[G.R. NO. 162097 : February 13, 2008]
LOURDES A. PASCUA, Petitioner, v. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
The instant Petition for Review under Rule 45 seeks the reversal of the July 22, 2003 Decision1 and February 10, 2004 Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 74050, affirming the trial court's denial of petitioner's action for reconstitution of title covering Lot No. 3209 of the Pagsanjan, Laguna Cadastre in her name.
Petitioner claimed that she is the owner in fee simple of Lot No. 3209, Pagsanjan, Laguna Cadastre, having inherited it from her parents, Guillermo Abinsay and Leoncia Rivera. She and her predecessors-in-interest had allegedly been in open, public, continuous, and peaceful possession of the disputed lot since it was bought from Serafin Limuaco in 1956. On December 4, 1930, the cadastral court awarded the lot to Limuaco, who sold the lot to petitioner's parents on December 24, 1956, as evidenced by a Deed of Absolute Sale.3
Due to the ravages of World War II, however, the owner's duplicate certificate of the Torrens title covering Lot No. 3209, its original copy on file with the Laguna Register of Deeds (RD), and other pertinent papers were lost and/or destroyed, and diligent efforts to find them were futile. Thus, on December 8, 1999, petitioner filed a petition for judicial reconstitution of the original certificate of title (OCT) covering Lot No. 3209 with the Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 27. She alleged that there were no deeds or instruments covering the disputed lot that were presented or pending registration with the RD, and that no co-owners, mortgagees, or lessees' duplicate of the OCT was issued by the RD.
After complying with the jurisdictional requirements, petitioner was allowed to present evidence ex-parte. She testified that her parents bought a piece of land from Limuaco and that after her parents' death, her siblings partitioned the land and Lot No. 3209 was allocated to her. She learned from the Land Registration Authority (LRA) that Decree No. 412846 was issued in the cadastral case in 1930, but the records, including those in the Laguna RD, were destroyed during the war. She said the lot was declared for tax purposes in her name and she had been paying taxes due on the lot, as evidenced by the Tax Clearance dated March 2, 2000. She stated that the adjoining lot owners were Olivar Pening on the north, Hernan Zaide on the east; and that there is a stream on the south and west. Petitioner submitted in evidence the tracing cloth plan and technical description of Lot No. 3209.
The RTC denied the petition for reconstitution for insufficiency of evidence in its October 30, 2000 Order, ruling as follows:
The certification issued by Acting Chief Alberto H. Lingayo of the Ordinary and Cadastral Decree Division (Exh. "F") and another certification of the Chief of the Docket Division of the Land Registration Authority (Exh. "G") speak of Decree No. 412846 issued on December 4, 1930 covering Lot No. 3209. On the other hand, Tax Declaration No. 5471 in the name of spouses Guillermo Abinsay and Leoncia Rivera (Exh. "I") did not indicate any certificate of title number, cadastral lot number or even an assessor's lot number while Tax Declaration No. 1376 (Exh. "J") only indicated Assessor's Lot No. 19-pt. Petitioner failed to establish that Assessor's Lot No. 19-pt and Lot No. 3209 are one and the same.
Assuming that Assessor's Lot No. 19-pt refers to Lot No. 3209, still, the petition could not be granted because there is no showing that an original certificate of title was actually issued pursuant to Decree No. 412846. The certifications issued by the Land Registration Authority dated October 26, 1999 and September 23, 1998 and the Report of the same office dated May 5, 2000 are bereft of any allusion to the issuance of a title. The documents presented in evidence by petitioner not only failed to prove the issuance of an original certificate of title but also the name of the adjudicatee.4
On appeal to the CA, petitioner argued that Assessor's Lot No. 19-pt and Lot No. 3209 are the same; that she is the adjudicatee of the disputed lot; and that an OCT was issued in accordance with Decree No. 412846. For respondent Republic of the Philippines, the Solicitor General contended that what petitioner's predecessors-in-interest bought from Limuaco was Assesor's Lot No. 19-pt, which was neither designated nor mentioned as Lot No. 3209. Also, the Solicitor General said the property described in the documents presented is still unregistered land of the public domain and there is no evidence that an OCT was actually issued to Lot No. 3209. The Solicitor General added that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over the petition since petitioner failed to submit proof of notices to all adjoining lot owners.
The July 22, 2003 Decision of the CA affirmed the trial court's order in toto. The CA held that petitioner failed to present the documents enumerated in Section 2, Republic Act No. (RA) 26 entitled An Act Providing a Special Procedure for the Reconstitution of Torrens Certificate of Title Lost or Destroyed, as amended by RA 6732, or any other document that could be a sufficient basis for reconstituting title.
Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA in its February 10, 2004 Resolution.
Thus, petitioner elevated the matter to us, interposing that:
The CA erred in holding that petitioner failed to present any of the documents enumerated in Sec. 2 of RA 26.
The CA erred in holding that the certification of the LRA that Decree No. 412846 was issued over Lot 3209 cannot qualify as a proper document for reconstituting the lost or destroyed titled because Lot 3209 is different from Lot 19-pt.
The CA erred in holding that the lot sold by Serafin Limuaco to the Sps. Abinsay and Rivera is not Lot 3209 but Lot 19-pt which are different from each other.
The CA erred in holding that statements in the Deed of Sale and Deed of Co-owners Partition that the land is not registered under Act 496 are fatal to the instant Petition.5
The Court's Ruling
The petition lacks merit.
Sec. 2 of RA 26 provides:
SEC. 2. Original certificates of title shall be reconstituted from such of the sources hereunder enumerated as may be available in the following order:
(a) The owner's duplicate of the certificate of title;
(b) The co-owner's, mortgagee's, or lessee's duplicate of the certificate of title;
(c) A certified copy of the certificate of title, previously issued by the register of deeds or by a legal custodian thereof;
(d) An authenticated copy of the decree of registration or patent, as the case may be pursuant to which the original certificate of title was issued;
(e) A document, on file in the Registry of Deeds by which the property, the description of which is given in said document, is mortgaged, leased or encumbered, or an authenticated copy of said document showing that its original has been registered; andcralawlibrary
(f) Any other document which, in the judgment of the court, is sufficient and proper basis for reconstituting the lost or destroyed certificate of title.
Petitioner asserts that under Sec. 2(f) of RA 26, other documents may be considered by the court as sufficient bases for the reconstitution of a lost or destroyed certificate of title. The pertinent documents she presented before the trial court are as follows:
(1) List of lot descriptions from the Bureau of Lands which show that Limuaco is a claimant of Lot No. 3209 covered by Survey No. Cad. 69, Case No. 5 Pagsanjan, Laguna, which is 10,673 sq. m. in area (Exhibit "O");
(2) Certification of the LRA dated October 26, 1999, stating that based on the Record of Book of Decrees kept at the Vault Section, Docket Division of said office, the copy of Decree No. 412846 issued on December 4, 1930 covering Lot No. 3209 of the Cadastral Survey of Pagsanjan, Laguna under Cadastral Case No. 14, LRC Cadastral Record No. 211 was not among the salvaged decrees on file with said office and that the said copy is presumed lost or destroyed during World War II (Exhibit "F");
(3) Certification from the LRA dated September 23, 1998 that its Record of Book of Cadastral Lots shows that Lot No. 3209 of Pagsanjan Cadastre was issued Decree No. 412846 (Exhibit "G");
(4) Deed of Absolute Sale dated December 24, 1956, showing that Limuaco sold to petitioner's parents a parcel of land in Anibong, Pagsanjan, Laguna which consists of 10,673 sq. m. covered by Tax Declaration No. 156 (Exhibit "E");
(5) Tax Declaration No. 5471 in the name of petitioner's parents which canceled Tax Declaration No. 156 covering a property bounded by the lot of Timoteo Abaya on the north, a stream on the south and west, a callejon in the east (Exhibit "J"); andcralawlibrary
(6) Deed of Co-owner's Partition dated February 5, 1968 which shows that petitioner and her siblings divided their inheritance after the death of their parents, and that petitioner obtained Lot No. 19-pt covered by Tax Declaration No. 1376 situated in Anibong, Pagsanjan, Laguna consisting of 10,673 sq. m., bounded by Lot No. 15 pt. of Marcelo Aquino on the north, a stream on the south and west, and a callejon in the east (Exhibit "D").6
As held in Republic v. Intermediate Appellate Court,7 when RA 26, Section 2(f) speaks of "any other document," the reference is to similar documents previously enumerated in the section or documents ejusdem generis as the documents earlier referred to.
The Deed of Co-owners Partition states that the subject of the instrument is Lot No. 19-pt. The Deed of Absolute Sale between Limuaco and petitioner's parents, on the other hand, states that the land was not registered under Act No. 496. Petitioner nevertheless insists that Lot No. 3209 is the subject of a decree of registration according to the records of the LRA, and that between Limuaco's statement and the certification from the LRA, the latter must prevail.
We are not convinced. RA 26 presupposes that the property whose title is sought to be reconstituted has already been brought under the provisions of the Torrens System, Act No. 496.8 Petitioner's evidence itself, the Deed of Sale between Limuaco and her parents, stated that the lot was not registered under Act No. 496 and that the parties agreed to register it under Act No. 3344. Even the Deed of Co-owner's Partition stated that the subject lot, Lot No. 19-pt, is not registered. The other piece of evidence, the certifications from the LRA, merely stated that Decree No. 412846 covering Lot No. 3209 was issued on December 4, 1930, but the copy of said decree is not among the salvaged decrees on file with said office. The said copy is presumed lost or destroyed during World War II. The LRA neither stated that a certificate of title was actually issued nor mentioned the number of the OCT. It cannot be determined from any of the evidence submitted by petitioner that the adjudicatee of the purported decree was Limuaco.
In Republic v. El Gobierno de las Islas Filipinas, this Court denied the petition for reconstitution of title despite the existence of a decree:
We also find insufficient the index of decree showing that Decree No. 365835 was issued for Lot No. 1499, as a basis for reconstitution. We noticed that the name of the applicant as well as the date of the issuance of such decree was illegible. While Decree No. 365835 existed in the Record Book of Cadastral Lots in the Land Registration Authority as stated in the Report submitted by it, however, the same report did not state the number of the original certificate of title, which is not sufficient evidence in support of the petition for reconstitution. The deed of extrajudicial declaration of heirs with sale executed by Aguinaldo and Restituto Tumulak Perez and respondent on February 12, 1979 did not also mention the number of the original certificate of title but only Tax Declaration No. 00393. As we held in Tahanan Development Corp. v. Court of Appeals, the absence of any document, private or official, mentioning the number of the certificate of title and the date when the certificate of title was issued, does not warrant the granting of such petition.9
Petitioner argues that since it is incumbent upon the Commissioner of Land Registration to issue a certificate of title pursuant to a court decree, it can be presumed that a certificate of title over Lot No. 3209 was indeed issued when the cadastral court ordered it so on December 4, 1930. Petitioner relied on Rule 131, Sec. 3 of the Rules of Court which states the presumption that official duty has been regularly performed. This presumption, however, is merely disputable. In this case, the LRA certified that (1) a decree covering Lot No. 3209 was issued, but (2) a copy of the said decree cannot be found on the records. If in fact a certificate of title was issued, a title number could have been mentioned by the LRA. Since the LRA itself made no reference to any certificate of title, the conclusion is that none was issued. More importantly, Limuaco himself stated in the Deed of Absolute Sale that the property he was selling was not registered. Petitioner's evidence, no less, disproves the presumption she relies upon.
What further militates against petitioner's arguments is the fact that the Deed of Absolute Sale, Deed of Co-owner's Partition, and Tax Declaration Nos. 5471 and 99-19-003-00022 mention Lot No. 19-pt and not Lot No. 3209, which was sold by Limuaco to her parents. "Lot No. 3209" only appears on the Tracing Cloth Plan and the Technical Description. There is no document that refers or designates Lot No. 19-pt as Lot No. 3209.
Petitioner points out, however, that both Lot No. 19-pt and Lot No. 3209 have the area of 10,673 sq. m., bounded by a callejon and a stream, and located in Anibong, Pagsanjan, Laguna. Moreover, the Lot Description (Exhibit "O") and Lot Data (Exhibit "P") show that the technical description of Lot No. 19-pt fits the technical description of Lot No. 3209. She also asserts that Lot No. 19-pt, which was mentioned in Tax Declaration No. 99-19-003-00022 issued in her name, was the Assessor's Lot Number and not the Cadastral Lot Number.10 The Solicitor General points out, however, that Tax Declaration No. 5471 in the name of petitioner's parents did not indicate any certificate of title number or cadastral or assessor's lot number. This creates serious doubt as to the exact identity of the two lots.
Assuming that Lot Nos. 19-pt and 3209 are the same, we are still constrained to deny the reconstitution of title mainly because there is no proof that a certificate of title was originally issued to both lots. The Solicitor General notes that both lots are still unregistered land of the public domain; thus, no certificate covering such property can be issued under the instant proceeding.
In sum, we are not persuaded that petitioner's pieces of evidence warrant the reconstitution of title since she failed to prove the existence of the title in the first place. The purpose of reconstitution of title is to have the original title reproduced in the same form it was when it was lost or destroyed.11 In this case, there is no title to be re-issued. The appellate and trial courts were correct in denying Pascua's petition. We emphasize that courts must be cautious in granting reconstitution of lost or destroyed certificates of titles. It is the duty of the trial court to scrutinize and verify carefully all supporting documents, deeds, and certifications. Each and every fact, circumstance, or incident which corroborates or relates to the existence and loss of the title should be examined.12
WHEREFORE, the CA's July 22, 2003 Decision and February 10, 2004 Resolution in CA-G.R. CV No. 74050, affirming the October 30, 2000 Order of the Sta. Cruz, Laguna RTC, Branch 27, are AFFIRMED IN TOTO. Costs against petitioner.
1 Rollo, pp. 61-68. Penned by Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis and concurred in by Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam.
2 Id. at 74.
3 Id. at 62.
4 Id. at 28.
5 Id. at 13-14.
6 Id. at 15-16.
8 Dordas v. Court of Appeals, 337 Phil. 59, 64 (1997).
10 Rollo, p. 17.
12 Tahanan Development Corp. v. Court of Appeals, No. L-55771, November 15, 1982, 118 SCRA 273, 314-315.