G.R. No. 167120, April 23, 2014
RODOLFO V. FRANCISCO, Petitioner, v. EMILIANA M. ROJAS, AND THE LEGITIMATE HEIRS OF JOSE A. ROJAS, NAMELY: JOSE FERDINAND M. ROJAS II, ROLANDO M. ROJAS, JOSE M. ROJAS, JR., CARMELITA ROJAS–JOSE, VICTOR M. ROJAS, AND LOURDES M. ROJAS, ALL REPRESENTED BY JOSE FERDINAND M. ROJAS II, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Decision dated September 15, 1977, declaring Rosalina V. Francisco, Carmen V. Francisco, Carmela V. Francisco and herein petitioner Rodolfo V. Francisco as the true and absolute owners of Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4 of Plan Psu–04–001463;3
- Order dated February 22, 1978, directing the Land Registration Commission to issue a decree of registration over the parcels of land covered by the Decision dated September 15, 1977;4
- Order dated March 23, 1998, directing the Register of Deeds of Morong, Rizal to issue new certificates of title covering the same parcels of land, which are now technically identified as Lots 6–B, 6–C, 6–D and 6–E, in relation to Lot 6–A of Plan Psu 04–083681;5 and
- Order dated May 8, 2000, requiring the Register of Deeds of Morong, Rizal to show cause why she should not be cited in contempt of court for not issuing new certificates of title covering the same parcels of land.6
[Respondent] Emiliana M. Rojas is the widow of the late Jose Rojas, while the other [respondents] are the children of the spouses. For purposes of this disposition, [respondents] shall hereafter be collectively referred to as the Rojases.
On the other hand, x x x Rosalina V. Francisco, [petitioner] Rodolfo V. Francisco, and Carmela V. Francisco, hereafter collectively referred to as the Franciscos, are the applicants for registration in Land Registration Case No. 95–0004 from whence the challenged decision and orders sprung.7
Subject of the controversy is a portion of the 3,181.74 hectares of a vast track of land, known as the Hacienda de Angono, in Angono, Rizal. The entire hacienda used to be owned by one Don Buenaventura Guido y Santa Ana upon whose death left a portion thereof, consisting of the said 3,181.74 hectares, to his two (2) sons Francisco Guido and Hermogenes Guido.
Sometime in September 1911, Decreto No. 6145, covering the same 3,181.74–hectare portion of Hacienda de Angono was issued in favor of the brothers Francisco and Hermogenes. On the basis thereof, Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 633 over the same 3,181.74 hectares was issued in the names of the two (2) brothers.
Several years later, or on May 12, 1933, OCT No. 633 was cancelled, and, in lieu thereof, Transfer Certificate of Title No. 23377 was issued. Nine (9) years later, or sometime in 1942, the heirs of Francisco and Hermogenes adjudicated among themselves the same 3,181.74 hectares and transferred the one–half (½) portion thereof to Jose A. Rojas, predecessor–in–interest of the [respondents] Rojases. Allegedly, the adjudication was formalized by the heirs of Francisco and Hermogenes only on December 17, 1973, when they purportedly executed an Extra–Judicial Settlement of Estate With Quitclaim.
Confusingly, some few months thereafter, or on August 20, 1974, the heirs of Don Buenaventura Guido y Santa Ana, represented by their lawyer, requested the then Land Registration Commission (now, Land Registration Authority) to issue the corresponding original certificate of title based on Decreto No. 6145, evidently because OCT No. 633 which was earlier issued on the basis of the same Decreto was previously cancelled. The request, however, was denied by the said office on January 8, 1976.
Meanwhile, on March 29, 1976, Alfredo Guido, Sr., representing the other heirs, filed with the Registry of Deeds of Morong a petition for reconstitution of TCT No. 23377, alleging that the original of the same title could not be located in the files of the Registry of Deeds of Rizal when he and his co–heirs sought the registration of their aforementioned [Extra]–Judicial Settlement of Estate With Quitclaim. The petition was supported by the owner’s duplicate copy of the title sought to be reconstituted.
On the same date that Guido, Sr. filed the petition for reconstitution, the same was granted and a reconstituted certificate of title – TCT (23377) RT–M–0002 – was issued.
After the reconstitution, the heirs presented before the Registry of Deed of Morong the same Extra–Judicial Settlement of Estate With Quitclaim.
Subsequently, the entire parcel of land covered by Decreto No. 6145 was subdivided into twenty–one (21) lots and twenty–one (21) different certificates of title were issued in lieu of the reconstituted TCT No. 23377.
Thereafter, the heirs who executed the aforesaid document of extra–judicial settlement, including the now spouses Jose Rojas and Emiliana Rojas, sold the property to Pacil Management Corporation (Pacil, for short), and new titles were issued in favor of Pacil on June 26, 1976. Three (3) months later, or on August 26, 1976, Pacil reconveyed all the 21 lots to the former owners. On August 25, 1978, fourteen (14) of the 21 lots were exchanged for shares of stock of Interport Resources Corporation. On April 25, 1980, all the named heirs in the same Extra–Judicial Settlement of Estate With Quitclaim renounced their rights over the remaining portion of the 3,181.74 hectares in favor of their co–heir Alfredo Guido, Sr., in exchange for monetary considerations.
It appears, however, that on August 13, 1976, barely five (5) months from the time Alfredo Guido, Sr. filed his petition for reconstitution of TCT No. 23377 on March 29, 1976, which petition was approved on the same date, an Application for Registration of Title over four (4) parcels of land (lots 1, 2, 3 and 4), as shown in plan Psu–04–001463, which lots are presently alleged by the [respondents] Rojases to be “overlapping a portion of the area covered by TCT No. 23377,” x x x was filed with the then Court of First Instance (CFI) of Rizal, Branch 10, by Rosalina, Rodolfo, Carmela and Carmen, all surnamed Francisco (the Franciscos), about which petition the Rojases now claim to be unaware of. Raffled to Branch 10 of the court, the petition was docketed in the same court as Land Registration Case No. N–9293 x x x.
Acting thereon, the said court issued on June 22, 1977 an Order of General Default premised on the fact that despite notice which was duly published, posted and served in accordance with law, “no person has appeared as respondent in the case or filed an answer within the time for that purpose allowed, with the exception of the Director of Lands, the Provincial Government of Rizal and the Municipal Government of Binangonan, Rizal thru their counsel, who are given ten (10) days from today within which to file their formal opposition.” x x x
Eventually, in the herein assailed Decision dated September 15, , CFI Branch 10, acting as a land registration court, declared the applicant Franciscos “the true and absolute owners of Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Plan Psu–04–00460,” thus:“WHEREFORE, the Court hereby declares the following the true and absolute owners of Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Plan Psu–04– in the ratio [as] set opposite their respective names:
Rosalina Villamor Francisco, widow, of legal age and residing at Angono, Rizal ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 5/8
Carmen V. Francisco, single, of legal age and residing at Angono, Rizal –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1/8
Rodolfo V. Francisco, married to Teofila Gil, of legal age and residing at Angono, Rizal ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1/8
Carmela V. Francisco, single, of legal age and residing at Angono, Rizal –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1/8
The title to be issued shall contain the inscriptions:
‘Lots 2 and 3 of Plan Psu–04–001463 are hereby reserved for the future widening of Manila East Road.’
Once this decision becomes final, let an order for the issuance of decree issue.
SO ORDERED” x x x
The aforequoted decision having become final and executory, the Franciscos filed with the same court (CFI, Branch 10), a petition for the issuance of a decree of registration. And, in the herein assailed Order dated February 22, 1978, the court directed the Commissioner of Land Registration to issue the desired decree x x x.
To complicate matters, it appears that on August 22, 1979, in the then Court of First Instance of Rizal, Branch 155, stationed in Pasig, the Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Solicitor General, filed a complaint for declaration of nullity of Decreto No. 6145 and the owner’s duplicate copy of TCT No. 23377 against the heirs of Francisco Guido and Hermogenes Guido, the spouses Jose Rojas and Emiliana Rojas, the Pacil Development Corporation and Interport Resources Corporation, it being alleged in the same complaint that both the Decreto No. 6145 and the owner’s copy of TCT No. 23377 were false, spurious and fabricated and were never issued by virtue of judicial proceedings for registration of land either under Act No, 496, as amended, otherwise known as the Land Registration Act, or under any other law. The complaint for annulment was docketed as Civil Case No. 34242.
After trial, the CFI of Rizal, Branch 155, rendered a decision dismissing the Republic’s complaint and declaring Decreto No. 6145 and TCT No. 23377 “genuine and authentic.” We quote the pertinent portions of the decision:“Considering that Decree 6145 and TCT No. 23377 are genuine and authentic, the decree cannot now be reopened or revived.From the same decision, the Republic went on appeal to [the Court of Appeals] in CA–G.R. CV No. 12933. And, in a decision promulgated on July 12, 1988, [the CA] dismissed the Republic’s appeal and affirmed the appealed decision of the Rizal CFI, Branch 155.‘A decree of registration binds the land and quiets title thereto, is conclusive upon all persons and cannot be reopened or revived after the lapse of one year after entry of the decree (Ylarde vs. Lichauco, 42 SCRA 641)
WHEREFORE, premises considered, this case is hereby dismissed. Likewise, the counterclaims of the defendants are dismissed.”
In time, the Republic moved for a reconsideration with an alternative prayer declaring Decreto No. 6145 and its derivative titles authentic except with respect to such portions of the disputed property which were either: (1) possessed and owned by bona fide occupants who already acquired indefeasible titles thereto; or (2) possessed and owned by bona fide occupants and their families with lengths of possession which amounted to ownership.
In a resolution promulgated on September 14, 1988, [the CA] denied the motion, saying:“After careful consideration of the motion for reconsideration and defendants–appellees’ opposition thereto, We find no cogent reason to justify the reversal of Our decision dated July 12, 1988, hence the motion is DENIED.
Likewise DENIED, is the alternative prayer to modify the aforementioned Decision ‘to the extent that the recognition of the authenticity of Decree No. 6145 and TCT No. 23377 shall not affect and prejudice the parcels of land already possessed and owned by bona fide occupants who have already acquired indefeasible title thereto’, for to grant said alternative prayer would be to run roughshod over Our decision adverted to.”
Undaunted, the Republic, again thru the Solicitor General, went to [this Court] on a petition for review in G.R. No. 84966, entitled [“Republic of the Philippines vs. Court of Appeals”]. In a decision promulgated on November 21, 1991, [the Court] affirmed the decision of the [CA], subject to certain conditions therein stated, thus:“ACCORDINGLY, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA–G.R. No. 12933 is AFFIRMED subject to the herein declared superior rights of bona fide occupants with registered titles within the area covered by the questioned decree and bona fide occupants therein with lengths of possession which had ripened to ownership, the latter to be determined in an appropriate proceeding.Two (2) years after [this Court] handed down its aforementioned decision, a Supplementary Report, dated December 13, 1993, was submitted in LRC Case No. N–9293 by Director Silverio Perez of the Land Registration Authority, recommending to the court that “the applicants (i.e., the Franciscos) be ordered to submit a subdivision plan of Lot 6 of the subdivision plan (LRC) Psd–240150 covered by TCT No. 2095, together with the corresponding technical descriptions duly approved by the Regional Technical Director by segregating therefrom the parcels of land described as Lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 in plan Psu–04–001463 decided in favor of the applicants and the issuance of new [transfer certificates of title]by the Register of Deeds of Morong, Rizal, in accordance with the decision of the Supreme Court” x x x.
SO ORDERED” (204 SCRA 160, 181)
On March [13,] 1995, the Franciscos, as applicants a quo moved for a transfer of venue to the newly created RTC of Binangonan, Rizal. The case was then raffled to Branch 69 of said court, whereat the same application for registration was docketed as Land Registration Case No. 95–0004.
In the herein other assailed Order dated March 23, 1998, the Binangonan RTC directed the Register of Deeds of Rizal to issue transfer certificates of title in favor of the applicant Franciscos, to wit:“WHEREFORE, the Register of Deeds of Morong, Rizal is hereby directed to issue a new transfer certificate of title covering the subject parcels of land which are now technically identified as Lot 6–B, Lot 6–C, Lot 6–D, and Lot 6–E in relation to Lot 6–A of plan Psu–04–083681 in accordance with the recommendation of the Land Registration Authority in its Supplementary Report dated December 13, 1993 and [the] decision of the Supreme Court in Republic vs. CA, 204 SCRA 160; 179 – in the names of applicants who are hereby declared to be the owners and bona fide occupants of the land in question, with possession for more than 30 years since the time that started way back during the American regime, by themselves and their predecessors–in–interest, which has ripened into ownership, in the following proportion or interest, to wit:Said Order not having been complied with, the Binangonan RTC issued the herein last assailed Order dated May 8, 2000, requiring Atty. Dian Lao of the Morong Registry to show cause within ten (10) days from receipt why she should not be held in contempt of court for failing to implement the earlier Order of March 23, 1998 x x x.
1) Carmen V. Francisco, married to Thomas Whalen, of legal age, and residing at Angono, Rizal – 1/3
2) Rodolfo V. Francisco, married to Teofila Gil, of legal age, and residing at Angono, Rizal – 1/3
3) Carmela V. Francisco, single, of legal age, and residing at Angono, Rizal – 1/3
Let the technical descriptions of Lots 6–B, 6–C, 6–D and 6–E, of Plan 04–083681, as submitted to this court, be used in the issuance of [certificates] of [title] in favor of the applicants, in lieu of the technical descriptions of Lots 1, 2, 3 & 4 of Plan Psu–04–001463.
SO ORDERED.” x x x
Such was the state of things when, on January 3, 2001, the herein [respondents] – the Rojases – filed the x x x petition for certiorari and prohibition [before the CA] for the purpose already stated at the threshold hereof, claiming that they came to know of the existence of Land Registration Case No. 95–0004 only “sometime in June 2000” when a real estate agent by the name of Florentina Rivera discovered the same and brought it to their knowledge x x x.8
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED. Accordingly, a writ of certiorari is hereby issued ANNULLING and SETTING ASIDE the Decision dated September 15, 1977, and the subsequent Orders dated February 22, 1978, March 23, 1978 and May 8, 2000 of the respondent court and its predecessor, the then CFI of Rizal, Branch 10, in Land Registration Case No. 95–0004. Consequently, Transfer [Certificate] of Title [Nos.] M–102012, M–102010, and M–102009 issued pursuant thereto by the Register of Deeds at Morong, Rizal are hereby declared NULL and VOID.
Unquestionably, the title covering the lots applied for was made subject to the “superior rights” not only of those already with registered titles within the area, but also of those bona fide occupants whose lengths of possession have ripened into ownership to be determined in a proper proceeding.
Notwithstanding, We cannot subscribe to [the Franciscos’] theory that the ruling in Republic vs. Court of Appeals and [Antonina] Guido, et al., supra, allowed what otherwise is a void proceeding for lack of jurisdiction.
Indeed, the existence of a valid title covering the land sought to be registered is the determinative factor in this case as far as the matter of jurisdiction to entertain the application for registration is concerned.
In Orchard Realty and Development Corp. vs. Republic, 364 SCRA 100, 107, where the previous registration of the subject parcel of land being applied for was subsequently declared null and void by a competent court, the Supreme Court made clear:“A land covered by a title which is outstanding cannot be subject of an application for registration unless the existing title which has become indefeasible is first nullified by a proper court proceeding, x x x.”Thus, unless and until an existing torrens title is declared a nullity, or, for that matter, declared authentic but subject to any “superior rights,” as herein, it remains subsisting as it is, and an application for registration of the land covered thereunder, or any portion thereof, cannot, as yet, be entertained.
Here, at the time the application for original registration was filed on August 13, 1976 and even when the decision of the then CFI of Rizal granting the application was rendered on September 15, 1977, there was no doubt as to the authenticity of TCT No. 23377 covering the lots in question, considering that the action for annulment of said TCT was filed by the Solicitor General only on August 22, 1979. Hence, by the simple fact that the lots in question were already covered by an existing title at the time [the Franciscos] filed their application for registration, the then CFI of Rizal is bereft of jurisdiction to take cognizance thereof, much less grant the same. Accordingly, herein [land registration court] was without authority to order the issuance of new titles covering the same lots.
Moreover, [if We were] to follow [the Franciscos’] reasoning, We would, in effect, be sanctioning a collateral attack on an existing title, which simply runs smack against the well–settled rule that “a title may be challenged only in a proceeding for that purpose, not in an application for registration of a land already registered in the name of another person” (Carvajal v. CA, 280 SCRA 351, 360).
For want of jurisdiction then, We inevitably rule and so hold that the decision dated September 15, 1977, in LRC No. 95–0004 adjudging [the Franciscos] the true and absolute owners of the subject parcels of land therein sought to be registered, and the orders issued in consequence thereof, are null and void ab initio.
And being null and void, such decision and orders can never become final and executory. Hence, an action to declare them void is imprescriptible. In the graphic words of Republic vs. Court of Appeals, 309 SCRA 110, 122:“x x x. (A) void judgment is not entitled to the respect accorded to a valid judgment, but may be entirely disregarded or declared inoperative by any tribunal in which effect is sought to be given to it. It is attended by none of the consequences of a valid adjudication. It has no legal or binding effect or efficacy for any purpose or at any place. It cannot affect, impair or create rights. It is not entitled to enforcement and is, ordinarily, no protection to those who seek to enforce. All proceedings founded on the void judgment are themselves regarded as invalid. In other words, a void judgment is regarded as a nullity, and the situation is the same as it would be if there were no judgment x x x.”12
- WHETHER OR NOT THE ASSAILED LAND REGISTRATION PROCEEDINGS IN LRC NO. 95–0004 [RTC]; LRC NO. N–9293 [CFI] IS THE “APPROPRIATE PROCEEDING” CONTEMPLATED IN THIS HONORABLE COURT’S PRONOUNCEMENT IN “GUIDO CASE”? IN THE ALTERNATIVE, WHETHER OR NOT AN ACTION FOR ‘RECONVEYANCE’ BEING MAINTAINED BY THE RESPONDENTS IS THE “APPROPRIATE PROCEEDING”? WE RESPECTFULLY STATE IT SIMPLY, WHAT IS THE “APPROPRIATE PROCEEDING” THAT WAS CONTEMPLATED BY THIS HONORABLE COURT IN THE “GUIDO CASE”?
- WHETHER OR NOT THE “CA FINAL AND EXECUTORY DECISION” IN CA–G.R. CV NO. 77764 HAD ESTABLISHED A PRECEDENT, I.E., “LAND REGISTRATION” IS THE PROPER PROCEEDING, IN SO FAR AS ALL COURTS LOWER THAN THIS HONORABLE SUPREME COURT AND THE GUIDO ESTATE IS CONCERNED? IF SO, WHETHER OR NOT THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS MAY STILL VALIDLY RENDER DECISION IN CONTRAST THERETO?
- WHETHER OR NOT PETITIONER IS IMPLEADED AS PARTY TO THE ACTION FOR DECLARATION OF NULLITY OF DECRETO 6145 AND THE OWNER’S DUPLICATE COPY OF TCT NO. 23377 FILED BY THE OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL IN CIVIL CASE NO. 34242, BR. 155, CFI, RIZAL, WHICH WAS APPEALED TO THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS IN CA–G.R. CV NO. 12933, AND ELEVATED TO THIS COURT VIA PETITION FOR REVIEW IN G.R. NO. 84966, ENTITLED ‘REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES VS. COURT OF APPEALS ET AL.,’ NOW KNOWN AS GUIDO CASE?
- WHETHER OR NOT THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN ENTERTAINING THE PETITION FOR CERTIORARI AND PROHIBITION (CA–G.R. SP NO. 62449) DESPITE ADMITTING THAT SAID PETITION WAS FILED EXCEEDINGLY BEYOND THE MANDATORY AND JURISDICTIONAL 60–DAY PERIOD?
- WHETHER OR NOT THE TRIAL COURT ACTED WITHOUT JURISDICTION OR COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION?13
Anent the alternative prayer of the petitioner, We find no legal basis for the declaration of the questioned documents as valid only with respect to such portions of the property not possessed and owned by [bona fide] occupants with indefeasible registered titles of ownership or with lengths of possession which had ripened to ownership. Having been found valid and genuine, Decreto No. 6145 therefore, possessed all the attributes of a decree of registration. Section 31 of the Property Registration Decree (P.D. 1529), second paragraph provides:The decree of registration shall bind the land and quiet title thereto, subject only to such exceptions or liens as may be provided by law. It shall be conclusive upon and against all persons, including the National Government and all branches thereof, whether mentioned by name in the application or notice, the same being included in the general description “To all whom it may concern” .Likewise, TCT No. 23377, having been found true and authentic also possessed all the attributes of a torrens certificate of title. By express provision of Section 47 of P.D 1529, no title to registered land in derogation to that of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession. To declare that the decree and its derivative titles is valid but only with respect to the extent of the area described in the decree not possessed by occupants with indefeasible registered titles or to possessors with such lengths of possession which had ripened to ownership is to undermine the people’s faith in the torrens titles being conclusive as to all matters contained therein. The certificate serves as evidence of an indefeasible title to the property in favor of the person whose names appear therein. After the expiration of the one year period from the issuance of the decree of registration upon which it is based, it becomes incontrovertible (see case of Pamintuan v. San Agustin, 43 Phil. 558; Reyes and Nadres v. Borbon and Director of Lands, 50 Phil. 791, Sy Juco v. Francisco, O.G. p. 2186, April 15, 1957, Brizuela v. de Vargas, 53 O.G. 2822, May 15, 1957), unless subsequent to the issuance of the decree a third party may be able to show that he acquired title thereto by any of the means recognized by law.
It should be noted however, that prior to the reconstruction of TCT No. 23377 on March 29, 1976, [there was] no record in the Office of the Register of Deeds of Rizal show of the existence of any registered title covering the land area subject of this case. The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that prior to said date, certain portions of the area were in the possession of occupants who successfully obtained certificates of titles over the area occupied by them. There were also occupants who had not obtained certificates of titles over the area possessed by them but the lengths of their possession were long enough to amount to ownership, had the land been in fact unregistered. This fact is admitted by the parties.
Although prescription is unavailing against private respondents because they are holders of a valid certificate of title, the equitable presumption of laches may be applied against them for failure to assert their ownership for such an unreasonable length of time (only in 1976) against subsequent occupants. The records showed that it was only in 1974 when they tried to obtain an original certificate of title. When rebuffed by the LRC, they applied for a reconstitution of a TCT only in 1976.
In the recent case of Lola v. CA, G.R. No. L–46573, Nov. 13, 1986, 145 SCRA 439, citing the cases of Pabalete v. Echarri, Jr., G.R. No. L–24357, 37 SCRA 518, 521, 522 quoting Mejia de Lucas v. Gamponia, 100 Phil. 277, it was held that “although the defense of prescription is unavailing to the petitioners (Pablo and Maxima Lola) because, admittedly, the title to Lot No. 5517 is still registered in the name of the respondent (Dolores Zabala), still the petitioners have acquired title to it by virtue of the equitable principle of laches due to the respondent’s failure to assert her claim and ownership for thirty two (32) years.”
Moreover, conscious of the resulting “largescale dispossession and social displacement of several hundreds of bona fide occupants and their families” which the Solicitor General pointed out, the private respondent agreed unanimously to accept the alternative prayer of the petitioner in their joint memorandum (pp. 624–636, Rollo). This agreement by private respondents takes the form of a waiver. Though a valid and clear right over the property exists in their favors, they seemingly have voluntarily abandoned the same favor of: 1) those who possessed and actually occupied specific portions and obtained torrens certificates of titles, and 2) those who possessed certain specific portions for such lengths of time as to amount to full ownership. The waiver, not being contrary to law, morals, good customs and good policy, is valid and binding on the private respondents.
However, with respect to the second set of possessors, whose alleged bona fide occupancy of specific portions of the property is not evidenced by Torrens Titles, it is imperative that their claims/occupancy be duly proven in an appropriate proceeding.
ACCORDINGLY, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA–G.R. No. 12933 is AFFIRMED subject to the herein declared superior rights of bona fide occupants with registered titles within the area covered by the questioned decree and bona fide occupants therein with length of possession which had ripened to ownership, the latter to be determined in an appropriate proceeding.
The rationale behind the Torrens System is that the public should be able to rely on a registered title. The Torrens System was adopted in this country because it was believed to be the most effective measure to guarantee the integrity of land titles and to protect their indefeasibility once the claim of ownership is established and recognized. In Fil–Estate Management, Inc. v. Trono, we explained:It has been invariably stated that the real purpose of the Torrens System is to quiet title to land and to stop forever any question as to its legality. Once a title is registered, the owner may rest secure, without the necessity of waiting in the portals of the court, or sitting on the “mirador su casa” to avoid the possibility of losing his land.25
Section 15 of P.D. 1529 is explicit in requiring that in the application for registration of land titles, the application "shall also state the full names and addresses of all occupants of the land and those of the adjoining owners if known, and if not known, it shall state the extent of the search made to find them.” As early as Francisco vs. Court of Appeals, 97 SCRA 22  we emphasized that a mere statement of the lack of knowledge of the names of the occupants and adjoining owners is not sufficient but “what search has been made to find them is necessary.” x x x30
The Court agrees with the CA’s disquisition that an action for reconveyance can indeed be barred by prescription. In a long line of cases decided by this Court, we ruled that an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive trust must perforce prescribe in ten (10) years from the issuance of the Torrens title over the property.
However, there is an exception to this rule. In the case of Heirs of Pomposa Saludares v. Court of Appeals, the Court reiterating the ruling in Millena v. Court of Appeals, held that there is but one instance when prescription cannot be invoked in an action for reconveyance, that is, when the plaintiff is in possession of the land to be reconveyed. In Heirs of Pomposa Saludares, this Court explained that the Court in a series of cases, has permitted the filing of an action for reconveyance despite the lapse of more than ten (10) years from the issuance of title to the land and declared that said action, when based on fraud, is imprescriptible as long as the land has not passed to an innocent buyer for value. But in all those cases, the common factual backdrop was that the registered owners were never in possession of the disputed property. The exception was based on the theory that registration proceedings could not be used as a shield for fraud or for enriching a person at the expense of another.
In Alfredo v. Borras, the Court ruled that prescription does not run against the plaintiff in actual possession of the disputed land because such plaintiff has a right to wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is questioned before initiating an action to vindicate his right. His undisturbed possession gives him the continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his title. The Court held that where the plaintiff in an action for reconveyance remains in possession of the subject land, the action for reconveyance becomes in effect an action to quiet title to property, which is not subject to prescription.
The Court reiterated such rule in the case of Vda. de Cabrera v. Court of Appeals, wherein we ruled that the imprescriptibility of an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive trust applies only when the plaintiff or the person enforcing the trust is not in possession of the property. In effect, the action for reconveyance is an action to quiet the property title, which does not prescribe.
Similarly, in the case of David v. Malay the Court held that there was no doubt about the fact that an action for reconveyance based on an implied trust ordinarily prescribes in ten (10) years. This rule assumes, however, that there is an actual need to initiate that action, for when the right of the true and real owner is recognized, expressly or implicitly such as when he remains undisturbed in his possession, the statute of limitation would yet be irrelevant. An action for reconveyance, if nonetheless brought, would be in the nature of a suit for quieting of title, or its equivalent, an action that is imprescriptible. In that case, the Court reiterated the ruling in Faja v. Court of Appeals which we quote:x x x There is settled jurisprudence that one who is in actual possession of a piece of land claiming to be owner thereof may wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is attacked before taking steps to vindicate his right, the reason for the rule being, that his undisturbed possession gives him a continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to ascertain and determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his own title, which right can be claimed only by one who is in possession. No better situation can be conceived at the moment for Us to apply this rule on equity than that of herein petitioners whose mother, Felipa Faja, was in possession of the litigated property for no less than 30 years and was suddenly confronted with a claim that the land she had been occupying and cultivating all these years, was titled in the name of a third person. We hold that in such a situation the right to quiet title to the property, to seek its reconveyance and annul any certificate of title covering it, accrued only from the time the one in possession was made aware of a claim adverse to his own, and it is only then that the statutory period of prescription commences to run against such possessor.36
1 Penned by Presiding Justice Cancio C. Garcia (retired member of the Supreme Court), with Associate Justices Renato C. Dacudao and Danilo B. Pine, concurring; rollo, pp. 86–101.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Danilo B. Pine, with Associate Justices Renato C. Dacudao and Perlita J. Tria–Tirona, concurring; rollo, pp. 102–104.
3 CA rollo, pp. 37–40.
4 Id. at 42.
5 Id. at 46–50.
6 Id. at 54.
7 The CA failed to mention Carmen V. Francisco as one of the applicants.
8Rollo, pp. 87–95. (Emphasis omitted; italics in the original; citations omitted).
9 Id. at 135–138. Rosalina V. Francisco died sometime in 1987 (Id. at 145).
10 Id. at 100. (Emphasis in the original)
11 G.R. No. 84966, November 21, 1991, 204 SCRA 160.
12Rollo, pp. 98–100.
13 Id. at 396–397.
14 Id. at 327–334.
15 Id. at 423–428, 438–439.
16Judge Carillo v. Court of Appeals, 534 Phil. 154, 166 (2006).
17 See Rules of Court, Rule 47, Sec. 2, and the cases of Diona v. Balangue, G.R. No. 173559, January 7, 2013, 688 SCRA 22, 35; Benatiro v. Heirs Evaristo Cuyos, G.R. No. 161220, July 30, 2008, 560 SCRA 478, 495; Biaco v. Phil. Countryside Rural Bank, 544 Phil. 45, 53 (2007); and Intestate Estate of the late Nimfa Sian v. Phil. National Bank, 542 Phil. 648, 654 (2007).
18 Rules of Court, Rule 47, Sec. 3.
19Gomez v. Court of Appeals, 250 Phil. 504, 510 (1988).
20Pepsi–Cola Products Phils., Inc. v. Pagdanganan, 535 Phil. 540, 554 (2006).
21De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), G.R. Nos. 191002, 191032, 191057, A.M. No. 10–2–5–SC and G.R. No. 191149, April 20, 2010, 618 SCRA 639, 658.
22The Baguio Regreening Movement, Inc. v. Masweng, G.R. No. 180882, February 27, 2013, 692 SCRA 109, 125; Philippine Guardians Brotherhood, Inc. (PGBI) v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 190529, April 29, 2010, 619 SCRA 585, 594; Lazatin v. Desierto, G.R. No. 147097, June 5, 2009, 588 SCRA 285, 294; Ting v. Velez–Ting, G.R. No. 166562, March 31, 2009, 582 SCRA 694, 704; and De Mesa v. Pepsi Cola Products Phils., Inc., 504 Phil. 685, 691 (2005).
23Republic v. Court of Appeals, supra note 11, at 178–181. (Emphasis in the original)
24Top Management Programs Corporation v. Fajardo, G.R. No. 150462, June 15, 2011, 652 SCRA 18, 37 and Mercado v. Valley Mountain Mines Exploration, Inc., G.R. Nos. 141019, 164281, and 185781, November 23, 2011, 661 SCRA 13, 44.
25Ingusan v. Heirs of Reyes, 558 Phil. 50, 61 (2007)
26Gomez v. Court of Appeals, supra note 19, as cited in Spouses Laburada v. Land Registration Authority, 350 Phil. 779, 788 (1998) and Ramos v. Rodriguez, 314 Phil. 326, 331 (1995).
27Cayanan v. De Los Santos, 129 Phil. 612, 615 (1967); Santos v. Ichon, 95 Phil. 677, 681 (1954); Capio v. Capio, 94 Phil. 113, 116 (1953).
28 CA rollo, pp. 51–53; Rollo, pp. 205–206.
29 405 Phil. 161 (2001).
30Divina v. Court of Appeals, supra, at 172.
31Pasiño v. Monterroyo, G.R. No. 159494, July 31, 2008, 560 SCRA 739, 751
32Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) v. Fernandez, 411 Phil. 107, 119 (2001)
35 G.R. No. 161360, October 19, 2011, 659 SCRA 545.
36Yared v. Tiongco, supra, at 552–554. (Citations omitted)