EN BANC

 

HEIRS OF MARIO MALABANAN,             G.R. No. 179987

                     Petitioner,

 

                                                                        Present:

                                                                  

                                                                       PUNO, C.J.,

                                                                       QUISUMBING,

                                                                        YNARES-SANTIAGO,

                                                                       CARPIO,

                   -  versus  -                                   AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,

                                                                       CORONA,

                                                                       CARPIO MORALES,

                                                                       TINGA,

              CHICO-NAZARIO,                    

              VELASCO, JR.,

    NACHURA,

                                                                       LEONARDO DE CASTRO,

                                                                       BRION,  

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES,             PERALTA, and

Respondent.                                BERSAMIN, JJ.       

 

                                                                       Promulgated:

 

                                                                   April 29, 2009

 

x--------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

Tinga, J.:

 

                   One main reason why the informal sector has not become formal is that from Indonesia to Brazil, 90 percent of the informal lands are not titled and registered. This is a generalized phenomenon in the so-called Third World. And it has many consequences.

 

 

xxx

 

The question is: How is it that so many governments, from Suharto's in Indonesia to Fujimori's in Peru, have wanted to title these people and have not been able to do so effectively? One reason is that none of the state systems in Asia or Latin America can gather proof of informal titles. In Peru, the informals have means of proving property ownership to each other which are not the same means developed by the Spanish legal system. The informals have their own papers, their own forms of agreements, and their own systems of registration, all of which are very clearly stated in the maps which they use for their own informal business transactions.

If you take a walk through the countryside, from Indonesia to Peru, and you walk by field after field--in each field a different dog is going to bark at you. Even dogs know what private property is all about. The only one who does not know it is the government. The issue is that there exists a "common law" and an "informal law" which the Latin American formal legal system does not know how to recognize.

- Hernando De Soto[1]

 

This decision inevitably affects all untitled lands currently in possession of persons and entities other than the Philippine government. The petition, while unremarkable as to the facts, was accepted by the Court en banc in order to provide definitive clarity to the applicability and scope of original registration proceedings under Sections 14(1) and 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree. In doing so, the Court confronts not only the relevant provisions of the Public Land Act and the Civil Code, but also the reality on the ground. The countrywide phenomenon of untitled lands, as well as the problem of informal settlement it has spawned, has unfortunately been treated with benign neglect. Yet our current laws are hemmed in by their own circumscriptions in addressing the phenomenon. Still, the duty on our part is primarily to decide cases before us in accord with the Constitution and the legal principles that have developed our public land law, though our social obligations dissuade us from casting a blind eye on the endemic problems.

 

I.

 

          On 20 February 1998, Mario Malabanan filed an application for land registration covering a parcel of land identified as Lot 9864-A, Cad-452-D, Silang Cadastre,[2] situated in Barangay Tibig, Silang Cavite, and consisting of 71,324 square meters. Malabanan claimed that he had purchased the property from Eduardo Velazco,[3] and that he and his predecessors-in-interest had been in open, notorious, and continuous adverse and peaceful possession of the land for more than thirty (30) years.

 

          The application was raffled to the Regional Trial Court of (RTC) Cavite-Tagaytay City, Branch 18. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) duly designated the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor of Cavite, Jose Velazco, Jr., to appear on behalf of the State.[4] Apart from presenting documentary evidence, Malabanan himself and his witness, Aristedes Velazco, testified at the hearing. Velazco testified that the property was originally belonged to a twenty-two hectare property owned by his great-grandfather, Lino Velazco. Lino had four sons– Benedicto, Gregorio, Eduardo and Esteban–the fourth being Aristedes’s grandfather. Upon Lino’s death, his four sons inherited the property and divided it among themselves. But by 1966, Esteban’s wife, Magdalena, had become the administrator of all the properties inherited by the Velazco sons from their father, Lino. After the death of Esteban and Magdalena, their son Virgilio succeeded them in administering the properties, including Lot 9864-A, which originally belonged to his uncle, Eduardo Velazco. It was this property that was sold by Eduardo Velazco to Malabanan.[5]

 

Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Jose Velazco, Jr. did not cross-examine Aristedes Velazco. He further manifested that he “also [knew] the property and I affirm the truth of the testimony given by Mr. Velazco.”[6] The Republic of the Philippines likewise did not present any evidence to controvert the application.

 

Among the evidence presented by Malabanan during trial was a Certification dated 11 June 2001, issued by the Community Environment & Natural Resources Office, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO-DENR), which stated that the subject property was “verified to be within the Alienable or Disposable land per Land Classification Map No. 3013 established under Project No. 20-A and approved as such under FAO 4-1656 on March 15, 1982.[7]

 

On 3 December 2002, the RTC rendered judgment in favor of Malabanan, the dispositive portion of which reads:

 

WHEREFORE, this Court hereby approves this application for registration and thus places under the operation of Act 141, Act 496 and/or P.D. 1529, otherwise known as Property Registration Law, the lands described in Plan Csd-04-0173123-D, Lot 9864-A and containing an area of Seventy One Thousand Three Hundred Twenty Four (71,324) Square Meters, as supported by its technical description now forming part of the record of this case, in addition to other proofs adduced in the name of MARIO MALABANAN, who is of legal age, Filipino, widower, and with residence at Munting Ilog, Silang, Cavite.

 

Once this Decision becomes final and executory, the corresponding decree of registration shall forthwith issue.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

The Republic interposed an appeal to the Court of Appeals, arguing that Malabanan had failed to prove that the property belonged to the alienable and disposable land of the public domain, and that the RTC had erred in finding that he had been in possession of the property in the manner and for the length of time required by law for confirmation of imperfect title.

 

On 23 February 2007, the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision[8] reversing the RTC and dismissing the application of Malabanan. The appellate court held that under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree any period of possession prior to the classification of the lots as alienable and disposable was inconsequential and should be excluded from the computation of the period of possession. Thus, the appellate court noted that since the CENRO-DENR certification had verified that the property was declared alienable   and   disposable   only  on  15  March  1982,  the Velazcos’ possession prior to that date could not be factored in the computation of the period of possession. This interpretation of the Court of Appeals of Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree was based on the Court’s ruling in Republic v. Herbieto.[9]

 

Malabanan died while the case was pending with the Court of Appeals;[10] hence, it was his heirs who appealed the decision of the appellate court. Petitioners, before this Court, rely on our ruling in Republic v. Naguit,[11] which was handed down just four months prior to Herbieto. Petitioners suggest that the discussion in Herbieto cited by the Court of Appeals is actually obiter dictum since the Metropolitan Trial Court therein which had directed the registration of the property had no jurisdiction in the first place since the requisite notice of hearing was published only after the hearing had already begun. Naguit, petitioners argue, remains the controlling doctrine, especially when the property in question is agricultural land. Therefore, with respect to agricultural lands, any possession prior to the declaration of the alienable property as disposable may be counted in reckoning the period of possession to perfect title under the Public Land Act and the Property Registration Decree.

 

 

 

The petition was referred to the Court en banc,[12] and on 11 November 2008, the case was heard on oral arguments. The Court formulated the principal issues for the oral arguments, to wit:

 

1.         In order that an alienable and disposable land of the public domain may be registered under Section 14(1) of Presidential Decree No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, should the land be classified as alienable and disposable as of June 12, 1945 or is it sufficient that such classification occur at any time prior to the filing of the applicant for registration provided that it is established that the applicant has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier?

 

2.         For purposes of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree may a parcel of land classified as alienable and disposable be deemed private land and therefore susceptible to acquisition by prescription in accordance with the Civil Code?

 

3.         May a parcel of land established as agricultural in character either because of its use or because its slope is below that of forest lands be registrable under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree in relation to the provisions of the Civil Code on acquisitive prescription?

 

4.         Are petitioners entitled to the registration of the subject land in their names under Section 14(1) or Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree or both?[13]

 

Based on these issues, the parties formulated their respective positions.

 

With respect to Section 14(1), petitioners reiterate that the analysis of the Court in Naguit is the correct interpretation of the provision. The seemingly contradictory pronouncement in Herbieto, it is submitted, should be considered obiter dictum, since the land registration proceedings therein was void ab initio due to lack of publication of the notice of initial hearing. Petitioners further point out that in Republic v. Bibonia,[14]  promulgated in June of 2007, the Court applied Naguit and adopted the same observation that the preferred interpretation by the OSG of Section 14(1) was patently absurd. For its part, the OSG remains insistent that for Section 14(1) to apply, the land should have been classified as alienable and disposable as of 12 June 1945. Apart from Herbieto, the OSG also cites the subsequent rulings in Buenaventura v. Republic,[15] Fieldman Agricultural Trading v. Republic[16] and Republic v. Imperial Credit Corporation,[17] as well as the earlier case of Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals.[18]

 

With respect to Section 14(2), petitioners submit that open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of an alienable land of the public domain for more than 30 years ipso jure converts the land into private property, thus placing it under the coverage of Section 14(2). According to them, it would not matter whether the land sought to be registered was previously classified as agricultural land of the public domain so long as, at the time of the application, the property had already been “converted” into private property through prescription. To bolster their argument, petitioners cite extensively from our 2008 ruling in Republic v. T.A.N. Properties.[19]

 

 

The arguments submitted by the OSG with respect to Section 14(2) are more extensive. The OSG notes that under Article 1113 of the Civil Code, the acquisitive prescription of properties of the State refers to “patrimonial property,” while Section 14(2) speaks of “private lands.” It observes that the Court has yet to decide a case that presented Section 14(2) as a ground for application for registration, and that the 30-year possession period refers to the period of possession under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, and not the concept of prescription under the Civil Code. The OSG further submits that, assuming that the 30-year prescriptive period can run against public lands, said period should be reckoned from the time the public land was declared alienable and disposable.

 

Both sides likewise offer special arguments with respect to the particular factual circumstances surrounding the subject property and the ownership thereof.

 

II.

 

          First, we discuss Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. For a full understanding of the provision, reference has to be made to the Public Land Act.

 

A.

 

Commonwealth Act No. 141, also known as the Public Land Act, has, since its enactment, governed the classification and disposition of lands of the public domain. The President is authorized, from time to time, to classify the lands of the public domain into alienable and disposable, timber, or mineral lands.[20]  Alienable and disposable lands of the public domain are further classified according to their uses into (a) agricultural; (b) residential, commercial, industrial, or for similar productive purposes; (c) educational, charitable, or other similar purposes; or (d) reservations for town sites and for public and quasi-public uses.[21]

 

May a private person validly seek the registration in his/her name of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain? Section 11 of the Public Land Act acknowledges that public lands suitable for agricultural purposes may be disposed of “by confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles” through “judicial legalization.”[22] Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by P.D. No. 1073, supplies the details and unmistakably grants that right, subject to the requisites stated therein:

 

Sec. 48. The following described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such land or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit:

 

xxx                   

 

(b)        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 acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title except when prevented by war or force majeure. These shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this chapter.

 

 

          Section 48(b) of Com. Act No. 141 received its present wording in 1977 when the law was amended by P.D. No. 1073. Two significant amendments were introduced by P.D. No. 1073. First, the term “agricultural lands” was changed to “alienable and disposable lands of the public domain.” The OSG submits that this amendment restricted the scope of the lands that may be registered.[23] This is not actually the case. Under Section 9 of the Public Land Act, “agricultural lands” are a mere subset of “lands of the public domain alienable or open to disposition.” Evidently, alienable and disposable lands of the public domain are a larger class than only “agricultural lands.”

 

          Second, the length of the requisite possession was changed from possession for “thirty (30) years immediately preceding the filing of the application” to possession “since June 12, 1945 or earlier.” The Court in Naguit explained:

 

When the Public Land Act was first promulgated in 1936, the period of possession deemed necessary to vest the right to register their title to agricultural lands of the public domain commenced from July 26, 1894. However, this period was amended by R.A. No. 1942, which provided that the bona fide claim of ownership must have been for at least thirty (30) years. Then in 1977, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act was again amended, this time by P.D. No. 1073, which pegged the reckoning date at  June 12, 1945. xxx

 

 

          It bears further observation that Section 48(b) of Com. Act No, 141 is virtually the same as Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. Said Decree codified the various laws relative to the registration of property, including lands of the public domain. It is Section 14(1) that operationalizes the registration of such lands of the public domain. The provision reads:

 

 

SECTION 14. Who may apply.— The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance 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.

 

 

Notwithstanding the passage of the Property Registration Decree and the inclusion of Section 14(1) therein, the Public Land Act has remained in effect. Both laws commonly refer to persons or their predecessors-in-interest who “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.” That circumstance may have led to the impression that one or the other is a redundancy, or that Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act has somehow been repealed or mooted. That is not the case.

 

The opening clauses of Section 48 of the Public Land Act and Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree warrant comparison:

 

Sec. 48 [of the Public Land Act]. The following described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such land or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit:

 

xxx

 

Sec. 14 [of the Property Registration Decree]. Who may apply.— The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:

 

xxx

 

It is clear that Section 48 of the Public Land Act is more descriptive of the nature of the right enjoyed by the possessor than Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree, which seems to presume the pre-existence of the right, rather than establishing the right itself for the first time. It is proper to assert that it is the Public Land Act, as amended by P.D. No. 1073 effective 25 January 1977, that has primarily established the right of a Filipino citizen who has 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 acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945” to perfect or complete his title by applying with the proper court for the confirmation of his ownership claim and the issuance of the corresponding certificate of title.

 

 

Section 48 can be viewed in conjunction with the afore-quoted Section 11 of the Public Land Act, which provides that public lands suitable for agricultural purposes may be disposed of by confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles, and given the notion that both provisions declare that it is indeed the Public Land Act that primarily establishes the substantive ownership of the possessor who has been in possession of the property since 12 June 1945. In turn, Section 14(a) of the Property Registration Decree recognizes the substantive right granted under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as well provides the corresponding original registration procedure for the judicial confirmation of an imperfect or incomplete title.

 

          There is another limitation to the right granted under Section 48(b). Section 47 of the Public Land Act limits the period within which one may exercise the right to seek registration under Section 48. The provision has been amended several times, most recently by Rep. Act No. 9176 in 2002.  It currently reads thus:

 

Section 47. The persons specified in the next following section are hereby granted time, not to extend beyond December 31, 2020 within which to avail of the benefits of this Chapter: Provided, That this period shall apply only where the area applied for does not exceed twelve (12) hectares: Provided, further, That the several periods of time designated by the President in accordance with Section Forty-Five of this Act shall apply also to the lands comprised in the provisions of this Chapter, but this Section shall not be construed as prohibiting any said persons from acting under this Chapter at any time prior to the period fixed by the President.[24]

 

          Accordingly under the current state of the law, the substantive right granted under Section 48(b) may be availed of only until 31 December 2020.

 

B.

 

Despite the clear text of Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended and Section 14(a) of the Property Registration Decree, the OSG has adopted the position that for one to acquire the right to seek registration of an alienable and disposable land of the public domain, it is not enough that the applicant and his/her predecessors-in-interest be in possession under a bona fide claim of ownership since 12 June 1945; the alienable and disposable character of the property must have been declared also as of 12 June 1945. Following the OSG’s approach,  all lands certified as alienable and disposable after 12 June 1945 cannot be registered either under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree or Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act as amended. The absurdity of such an implication was discussed in Naguit.

 

Petitioner suggests an interpretation that the alienable and disposable character of the land should have already been established since June 12, 1945 or earlier. This is not borne out by the plain meaning of Section 14(1). “Since June 12, 1945,” as used in the provision, qualifies its antecedent phrase “under a bonafide claim of ownership.” Generally speaking, qualifying words restrict or modify only the words or phrases  to  which  they  are  immediately associated, and not those distantly or remotely located.[25] Ad proximum antecedents fiat relation nisi impediatur sentencia.

 

                        Besides, we are mindful of the absurdity that would result if we adopt petitioner’s position. Absent a legislative amendment, the rule would be, adopting the OSG’s view, that all lands of the public domain which were not declared alienable or disposable before June 12, 1945 would not be susceptible to original registration, no matter the length of unchallenged possession by the occupant. Such interpretation renders paragraph (1) of Section 14 virtually inoperative and even precludes the government from giving it effect even as it decides to reclassify public agricultural lands as alienable and disposable.  The unreasonableness of the situation would even be aggravated considering that before June 12, 1945, the Philippines was not yet even considered an independent state. 

 

Accordingly, the Court in Naguit explained:

 

[T]he more reasonable interpretation of Section 14(1) is that it merely requires the property sought to be registered as already alienable and disposable at the time the application for registration of title is filed. If the State, at the time the application is made, has not yet deemed it proper to release the property for alienation or disposition, the presumption is that the government is still reserving the right to utilize the property; hence, the need to preserve its ownership in the State irrespective of the length of adverse possession even if in good faith. However, if the property has already been classified as alienable and disposable, as it is in this case, then there is already an intention on the part of the State to abdicate its exclusive prerogative over the property.

 

 

The Court declares that the correct interpretation of Section 14(1) is that which was adopted in Naguit. The contrary pronouncement in Herbieto, as pointed out in Naguit, absurdly limits the application of the provision to the point of virtual inutility since it would only cover lands actually declared alienable and disposable prior to 12 June 1945, even if the current possessor is able to establish open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession under a bona fide claim of ownership long before that date.

 

Moreover, the Naguit interpretation allows more possessors under a bona fide claim of ownership to avail of judicial confirmation of their imperfect titles than what would be feasible under Herbieto. This balancing fact is significant, especially considering our forthcoming discussion on the scope and reach of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

 

Petitioners make the salient observation that the contradictory passages from Herbieto are obiter dicta since the land registration proceedings therein is void ab initio in the first place due to lack of the requisite publication of the notice of initial hearing. There is no need to explicitly overturn Herbieto, as it suffices that the Court’s acknowledgment that the particular line of argument used therein concerning Section 14(1) is indeed obiter.

It may be noted that in the subsequent case of Buenaventura,[26] the Court, citing Herbieto, again stated that “[a]ny period of possession prior to the date when the [s]ubject [property was] classified as alienable and disposable is inconsequential and should be excluded from the computation of the period of possession…” That statement, in the context of Section 14(1), is certainly erroneous. Nonetheless, the passage as cited in Buenaventura should again be considered as obiter. The application therein was ultimately granted, citing Section 14(2). The evidence submitted by petitioners therein did not establish any mode of possession on their part prior to 1948, thereby precluding the application of Section 14(1). It is not even apparent from the decision whether petitioners therein had claimed entitlement to original registration following Section 14(1), their position being that they had been in exclusive possession under a bona fide claim of ownership for over fifty (50) years, but  not before 12 June 1945.

Thus, neither Herbieto nor its principal discipular ruling Buenaventura has any precedental value with respect to Section 14(1). On the other hand, the ratio of Naguit is embedded in Section 14(1), since it precisely involved situation wherein the applicant had been in exclusive possession under a bona fide claim of ownership prior to 12 June 1945. The Court’s interpretation of Section 14(1) therein was decisive to the resolution of the case. Any doubt as to which between Naguit or Herbieto provides the final word of the Court on Section 14(1) is now settled in favor of Naguit.

 

          We noted in Naguit that it should be distinguished from Bracewell v. Court of Appeals[27] since in the latter, the application for registration had been filed before the land was declared alienable or disposable. The dissent though pronounces Bracewell as the better rule between the two. Yet two years after Bracewell, its ponente, the esteemed Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, penned the ruling in Republic v. Ceniza,[28] which involved a claim of possession that extended back to 1927 over a public domain land that was declared alienable and disposable only in 1980. Ceniza cited Bracewell, quoted extensively from it, and following the mindset of the dissent, the attempt at registration in Ceniza should have failed. Not so.

 

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 a statute.

 

In this case, private respondents presented a certification dated November 25, 1994, issued by Eduardo M. Inting, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office in Cebu City, stating that the lots involved were "found to be within the alienable and disposable (sic) Block-I, Land Classification Project No. 32-A, per map 2962 4-I555 dated December 9, 1980." This is sufficient evidence to show the real character of the land subject of private respondents’ application. Further, the certification enjoys a presumption of regularity in the absence of contradictory evidence, which is true in this case. Worth noting also was the observation of the Court of Appeals stating that:

 

[n]o opposition was filed by the Bureaus of Lands and Forestry to contest the application of appellees on the ground that the property still forms part of the public domain. Nor is there any showing that the lots in question are forestal land....

 

Thus, while the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that mere possession of public land for the period required by law would entitle its occupant to a confirmation of imperfect title, it did not err in ruling in favor of private respondents as far as the first requirement in Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is concerned, for they were able to overcome the burden of proving the alienability of the land subject of their application.

 

As correctly found by the Court of Appeals, private respondents were able to prove their open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the subject land even before the year 1927. As a rule, we are bound by the factual findings of the Court of Appeals. Although there are exceptions, petitioner did not show that this is one of them.[29]

         

 

          Why did the Court in Ceniza, through the same eminent member who authored Bracewell, sanction the registration under Section 48(b) of public domain lands declared alienable or disposable thirty-five (35) years and 180 days after 12 June 1945? The telling difference is that in Ceniza, the application for registration was filed nearly six (6) years after the land had been declared alienable or disposable, while in Bracewell, the application was filed nine (9) years before the land was declared alienable or disposable. That crucial difference was also stressed in Naguit to contradistinguish it from Bracewell, a difference which the dissent seeks to belittle.

 

III.

 

          We next ascertain the correct framework of analysis with respect to Section 14(2). The provision reads:

 

 

 

SECTION 14. Who may apply. — The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:

 

xxx

 

(2)      Those who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws.

 

 

The Court in Naguit offered the following discussion concerning Section 14(2), which we did even then recognize, and still do, to be  an obiter dictum, but we nonetheless refer to it as material for further discussion, thus:

 

Did the enactment of the Property Registration Decree and the amendatory P.D. No. 1073 preclude the application for registration of alienable lands of the public domain, possession over which commenced only after June 12, 1945? It did not, considering Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, which governs and authorizes the application of “those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws.”

 

Prescription is one of the modes of acquiring ownership under the Civil Code.[[30]] There is a consistent jurisprudential rule that properties classified as alienable public land may be converted into private property by reason of open, continuous and exclusive possession of at least thirty (30) years.[[31]] With such conversion, such property may now fall within the contemplation of “private lands” under Section 14(2), and thus susceptible to registration by those who have acquired ownership through prescription. Thus, even if possession of the alienable public land commenced on a date later than June 12, 1945, and such possession being been open, continuous and exclusive, then the possessor may have the right to register the land by virtue of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

 

          Naguit did not involve the application of Section 14(2), unlike in this case where petitioners have based their registration bid primarily on that provision, and where the evidence definitively establishes their claim of possession only as far back as 1948. It is in this case that we can properly appreciate the nuances of the provision.

 

A.

 

          The obiter in Naguit cited the Civil Code provisions on prescription as the possible basis for application for original registration under Section 14(2). Specifically, it is Article 1113 which provides legal foundation for the application. It reads:

 

All things which are within the commerce of men are susceptible of prescription, unless otherwise provided. Property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.

 

 

          It is clear under the Civil Code that where lands of the public domain are patrimonial in character, they are susceptible to acquisitive prescription. On the other hand, among the public domain lands that are not susceptible to acquisitive prescription are timber lands and mineral lands. The Constitution itself proscribes private ownership of timber or mineral lands.

 

There are in fact several provisions in the Civil Code concerning the acquisition of real property through prescription. Ownership of real property may be acquired by ordinary prescription of ten (10) years,[32] or through extraordinary prescription of thirty (30) years.[33] Ordinary acquisitive prescription requires possession in good faith,[34]  as well as just title.[35]

 

When Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree explicitly provides that persons “who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws,” it unmistakably refers to the Civil Code as a valid basis for the registration of lands. The Civil Code is the only existing law that specifically allows the acquisition by prescription of private lands, including patrimonial property belonging to the State. Thus, the critical question that needs affirmation is whether Section 14(2) does encompass original registration proceedings over patrimonial property of the State, which a private person has acquired through prescription.

 

The Naguit obiter had adverted to a frequently reiterated jurisprudence holding that properties classified as alienable public land may be converted into private property by reason of open, continuous and exclusive possession of at least thirty (30) years.[36] Yet if we ascertain the source of the “thirty-year” period, additional complexities relating to Section 14(2) and to how exactly it operates would emerge. For there are in fact two distinct origins of the thirty (30)-year rule.

 

The first source is Rep. Act No. 1942, enacted in 1957, which amended Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act by granting the right to seek original registration of alienable public lands through possession in the concept of an owner for at least thirty years.

 

The following-described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such lands or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit:

 

x x x           x x x           x x x

 

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, for at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title, except when prevented by war or force majeure. These shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this Chapter. (emphasis supplied)[37]

 

 

This provision was repealed in 1977 with the enactment of P.D. 1073, which made the date 12 June 1945 the reckoning point for the first time. Nonetheless, applications for registration filed prior to 1977 could have invoked the 30-year rule introduced by Rep. Act No. 1942.

 

The second source is Section 14(2) of P.D. 1529 itself, at least by implication, as it applies the rules on prescription under the Civil Code, particularly Article 1113 in relation to Article 1137. Note that there are two kinds of prescription under the Civil Code–ordinary acquisitive prescription and extraordinary acquisitive prescription, which, under Article 1137, is completed “through uninterrupted adverse possession… for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith.”

 

Obviously, the first source of the thirty (30)-year period rule, Rep. Act No. 1942, became unavailable after 1977. At present, the only legal basis for the thirty (30)-year period is the law on prescription under the Civil Code, as mandated under Section 14(2). However, there is a material difference between how the thirty (30)-year rule operated under Rep. Act No. 1942 and how it did under the Civil Code.

 

Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, did not refer to or call into application the Civil Code provisions on prescription. It merely set forth a requisite thirty-year possession period immediately preceding the application for confirmation of title, without any qualification as to whether the property should be declared alienable at the beginning of, and continue as such, throughout the entire thirty-(30) years. There is neither statutory nor jurisprudential basis to assert Rep. Act No. 1942 had mandated such a requirement,[38] similar to our earlier finding with respect to the present language of Section 48(b), which now sets 12 June 1945 as the point of reference.  

 

Then, with the repeal of Rep. Act No. 1942, the thirty-year possession period as basis for original registration became Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, which entitled those “who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing lawsto apply for original registration. Again, the thirty-year period is derived from the rule on extraordinary prescription under Article 1137 of the Civil Code. At the same time, Section 14(2) puts into operation the entire regime of prescription under the Civil Code, a fact which does not hold true with respect to Section 14(1).

 

B.

 

Unlike Section 14(1), Section 14(2) explicitly refers to the principles on prescription under existing laws. Accordingly, we are impelled to apply the civil law concept of prescription, as set forth in the Civil Code, in our interpretation of Section 14(2). There is no similar demand on our part in the case of Section 14(1).

 

The critical qualification under Article 1113 of the Civil Code is thus: “[p]roperty of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.” The identification what consists of patrimonial property is provided by Articles 420 and 421, which we quote in full:

 

Art. 420. The following things are property of public dominion:

 

(1) Those intended for public use, such as roads, canals, rivers, torrents, ports and bridges constructed by the State, banks, shores, roadsteads, and others of similar character;

 

(2) Those which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.

 

Art. 421. All other property of the State, which is not of the character stated in the preceding article, is patrimonial property

 

          It is clear that property of public dominion, which generally includes property belonging to the State, cannot be the object of prescription or, indeed, be subject of the commerce of man.[39] Lands of the public domain, whether declared alienable and disposable or not, are property of public dominion and thus insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

 

          Let us now explore the effects under the Civil Code of a declaration by the President or any duly authorized government officer of alienability and disposability of lands of the public domain. Would such lands so declared alienable and disposable be converted, under the Civil Code, from property of the public dominion into patrimonial property? After all, by connotative definition, alienable and disposable lands may be the object of the commerce of man; Article 1113 provides that all things within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription; and the same provision further provides that patrimonial property of the State may be acquired by prescription.

 

Nonetheless, Article 422 of the Civil Code states that “[p]roperty of public dominion, when no longer intended for public use or for public service, shall form part of the patrimonial property of the State.”  It is this provision that controls how public dominion property may be converted into patrimonial property susceptible to acquisition by prescription. After all, Article 420 (2) makes clear that those property “which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth” are public dominion property. For as long as the property belongs to the State, although already classified as alienable or disposable, it remains property of the public dominion if when it is “intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth”.

 

Accordingly, there must be an express declaration by the State that the public dominion property is no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Without such express declaration, the property, even if classified as alienable or disposable, remains property of the public dominion, pursuant to Article 420(2), and thus incapable of acquisition by prescription. It is only when such alienable and disposable lands are expressly declared by the State to be no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth that the period of acquisitive prescription can begin to run. Such declaration shall be in the form of a law duly enacted by Congress or a Presidential Proclamation in cases where the President is duly authorized by law.

 

It is comprehensible with ease that this reading of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree limits its scope and reach and thus affects the registrability even of lands already declared alienable and disposable to the detriment of the bona fide possessors or occupants claiming title to the lands. Yet this interpretation is in accord with the Regalian doctrine and its concomitant assumption that all lands owned by the State, although declared alienable or disposable, remain as such and ought to be used only by the Government.

 

Recourse does not lie with this Court in the matter. The duty of the Court is to apply the Constitution and the laws in accordance with their language and intent. The remedy is to change the law, which is the province of the legislative branch. Congress can very well be entreated to amend Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree and pertinent provisions of the Civil Code to liberalize the requirements for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles.

 

The operation of the foregoing interpretation can be illustrated by an actual example. Republic Act No. 7227, entitled “An Act Accelerating The Conversion Of Military Reservations Into Other Productive Uses, etc.,” is more commonly known as the BCDA law.  Section 2 of the law authorizes the sale of certain military reservations and portions of military camps in Metro Manila, including Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Air Base.  For purposes of effecting the sale of the military camps, the law mandates the President to transfer such military lands to the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA)[40] which in turn is authorized to own, hold and/or administer them.[41] The President is authorized to sell portions of the military camps, in whole or in part.[42] Accordingly, the BCDA law itself declares that the  military lands subject thereof are “alienable and disposable pursuant to the provisions of existing laws and regulations governing sales of government properties.”[43]

 

From the moment the BCDA law was enacted the subject military lands have become alienable and disposable. However, said lands did not become patrimonial, as the BCDA law itself expressly makes the reservation that these lands are to be sold in order to raise funds for the conversion of the former American bases at Clark and Subic.[44] Such purpose can be tied to either “public service” or “the development of national wealth” under Article 420(2). Thus, at that time, the lands remained property of the public dominion under Article 420(2), notwithstanding their status as alienable and disposable. It is upon their sale as authorized under the BCDA law to a private person or entity that such lands become private property and cease to be property of the public dominion.

 

         

C.

 

Should public domain lands become patrimonial because they are declared as such in a duly enacted law or duly promulgated proclamation that they are no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth, would the period of possession prior to the conversion of such public dominion into patrimonial be reckoned in counting the prescriptive period in favor of the possessors? We rule in the negative.

 

          The limitation imposed by Article 1113 dissuades us from ruling that the period of possession before the public domain land becomes patrimonial may be counted for the purpose of completing the prescriptive period. Possession of public dominion property before it becomes patrimonial cannot be the object of prescription according to the Civil Code. As the application for registration under Section 14(2) falls wholly within the framework of prescription under the Civil Code, there is no way that possession during the time that the land was still classified as public dominion property can be counted to meet the requisites of acquisitive prescription and justify registration.

 

Are we being inconsistent in applying divergent rules for Section 14(1) and Section 14(2)? There is no inconsistency. Section 14(1) mandates registration on the basis of possession, while Section 14(2) entitles registration on the basis of prescription. Registration under Section 14(1) is extended under the aegis of the Property Registration Decree and the Public Land Act while registration under Section 14(2) is made available both by the Property Registration Decree and the Civil Code.

 

          In the same manner, we can distinguish between the thirty-year period under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1472, and the thirty-year period available through Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree in relation to Article 1137 of the Civil Code. The period under the former speaks of a thirty-year period of possession, while the period under the latter concerns a thirty-year period of extraordinary prescription. Registration under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act as amended by Rep. Act No. 1472 is based on thirty years of possession alone without regard to the Civil Code, while the registration under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree is founded on extraordinary prescription under the Civil Code.

 

          It may be asked why the principles of prescription under the Civil Code should not apply as well to Section 14(1). Notwithstanding the vaunted status of the Civil Code, it ultimately is just one of numerous statutes, neither superior nor inferior to other statutes such as the Property Registration Decree. The legislative branch is not bound to adhere to the framework set forth by the Civil Code when it enacts subsequent legislation. Section 14(2) manifests a clear intent to interrelate the registration allowed under that provision with the Civil Code, but no such intent exists with respect to Section 14(1).

 

IV.

 

          One of the keys to understanding the framework we set forth today is seeing how our land registration procedures correlate with our law on prescription, which, under the Civil Code, is one of the modes for acquiring ownership over property.

 

          The Civil Code makes it clear that patrimonial property of the State may be acquired by private persons through prescription. This is brought about by Article 1113, which states that “[a]ll things which are within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription,” and that [p]roperty of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.”

 

          There are two modes of prescription through which immovables may be acquired under the Civil Code. The first is ordinary acquisitive prescription, which, under Article 1117, requires possession in good faith and with just title; and, under Article 1134, is completed through possession of ten (10) years. There is nothing in the Civil Code that bars a person from acquiring patrimonial property of the State through ordinary acquisitive prescription, nor is there any apparent reason to impose such a rule. At the same time, there are indispensable requisites–good faith and just title. The ascertainment of good faith involves the application of Articles 526, 527, and 528, as well as Article 1127 of the Civil Code,[45] provisions that more or less speak for themselves.

 

On the other hand, the concept of just title requires some clarification.  Under Article 1129, there is just title for the purposes of prescription “when the adverse claimant came into possession of the property through one of the modes recognized by law for the acquisition of ownership or other real rights, but the grantor was not the owner or could not transmit any right.” Dr. Tolentino explains:

 

Just title is an act which has for its purpose the transmission of ownership, and which would have actually transferred ownership if the grantor had been the owner. This vice or defect is the one cured by prescription. Examples: sale with delivery, exchange, donation, succession, and dacion in payment.[46]

         

          The OSG submits that the requirement of just title necessarily precludes the applicability of ordinary acquisitive prescription to patrimonial property. The major premise for the argument is that “the State, as the owner and grantor, could not transmit ownership to the possessor before the completion of the required period of possession.”[47] It is evident that the OSG erred when it assumed that the grantor referred to in Article 1129 is the State. The grantor is the one from whom the person invoking ordinary acquisitive prescription derived the title, whether by sale, exchange, donation, succession or any other mode of the acquisition of ownership or other real rights.

 

Earlier, we made it clear that, whether under ordinary prescription or extraordinary prescription, the period of possession preceding the classification of public dominion lands as patrimonial cannot be counted for the purpose of computing prescription. But after the property has been become patrimonial, the period of prescription begins to run in favor of the possessor. Once the requisite period has been completed, two legal events ensue: (1) the patrimonial property is ipso jure converted into private land; and (2) the person in possession for the periods prescribed under the Civil Code acquires ownership of the property by operation of the Civil Code.

 

It is evident that once the possessor automatically becomes the owner of the converted patrimonial property, the ideal next step is the registration of the property under the Torrens system. It should be remembered that registration of property is not a mode of acquisition of ownership, but merely a mode of confirmation of ownership.[48]

 

Looking back at the registration regime prior to the adoption of the Property Registration Decree in 1977, it is apparent that the registration system then did not fully accommodate the acquisition of ownership of patrimonial property under the Civil Code. What the system accommodated was the confirmation of imperfect title brought about by the completion of a period of possession ordained under the Public Land Act (either 30 years following Rep. Act No. 1942, or since 12 June 1945 following P.D. No. 1073).

 

The Land Registration Act[49] was noticeably silent on the requisites for alienable public lands acquired through ordinary prescription under the Civil Code, though it arguably did not preclude such registration.[50] Still, the gap was lamentable, considering that the Civil Code, by itself, establishes ownership over the patrimonial property of persons who have completed the prescriptive periods ordained therein. The gap was finally closed with the adoption of the Property Registration Decree in 1977, with Section 14(2) thereof expressly authorizing original registration in favor of persons who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws, that is, the Civil Code as of now.

 

V.

 

          We synthesize the doctrines laid down in this case, as follows:

 

          (1) In connection with Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act recognizes and confirms that “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 acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945” have acquired ownership of, and registrable title to, such lands  based on the length and quality of their possession.

 

(a)      Since Section 48(b) merely requires possession since 12 June 1945 and does not require that the lands should have been alienable and disposable during the entire period of possession, the possessor is entitled to secure judicial confirmation of his title thereto as soon as it is declared alienable and disposable, subject to the timeframe imposed by Section 47 of the Public Land Act.[51]

 

(b)     The right to register granted under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is further confirmed by Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

 

          (2) In complying with Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, consider that under the Civil Code, prescription is recognized as a mode of acquiring ownership of patrimonial property. However, public domain lands become only patrimonial property not only with a declaration that these are alienable or disposable.  There must also be an express government manifestation that the property is already patrimonial or no longer retained for public service or the development of national wealth, under Article 422 of the Civil Code. And only when the property has become patrimonial can the prescriptive period for the acquisition of property of the public dominion begin to run.

 

(a)      Patrimonial property is private property of the government.  The person acquires ownership of patrimonial property by prescription under the Civil Code is entitled to secure registration thereof under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

 

(b)     There are two kinds of prescription by which patrimonial property may be acquired, one ordinary and other extraordinary. Under ordinary acquisitive prescription, a person acquires ownership of a patrimonial property through possession for at least ten (10) years, in good faith and with just title. Under extraordinary acquisitive prescription, a person’s uninterrupted adverse possession of patrimonial property for at least thirty (30) years, regardless of good faith or just title, ripens into ownership.

 

B.

 

          We now apply the above-stated doctrines to the case at bar.

 

          It is clear that the evidence of petitioners is insufficient to establish that Malabanan has acquired ownership over the subject property under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act. There is no substantive evidence to establish that Malabanan or petitioners as his predecessors-in-interest have been in possession of the property since 12 June 1945 or earlier. The earliest that petitioners can date back their possession, according to their own evidence—the Tax Declarations they presented in particular—is to the year 1948. Thus, they cannot avail themselves of registration under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

 

 

          Neither can petitioners properly invoke Section 14(2) as basis for registration. While the subject property was declared as alienable or disposable in 1982, there is no competent evidence that is no longer intended for public use service or for the development of the national evidence, conformably with Article 422 of the Civil Code. The classification of the subject property as alienable and disposable land of the public domain does not change its status as property of the public dominion under Article 420(2) of the Civil Code.  Thus, it is insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

 

VI.

 

A final word. The Court is comfortable with the correctness of the legal doctrines established in this decision. Nonetheless, discomfiture over the implications of today’s ruling cannot be discounted. For, every untitled property that is occupied in the country will be affected by this ruling. The social implications cannot be dismissed lightly, and the Court would be abdicating its social responsibility to the Filipino people if we simply levied the law without comment.

 

          The informal settlement of public lands, whether declared alienable or not, is a phenomenon tied to long-standing habit and cultural acquiescence, and is common among the so-called “Third World” countries. This paradigm powerfully evokes the disconnect between a legal system and the reality on the ground. The law so far has been unable to bridge that gap. Alternative means of acquisition of these public  domain  lands,  such  as  through  homestead  or free patent, have


 

proven unattractive due to limitations imposed on the grantee in the encumbrance or alienation of said properties.[52] Judicial confirmation of imperfect title has emerged as the most viable, if not the most attractive means to regularize the informal settlement of alienable or disposable lands of the public domain, yet even that system, as revealed in this decision, has considerable limits.

 

          There are millions upon millions of Filipinos who have individually or exclusively held residential lands on which they have lived and raised their families.  Many more have tilled and made productive idle lands of the State with their hands. They have been regarded for generation by their families and their communities as common law owners.  There is much to be said about the virtues of according them legitimate states. Yet such virtues are not for the Court to translate into positive law, as the law itself considered such lands as property of the public dominion.  It could only be up to Congress to set forth a new phase of land reform to sensibly regularize and formalize the settlement of such lands which in legal theory are lands of the public domain before the problem becomes insoluble. This could be accomplished, to cite two examples, by liberalizing the standards for judicial confirmation of imperfect title, or amending the Civil Code itself to ease the requisites for the conversion of public dominion property into patrimonial.

 

One’s sense of security over land rights infuses into every aspect of well-being not only of that individual, but also to the person’s family. Once that sense of security is deprived, life and livelihood are put on stasis. It is for the political branches to bring welcome closure to the long pestering problem.

 

          WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 23 February 2007 and Resolution dated 2 October 2007 are AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

 

          SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                      DANTE O. TINGA

                                               Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING

Associate Justice

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Associate Justice

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                           Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

        ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO DE CASTO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

                  ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N 

 

 

          Pursuant to Article VIII, Section 13 of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

 

 

                                                REYNATO S. PUNO

                                                        Chief Justice

 

 

 



 

[1]“Hernando de Soto Interview” by Reason Magazine dated 30 November 1999, at http://www.reason.com/news/show/32213.html (Last visited, 21 April 2009).

 

[2]More particularly described and delineated in Plan CSD-04-017123. Records, p. 161. 

 

[3]But see note 5.  

 

[4]Id.

 

[5]The trial court decision identified Eduardo Velazco as the vendor of the property, notwithstanding the original allegation in the application that Malabanan purchased the same from Virgilio Velazco. See note 3. In his subsequent pleadings, including those before this Court, Malabanan or his heirs stated that the property was purchased from Eduardo Velazco, and not Virgilio. On this point, the appellate court made this observation:

 

“More importantly, Malabanan failed to prove his ownership over Lot 9864-A.  In his application for land registration, Malabanan alleged that he purchased the subject lot from Virgilio Velazco. During the trial of the case, however, Malabanan testified that he purchased the subject lot from Eduardo Velazco, which was corroborated by his witness, Aristedes Velazco, a son of Virgilio Velazco, who stated that Eduardo was a brother of his grandfather.  As aptly observed by the Republic, no copy of the deed of sale covering Lot 9864-A, executed either by Virgilio or Eduardo Velazco, in favor of Malabanan was marked and offered in evidence. In the appealed Decision, the court a quo mentioned of a deed of sale executed in 1995 by Eduardo Velazco in favor of Malabanan which was allegedly marked as Exhibit “I.”  It appears, however, that what was provisionally marked as Exhibit “I” was a photocopy of the deed of sale executed by Virgilio Velazco in favor of Leila Benitez and Benjamin Reyes.  Section 34, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides that the court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered.  The offer is necessary because it is the duty of a judge to rest his findings of facts and his judgment only and strictly upon the evidence offered by the parties at the trial. Thus, Malabanan has not proved that Virgilio or Eduardo Velazco was his predecessor-in-interest.” Rollo, pp. 39-40.

 

[6]Rollo, p. 74. 

 

[7]Id. at 38. Emphasis supplied. 

 

[8]Penned by Associate Justice Marina Buzon of the Court of Appeals Fifth Division, and concurred in by Associate Justices Edgardo Sundiam and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa. 

 

[9]G.R. No. 156117, 26 May 2005, 459 SCRA 183. 

 

[10]See rollo, p. 11. 

 

[11]G.R. No. 144507, 17 January 2005, 448 SCRA 442. 

 

[12]Through a Resolution dated 5 December 2007. See rollo, p. 141. 

 

[13]Id. at  186-187.

 

[14]G.R. No. 157466, 21 June 2007, 525 SCRA 268. 

 

[15]G.R. No. 166865, 2 March 2007, 459 SCRA 271. 

 

[16]G.R. No. 147359, 28 March 2008, 550 SCRA 92. 

 

[17]G.R. No. 173088, 25 June 2008, 555 SCRA 314. 

 

[18]G.R. No. 85322, 30 April 1991, 178 SCRA 708. 

 

[19]G.R. No. 154953, 16 June 2008. 

 

[20]Section  6, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

 

[21]Section 9, Com. Act No. 141, as amended. 

 

[22]Section 11, Com. Act No. 141, as amended. 

 

[23]OSG Memorandum, p. 13. 

 

[24]Section 47, Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 9176. 

 

[25]R. Agpalo, Statutory Construction (3rd ed., 1995) at 182. 

 

[26]See note 3.

 

[27]380 Phil. 156 (2000). 

 

[28]Also known as Republic v. Court of Appeals, 440 Phil. 697 (2002). 

 

[29]Id. at 710-712.  

 

[30]See Civil Code, Art. 1113.

 

[31]See e.g., Director of Lands v. IAC, G.R. No. 65663, 16 October 1992, 214 SCRA 604, 611; Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108998, 24 August 1994, 235 SCRA 567, 576; Group Commander, Intelligence and Security Group v. Dr. Malvar, 438 Phil. 252, 275 (2002). 

 

[32]See Article 1134, Civil Code.

 

[33]See Article 1137, Civil Code. 

 

[34]See Article 1117 in relation to Article 1128, Civil Code. See also Articles 526, 527, 528 & 529, Civil Code on the conditions of good faith required. 

 

[35]See Article 1117, in relation to Article 1129, Civil Code.  

 

[36]Citing Director of Lands v. IAC, G.R. No. 65663, 16 October 1992, 214 SCRA 604, 611; Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108998, 24 August 1994, 235 SCRA 567, 576; Group Commander, Intelligence and Security Group v. Dr. Malvar, 438 Phil. 252, 275 (2002). 

 

[37]Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, immediately before its amendment by Rep. Act No. 1942, reads as follows: 

 

“Those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, except as against the Government, since July twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and ninety-four, except when prevented by war or force majeure. These shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this Chapter.”

 

[38]Again, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, was superseded by P.D. No. 1073, which imposed the 12 June 1945 reckoning point, and  which was then incorporated in Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. 

 

[39]See Vllarico v. Sarmiento, G.R. No. 136438, 11 November 2004, 442 SCRA 110.  

 

[40]Rep. Act No.  7227, Sec.7.

 

[41]Rep. Act No. 7227, Sec. 4(a). 

 

[42]Rep. Act No. 7227, Sec. 7. 

 

[43]Id. 

 

[44]Section 2,  Rep. Act No. 7227. 

 

[45]See Civil Code, Art. 1128. 

 

[46]A. Tolentino, IV Civil Code of the Philippines (1991 ed.) at 26; citing 2 Castan 175.

 

[47]Memorandum of the OSG, p. 21. 

 

[48]See Angeles v. Samia, 66 Phil. 44 (1938). 

 

[49]Act No. 496.

 

[50]See Section 19, Land Registration Act, which allowed application for registration of title by “person or persons claiming, singly or collectively, to own the legal estate in fee simple.” 

 

[51]See note 24. 

 

[52]See Section 118, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

 

Except in favor of the Government or any of its branches, units, or institutions, lands acquired under free patent or homestead provisions shall not be subject to encumbrance or alienation from the date of the approval of the application and for a term of five years from and after the date of issuance of the patent or grant, nor shall they become liable to the satisfaction of any debt contracted prior to the expiration of said period, but the improvements or crops on the land may be mortgaged or pledged to qualified persons, associations, or corporations.

 

No alienation, transfer, or conveyance of any homestead after five years and before twenty-five years after issuance of title shall be valid without the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, which approval shall not be denied except on constitutional and legal grounds.