[ G.R. No. 193358, September 16, 2020 ]
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, PETITIONER, VS. HEIRS OF THE LATE LEOPOLDO DE GRANO, ET AL., RESPONDENTS VIOLETA SEVILLA, OPPOSITOR-RESPONDENT
G.R. NO. 193399
VIOLETA SEVILLA, PETITIONER HEIRS OF THE LATE LEOPOLDO DE GRANO, ET AL., RESPONDENTS
REYES, J. JR., J.:
The consolidated Petitions for Review on Certiorari before the Court assail the Amended Decision dated September 15, 2009 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 84123, modifying the Order dated September 30, 2004 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 18, Tagaytay City, (RTC) in LRC No. TG-394, and the CA Resolution dated August 13, 2010 denying the separate motions for reconsideration of petitioners.
LRC No. TG-394 is an amended application filed in September 17, 1991 with the RTC by respondents Heirs of the Late Leopoldo de Grano (respondents) for registration under Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1529 of Lot 7467, Cad. 355-D, Tagaytay Cadastre.1 They alleged that Lot 7467 is alienable and disposable public land;2 that their family has been in possession and ownership thereof for more than 30 years, as evidenced by Tax Declaration No. 019-0163;3 and that there is no third person having an interest in the property.4 During the hearing, tenants on the property testified that they have been farming it for respondents.5
Petitioner Republic of the Philippines (petitioner Republic) opposed the application on the ground that the property is part of the public domain and there is no evidence that it has been declared alienable and disposable.6 Moreover, there is no evidence of possession by respondents, as "only three (3) hectares are covered by tax declarations" in their name.7 Respondents failed to prove bona fide acquisition of the property, for even the alleged Spanish title of their predecessors was not registered within six months from February 16, 1976, as required by Presidential Decree No. 892.8
Another oppositor, petitioner Violeta Sevilla (petitioner Sevilla), argued that as early as 1987 the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) acquired primary jurisdiction over Lot 7467 when it entertained her Miscellaneous Sales Application No. (IV-4) 290 over the property as well as several opposing claims, including respondents'.9
The RTC disregarded the opposition of petitioner Sevilla for making no claim to title to the property10 as well as the opposition of petitioner Republic on the ground that the law requires only evidence of "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".11 In its view, respondents "have more than sufficiently established by clear and convincing evidence that their predecessor-in-interest ... occupied and possessed the land from as far back as 1894" and that respondents continuously occupied and possessed the property by paying taxes thereon up to 1994 and farming the same through their tenants.12 The RTC thus held:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, let a decree of registration in accordance with the Torrens Act covering Lot No. 7467, Cad 355, Tagaytay Cadastre, with an area of 134,120 square meters be issued in favor of the HEIRS OF THE LATE LEOPOLDO DE GRANO.
Only petitioner Sevilla filed a motion for reconsideration on the ground that the DENR had exercised primary jurisdiction over the property, to the exclusion of the RTC, and resolved the status of the property in an Order of the DENR Regional Director dated July 16, 199114 and Order of the DENR Secretary dated February 2, 199315 (DENR Orders). These were sustained in a Resolution dated August 2, 200216 of the Office of the President (OP). Respondents earlier recourse to this Court from the OP resolution failed.
Over the opposition of respondents,17 the RTC granted the motion for reconsideration in the following Order:
WHEREFORE, premises considered the motion for reconsideration of oppositor Sevilla is hereby GRANTED and the decision dated December 15, 2003 is RECONSIDERED. Therefore, the application for original registration of title over Lot No. 7477, Cad. 355, Tagaytay Cadastre, is DENIED.
The RTC recognized the binding effect of the OP Resolution and DENR Orders.19 It also found the application of respondent lacking merit for their "earliest tax declarations and other documents ... pertained to the year 1948, three (3) years short of the required period"20 and there is no government certification that the property had been reclassified as alienable and disposable public land.21 It also lacks a tracing cloth plan.22
In their appeal to the CA, respondents relied mainly on the arguments that the OP Resolution constitutes res judicata only on MSA No. (IV-4) 29023 and left the remaining portion of the property unresolved.24 They argued that the tracing cloth can be dispensed with for their survey plan had been approved by the Director of Lands and its correctness has not been challenged.25
Citing Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court (1986),26 Director of Land v. Bengzon (1987)27 and De Ocsio v. Court of Appeals,28 respondents argue that the duration and nature of their possession automatically converted Lot 7467 into patrimonial property subject to prescriptive acquisition.29 Such possession was established by their documentary and testimonial evidence, in particular the "decision in Reg. Case No. N-406, LRC No. N-15455 rendered by the Seventh Judicial District, Court of First Instant (CFI) of Cavite dated November 4, 1958" regarding their predecessor's possession going as far back as 1894.30 Their earliest tax declaration is dated 1948 because Tagaytay City began issuing tax declarations only in that year.31
Petitioner Sevilla opposed the appeal on the same grounds raised in her earlier motion for reconsideration from the RTC Decision.32
Petitioner argued that, since the amended application was filed in 1993, the law in force was Commonwealth Act No. 141 as amended by PD No. 1073, which imposes the burden on respondents to prove possession dating back to June 12, 1945 or earlier.33 Respondents failed to discharge this burden not only because their earliest tax declaration was dated 1948 but also because these tax declarations refer to a 3-hectare property which differs in location, boundaries and area to those of Lot 7467.34 These disparities cast doubt on respondents' possession of the entire or major portion of Lot 7467.35 Finally, respondents' possession can hardly be characterized as peaceful given that petitioner Sevilla had filed MSA IV-4 in 1987 and the same was given due course by the OP.36
Respondents' reply addressed only petitioner Sevilla's issues.37
In its Decision dated January 9, 2009, the CA dismissed the appeal and sustained the order of the RTC on the grounds of res judicata38 and failure of respondents to prove ownership since 1945 or earlier.39
Respondents' motion for reconsideration raised for the first time the argument that res judicata applies only to the 5 hectares covered by petitioner Sevilla's MSA, thereby leaving their application to the rest of Lot 7467 unresolved.40 The alienable and disposable nature of the remaining portion is established by the very same DENR and OP decisions on petitioner Sevilla's MSA.41 This is reinforced by their witness' documentary evidence consisting of a DENR certification that a 96,342-sq. m. portion of the property is alienable and disposable public land.42
Petitioner Republic's comment dwelt on countering the new points raised by respondents. According to petitioner Republic, the DENR certification is insufficient evidence of the nature of the property.43 Neither does the OP resolution constitute proof that the property was alienable and disposable public land at the time that respondent filed their original petition in 1991.44
The CA amended its decision and modified the RTC order to the following effect:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, let a decree of registration in accordance with the Torrens Act covering Lot No. 7467, Cad. 355, Tagaytay Cadastre, with an area of 8.4120 hectares be issued in favor of the HEIRS OF THE LATE LEOPOLDO DE GRANO.45
The CA based the amendment of the decision on the finding that the OP decision affected only 5 hectares of the property and did not deprive the RTC of jurisdiction over the remaining portion.46 On the substantive issue, the CA relied on Buenaventura v. Republic47 and Republic v. CA48 to hold that the DENR certification constituted a positive act of government declaring the property alienable.49 Moreover, the CA cited an evidence adduced by respondents consisting of a 1958 CFI decision pertaining to a 50 hectare property referred to as Lot 7467, and recognizing respondents' predecessors prior possession.50
In its motion for reconsideration from the CA amended decision, petitioner Republic pointed out that the DENR Certification relied upon by the CA refers to the status of the property as of 1997, or six years after respondents filed their application. Hence, it does not satisfy the evidentiary requirement of the law.
CA denied the motion for reconsideration of petitioner Republic due to its failure to attach the registry receipt to the affidavit of service.51 Petitioner Sevilla's partial motion for reconsideration was also denied.52
Issues and Arguments
In its petition before the Court, petitioner Republic raised the following arguments:
THERE IS SUBSTANTIAL COMPLIANCE WITH SECTION 13, RULE 13 OF THE RULES OF COURT ON PROOF OF SERVICE.
RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS HAVE NOT COMPLIED WITH THE PROCEDURAL AND SUBSTANTIVE REQUIREMENTS OF SECTION 14(1) OF PD 1529.
RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS CANNOT PROPERLY INVOKE SECTION 14 (2) OF PD 1529 AS BASIS FOR THEIR APPLICATION FOR ORIGINAL LAND REGISTRATION.53
On the part of petitioner Sevilla, her main arguments are:
THE [CA] GRAVELY AND PALPABLY ERRED IN RULING THAT THE DOCTRINE OF PRIMARY JURISDICTION ONLY COVER FIVE (5) HECTARES AND NOT THE ENTIRE LOT NO. 7467 SUBJECT OF PETITIONER'S SALE APPLICATION.
THE [CA] GRAVELY AND PALPABLY ERRED IN RULING THAT RESPONDENTS HAVE REGISTRABLE RIGHT OVER THE SUBJECT PROPERTY AT THE TIME OF THE FILING OF THEIR APPLICATION FOR REGISTRATION.54
The Court's Ruling
The petitions are meritorious. The assailed decision of the CA is reversed and set aside.
The purpose of Section 13, Rule 13 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is to ensure service of a contentious motion upon the other parties. This purpose is deemed fulfilled based on confirmation of the date of actual receipt by said parties.55 Petitioner Republic furnished proof of actual receipt by counsel of respondents in the form of a mail bill of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and a Certification by the Postmaster that respondents received copy of the motion on October 7, 2009.56 Hence, it was error on the part of the CA to deny the motion for reconsideration on a procedural ground, despite substantial compliance by petitioner Republic of the Philippines with Section 13 of Rule 13.
With the procedural obstacle out of the way, the substantive questions will now be resolved.
The Court begins with a preliminary point that there is no question as to the sufficiency of the allegation on the identity of the land which is the object of LRC No. TG-394 dated September 17, 1991. The allegation expressly and specifically refers to Lot No. 7467, Cad. 355-D, Tagaytay Cadastre and details its location and metes and bounds. No issue has been raised as to the precise location and identification of Lot No. 7467. These details are affirmed by the DENR National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) in a Certification dated 14 April 1998.57
There being sufficient allegation as to the precise location and identification of Lot No. 7467 as the piece of land object of LRC No. TG-394, jurisdiction properly vested in the RTC and the CA.
The subsequent diminution of the Lot 7467 in view of the award by the DENR/OP of a portion thereof to Sevilla does not make the allegation as to the identity of the land object of LRC No. TG-394 any less precise. The portion awarded to Sevilla is well-defined, making the portion of Lot 7467 which remains under the jurisdiction of the RTC and CA ascertainable. As the CA held, the award of a defined 5-hectare portion to Sevilla did not deprive the RTC of jurisdiction of the remaining 8.4120 hectare of Lot 7467 sought to be registered by respondents. This did not give rise to a necessity for respondents to amend their registration application, especially as they had opposed Sevilla's application.
Moreover, the sufficiency of the allegation as to the precise location and identity of Lot No. 7467 and the ascertainability of the remaining portion of Lot No. 7467 is not diminished by the subsistence of issues regarding the sufficiency of the evidence of the respondents as to the classification thereof of Lot 7467 as alienable and disposable and the period and extent of their possession.
It is notable that the petitioners did not raise the identification of the Lot 7467 as an issue; they did not question the jurisdiction of the RTC and CA to resolve the application for registration, which has been lingering in the dockets of the courts for almost 40 years. What the petitioners question is the factual finding of the CA that testimonial evidence and the CFI decision established respondents' possession of the remaining portion of Lot 7467 visi-a-vis evidence consisting of respondents' own tax declaration that referred to a different property under their possession. As the following discussion will demonstrate, before the Court can review the factual finding of the CA, it must first determine the classification of Lot 7467. If it is shown that Lot 7467 is not capable of private acquisition, it would be superfluous to review the factual finding of the CA on the issue of possession for no amount of evidence of possession by respondents will give rise to a registrable right.
Evidence of Alienable and Disposable Nature of Public Land
Petitioner Republic argues that there is no evidence of the alienable and disposable nature of Lot 7467 from the beginning of possession by respondents' predecessors and for the duration of the possession by respondents themselves.58 Petitioner Sevilla agrees that the evidence required is the alienable and disposable status of the public property at the time of the application of respondents in 1991.59 Either way, the DENR certification relied upon by respondents fail to meet these requirements.
Registration of title to private property acquired through acquisitive prescription applies to public land, subject to evidence that at the commencement of possession, said public land had been classified as alienable and disposable and converted to non-public use. When the subject matter of the application is agricultural public land, evidence of its classification and conversion to non-public use at some point in the period of possession will suffice.
It is important to recall that respondents' original application includes Plan of Lot 7467, dated August 10, 1991, describing the property as public land, setting out the boundaries thereof and stating that it is 134,120 sq. m in size.60 There is also the 1948 tax declaration covering Lot 7467 but describing a different set of boundaries and measuring it at only 2.9134 hectares or 29,134 sq. m.61 These material disparities in respondents' own documents heighten their burden of meeting the evidentiary requirements of Sec. 14 of PD 1529.62
Respondents relied on the DENR National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) Certification dated 14 April 1998, which reads:
This is to certify that a parcel of land (lot 7467, Cad 355, Tagaytay Cadastre) with an area of one hundred thirty four thousand one hundred twenty (134,120) square meters, as shown and described in the attached plan hereof, was verified based on the given tieline/point including field validation and inspection and from the records of this office, was found that only ninety-six thousand three hundred forty two (96,342) square meters is inside alienable or disposable block, Project No. 3-A, Tagaytay, province of Cavite, based on map LC-3553 certified on September 10, 1997 per DENR Administrative Order No. 97-29.63
Without first commenting on the sufficiency of the certification as evidence, the Court notes that it ostensibly indicates the alienable and disposable status of Lot 7467 as of 1997, or six years after the filing of the application in 1991 or fifty years from the date of respondents' earliest tax declaration.
However, it should be pointed out that in its Order dated July 26, 1991, the DENR Regional Director declared that Lot 7467 "shall be disposed of only thru sales by public auction" under CA 141.64 This order was issued in connection with MSA No. (1V-4) 290 of petitioner Sevilla. In said order the DENR also declared that none of the opposing claimants, including respondents, established a preferential right to the property.65 As for MSA (IV-4) 290 itself, this was dismissed for non-appearance of petitioner Sevilla.66 Thus, without commenting on the sufficiency of this DENR Order as evidence, the Court notes that it does indicate the alienable and disposable status of the property as of July 16, 1991 or two month prior to the filing of the application on September 17, 1991.
Moreover, the foregoing Order of the DENR Regional Director was upheld by the Order of the DENR Secretary.Ꮮαwρhi৷ The Secretary ordered that MSA No. (IV-4) 290 "be reinstated and given due course" to the extent of five (5) hectares, as this was the limit set by Memorandum Circular No. 22 series of 1989.67 The Secretary further directed that the remaining portion of Lot 7647 be sold at public auction "in accordance with the decision of the Regional Director".68 Again, without commenting on the sufficiency of this Order of the DENR Secretary as evidence, it does seem to affirm the alienable and disposable status of the property as of July 16, 1991.
The foregoing DENR Orders were later upheld by the OP Resolution.69 The DENR NAMRIA Certification of respondents is consistent with the DENR Orders and OP Resolution. Together, they ostensibly indicate the status of the property as alienable and disposable as of July 26, 1991.
Thus, assuming the foregoing evidence to be authoritative, they would enable respondents to meet only the requirement that the alienable and disposable status of the public land be established to be subsisting as of the date of the filing of the application. These documents are insufficient that, as of 1948, the property was already declared alienable and disposable and withdrawn from the public uses for which it was originally intended. Petitioner Republic is correct on this point.
The examination of the sufficiency of the foregoing evidence will be ascertained according to the rules pertaining to judicial confirmation of imperfect title to public land. The examination is situated in the unique context of this case where there are administrative adjudications on the status of the land and a declaration by the courts that such adjudications are binding.
The prevailing rule is that to establish the alienable and disposable character of the land the following evidence must be presented with the application: (1) a certification by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) or Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO); and (2) a copy of the original land classification approved by the DENR Secretary and certified as a true copy by the legal custodian of the official records.70 Strict compliance with this requirement has been enjoined since Republic v. T.A.N in 2008,71 although substantial compliance has been accepted in cases resolved prior to Republic v. T.A.N.72
Undoubtedly, strict compliance is required in this case as the CA amended decision partly allowing the application was rendered in 2009. There is no excuse for its reliance on Buenaventura v. Republic and Republic v. CA for the controlling doctrine was already Republic v. T.A.N. Accordingly, the DENR NAMRIA certification that respondents filed with their application failed to meet the requirement,73 for NAMRIA is not among the agencies of DENR authorized to certify on land classifications.74 It even lacked authority to issue a copy of such certification.
The DENR Orders and the OP Resolution are a different matter. The DENR Orders and OP Resolution are administrative decisions rendered on MSA (IV-4) 290 pertaining to the status of Lot 7467. They were relied upon by petitioners Republic and Sevilla and declared by the RTC and CA as binding. The question is whether they can be treated as evidence that Lot 7467 is alienable and disposable public land?
The DENR Orders and OP Resolution, per se, are undoubtedly authoritative pronouncements of the alienable and disposable classification of Lot 1461. They were rendered by the proper authorities that can decide on the classification of public lands and the alienability and disposability thereof through public auction.75
It is notable that respondents invoke the finding in the foregoing administrative decisions that Lot 7467 is alienable and disposable public land, and yet they argue that the DENR and OP have no jurisdiction over the said lot and that these administrative decisions do not bar their application for judicial confirmation of title to the remaining portion. In effect, respondents question the jurisdiction of DENR and OP but invoke the latter's findings. This will not do. It is either respondents recognize the jurisdiction of the DENR and OP and avail of the latter's administrative findings as evidence of the classification of Lot 7467, or they do not. The findings are only as good as the authority with which they were rendered.
To sum up, the CA erred in relying upon the DENR NAMRIA certification as it is not authoritative evidence of the alienable and disposable classification of Lot 7467 as of September 17, 1991, when the application for registration was filed. The DENR Orders and OP Resolution are authoritative evidence of said status but they are beyond the reach of respondents.
Evidence of registrable right
With the foregoing discussion on the lack of evidence of the alienable and disposable status of Lot 7467, it is no longer necessary to examine whether there is evidence of the preferential right of respondents to the property. Concretely, the Court need not proceed to examine the evidence of possession or occupation for the land, not being proven to be alienable or disposable, is incapable of private acquisition. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to reiterate the rules regarding evidence of acquisitive possession.
First, possession and occupation of the public land subject of application presupposes its precise identification. This requirement is jurisdictional for it is not only the location of the land but also its classification which determine jurisdiction.76 It is likewise a substantive requirement for the burden is upon the applicant to demonstrate that the land has been carved out from the public domain and that he/she occupied the same.77 Exclusive possession requires a defined limit of the object of possession. Here, while there is no question as to the precise identity of the land object of the application for registration, there is doubt as to the extent of the land that was occupied or possessed by respondent. This is not to say that an applicant must prove to be in physical possession of every square inch of the land. The latter must at least prove control of the land emanating from occupation or possession of a defined portion. In this case, petitioner Republic argues that respondents' tax declaration cast doubt on the location and extent of their possession. On the other hand, the CA finding is that respondents established through testimonial evidence and the CFI decision their and their predecessors' possession pertained to Lot 7467. To reiterate, the Court is precluded from delving into this matter for, to begin with, the land object of the registration application was not even alienable, disposable or capable of private possession. No amount of evidence of possession by respondents will give rise to a registrable right.
Second, peaceful possession and occupation of said land presupposes lack of other claimants. Respondents alleged in their application that "to the best of their knowledge and belief, there is no x x x other person having any interest therein, legal or equitable, or in possession."78 The DENR Orders and OP Resolution which the CA declared as binding controvert this claim.
WHEREFORE, the consolidated Petitions are GRANTED. The Amended Decision dated September 15, 2009 and Resolution dated August 13, 2010 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 84123 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE.
Peralta, C.J. (Chairperson), Caguioa, Lazaro-Javier and Lopez, JJ., concur.
1Rollo (G.R. No. 193399), pp. 52-58. The application was later amended to correct errors noted in the report of the Land Registration Authority.
2Id. at 59-61.
3Id. at 62.
5Rollo (G.R. No. 193358), pp. 73-75.
6Id. at 70-71.
7Id. at 70.
9Id. at 78-79.
10Id. at 82.
11Id. at 84-85
12Id. at 86.
14Rollo (G.R. No. 193399), pp. 69-73.
15Id. at 77-83. A separate order dated October 2, 1996 of the DENR Secretary denied the motion for reconsideration of respondents De Grano, et al. No copy is found in the record.
16Id. at 105-111.
17Id. at 181-194.
18Id. at 199.
19Id. at 197-198.
20Id. at 198.
23Id. at 213-219.
24Id. at 228-229.
25Id. at 228-229, citing Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 73002, December 24, 1986, 195SCRA38, 44.
26230 Phil 590 (1986).
27236 Phil 396 (1987).
28252 Phil 754(1989).
29Id. at 215-219.
30Id. at 226-227.
31Id. at 227.
32Id. at 249-262.
33Id. at 284-287.
34Id. at 287-292.
36Id. at 293-294.
37Id. at 299-302.
38Id. at 316-320.
39Id. at 321-322.
40Id. at 326-328.
41Id. at 329-330.
42Id. at 331-332.
43Id. at 352-353, citing Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc., 578 Phil 441(2008).
44Id. at 355-358.
45Rollo (G.R. No. 193358), p. 64
46Id. at 58-59.
47546 Phil 101 (2007).
48440 Phil 697 (2002).
49Rollo, pp. 60-61.
50Id. at 61-63.
51Id. at 50-51.
53Id. at 27-28.
46Id. at 58-59.
47546 Phil 101 (2007).
48440 Phil 697 (2002).
49Rollo, pp. 60-61.
50Id. at 61-63.
51Id. at 50-51.
53Id. at 27-28.
54Rollo, (G.R. No. 193399), pp.19-20.
55Calo v. Spouses Villanueva, 516 Phil. 340 (2006).
56Rollo (G.R. No. 193399), pp.403-404
57Rollo (G.R. No. 193358), p. 101.
58Id. at 405-406
59Id. at 23-26.
60Id. at 62.
61Supra note 3.
62Republic v. Santos, 735 Phil. 166-173 (2014).
63Rollo, p. 132.
64Id. at 71.
65Id. at 70-71.
66Id. at 70.
67Id. at 83.
69Id. at 105-111.
70Republic v. T.A.N. Properties, Inc., 578 Phil. 441-464 (2008).
71D.M. Consunji, Inc. v. Republic, G.R. No. 233339, February 13, 2019.
72Republic v. Vega, 654 Phil. 511-528 (2011).
73Republic v. Alora, 762 Phil.695-706 (2015).
74See DENR Administrative Order No. 2012-09, November 14, 2012; DENR Administrative Order Nos. 98-24, June 2, 1998; and DENR Administrative Order No. 2000-11, February 8, 2011.
75Sec. 4 and 63 and Chapter II, CA 141.
76Dream Village v. BCDA, 715 Phil. 211-244 (2013).
77Remman Enterprises, Inc. v. Republic, 748 Phil. 600-608 (2014).
78Rollo (G.R. No. 193399), p. 54.
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