G.R. No. 183511, March 25, 2015
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. EMETERIA G. LUALHATI, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking to reverse and set aside the Decision1 and Resolution,2 dated March 31, 2008 and June 18, 2008, respectively, of the Court Appeals (CA), which affirmed the Decision3 dated October 4, 2005 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in LRC Case No. 04-3340.
The antecedents are:
On August 12, 2004, respondent Emeteria G. Lualhati filed with the RTC of Antipolo City an application for original registration covering Lots 1 and 2 described under Plan Psu-162384, situated in C-5 C-6 Pasong Palanas, Sitio Sapinit, San Juan (formerly San Isidro), Antipolo, Rizal, consisting of an area of 169,297 and 79,488 square meters, respectively. Respondent essentially maintains that she, together with her deceased husband, Andres Lualhati, and their four children, namely: Virginia, Ernesto, Felicidad, and Ligaya, have been in possession of the subject lands in the concept of an owner since 1944.4cralawred
In support of her application, respondent submitted the blueprint of the survey plan and the tracing cloth plan surveyed at the instance of Andres Lualhati and approved by the Director of Lands in October 1957, the certified true copy of the surveyor’s certificate, the technical descriptions of Lots 1 and 2, Tax Declaration No. 26437 issued in the name of Andres Lualhati, which states that the tax on the properties commenced in 1944, the real property tax register evidencing payment of realty taxes on the subject properties from 1949 to 1958, certifications from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Region IV, City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), Antipolo City, that no public land application/land patent covering the subject lots is pending nor are the lots embraced by any administrative title, and a letter from the Provincial Engineer that the province has no projects which will be affected by the registration.5cralawred
Moreover, respondent presented several witnesses to prove her claim, the first of which was respondent herself. She testified that she and her late husband have been occupying the subject lots since 1944. Since then, she stated that she and her husband, together with their four children, have tilled the soil, planted fruit-bearing trees, and constructed their conjugal house on the subject properties, where all four of her children grew up until they got married. She identified the owners of the adjoining lands and attested that the subject lots are alienable and disposable.6cralawred
Respondent next presented her 65-year old son-in-law, Juanito B. Allas, who testified that he first visited the subject properties during the time when he was courting respondent’s daughter whose family was already in possession thereof; that his subsequent visits were when he would accompany his father-in-law to the said lots for the entire afternoon to plant fruit-bearing trees such as mango, coconut, jackfruit; that his parents-in-law cleared the lots and uprooted its grasses; that he knows the adjoining owners of the subject lots; that he does not know of any other person with any interest adverse to that of his in-laws; and that respondent has been in actual possession of the properties publicly, openly, and in the concept of an owner for more than 30 years.7cralawred
Thereafter, respondent presented her husband’s compadre, Aurelio Garcia, who attested that he had been friends with Andres Lualhati since 1964; that respondent and Andres planted various fruit-bearing trees such as mango, cashew, coconut, and jackfruit, and erected their conjugal house thereon; that he and Andres would usually have drinking sprees on the properties; that he regularly visited the subject lots from the time he became friends with Andres until his death in 1982; that the last time he visited was in 2000; and, that the real property taxes were paid from 1949-1958.8cralawred
Finally, respondent presented another close friend, Remigio Leyble, who similarly declared that he had been friends with respondent and her spouse since 1950 and that ever since then, he had known them to be the owners of the lots in question; that the spouses told him that they had been sojourning thereon since 1944; that they were the ones who planted the fruit-bearing trees as well as constructed the conjugal house thereon; that he would usually join them in planting said trees; that he was actually present at the time when the lots were surveyed in 1957; that the lots were declared for taxation purposes even before the same was surveyed; and, that he does not know of any other person claiming or owning the subject properties other than respondent and her family who are constantly managing and improving the same.9cralawred
On October 4, 2005, the RTC granted respondent’s application finding that she had been in open, public, continuous, exclusive, adverse, and notorious possession and occupation of the lands for more than 50 years under a bona fide claim of ownership even prior to June 12, 1945, as required under Section 14 (1) of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree.10cralawred
In its Decision dated March 31, 2008, the CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC, rejecting petitioner’s contention that respondent failed to overcome the burden of proving her possession of the subject lots in its entirety, the area being too big for respondent’s family to cultivate themselves, and that even if they did, such can hardly suffice as possession, being a mere casual cultivation. The CA also rejected petitioner’s averment that the tax declarations and realty tax payments are not conclusive evidence of ownership for they constitute at least proof that the holder had a claim of title over the property. According to the appellate court, the fact that respondent and her family cultivated the subject lands, erected their conjugal home, and paid real property taxes thereon, cannot be construed as a mere casual cultivation but an intention of permanently settling down therein.
On August 11, 2008, petitioner filed the instant petition invoking the following arguments:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
RESPONDENT FAILED TO PROVE THE ALIENABLE AND DISPOSABLE CHARACTER OF THE LAND APPLIED FOR REGISTRATION.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
RESPONDENT FAILED TO PROVE POSSESSION OVER THE PROPERTY APPLIED FOR REGISTRATION IN THE CONCEPT AND WITHIN THE PERIOD REQUIRED BY LAW.11cralawlawlibrary
SEC. 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.cralawlawlibrary
The certifications are not sufficient. DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 20,18 dated 30 May 1988, delineated the functions and authorities of the offices within the DENR. Under DAO No. 20, series of 1988, the CENRO issues certificates of land classification status for areas below 50 hectares. The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Offices (PENRO) issues certificate of land classification status for lands covering over 50 hectares. DAO No. 38, dated 19 April 1990, amended DAO No. 20, series of 1988. DAO No. 38, series of 1990 retained the authority of the CENRO to issue certificates of land classification status for areas below 50 hectares, as well as the authority of the PENRO to issue certificates of land classification status for lands covering over 50 hectares. In this case, respondent applied for registration of Lot 10705-B. The area covered by Lot 10705-B is over 50 hectares (564,007 square meters). The CENRO certificate covered the entire Lot 10705 with an area of 596,116 square meters which, as per DAO No. 38, series of 1990, is beyond the authority of the CENRO to certify as alienable and disposable.chanrobleslaw
x x x x
Further, it 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. These facts must be established to prove that the land is alienable and disposable. Respondent failed to do so because the certifications presented by respondent do not, by themselves, prove that the land is alienable and disposable.
x x x x
x x x. The CENRO is not the official repository or legal custodian of the issuances of the DENR Secretary declaring public lands as alienable and disposable. The CENRO should have attached an official publication of the DENR Secretary’s issuance declaring the land alienable and disposable.18cralawlawlibrary
A mere casual cultivation of portions of the land by the claimant, and the raising thereon of cattle, do not constitute possession under claim of ownership. In that sense, possession is not exclusive and notorious as to give rise to a presumptive grant from the State. While grazing livestock over land is of course to be considered with other acts of dominion to show possession, the mere occupancy of land by grazing livestock upon it, without substantial enclosures, or other permanent improvements, is not sufficient to support a claim of title thru acquisitive prescription.x x x.26cralawlawlibrary
1 Penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo (now a member of the Supreme Court), with Associate Justices Arcangelita Romilla-Lontok and Ricardo R. Rosario, concurring; Annex “A” to Petition, rollo, pp. 30-38.
2 Id. at 39.
3 Penned by Judge Francisco A. Querubin, id. at 57-62.
4 Id. at 31.
5 Id. at 31-32; 59-60.
7 Id. at 33 and 60.
8 Id. at 34 and 60.
9 Id. at 34 and 61.
10 Supra note 3.
11Rollo, p. 16.
12 Id. at 101-110.
13 578 Phil. 441 (2008).
14Raquel-Santos v. Court of Appeals, 609 Phil. 630, 655 (2009); Fangonil-Herrera v. Fangonil, 558 Phil. 235, 256-257 (2007).
15Republic v. Dela Paz, G.R. No. 171631, November 15, 2010, 634 SCRA 610, 619, citing Mistica v. Republic, 615 Phil. 468, 476 (2009), citing In Re: Application for Land Registration of Title, Fieldman Agricultural Trading Corporation v. Republic, 573 Phil. 241, 251 (2008).
16Republic v. Medida, G.R. No. 195097, August 13, 2012, 678 SCRA 317, 325-326, citing Republic v. Dela Paz, supra, at 621-622.
17 Supra note 13.
18Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, id. at 451-453. (Emphasis ours).
19Republic v. Sese, G.R. No. 185092, June 4, 2014; Republic v. Remman Enterprises, G.R. No. 199310, February 19, 2014; Republic v. Aboitiz, G.R. No. 174626, October 23, 2013, 708 SCRA 388; People v. Capco de Tensuan, G.R. No. 171136, October 23, 2013, 708 SCRA 367; Republic v. Jaralve, G.R. No. 175177, October 24, 2012, 684 SCRA 495; Republic v. Medida, supra note 16; Republic v. Espinosa, G.R. No. 171514, July 18, 2012, 677 SCRA 92; Republic v. Hanover Worldwide Trading Corporation, G.R. No. 172102, July 2, 2010, 662 SCRA 730; Republic v. Dela Paz, supra note 14; Republic v. Roche, 638 Phil. 112 (2010).
21Gaerlan v. Republic, G.R. No. 192717, March 12, 2014, citing Republic v. Medida, supra note 15, at 328.
22Rollo, p. 36.
23Valiao v. Republic, G.R. No. 170757, November 28, 2011, 661 SCRA 299, 308-309, citing Republic v. Carrasco, 539 Phil. 205, 216 (2006) and Republic of the Phils. v. Alconaba, 471 Phil. 607, 620 (2004).
24 Id. at 309-310, citing Arbias v. Republic, 587 Phil. 361, 374 (2008).
25 G.R. No. 182913, November 20, 2013, 710 SCRA 411.
26Republic v. Bacas, et. al., supra, at 437.
27Heirs of Malabanan v. Republic, G.R. No. 179987, September 3, 2013, 704 SCRA 561, 585.
28 Republic v. Medida, supra note 16, at 331.