Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 130433 - April 17, 2002
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, vs. MAXIMO I. PLANES, Represented by ATTORNEY-IN-FACT JOSE R. PEREZ, Respondent.
Trial courts should exercise extreme caution in granting petitions for reconstitution of land titles, lest they become unwitting accomplices in the reconstitution of questionable titles, instead of being instruments in promoting the stability of our system of land registration. Strict compliance with the jurisdictional requirements of the law in the reconstitution of a title is vital, especially when the title sought to be reconstituted covers an area of more than 2,000,000 square meters, as in the present case.
At bar is a petition for review filed by the Republic of the Philippines (Republic) assailing the (a) Resolution dated May 14, 19971 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 451122 dismissing petitioner's appeal on the ground that it was filed out of time; and the (b) Resolution dated July 31, 19973 denying the latter's motion for reconsideration.
The facts are:
On February 11, 1992, respondent Maximo I. Planes, represented by his Attorney-In-Fact, Jose R. Perez, filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 23, Trece Martires City, a verified petition for reconstitution4 of the Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 219 of the Registry of Deeds, Province of Cavite, containing an area of 2,073,481 square meters.5 The petition, docketed as GLRO Rec. No. 11867, alleges -
On the same date, the RTC issued a notice7 setting the hearing of the petition on July 20, 1992, at 8:30 o'clock in the morning, and directing that any person interested in the petition should appear and show cause why the same should not be granted. It further directed that copies of the notice be furnished the Solicitor General, the Land Registration Authority (LRA), the Provincial Prosecutor and the Register of Deeds of Cavite.
However, the Solicitor General, the LRA, the Register of Deeds and the Director of Lands did not receive copies of the notice.
On February 17, 1992, Atty. Jose R. Bawalan, Clerk of Court of the same RTC, issued a Certificate of Posting8 certifying that on said date, he "caused the posting of the notice of hearing of the petition in three (3) conspicuous places in Carmona, Cavite and at the bulletin board of the Provincial Capitol, Trece Martires City."
On August 26, 1992, the RTC issued another notice setting the hearing of the petition on October 30, 1992 at 8:30 o'clock in the morning and directing that copies of the notice be published in the Official Gazette twice and be posted in three (3) conspicuous places in Carmona, Cavite where the property is located. A copy of this notice was not received by the Solicitor General.9
Meantime, on September 17, 1992, the Solicitor General filed his "Notice of Appearance"10 as counsel for the REPUBLIC.
The notice of August 26, 1992 setting the hearing of the case on October 30, 1992 was published twice in the Official Gazette - on October 19 and October 26, 1992.11 We note, however, that this notice of hearing is not found in the records of this case.
When the petition was heard on October 30, 1992, only Maximo Planes, petitioner (now respondent) and his counsel appeared. Nobody opposed the petition. Thus, on the same date, the trial court issued an Order12 granting respondent's petition for reconstitution. The pertinent portion of the Order reads:
Consequently, the Register of Deeds (Atty. Antonia Cabuco) issued Reconstituted Title No. (219) RO-11411 in the name of Carlos Planes, the registered owner. Thereafter, the property was subdivided into eleven (11) lots. OCT No. (219) RO-11411 was cancelled and in lieu thereof, Transfer Certificates of Title (TCT) Nos. T-366478 to T-366488 were issued, also in the name of Carlos Planes.13
It was only on October 25, 1993, or after one (1) year, when the Solicitor General received a copy of the October 30, 1992 Order granting respondent's petition for reconstitution.14 Believing that the Order is contrary to law and evidence and that the proceedings conducted by the RTC were tainted with irregularities, the Republic, through the Solicitor General, interposed an appeal15 to the Court of Appeals, docketed therein as CA-G.R. CV No. 45112. The Solicitor General alleged in the appellant's brief that respondent Planes did not comply with the jurisdictional requirements set forth by Republic Act No. 26 ("An Act Providing Special Procedure for the Reconstitution of Torrens Certificates of Title Lost or Destroyed"), particularly on the notice of hearing, publication and posting; and that, therefore, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over respondent's petition for reconstitution.
Specifically, the Solicitor General asserted that:
Respondent Planes, in his appellee's brief, claimed that he complied with all the requirements of the law and that petitioner's bare assertions cannot prevail over the evidence relied upon by the trial court in granting his petition. Moreover, in law, there is a presumption that official duty has been regularly performed.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals found that Landhaus Properties and Development Corporation (Landhaus) and respondent Planes are co-owners of the property subject of the petition.17 Hence, it allowed the Canlapan and Monteclaro Law Offices to enter its appearance as counsel for Landhaus.
On April 29, 1996, respondent Planes died.18
In a Resolution dated May 14, 1997,19 the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal of the Republic, the dispositive portion of which reads:
In resolving the case, the Court of Appeals limited the issue on whether or not the remedy of appeal can still be availed of by the Republic. The Court of Appeals held that the period to appeal the trial court's Order of reconstitution had lapsed, there being no appeal by the Register of Deeds and/or the Administrator of the LRA, through the Solicitor General within fifteen (15) days from their receipt of the said Order. In support of this ruling, the Court of Appeals cited the second paragraph of Section 110 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, as amended by Section 1 of R.A. No. 6732; providing among others, that no order or judgment ordering the reconstitution of a certificate of title shall become final until the lapse of fifteen (15) days from receipt by the Register of Deeds and by the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority of a notice of such order or judgment without any appeal having been filed by any such officials.
The pertinent portion of the Appellate Court's Resolution is quoted as follows:
Forthwith, the OSG, filed a lengthy Motion for Reconsideration22 alleging inter alia that:
The OSG further alleged that the Republic is a party-in-interest in a petition for reconstitution of land title, and for this reason, the Office of the Solicitor General is the principal law officer and legal defender of the government,24 thus should be duly served with copies of notices of hearing, orders and decision of the trial court.
In a Resolution dated July 31, 1997, the Court of Appeals denied the OSG's motion for reconsideration.25
Hence, this petition for review on certiorari by the Republic, ascribing to the Court of Appeals the following errors:
The OSG maintains that its appeal to the Court of Appeals was filed within the reglementary period. Considering that it received a copy of the trial court's October 30, 1992 Order only on October 25, 1993, its notice of appeal file on November 8, 1993 is within the reglementary period. Clearly, the Order has not yet become final and executory.27 In land registration proceedings, so the OSG contends, the fifteen-day period to appeal should be counted from the time it received a copy of the decision, resolution or order.
Petitioner also asserts that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over respondent Planes' petition for reconstitution in view of his failure to comply with the provisions of Sections 12 and 13 of R.A. No. 26.28
Two separate comments on the instant petition were filed - one by Landhaus' counsel, Canlapan and Monteclaro Law Offices,29 and the other, by Antonio M. Chavez and Associates,30 counsel for Jose Perez, respondent's Attorney-in-fact. Under the first comment, respondent claims that the trial court's Order had become final and executory considering that the Solicitor General, representing the Register of Deeds and the Administrator of the LRA failed to appeal within fifteen (15) days from receipt thereof pursuant to Section 110 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, as amended by Republic Act No. 6732.31 In the second comment, respondent merely reiterates the arguments cited in the appellee's brief filed with the Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, on May 6, 1998, Southern Heights Land Development Corporation (Southern) filed with this Court a "Motion for Leave to Intervene with Attached Petition for Review in Intervention"32 alleging that it is the owner of several parcels of land under TCT Nos. T-302204, T-309831, T-309832 and T-335749 which were "overlapped by respondent Planes' OCT 219 (RO-11411)." In assailing the validity of the RTC Order of reconstitution, Southern contends that it was not notified of the proceedings for reconstitution despite the fact that it is the actual possessor of several parcels of the land subject of the petition.
Petitioner Republic opposed Southern's motion, claiming that its petition for review in intervention will only complicate the issues and unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the principal parties.33 Furthermore, since Southern is no longer the owner of the property alleged to have been overlapped by OCT 219 (RO 11411), "its interest over the matter in litigation is merely indirect, contingent, consequential, collateral and inchoate."34
Separate Oppositions to Southern's motion were also filed by Landhaus and by Jose Perez. Landhaus' Opposition35 alleges that intervention may only be done at the trial court or during the hearing of the main case, not at the appellate stage of the litigation.36 In his Opposition,37 Jose Perez contends that Southern cannot plead absence of notice and justify its failure to intervene at an earlier time considering that the instant action is one in rem.38
Southern's motion for leave to intervene basically on the ground that being an owner of several parcels of land involved here, it was not notified of the proceedings below, must be denied. In the fairly recent case of Puzon vs. Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc.,39 penned by Mr. Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, this Court ruled that notices to owners of adjoining lots and actual occupants of the subject property are not mandatory and jurisdictional in petition for judicial reconstitution of destroyed original certificate of title when the source for such reconstitution is the owner's duplicate copy thereof. In decreeing so, this Court relied on the following reasons:
We now come to the merits of the case.
The threshold issue is whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing petitioner's appeal on the ground that it was filed beyond the reglementary period. Pertinent to this issue is the query: When should an order granting a petition for reconstitution be considered final and executory?
In decreeing that petitioner's appeal was filed out of time, the Court of Appeals40 applied four-square Section 110 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, as amended by Republic Act No. 6732, which reads:
The Court of Appeals' reliance on the above provision is misplaced. We cannot overlook the indispensable role of the Solicitor General as the lawyer of the government. Pursuant to Section 35, Chapter 12, Title III, Book IV of the Administrative Code of 1987, the OSG represents the government of the Philippines, its agencies and instrumentalities. Being the "principal law officer and legal defender of the Government," the Solicitor General possesses the unequivocal mandate to appear for the government in legal proceedings,41 more particularly in all land registration and related proceedings.42 Consequently, the proper basis for computing the reglementary period to file an appeal, and for determining whether a decision has attained finality, is the service of a copy thereof on the OSG.43
Records reveal that the OSG was not served a copy of the Order of reconstitution immediately after its promulgation. As earlier mentioned, the OSG received a copy thereof only after one (1) year. Hence, the period to file an appeal was suspended and did not commence to run44 until October 25, 1993 when the OSG received its copy.
The Court of Appeals considered as an "unconvincing excuse"45 the OSG's claim that it received a copy of the Order of reconstitution only on October 25, 1993. We hold otherwise. The numerous aberrations in the proceedings below, as well as respondent's failure to prove he has no participation therein convince us of the veracity of the OSG's claim.
First, the notice dated August 26, 1992, which set the hearing of the petition on October 30, 1992 and which was published in the Official Gazette, is nowhere to be found in the records of this case. Even respondent himself could not produce a copy of this notice.
Second, the Register of Deeds of Cavite (Atty. Antonia Cabuco) manifested an apprehension in issuing the reconstituted title. Before complying with the Order directing the issuance of the said reconstituted title, she filed a "Manifestation"46 stating that contrary to what was stated therein, (1) she did not receive a copy of the petition for reconstitution of OCT No. 219; (2) the realty taxes for the subject land were not fully paid; (3) there is a disparity in the dates of the issuance of the decree considering that Decree No. 2930 in GLRO Case No. 11867, appearing in the owner's duplicate copy of OCT No. 219, was issued on October 16, 1934, while the Certification, attached to the records of the instant case issued by Engr. Silverio Perez, Director, Department of Registration, LRA, Quezon City, states that the same Decree in GLRO Record No. 11867 was issued on September 14, 1916; and (4) the supposed signature of the Register of Deeds on the owner's duplication copy of OCT No. 219 appears to be a "mere facsimile," not his actual signature.
Ironically, on December 1, 1992, the trial court merely noted Atty. Cabuco's "Manifestation" and ordered her to issue the reconstituted title without further delay,47 declaring that the Order has become final and executory. This is erroneous, as we have earlier shown. Even on the basis of Section 110 of R.A. No. 6732 alone, the Order of reconstitution cannot be considered final and executory as of December 1, 1992. It bears noting that Atty. Cabuco was furnished a copy of the Order only on November 17, 1992. The fifteenth (15th) days therefrom would only be on December 2, 1992.
And third, Assistant Prosecutor Onofre Maranan filed a "Manifestation"48 dated August 9, 1993, stating that contrary to what was stated in the Order of reconstitution, he has no knowledge that respondent Planes filed a petition for reconstitution and that it was set for hearing; and that he never attended any hearing of the case.
Those manifestations of Atty. Cabuco and Assistant Prosecutor Maranan render suspect the trial court's fealty to procedural requirements.
It bears stressing that even if Assistant Prosecutor Maranan attended the hearing of October 30, 1992 and received a copy of the Order of reconstitution, still, the same could not bind the OSG. The "Notice of Appearance"49 filed with the RTC by the Solicitor General on September 17, 1992 bears the notation that "all notices of hearings, orders, resolutions, decisions, and other processes shall be served on him at the Office of the Solicitor General, 134 Amorsolo Street, Legaspi Village, Makati, Metro Manila." In authorizing the Provincial Prosecutor of Trece Martires City to appear in the case, the Solicitor General inserted the proviso that "it retains supervision and control of the representation in the case and has to approve withdrawal of the case, appeal or other actions which appear to compromise the interest of the Government." He also stated therein that "only notices of orders, resolutions and decisions served on him (Solicitor General will bind the party represented."50
In Republic vs. Polo,51 we ruled in explicit terms:
Apart from the question of whether the appeal of petitioner Republic to the Court of Appeals was seasonably filed, the more important issue is the validity of the Order of reconstitution. Corollary to this issue is whether the RTC acquired jurisdiction over the instant case.
After an incisive examination of the records, we hold that the challenged Order should be set aside.
We cannot simply close our eyes to the patent jurisdictional infirmities present in the proceeding for reconstitution. Republic Act No. 26 specifically provides the special requirements and mode of procedure that must be followed before the court can properly act, assume and acquire jurisdiction or authority over the petition and grant the reconstitution prayed for. These requirements and procedure are mandatory.52 In the case at bar, the source of the petition for reconstitution was the owner's duplicate copy of OCT No. 219. Thus, pursuant to Puzon vs. Sta. Lucia realty and Development, Inc.,53 the petition is governed by Section 10 of R.A. No. 26, quoted as follows:
Concisely, Section 10, in relation to Section 9, requires that 30 days before the date of hearing, (1) a notice be published in two successive issues of the Official Gazette at the expense of the petitioner, and that (2) such notice be posted at the main entrances of the provincial building and of the municipal hall where the property is located. The notice shall state the following: (1) the number of the certificate of title, (2) the name of the registered owner, (3) the names of the interested parties appearing in the reconstituted certificate of title, (4) the location of the property, and (5) the date on which all persons having an interest in the property, must appear and file such claims as they may have.55
It is plain that the notice does not state the location of the property and that it was published without observing the thirty-day period requirement. The law explicitly requires that the notice be published twice in successive issues of the Official Gazette, at least thirty days prior to the date of hearing.56 This was not followed to the letter. As shown in the "Certificate of Publication"57 issued by the National Printing Office, the first publication of the notice was on October 19, 1992, while the second publication was on October 26, 1992 setting the hearing on October 30, 1992. The notice failed to fully serve its purpose, i.e., to enable the interested parties, who have read the notice, to appear at the hearing either to oppose the petition or assert a claim to the property in question.58 In Republic vs. Estipular, supra, we ruled that the purposes of the stringent and mandatory character of the legal requirements of publication, posting and mailing are to safeguard against spurious and unfounded land ownership claims, to apprise all interested parties of the existence of such action, and to give them enough time to intervene in the proceeding. With barely ten (10) days from the first publication and three (3) days from the second publication, any interested person would not have enough time to prepare for the filing of his claim or opposition.
In all cases where the authority to proceed is conferred by a statute and the manner of obtaining jurisdiction is mandatory, the same must be strictly complied with, or the proceedings will be utterly void.59 As such, the court upon which the petition for reconstitution of title is filed is duty-bound to examine thoroughly the petition for reconstitution of title and review the record and the legal provisions laying down the germane jurisdictional requirements.60
Here, we find that respondent, in filing his petition for reconstitution of title, failed to comply with the above legal requirement. We thus rule that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over his case.61 Consequently, even if petitioner's appeal to the Court of Appeals was seasonably filed, it had become inconsequential.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GRANTED. The assailed Resolutions of the Court of Appeals dated May 14, 1997 and July 31, 1997 in CA-G.R. CV No. 45112, affirming the RTC Order granting respondent's petition for reconstitution, are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Southern's motion for intervention is DISMISSED. Costs against respondent.
Vitug, Panganiban, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
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