G.R. No. 163767, March 10, 2014
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, REPRESENTED BY THE DIRECTOR OF LANDS, Petitioner, v. ROSARIO DE GUZMAN VDA. DE JOSON, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Since it has been established that the applicants and her predecessors–in–interest have been in the open, public, continuous, and adverse possession of the said parcel of land in the concept of an owner for more than thirty (30) years, that it, since 1926 up to the present time, applicant therefore is entitled to the registration thereof under the provisions od Act No. 496, in relation to Commonwealth Act No. 141 as amended by Republic Act No. 6236 and other existing laws.
WHEREFORE, confirming the order of general default issued in this case, the Court hereby orders the registration of this parcel of land Lot 2633, Cad 297. Case 5, Paombong Cadastre[)] described in plan Ap–03–001603 (Exhibit D, page 7 of records) and in the technical description (Exhibit F, page 5 of records) in favor of Rosario de Guzman Vda de Joson, of legal age, Filipino, widow and resident of Malolos, Bulacan.
After the decision shall have become final, let the corresponding decree be issued,
The foregoing documentary and testimonial evidence stood unrebutted and uncontroverted by the oppositor–appellant and they should serve as proof of the paucity of the claim of the applicant–appellee over the subject property.
Upon the other hand, oppositor–appellant, in a lackluster fashion, advanced pro forma theories and arguments in its Opposition which naturally failed to merit any consideration from the court a quo and also from this Court. The indorsement from the Bureau of Forest Development, San Fernando, Pampanga to the effect that the subject area is within the unclassified region of Paombong, Bulacan does not warrant any evidentiary weight since the same had never been formally offered as evidence by the oppositor–appellant. All the other allegations in the Opposition field (sic) by the oppositor–appellant failed to persuade this Court as to the veracity thereof considering that no evidence was ever presented to prove the said allegations.
Such being the case, this Court is not inclined to have the positive proofs of her registrable rights over the subject property adduced by the applicant–appellee be defeated by the bare and unsubstantiated allegations of the oppositor–appellant.
WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, the assailed Decision is hereby AFFIRMED IN TOTO.
(1) WHETHER OR NOT THE LAND SUBJECT OF THE APPLICATION FOR REGISTRATION IS SUSCEPTIBLE OF PRIVATE ACQUISITION; and
(2) WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT, AS WELL AS THE COURT OF APPEALS, ERRED IN GRANTING THE APPLICATION FOR REGISTRATION.23
Section 14. Who may apply. — The following persons may file in the proper [Regional Trial Court] 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.
x x x x
Through the years, Section 48(b) of the CA 141 has been amended several times. The Court of Appeals failed to consider the amendment introduced by PD 1073. In Republic v. Doldol, the Court provided a summary of these amendments:
The original Section 48(b) of C.A. No.141 provided for possession and occupation of lands of the public domain since July 26, 1894. This was superseded by R.A. No. 1942, which provided for a simple thirty–year prescriptive period of occupation by an applicant for judicial confirmation of imperfect title. The same, however, has already been amended by Presidential Decree No. 1073, approved on January 25, 1977. As amended, Section 48(b) now reads:(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 of ownership, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title, except when prevented by war or force majeure. These 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. (Emphasis supplied)As the law now stands, a mere showing of possession and occupation for 30 years or more is not sufficient. Therefore, since the effectivity of PD 1073 on 25 January 1977, it must now be shown that possession and occupation of the piece of land by the applicant, by himself or through his predecessors–in–interest, started on 12 June 1945 or earlier. This provision is in total conformity with Section 14(1) of PD 1529.26
THIS IS TO CERTIFY that the parcel of land described on lot 2633 located at San Isidro, Paombong, Bulacan as shown in the sketch plan surveyed by Geodetic Engineer Carlos G. Reyes falls within the Alienable or Disposable Land Project No. 19 of Paombong, Bulacan per Land Classification Map No. 2934 certified on October 15, 1980.
To prove that the land in question formed part of the alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, petitioners relied on the printed words which read: “This survey plan is inside Alienable and Disposable Land Area, Project No. 27–B as per L.C. Map No. 2623, certified by the Bureau of Forestry on January 3, 1968,” appearing on Exhibit “E” (Survey Plan No. Swo–13–000227).
This proof is not sufficient. Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, provides: “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. x x x.” (Emphasis supplied.)
For the original registration of title, the applicant (petitioners in this case) must overcome the presumption that the land sought to be registered forms part of the public domain. Unless public land is shown to have been reclassified or alienated to a private person by the State, it remains part of the inalienable public domain. Indeed, “occupation thereof in the concept of owner, no matter how long, cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title.” To overcome such presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be shown by the applicant. Absent such evidence, the land sought to be registered remains inalienable.
In the present case, petitioners cite a surveyor–geodetic engineer’s notation in Exhibit “E” indicating that the survey was inside alienable and disposable land. Such notation does not constitute a positive government act validly changing the classification of the land in question. Verily, a mere surveyor has no authority to reclassify lands of the public domain. By relying solely on the said surveyor’s assertion, petitioners have not sufficiently proven that the land in question has been declared alienable.40
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.42
The Regalian doctrine dictates that all lands of the public domain belong to the State. The applicant for land registration has the burden of overcoming the presumption of State ownership by establishing through incontrovertible evidence that the land sought to be registered is alienable or disposable based on a positive act of the government. We held in Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc. that a CENRO certification is insufficient to prove the alienable and disposable character of the land sought to be registered. The applicant must also show sufficient proof that the DENR Secretary has approved the land classification and released the land in question as alienable and disposable.
Thus, the present rule is that an application for original registration must be accompanied by (1) a CENRO or PENRO Certification; and (2) 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.
Here, respondent Corporation only presented a CENRO certification in support of its application. Clearly, this falls short of the requirements for original registration.44
We noted in Naguit that it should be distinguished from Bracewell v. Court of Appeals since in the latter, the application for registration had been filed before the land was declared alienable or disposable. The dissent though pronounces Bracewell as the better rule between the two. Yet two years after Bracewell, its ponente, the esteemed Justice Consuelo Ynares–Santiago, penned the ruling in Republic v. Ceniza, which involved a claim of possession that extended back to 1927 over a public domain land that was declared alienable and disposable only in 1980. Ceniza cited Bracewell, quoted extensively from it, and following the mindset of the dissent, the attempt at registration in Ceniza should have failed. Not so.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; an administrative action; investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators; and a legislative act or a statute.
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.” This is sufficient evidence to show the real character of the land subject of private respondents’ application. Further, the certification enjoys a presumption of regularity in the absence of contradictory evidence, which is true in this case. Worth noting also was the observation of the Court of Appeals stating that:[n]o 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....”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. Although there are exceptions, petitioner did not show that this is one of them.”
Why did the Court in Ceniza, through the same eminent member who authored Bracewell, sanction the registration under Section 48(b) of public domain lands declared alienable or disposable thirty–five (35) years and 180 days after 12 June 1945? The telling difference is that in Ceniza, the application for registration was filed nearly six (6) years after the land had been declared alienable or disposable, while in Bracewell, the application was filed nine (9) years before the land was declared alienable or disposable. That crucial difference was also stressed in Naguit to contradistinguish it from Bracewell, a difference which the dissent seeks to belittle.45 (citations omitted)
It is clear that property of public dominion, which generally includes property belonging to the State, cannot be the object of prescription or, indeed, be subject of the commerce of man. Lands of the public domain, whether declared alienable and disposable or not, are property of public dominion and thus insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.
Let us now explore the effects under the Civil Code of a declaration by the President or any duly authorized government officer of alienability and disposability of lands of the public domain. Would such lands so declared alienable and disposable be converted, under the Civil Code, from property of the public dominion into patrimonial property? After all, by connotative definition, alienable and disposable lands may be the object of the commerce of man; Article 1113 provides that all things within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription; and the same provision further provides that patrimonial property of the State may be acquired by prescription.
Nonetheless, Article 422 of the Civil Code states that “[p]roperty of public dominion, when no longer intended for public use or for public service, shall form part of the patrimonial property of the State.” It is this provision that controls how public dominion property may be converted into patrimonial property susceptible to acquisition by prescription. After all, Article 420 (2) makes clear that those property “which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth” are public dominion property. For as long as the property belongs to the State, although already classified as alienable or disposable, it remains property of the public dominion if when it is “intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth”.
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.
It is comprehensible with ease that this reading of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree limits its scope and reach and thus affects the registrability even of lands already declared alienable and disposable to the detriment of the bona fide possessors or occupants claiming title to the lands. Yet this interpretation is in accord with the Regalian doctrine and its concomitant assumption that all lands owned by the State, although declared alienable or disposable, remain as such and ought to be used only by the Government.
Recourse does not lie with this Court in the matter. The duty of the Court is to apply the Constitution and the laws in accordance with their language and intent. The remedy is to change the law, which is the province of the legislative branch. Congress can very well be entreated to amend Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree and pertinent provisions of the Civil Code to liberalize the requirements for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles.46
Should public domain lands become patrimonial because they are declared as such in a duly enacted law or duly promulgated proclamation that they are no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth, would the period of possession prior to the conversion of such public dominion into patrimonial be reckoned in counting the prescriptive period in favor of the possessors? We rule in the negative.
The limitation imposed by Article 1113 dissuades us from ruling that the period of possession before the public domain land becomes patrimonial may be counted for the purpose of completing the prescriptive period. Possession of public dominion property before it becomes patrimonial cannot be the object of prescription according to the Civil Code. As the application for registration under Section 14(2) falls wholly within the framework of prescription under the Civil Code, there is no way that possession during the time that the land was still classified as public dominion property can be counted to meet the requisites of acquisitive prescription and justify registration.48
1Rollo, pp. 29–36, penned by Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. (later Presiding Justice), with Associate Justice Buenaventura J. Guerrero (retired/deceased) and Associate Justice Regalado E. Maambong (retired/deceased) concurring.
2Rollo, pp. 50–52.
3 Records, pp. 4–6.
4 Folder of Exhibits, p. 1, Exhibit “A”.
5 Id. at 2, Exhibit “B”
6Rollo, p. 50.
7 Id. at 50–51.
8 Folder of Exhibits, p. 5, “Exhibit “E”.
9 Id. at 7–8, Exhibit “G”.
11 Id. at 10, Exhibit “I”.
12 Records, pp. 7–8.
13Rollo, pp. 31–32.
14 Supra note 3, at 8.
15Rollo, pp. 47–49.
16 Id. at 47.
17 Id. at 48.
18 Supra note 2.
19 Id. at 52.
20 Rollo, pp. 32–38.
21 Supra note 1.
22 Id. at 36.
23Rollo, p. 14.
24 G.R. No. 179987, April 29, 2009, 587 SCRA 172.
25 G.R. No. 168184, June 22, 2009, 590 SCRA 423.
26 Id. at 432–433.
27Republic v. Dela Paz, G.R. No. 171631, November 15, 2010, 634 SCRA 610, 619, citing Mistica v. Republic, G.R. No. 165141, September 11, 2009, 599 SCRA 401, 408.
28 Folder of exhibits, pp. 7–8, Exhibit “G”.
29 Id. at 9, Exhibit “H”.
30 Id. at 10, Exhibit “I”.
31 Supra note 2, at 52.
32 Supra note 1, at 36.
33Rollo, p. 11.
34 Id. at 38.
35 CA Rollo, pp. 49–58.
36Rollo, p. 58.
37 CA Rollo, pp. 69–70.
38Rollo, pp. 55–57.
39 G.R. No. 134308, December 14, 2000, 348 SCRA 128.
40 Id. at 139–140.
41 G.R. No. 154953, June 26, 2008, 555 SCRA 477.
42 Id. at 489.
43 G.R. No. 162322, March 14, 2012, 668 SCRA 158.
44 Id. at 170–171.
45 Supra note 24, at 195–196.
46 Id. at 202–204.
47 Id. at 205–206.
48 Id. at 205–206