The records bear out that private
respondent has been in possession of
subject parcel of land in concept of owner
for more than thirty (30) years
The court a quo made the following factual findings based on the testimony of private respondent:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"The evidence . . . shows that he [private respondent] acquired the land from his father-in-law, Dongail, when he married his daughter; that he was then 18 years old; that at the time of his acquisition, it was planted with camotes, cassava [sic], langka, gabi, coffee and avocados; that he lived on the land since his marriage up to the present; that he has been paying the taxes during the Japanese occupation an even before it; that he was never disturbed in his possession. Supporting his oral testimony, applicant submitted tax declarations . . . both dated March 20, 1948, the former for a rural land and the latter for urban land and improvement therein." 18
Substantiating the aforecited testimonial evidence of private respondent’s actual, adverse and continuous possession of the subject land for more than thirty (30) years are the observations of the court commissioner during the ocular inspection of the subject land on February 1, 1969, pertinent transcribed portions of which read as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Upon verification of the extend of the area applied for by the applicant which tallies with the plan on record, we find the following improvements;
The land applied for is almost 90% improved with numerous irrigated rice terraces newly planted to palay at the time of the ocular inspection and others planted to vegetables such as potatoes, banana plants, flowering plants and fruit trees such as mangoes, jackfruits, coffee plants, avocados and citrus — all fruit bearing.
Most of the fruit trees such as the mango trees are about one half (1/2) meter in diameter.
There are four houses owned by the applicant [private respondent] and his children.
There is a creek traversing the middle portion of the land which serves as irrigation for the numerous rice paddies.
Upon verification of the surrounding area which we did by hiking all the way, there are no assessment tunnels or any sign of mining activities.
Petitioner is deemed to have abandoned
his mining claims under E.O. No. 141 and
P.D. No. 1214
All mineral lands, as part of the country’s natural resources, belong to the Philippine State. This concept of jura regalia enshrined in past and present Philippine constitutions, has not always been the prevailing principle in this jurisdiction, however, the abundant resources within our coastal frontiers having in the past filled not just one colonizer’s booty haul. Indeed, there was a time in our history when the mining laws prevailing in this jurisdiction were compromising, to say the least, of the Filipino people’s inherent rights to their natural wealth.
Before the cession of the Philippine Islands to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, the prevailing mining law in the colony was the Royal Decree of May, 1867, otherwise known as The Spanish Mining Law.
In the advent of American occupation, the Philippines was governed by means of organic acts which were in the nature of charters serving as a Constitution of the occupied territory from 1900 to 1935 22 . Among the principal organic acts of the Philippine was the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902 through which the United States Congress assumed the administration of the Philippine Islands.
The Philippine Bill of 1902 contained provisions for, among many other things, the open and free exploration, occupation and purchase of mineral deposits and the land where they may be found. It declared "all valuable mineral deposits in public lands in the Philippine Islands, both surveyed and unsurveyed . . . to be free and open to exploration, occupation, and purchase, and the land in which they are found to occupation and purchase, by citizens of the United States, or of said Islands . . ." 23
Any qualified person desiring to locate a mineral claim may enter upon the same and locate a plot of ground measuring, where possible, but not exceeding, one thousand feet in length by one thousand feet in breadth, in as nearly as possible a rectangular form. 24 Under the Philippine bill of 1902, the holder of the mineral claims so located is entitled to all the minerals which may lie within his claim, but he may not mine outside the boundary lines of his claims. 25 The mine claim locator must have his claim recorded in the mining recorder within thirty (30) days after the location thereof; otherwise, he will be deemed to have abandoned the same. 26
One of the continuing requirements for the subsistence of the mining claim is performance of not less than one hundred dollars’ worth of labor or undertaking of improvements of the same value every year. 27 This is a strict requisite, the locator’s failure to comply with which shall operate to open the claim or mine to relocation in the same manner as if no location of the same had even been made. 28 Unequivocal is the mandatory nature of the work or labor requirement on the mine that the Philippine Bill specifically designates the time when the work or labor required to be done annually on all unpatented mineral claims, shall commence. 29
Subsequently, among a few laws passed amending the Philippine Bill of 1902 was Act No. 624 passed by the United States Philippine Commission and approved on February 7, 1903. Said Act prescribed regulations to govern the location and the manner of recording mining claims and the amount of work necessary to hold possession thereof. Such regulations reinforced the annual work or labor requirement of not less than one hundred dollars’ worth as provided for in the Philippine Bill of 1902, in accordance with Section 36 thereof which limits the power of the United States Philippine Commission to make regulations but "not in conflict with the provision of this Act [i.e., the Philippine Bill of 1902], governing the location, manner of recording, and amount of work necessary to hold possession of a mining claim . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library
On November 15, 1935, the Constitution of the Commonwealth took effect. The 1935 Constitution declared all natural resources of the Philippines, including mineral lands and minerals, to be property belonging to the State. 30 However, as it turned out, not really all of the Philippines’ natural resources were considered part of the public domain. Those natural resources, and for that matter, those mineral lands and minerals with respect to which there already was "any existing right, grant, lease, or concession at the time of the inauguration of the Government established under this Constitution," were then considered outside the application of the jura regalia doctrine or at least not unconditionally or totally within the contemplation of said doctrine.
On November 7, 1936, the First National Assembly enacted Commonwealth Act No. 137, otherwise known as the Mining Act. In contradistinction with the Philippine Bill of 1902 which was patterned after the United States Federal Mining Acts which rejected the regalian doctrine, the Mining Act expressly adopted the regalian doctrine following the provisions of the 1935 Constitution. Since said Constitution necessarily prohibits the alienation mining lands, the Mining Act granted only lease rights to mining claimants who are proscribed from purchasing the mining claim itself. These provisions of the Mining Act, however, were expressly inapplicable to mining claimants who had located and recorded their claims under the Philippine Bill of 1902.
The nationalism underlying the adoption of the regalian doctrine in the 1935 Constitution was further eroded by the amendment thereto which was adopted by the First Congress on September 18, 1946 and approved by a majority at the elections held on March 11, 1947. This amendment which came in the form of an "Ordinance Appended to the Constitution" is what is known as the "Parity Rights" amendment. It provided that, notwithstanding the adoption in the Constitution of the regalian doctrine and the proscription against aliens participating in the natural wealth of the nation, excepted therefrom were the citizens of the United States and its business enterprises which would have the equal right in the disposition, exploitation, development and utilization of our natural resources, among them, our mining lands and minerals for the period from July 4, 1946 to July 3, 1974.
In the meantime, the provision of the Philippine Bill of 1902 regarding mining claims, insofar as the mining lands and mining claims acquired before the effectivity of the 1935 Constitution are concerned, continued to be in effect. Annual performance of labor or undertaking of improvements on the mine remained an annual requirement, non-compliance with which resulted in the mine becoming again open to relocation but now subject to the lease provisions of the Mining Act. The intention for this annual work requirement to be a strict prerequisite to maintenance of a claimant’s rights under the Philippine Bill of 1902 apparently not lost on subsequent legislators, they took the same as an absolute prerequisite with grave consequences and believed it necessary to expressly enact a law 31 waiving this requirement during the period from January 1, 1952 to January 1, 1954 as the circumstances then necessitated the same.
The Philippine Bill of 1902 clearly required the annual performance of work on the mine or the undertaking of improvements thereon in order for the mine claim locator to continue enjoying all the rights accruing to him as such under the said Bill. This and nothing short of this was the requirement. The filing of affidavits of annual assessment work, which procedure is not even provided for in the Philippine Bill of 1902, is required only for purposes of proving that there had actually been work or improvements done. Such filing could not have been intended to replace the actual work requirement, and nary is there a basis in law to support any conclusion to the contrary, notwithstanding what was appearing to be the practice of mine claim locators of annually filing affidavits of annual assessment but willfully not undertaking actual work or tangible improvement on the mine site.
On August 1, 1968 then President Marcos issued Executive Order (E.O.) No. 141. Whereas mining claim holders under the Philippine Bill of 1902." . . are of the impression that they may hold on to their claims indefinitely by the mere filing of affidavits of annual assessment work . . .," E.O. No. 141 precisely declared that "such impression is not correct, for what matters in maintaining and preserving possessory title to the claim is the continuous performance of the required assessment work, not the filing of an affidavit which may be disproved by findings on the ground." Consequently, E.O. No. 141 established the status of such unpatented mining claims which have not complied with the annual work requirement, as having been abandoned and open for relocation, their declarations of location being accordingly cancelled.
On January 17, 1973, the 1973 Constitution came into force and effect. Unlike the former Charter, the 1973 Constitution did not expressly qualify the application of the regalian doctrine as being subject to any right granted before the effectivity of the 1935 Constitution or the 1973 Constitution for that matter. It provided:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"SEC 8. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, wildlife, and other natural resources of the Philippines belong to the State. . . ." 32
But the conditional application of the regalian doctrine under the 1973 Constitution could be found in Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 463, enacted on May 17, 1974, which revised the Mining Act (C.A. No. 137). While the said decree declares that." . . all mineral deposits in public or private lands . . . belong to the State, inalienably and imprescriptively . . .," it also recognizes whatever rights or reservations had already been existing with respect to certain mining lands 33 , apparently alluding to the rights of mining claim holders under the Philippine Bill of 1902.
Under the Philippine Bill of 1902, the procedure was that a mining claim locator need not apply for a patent soon after locating the mine. The patent may come later, and the said locator, for as long as he complies with the annual actual work requirement, enjoyed possessory rights with respect to such mining claim with or without a patent therefor. It has already been stated that under E.O. No. 141, unpatented mining claims shall be deemed abandoned upon a finding that the holders thereof had not been actually performing any work or labor or undertaking any improvement at the mine site notwithstanding their having religiously filed annual affidavits of assessment.
Even under P.D. 463 which was enacted in 1974, the possessory rights of mining claim holders under the Philippine Bill of 1902 remained effective for as long as said holders complied with the annual actual work requirement. But on October 14, 1977, P.D. No. 1214 required all the holders of unpatented mining claims to secure mining lease contracts under P.D. No. 463. Faced with the grave consequence of forfeiture of all their rights to their claims, holders of subsisting and valid patentable mining claims located under the Philippine Bill of 1902 were to file mining lease applications therefor within one (1) year from the effectivity of the said decree. 34 The filing of such mining lease applications was considered a waiver of the holders’ rights to the issuance of mining patents for their claims 35 . Corollarily, non-filing of applications for mining lease by the holders thereof within the one-year period would cause the forfeiture of all their rights to their claims 36 .
Against the backdrop of the afore-chronicled evolution of the pertinent mining laws, past and present, in this jurisdiction, we now proceed to resolve the controlling issue in this case: Whether or not the ownership of subject land had long been vested on petitioner after it had allegedly located and recorded its mining claim in accordance with the pertinent provision of the Philippine Bill of 1902.
This issue is certainly not a novel one. It has been first ruled upon by this court in the 1922 case of McDaniel v. Apacible and Cuisia. 37 There, applying American precedents, we stated:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"The moment the locator discovered a valuable mineral deposit on the lands located, and perfected his location in accordance with law, the power of the United States Government to deprive him of the exclusive right to the possession and enjoyment of the located claim was gone, the lands had become mineral lands and they were exempted from lands that could be granted to any other person. The reservations of public lands cannot be made so as to include prior mineral perfected located locations; and of course, if a valid mining location is made upon public lands afterward included in a reservation, such inclusion or reservation does not affect the validity of the former location. By such location and perfection, the land located is segregated from the public domain even as against the Government. . . ." 38
We reiterated this ruling in the subsequent cases of Gold Creek Mining v. Rodriguez (1938), 39 Salacot Mining Company v. Abadilla (1939), 40 Salacot Mining Company v. Rodriguez (1939), 41 Bambao v. Lednicky (1961), 42 Comilang v. Buendia (1967), 43 Benguet Consolidated, Inc. v. Republic (1986), 44 Republic v. Court of Appeals (1988) 45 and Atok-Big Wedge Mining Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals (1991). 46
Notwithstanding our ruling in the aforecited cases, however, there came about thereafter a catena of cases where we declared that the rights of the holder of a mining claim located under the Philippine Bill of 1902, are not absolute or are not strictly of ownership. This declaration was a necessary premise in our affirmation of the constitutionality of P.D. No. 1214 in the 1987 case of Santa Rosa Mining Co., Inc. v. Leido, Jr. 47 where we stated:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Mere location does not mean absolute ownership over the affected land or mining claim. It merely segregates the located land or area from the public domain by barring other would-be locators from locating the same and appropriating for themselves the minerals found therein. To rule otherwise would imply that location is all that is needed to acquire and maintain rights over a located mining claim. This, we cannot approve or sanction because it is contrary to the intention of the lawmaker that the locator should faithfully and consistently comply with the requirements for annual work and improvements in the located mining claim." 48
And our ruling there was upheld in the tradition of stare decisis in the subsequent cases of Director of Lands v. Kalahi Investments, Inc. (1989), 49 Zambales Chromite Mining Company, Inc. v. Leido, Jr. (1989), 50 Poe Mining Association v. Garcia (1991), 51 United Paracale Mining Company, Inc. v. De la Rosa (1993), 52 and Manuel v. Intermediate Appellate Court (1995). 53
While petitioner adamantly insists that there is only one construction of the provisions of the Philippine Bill of 1902 as regards his mining claim rights, and this is that the same are absolute and in the nature of ownership, private respondent posits the ultimate question of which between the aforecited seemingly inconsistent rulings is the correct interpretation of the Philippine Bill of 1902 in relation to E.O. No. 141 and P.D. 1214 insofar as the rights of mining claim holders under the said Bill are concerned.
This is not the first time either that we are asked to, in all awareness of the precedents, resolve these postulations of this court that are perceived to be contradictory. In the 1994 case of United Paracale Mining Company v. Court of Appeals, 54 posed before us by petitioner therein was the same question that herein private respondent asks us to resolve in the ultimate. We noted in that case:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"The query of petitioner: ‘What is actually the right of a locator of mining claim located and perfected under the Philippine Bill of 1902. Does he have an absolute right of ownership, or merely a right to possess and claim?’
Petitioner contends that there are two (2) conflicting rulings made by this court on the same issue. In Director of Lands v. Kalahi Investments, Inc. (169 SCRA 683), a locator of mining claims perfected under the Philippine Bill of 1902 has been held not to have an absolute right of ownership over said claims but merely a possessory right thereto. In Atok-Big Wedge Mining Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals and Liwan Consi (193 SCRA 71), however, a locator of mining claim perfected under the Philippine Bill of 1902, the Court has ruled, does have an absolute right of ownership over his claim being thereby removed from the Public domain." 55
In that case of United Paracale Mining, it would have been premature for us to rule on the query, not all indispensable parties therein having been joined. That is not the situation in this present controversy, however, and so we shall forthwith resolve the matter at hand once and for all.
The earlier chronicle of the evolution of the mining laws, past and present, in this jurisdiction was not without a predetermined purpose. The detailing of the provisions of those laws, especially of the Philippine Bill of 1902, was certainly deliberate. It is undeniable at this point that the determination of the rights of a mining claim holder under the said Bill is best undertaken on the basis of the very source of those rights, that is, the Bill itself. And any alteration or change in the nature of those rights must be conceded for as long as such is statutorily and constitutionally sanctioned, for even vested rights may be taken away by the State in the exercise of its absolute police power.
Under the Philippine Bill of 1902, the mining claim holder, upon locating and recording of his claim, has the right to acquire for himself all mineral deposits found within his claim to the exclusion of everyone, including the Government. Such rights are necessarily possessory as they are essentially utilitarian and exploitative. Such rights accruing to the mining claim locator are personal to him in the sense that no conclusion as to the nature of the land may definitively be made based solely on the fact that a mining claim has been recorded as regards a particular land. However, insofar as his rights are exclusive and no other person may undertake mining activities on a recorded mining claim, unless the same has been abandoned or the works thereon not done, the mining locator’s rights are also protected against adverse mining claims of third persons. He also has the right to immediately or eventually secure a patent on his mining claim and in the event that he postpones securing a patent, his rights to exclusive possession and exploitation of his mining claim subsist for as long as he complies with the continuing requirement of annually performing work or undertaking improvements at the mine site. Insofar as the Philippine Bill of 1902 does not provide a specific time within which the mining claim holder must secure a patent, his rights to possession and use of the mining land appear to be unconditional, the option not at all to secure a patent being available to him in the absence of a deadline or ultimatum therefor. The Philippine Bill of 1902, however, did not foreclose a subsequent act on the part of the State to limit the time within which the said patent must be secured under threat of forfeiture of rights provided for under the Philippine Bill of 1902. Thus, in the sense that the rights of a mining claim holder may in the future be curtailed by failure to obtain a patent, especially if we recall that Section 36 of the said Bill itself foretold the subsequent promulgation of regulations regarding mining claims, such rights cannot also be said to be truly unconditional or absolute.
We also learn from our reading of our past and present mining laws in their proper historical perspectives, that the process of recording mining claims could not have been intended to be the operative act of classifying lands into mineral lands. The recording of a mining claim only operates to reserve to the registrant exclusive rights to undertake mining activities upon the land subject of the claim. The power to classify lands into mineral lands could not have been intended under the Philippine Bill of 1902 to be vested in just anyone who records a mining claim. In fact, this strengthens our holding that the rights of a mining claimant are confined to possessing the land for purposes of extracting therefrom minerals in exclusion of any or all other persons whose claims are subsequent to the original mining locator. Thus, if no minerals are extracted therefrom, notwithstanding the recording of the claim, the land is not mineral land and registration thereof is not precluded by such recorded claim. Thus, in the case at bench, the mining claimant, who had failed to comply with the annual minimum labor requirement, could not, all the more, be expected to have extracted minerals from the mining location. Utter lack of proof of even its potential deposits on the part of the petitioner, thus, does not surprise us at all.
Thus, it can be said (1) that the rights under the Philippine Bill of 1902 of a mining claim holder over his claim has been made subject by the said Bill itself to the strict requirement that he actually performs work or undertakes improvements on the mine every year and does not merely file his affidavit of annual assessment, which requirement was correctly identified and declared in E.O. No. 141; and (2) that the same rights have been terminated by P.D. No. 1214, a police power enactment, under which non-application for mining lease amounts to waiver of all rights under the Philippine Bill of 1902 and application for mining lease amounts to waiver of the right under said Bill to apply for patent. In the light of these substantial conditions upon the rights of a mining claim holder under the Philippine Bill of 1902, there should remain no doubt now that such rights were not, in the first place, absolute or in the nature of ownership, and neither were they intended to be so.
Applying the aforecited ruling to the facts of this case, we find that, not only has petitioner failed to sufficiently show compliance with actual annual work requirement on its mining claims but also that credible are the transcribed observations of the trial commissioner that nowhere on the subject land could be found tangible works or improvements of an extent that would have existed had petitioner really complied with the annual work requirement from 1931 when it allegedly first located said mining claims. In fact, no mining infrastructure or equipment of any sort can be found on the area. Understandable thus is the action of the Director of Lands not to further appeal from respondent court’s decision, Director of Lands eventually conceding the subject land to be registrable, considering petitioner’s non-performance of mining works thereon, private respondent’s adverse possession of the subject land more than thirty (30) years and its use thereof for as many years solely for agricultural purposes.
Equally borne out by the records is the fact that petitioner has indeed applied for a mining lease under P.D. No. 1214. For that reason, it has, in effect, waived its right to secure a patent and it shall have been governed, if private respondent’s claim of adverse and open possession of the subject land for more than 30 years were not established, by P.D. No. 463 in its activities respecting its mining lease.
WHEREFORE, the petition is HEREBY DISMISSED, with costs against petitioner.
Padilla, Bellosillo, Vitug and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
1. Promulgated on October 3, 1977 and penned by then Acting Presiding Justice Magno Gatmaitan; Rollo, pp. 16-20.
2. Special First Division with members Acting Presiding Justice Magno Gatmaitan, and Associate Justices Samuel Reyes and Simeon Gopengco.
3. Dated March 13, 1970 and penned by Judge Feliciano Belmonte; Rollo, pp. 37-39.
4. Branch II, Second Judicial District.
5. Land Reg. Case No. N-154/L.R.C. Rec. No. N-28065 in the Court of First Instance; CA-G.R. No. 48837-R in the Court of Appeals.
6. Decision of the Court of First Instance (CFI), pp. 1-2; Rollo, pp. 37-38.
7. Decision of the Court Appeals, p. 2; Rollo, p. 17.
8. Id., p. 4; Rollo, p. 19.
9. Comment dated May 26, 1983, pp. 2 & 5; Rollo, pp. 46 & 49.
10. Decision of the CFI, p. 2; Rollo, p. 38.
11. Entitled, "Declaring Unpatented Mining Claims Which Were Located More Than Thirty Years Ago and Which Have Not Met the Annual Assessment Requirement, as Abandoned and their Declarations of Location Cancelled," promulgated by then President Ferdinand Marcos on August 1, 1968.
12. Decision of the Court of Appeals, pp. 4-5; Rollo, pp. 19-20.
13. Rejoinder to the "Reply to Comment" dated October 26, 1983, p. 2-4; Rollo, pp. 86-88.
14. Reply Brief for Respondent dated June 22, 1984, p. 2; Rollo, p. 139.
15. Rollo, pp. 56-59.
16. Manifestation and Motion, dated June 21, 1983, p. 3; Rollo, p. 58.
17. Petition dated April 22, 1983, p. 3; Rollo, p. 9.
18. Decision of the CFI, p. 1; Rollo p. 37.
19. Rollo, pp. 155-157.
20. 42 Phil. 749.
21. Decision of the Court of Appeals, p. 3; Rollo, p. 18.
22. Mendoza, Vicente V., From McKinley’s Instructions to the New Constitution, 1978 Edition, p. 5.
23. Philippine Bill of 1902, Section 21.
24. Id., Section 22.
25. Id., Section 27.
26. Id., Section 31.
27. Id., Section 36.
30. Section 1, Article XII, 1935 Constitution.
31. Republic Act No. 743.
32. Article XIV, 1973 Constitution
33. Sections 3 and 5, Chapter II, Presidential Decree No. 463.
34. Section 1, Presidential Decree No. 1214.
37. 42 Phil. 749.
38. Id., p. 756.
39. 66 Phil. 259.
40. 67 Phil. 110.
41. 67 Phil. 97.
42. 1 SCRA 330.
43. 21 SCRA 486.
44. 143 SCRA 466.
45. 160 SCRA 228.
46. 193 SCRA 71.
47. 156 SCRA 1.
48. Id., p. 9.
49. 169 SCRA 683.
50. 176 SCRA 602.
51. 202 SCRA 222.
52. 221 SCRA 108.
53. 243 SCRA 552.
54. 232 SCRA 663.
55. Id., p. 665.