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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 176885 : July 05, 2010]

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, PETITIONER, VS. DOMINGO ESPINOSA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N


VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

This petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, assails the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated August 16, 2004 in CA-G.R. CV. No. 72736 which affirmed the September 28, 2000 Judgment2 of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Consolacion, Cebu ordering the confirmation and registration of respondent's imperfect title over the disputed property.

Briefly, the undisputed factual antecedents are as follows:

On March 2, 1999, respondent filed with the MTC of Consolacion, Cebu, an application for registration of title to Lot No. 8408, Cad 545-D located at Barangay Cabangahan, Consolacion, Cebu, with an area of 17,891 square meters and an assessed value of P9,730.00 per Tax Declaration No. 01039.3

At the trial, respondent was the sole witness presented to prove his possession and ownership over the land.  He claimed to be the owner of the disputed property, having acquired it from his mother, Isabel Espinosa, by virtue of a deed of absolute sale.  He also testified that he has been in open, public, continuous and notorious possession of the land in the concept of an owner for more than thirty (30) years, and that his mother had declared the land for taxation purposes as early as 1965.  He had the property surveyed and an advance survey and a technical description were secured.  The Chief of the Map Projection Section of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had also verified in a notation on the right side portion of the plan that the lot is within the alienable and disposable area.  A certification was also issued by the DENR-Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) stating that the lot was not covered by any subsisting public land application.  The original tracing cloth plan of the property also appears to have been appended to the application but the records show that it was not presented in court as the MTC's Clerk of Court had submitted the original tracing cloth plan to the Land Registration Authority.

On September 28, 2000, over petitioner's opposition, the MTC granted respondent's petition for registration of his imperfect title.  The trial court held:

After a careful consideration of the evidence presented in the above-entitled case, the Court is convinced, and so holds, that the applicant was able to establish his ownership and possessions (sic) over the subject lot which is within the area considered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as alienable and disposable land of the public domain.

The Court is likewise convinced that the applicant and that of his predecessors-in-interests have been in open, actual, public, continuous, adverse and under claim of title thereto within the time prescribed by law (Sec. 14, sub-par. 1, P.D. 1529) and/or in accordance with the Land Registration Act.

WHEREFORE, and in view of all the foregoing, Judgment is hereby rendered rending (sic) for the registration and the confirmation of title of the applicant over Lot No. 8408, Cad 545-D(New), situated at Cabangahan, Consolacion, Cebu, Philippines, containing an area of 17,891 square meters and that upon the finality of this decision, let a corresponding decree of registration be issued in favor of the herein applicant in accordance with Section 39, P.D. 1529.

SO ORDERED.4

Petitioner filed a notice of appeal5 with the trial court.  On August 16, 2004, the CA affirmed the judgment of the MTC.  According to the CA, the evidence presented competently and sufficiently shows that the property is within the alienable and disposable area of public land. The CA considered the approved advance survey plan of Lot 8408, Cad 545-D presented by respondent and the notation thereon made by Cynthia Ibanez, Chief of the Map Projection Section of DENR, as sufficient proof that the land is alienable public land, considering that the plan, which had Ibanez's notation "Conformed Per LC Map Notation LC Map No. 2545 Project No. 28, Block-1 certified on June 25, 1963, verified to be within alienable and disposable land," was approved by the Land Management Services of the DENR.6  The CA found the non-presentation of the original tracing cloth plan during trial not fatal to respondent's case because it was shown that the original tracing cloth plan was appended to the application submitted before the MTC although the original tracing cloth plan was later submitted by the Clerk of Court to the Land Registration Authority.  The CA noted that applicants usually present the original drafting film or the approved survey plan in court in lieu of the original tracing cloth plan.7

The CA also found that respondent acquired the property from his mother on June 15, 1971 and the latter declared the same for taxation purposes sometime in 1965.  Respondent's possession of the property in the concept of an owner, when tacked with the previous possession of his mother, his predecessor-in-interest, presented a consolidated ownership and possession of the property for a period of over thirty (30) years.  The CA further held that to require respondent to prove possession over the property as early as June 12, 1945 would be unjust, unfair and iniquitous.8

Hence, the present petition.

On June 20, 2007, the Court required respondent to comment on the petition within ten (10) days from notice. Despite service of the Court's Resolution, however, respondent failed to file the required Comment.  Hence, on November 17, 2008, we dispensed with the filing of the comment and considered the case submitted for resolution.

Petitioner raises the following grounds before this Court, to wit:

I.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN GRANTING THE APPLICATION FOR LAND REGISTRATION BECAUSE RESPONDENT FAILED TO PROVE THAT THE LAND HAS BEEN CLASSIFIED AS ALIENABLE OR DISPOSABLE.

II.

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT A DECREE OF LAND REGISTRATION MAY ISSUE BECAUSE RESPONDENT FAILED TO SUBMIT THE ORIGINAL TRACING CLOTH PLAN FROM THE LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY.9

Essentially, the issue is whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's judgment confirming respondent's title to the subject property.

The petition is impressed with merit.

It is doctrinal that all lands not appearing to be clearly of private dominion presumptively belong to the State.  Public lands not shown to have been reclassified or released as alienable agricultural land or alienated to a private person by the State remain part of the inalienable public domain.10  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.11  The onus to overturn, by incontrovertible evidence, the presumption that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable or disposable rests with the applicant.12

Generally, the Court is not bound to weigh all over again the evidence adduced by the parties, particularly where the findings of both the trial court and the appellate court coincide.  The resolution of factual issues is a function of the trial court whose findings on these matters are, as a general rule, binding on this Court, more so where these have been affirmed by the CA.13  In the present case, however, the general rule with regard to the conclusiveness of the trial court and appellate tribunal's factual findings should not be applied.  A review of the records shows that other than the notation on the advanced survey plan stating in effect that the subject property is alienable and disposable and respondent's self-serving testimony, there is an utter lack of evidence to show the actual legal classification of the disputed lot.  Respondent was not able to show proof that the property was alienable or disposable.  The approved survey plan merely identifies the property preparatory to a judicial proceeding for adjudication of title.14

The factual circumstances of the present case are similar to those in Republic v. Tri-Plus Corporation15 (Tri-Plus case), wherein the respondent filed an application for registration of title over two (2) lots also of the cadastral survey of Consolacion, Cebu.  The petitioner Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, likewise asserted that a mere notation appearing in the survey plans of the disputed properties showing that the subject lands had been classified as alienable and disposable on June 25, 1963 was not sufficient to establish the nature and character of these lands.  The Republic claimed that there should be a positive act on the part of the government, such as a certification from the DENR, to prove that the said lands were indeed alienable and disposable.  On the other hand, the respondent argued that the notations appearing in the survey plans of the subject properties serve as sufficient proof that the subject lands were alienable and disposable as these were duly approved by the DENR, Land Management Services, whose official acts were presumed to be in accordance with law.

The Court, in the Tri-Plus case, ruled in favor of the petitioner and held that:

In any case, while the subject lands were properly identified, the Court finds that respondent failed to comply with the other legal requirements for its application for registration to be granted.

Applicants for confirmation of imperfect title must prove the following: (a) that the land forms part of the alienable and disposable agricultural lands of the public domain; and (b) that they have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same under a bona fide claim of ownership either since time immemorial or since June 12, 1945.

In the present case, the Court finds merit in petitioner's contention that respondent failed to prove the first requirement that the properties sought to be titled forms part of the alienable and disposable agricultural lands of the public domain.

Section 6 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, provides that the classification and reclassification of public lands into alienable or disposable, mineral or forest land is the prerogative of the Executive Department.  Under the Regalian doctrine, which is embodied in our Constitution, all lands of the public domain belong to the State, which is the source of any asserted right to any ownership of land.  All lands not appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. Accordingly, public lands not shown to have been reclassified or released as alienable agricultural land or alienated to a private person by the State remain part of the inalienable public domain.

It must be stressed that incontrovertible evidence must be presented to establish that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable.

In the present case, the only evidence to prove the character of the subject lands as required by law is the notation appearing in the Advance Plan stating in effect that the said properties are alienable and disposable.  However, this is hardly the kind of proof required by law.  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 statute.  The applicant may also secure a certification from the Government that the lands applied for are alienable and disposable. In the case at bar, while the Advance Plan bearing the notation was certified by the Lands Management Services of the DENR, the certification refers only to the technical correctness of the survey plotted in the said plan and has nothing to do whatsoever with the nature and character of the property surveyed.  Respondents failed to submit a certification from the proper government agency to prove that the lands subject for registration are indeed alienable and disposable.16 (Emphasis ours.)

Respondent having failed to present the quantum of evidence to prove that the land in dispute is alienable and disposable public land, the CA should have reversed the MTC judgment conformably to our ruling in the Tri-Plus case.  The presumption remains that subject properties remain part of the inalienable public domain and, therefore, could not become the subject of confirmation of imperfect title.17

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV. No. 72736 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the petition for registration in L.R.C. Case No. N-83 (LRA Record No. N-70924) is hereby DISMISSED.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio Morales, (Chairperson), Brion, Bersamin, and Abad,*  JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


* Additional member per Special Order No. 843.

1 Rollo, pp. 31-39.  Penned by Associate Justice Pampio A. Abarintos, with Associate Justices Mercedes Gozo-Dadole and Ramon M. Bato, Jr. concurring.  The dispositive portion of the decision reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the appealed judgment dated 28 September 2000 of the Municipal Trial Court of Consolacion, Cebu in Land Registration Case No. N-83 is AFFIRMED.  No costs.

SO ORDERED.

2 In LRC Case No. N-83 (LRA Record No. N-70924), id. at 45-51.

3 Records, p. 6. As amended by Republic Act No. 7691, which was approved on March 25, 1994, Section 34 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, or the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, grants Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts the delegated jurisdiction to hear and determine cadastral or land registration cases covering lots where there is no controversy or opposition or contested lots where the value of which does not exceed P100,000.00.  Sec. 34 of BP Blg. 129, as amended, provides,

SEC. 34.  Delegated jurisdiction in cadastral and land registration cases. - Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts may be assigned by the Supreme Court to hear and determine cadastral or land registration cases covering lots where there is no controversy or opposition, or contested lots where the value of which does not exceed One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000.00), such value to be ascertained by the affidavit of the claimant or by agreement of the respective claimants if there are more than one, or from the corresponding tax declaration of the real property.  Their decisions in these cases shall be appealable in the same manner as decisions of the Regional Trial Courts.



4 Rollo, p. 51.

5 Id. at 52-53.

6 Id. at 35-36.

7 Id. at 36-37.

8 Id. at 37-38.

9 Id. at 16-17.

10 Vide: Republic v. Candy Maker, Inc., G.R. No. 163766, June 22, 2006, 492 SCRA 272, 291; Republic v. Naguiat, G.R. No. 134209, January 24, 2006, 479 SCRA 585, 590-591; and Ramos-Balalio v. Ramos, G.R. No. 168464, January 23, 2006, 479 SCRA 533, 539-540.

11 Menguito v. Republic, G.R. No. 134308, December 14, 2000, 348 SCRA 128, 139.

12 Republic v. Naguiat, supra at 591.

13 Bernarda CH. Osmeña v. Nicasio CH. Osmeña, et al., G.R. No. 1771911, January 26, 2010.

14 Vide: Carvajal v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 98328, October 9, 1997, 280 SCRA 351; Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, No. L-58867, June 22, 1984, 129 SCRA 689, 693.

15 G.R. No. 150000, September 26, 2006, 503 SCRA 91. See also Republic v. Barandiaran, G.R. No. 173819, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 705.

16 Republic v. Tri-Plus Corporation, supra at 101-102.

17 See Republic v. Herbieto, G.R. No. 156117, May 26, 2005, 459 SCRA 183, 203; Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 83609, October 26, 1989, 178 SCRA 708, 711.

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