Thursday, February 08, 2007

Land titles and issues (4): Requirements for issuance of Original Certificate of Title

The Supreme Court in the case of Recto vs. Republic, G.R. No. 160421, October 4, 2004, outlined the procedures and requirements for any party seeking to legalize ownership of land through the issuance of an Original Certificate of Title. Below is a shortened version of the Court’s decision.

On February 19, 1997, petitioner spouses Philip Recto and Ester C. Recto, filed with the Regional Trial Court of Tanauan, Batangas, Branch 6, an application for registration of title over a 23,209 square meter lot, designated as Lot 806, Cad-424, Sto. Tomas Cadastre, Plan Ap-04-010485, situated in Barangay San Rafael, Municipality of Sto. Tomas, Province of Batangas, under Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree. They also prayed in the alternative that their petition for registration be granted pursuant to Commonwealth Act (C.A.) No. 141, or the Public Land Act.

Petitioners alleged that on June 4, 1996, they purchased Lot 806 from sisters Rosita Medrana Guevarra and Maria Medrana Torres for the amount of P6,943,534.40. The two, in turn, inherited the lot from their deceased parents, Vicente and Eufemia Medrana. Maria, born on October 22, 1917, declared that since 1945, her father was already the owner of Lot 806. She became aware of her father’s possession of the subject lot in the concept of owner in 1930 when she was 13 years of age. The possession of the subject lot by the Medrana family prior to 1945 was corroborated by Rosita, who testified that in 1935 when she was 13 years of age, she first came to know that her father was the owner of Lot 806. The sisters added that during the lifetime of Vicente, he planted rice and corn on the lot with the help of their tenant. After his demise, they continued to plant the same crops through hired farmers. Petitioners presented the following documentary evidences


(1) Blue Print Copy of the Plan and Technical Description of Lot 806, both certified by Land Management Services (formerly the Bureau of Lands), of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR);

(2) Tax Declarations of the lot for the years 1948, 1955, 1968, 1974, 1980, 1987, 1989 and 1994 (in the name of Vicente Medrana); 1996 (in the name of Rosita Guevarra and Maria Torres); and 1998 (in the name of Philip and Ester Recto).

(3) Certification of Non-Delinquency for the year 1998 from the Municipal Treasurer of Sto. Tomas, Batangas;

(4) Report from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) stating, among others, that –

(a) the entire area is within the alienable and disposable zone as classified under Project No. 30 L.C. Map No. 582 and released and certified as such on December 31, 1925; (Emphasis, supplied)
(b) the lot is not within a reservation area nor within the forest zone;
(c) the lot is not within a previously issued patent, decree or title.
(d) there is no public land application filed for the same land by the applicant or any other person;
(e) the land is covered by Tax Declaration No. 021-02166-A in the name of the predecessor-in-interest and that there is no difference in area;
(f) the lot is agricultural in nature; and
(g) the lot does not encroach upon an established watershed, riverbed and river bank protection.
(5) Report from the Land Management Bureau that the land involved is not covered by any land patent or by land application pending issuance of patent.

(6) Report from the Forest Management Service, DENR that the subject lot falls within Alienable and Disposable lands, Project No. 30 of Sto. Tomas, Batangas, per BFD LC Map No. 582 certified on December 31, 1925.

(7) Report from the Land Management Sector, DENR that Plan Ap-04-010485, Lot 806, Cad-424, Sto. Tomas Cadastre, situated in the Barangay of San Rafael, Municipality of Sto. Tomas, Province of Batangas, is not a portion of nor identical to any previously approved isolated survey.

There being no opposition to the petition from any private individual, an Order of General Default was issued by the trial court.

On September 7, 1998, the court a quo rendered a decision granting the petition for registration. The dispositive portion thereof, reads:

WHEREFORE, and upon previous confirmation of the Order of General Default, this Court hereby adjudicates and decrees Lot 806, Cad-424, Sto. Tomas Cadastre on plan Ap-04-010485, situated in San Rafael, Sto. Tomas, Batangas, with an area of 23,209 square meters, in favor of and in the names of Spouses Philip Recto and Ester C. Recto, Filipino citizens and residents of 1322 Palm Avenue, Dasmariñas Village, Makati City.

Once this Decision shall have become final let the corresponding decree of registration be issued.

SO ORDERED.
The Republic, represented by the Solicitor General appealed to the Court of Appeals contending that petitioners failed to – (1) offer in evidence the original tracing cloth plan of the land; (2) prove possession of the lot for the period required by law; and (3) overthrow the presumption that subject property forms part of the public domain.

On January 16, 2003, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court on the sole ground of failure to offer in evidence the original tracing cloth plan of the land.

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration praying that in view of their compliance with all the substantive and procedural requirements for registration, save for the submission of the tracing cloth plan, the case be remanded to the trial court for the presentation of the said tracing cloth plan. The Solicitor General, on the other hand, interposed no objection to petitioners’ motion for reconsideration.

On October 17, 2003, the Court of Appeals denied petitioners’ motion for reconsideration. Hence, the instant petition praying for the remand of the case before the trial court.

In its Comment, the Solicitor General manifested that in the interest of justice, he will not to oppose the petition.

Section 14 (1) of Presidential Decree No. 1529 states:
SEC. 14. Who may apply. – The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance [now the Regional Trial Court] an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:
(1) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier.
On the other hand, Section 48 (b) of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended by Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1073, provides:
The provisions of Section 48(b) and Section 48(c), Chapter VIII, of the Public Land Act are hereby amended in the sense that these provisions shall apply only to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain which have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation by the applicant himself or thru his predecessor-in-interest, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945.
Thus, before one can register his title over a parcel of land, the applicant must show that – (a) he, by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier; and (b) the land subject of the application is alienable and disposable land of the public domain.
In the instant case, Rosita and Maria the predecessors-in-interest of petitioners, categorically testified that they, and prior to them their father, had been cultivating and possessing Lot 806 in the concept of owners. Maria, having been born on October 22, 1917, and Rosita on October 29, 1922, were 13 years of age when they became aware of their family’s possession of Lot 806 in 1930 and 1935, respectively. At 13, they were undoubtedly capable and competent to perceive their father’s possession of Lot 806 in the concept of owner. Moreover, the trial court found their testimonies to be worthy of belief and credence. Considering that the judge below is in a better position to pass judgment on the issue, having personally heard the witnesses testify and observed their deportment and manner of testifying, her findings deserve the highest respect.

The fact that the earliest Tax Declaration of the subject lot was for the year 1948 will not militate against petitioners. Note that said 1948 Tax Declaration cancels a previous Tax Declaration (No. 26472), thus substantiating petitioners’ possession of Lot 806 through their predecessor-in-interest even prior to said date. At any rate, in Republic v. Court of Appeals, it was held that the belated declaration of the lot for tax purposes does not necessarily mean that possession by the previous owners thereof did not commence in 1945 or earlier. As long as the testimony supporting possession for the required period is credible, the court will grant the petition for registration. Pertinent portion of the decision, reads –
Petitioner questions the credibility of claimant Divinaflor who testified on the possession of Marcial Listana for the period required by law. The issue of credibility is unavailing considering that the judge below is in a better position to pass judgment on the issue having personally heard the witnesses testify and observed their deportment and manner of testifying. Being in a better position to observe the witnesses, the trial court’s appreciation of the witness’ testimony, truthfulness, honesty, and candor, deserves the highest respect.

A person is competent to be a witness if (a) he is capable of perceiving at the time of the occurrence of the fact and (b) he can make his perception known. True, in 1939, Divinaflor was not born yet, but in 1945, he was four years old, residing in Maramba, Oas, Albay, where the subject lot is located. As his testimony goes, he and Marcial Listana were barrio mates, and that he usually passes by the subject land. The fact that Divinaflor was only a child at the required inception of possession does not render him incompetent to testify on the matter. It is well-established that any child regardless of age, can be a competent witness if he can perceive, and perceiving can make known his perception to others and that he is capable of relating truthfully facts for which he is examined. The requirements of a child’s competence as a witness are: (a) capacity of observation; (b) capacity of recollection; and (c) capacity of communication. There is no showing that as a child, claimant did not possess the foregoing qualifications. It is not necessary that a witness’ knowledge of the fact to which he testifies was obtained in adulthood. He may have first acquired knowledge of the fact during childhood, that is, at the age of four, which knowledge was reinforced through the years, up until he testified in court in 1990. There is reason to reject petitioner’s claim that Divinaflor is incompetent to testify regarding Listana’s possession since it appears undisputed that Divinaflor grew up in Maramba, Oas, Albay, and had occasion to see Listana possessing the land.
Finally, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the belated declaration of the property for tax purposes does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the predecessors were not in possession of the land as required by law since 1945. Petitioner capitalizes on the fact that the earliest tax declaration presented took effect only in 1980 while the certificate of tax payment is dated 1990. While this Court has held in a long line of cases that tax declarations or tax receipts are good indicia of possession in the concept of owner, it does not necessarily follow that belated declaration of the same for tax purposes negates the fact of possession, especially in the instant case where there are no other persons claiming any interest in Lot 10739.

So also, there is no doubt that Lot 806 is an alienable land of the public domain having been released and certified as such on December 31, 1925. As further certified by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office of the DENR, the entire area of Lot 806 is an agricultural land; within an alienable and disposable zone; not within a reservation area nor within a forest zone; and does not encroach upon an established watershed, riverbed, and riverbank protection. Petitioners were thus able to successfully meet the requisite for original registration of title, to wit: open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of an alienable and disposable land under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court granting the petition for registration on the ground of petitioners’ failure to submit in evidence the original tracing cloth plan of Lot 806. Indeed, the submission of the tracing cloth is a mandatory requirement for registration. However, it was held that while the best evidence to identify a piece of land for registration purposes is the original tracing cloth plan from the Bureau of Lands, blue print copies and other evidence could also provide sufficient identification. In Republic v. Court of Appeals, the Court ruled that the blueprint copy of the cloth plan together with the lot’s technical description duly certified as to their correctness by the Bureau of Lands (Now the Land Management Bureau of the DENR) are sufficient to identify the land applied for registration, thus –

On the first challenge, the petitioner invokes the case of Director of Lands v. Reyes, where it was held that “the original tracing cloth plan of the land applied for which must be approved by the Director of Lands” was “a statutory requirement of mandatory character” for the identification of the land sought to be registered. As what was submitted in the case at bar to identify the subject property was not the tracing cloth plan but only the blueprint copy of the survey plan, the respondent court should have rejected the same as insufficient.

We disagree with this contention. The Court of Appeals was correct when it observed that in that case the applicant in effect “had not submitted anything at all to identify the subject property” because the blueprint presented lacked the approval of the Director of Lands. By contrast —

In the present case, there was considerable compliance with the requirement of the law as the subject property was sufficiently identified with the presentation of blueprint copy of Plan AS-06-000002 (San Pedro v. Director of Lands, CA-G.R. No. 65332-R, May 28, 1981). It should be noted in this connection that the Bureau of Lands has certified to the correctness of the blueprint copy of the plan including the technical description that go with it. Hence, we cannot ignore the fact, absent in the Reyes case, that applicant has provided ample evidence to establish the identity of the subject property. (Emphasis supplied)

Such a view was affirmed by the Court in Republic of the Philippines v. Intermediate Appellate Court, where we held that while the best evidence to identify a piece of land for registration purposes was the original tracing cloth plan from the Bureau of Lands, blueprint copies and other evidence could also provide sufficient identification. This rule was bolstered only recently in the case of Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, where the Court declared through Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan:

We affirm. No reversible error was committed by the appellate court in ruling that Exhibit “O,” the true certified copy of the white paper plan, was sufficient for the purpose of identifying the land in question. Exhibit “O” was found by the appellate court to reflect the land as surveyed by a geodetic engineer. It bore the approval of the Land Registration Commission, and was re-verified and approved by the Bureau of Lands on April 25, 1974 pursuant to the provisions of P.D. No. 239 withdrawing from the Land Registration Commission the authority to approve original survey plans. It contained the following material data: the barrio (poblacion), municipality (Amadeo) and province (Cavite) where the subject land is located, its area of 379 square meters, the land as plotted, its technical descriptions and its natural boundaries. Exhibit “O” was further supported by the Technical Descriptions signed by a geodetic surveyor and attested by the Land Registration Commission. In fine, Exhibit “O” contained all the details and information necessary for a proper and definite identification of the land sought to be registered, thereby serving the purpose for which the original tracing cloth plan is required. The fact therefore that the original survey plan was recorded on white paper instead of a tracing cloth should not detract from the probative value thereof.

In the case at bar, Lot 806 was sufficiently identified by the blue print copy of the plan (Exhibit “R”) and the technical description (Exhibit “S”)[34] thereof both approved by Land Management Services, DENR. Also, per report of the Land Management Sector, Plan Ap-04-010485, Lot 806, Cad-424, Sto. Tomas Cadastre, situated in the Barangay of San Rafael, Municipality of Sto. Tomas, Province of Batangas, is not a portion of, nor identical to any previously approved isolated survey. Petitioners also submitted before the Court of Appeals a certified true copy of the original tracing cloth plan as well as a certification from the Land Registration Authority attesting to the fact that the original plan of Plan-Ap-04-010485 in Diazo Polyester film is on file with their office. Under the circumstances, therefore, the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the decision of the trial court solely on the ground that petitioners failed to present the original tracing cloth plan.

Having met all the requirements for registration of title including the presentation of sufficient evidence to identify the land sought to be registered, there is no more need to remand the case before the trial court for the presentation of the tracing cloth plan.

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