p. 3.
2 CONST., art. XII, sec. 2.
3 CONST., art. XII, sec. 2.
4 CONST., art. XII, sec. 2.
5 212 U.S. 449(1909).
6 Id. at 459-460.
7See Carino v. Insular Government, 212 U.S. 449, 457-460 (1909).
8 CONST., art. Ill, sec. 1.
9See Cariño v. Insular Government, 212 U.S. 449, 457-460 (1909).
10 Ponencia, p. 2. The registration was granted on April 28, 2004.
11 Id. at 2-3. The Decision was dated May 29, 2009.