CASE BrieF NO. 2018-0017

CASE: Republic of the Philippines  vs. Roverncy Realty and Development Corporation [G.R. No. 190817 January 10, 2018]

PONENTE: Justice Samuel R. Martires

SUBJECT:

  1. 1987 Constitution:
    i. Section 3 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution;
  2. Land Titles and Deeds:
    i.P.D. No. 1529 – Original registration of title

“The 12-hectare limitation on the acquisition of lands under Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution has no application to private lands.”


FACTS:         In 2001, Rovency Realty and Development Corporation (RRDC), a domestic corporation, filed before the RTC an Application for Registration covering a 30-hectare parcel of land.

RRDC alleged, among others, that it is the absolute owner in fee simple of the subject land having acquired the same from its previous owner, P.N. Roa Enterprises, Inc., by virtue of a notarized deed of absolute sale; that the subject land was assessed at ₱2,228,000.00 as shown in the Tax Declaration (TD) No. 141011; that it has registered the subject land for taxation purposes and paid the realty taxes due therein from its acquisition, to the filing of the application; that immediately after acquiring the subject land, it took actual physical possession of the same and has been continuously occupying the subject land; and that it and its predecessors-in- interest have been in open, continuous, adverse, and peaceful possession in concept of owner of the subject land since time immemorial, or for more than thirty (30) years.

An opposition to the application was filed by the Heirs of Paulino Avancena. They alleged, among others, that the subject land is owned by the late Atty. Paulino Avancena (Paulino), their father and predecessor-in-interest, as early as 1926; that Paulino had been in open, continuous, notorious, adverse, and exclusive possession and occupation of the subject land.

The Republic of the Philippines (Republic), through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), also filed its opposition to the application on the ground that the subject land exceeds the twelve (12)-hectare limit for confirmation of imperfect title set by Section 47 of Commonwealth Act (CA.) No. 141, as amended by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6940; and that the subject land forms part of the public domain belonging to the Republic and, thus, not subject to private appropriation.

The RTC granted RRDC’s application for registration of the subject land.

Unconvinced, the Republic, and private oppositors heirs of Paulino Avancena, elevated their respective appeals to the CA.

The Republic contended that the trial court erred in granting the application for registration, considering that the land applied for is in excess of what is allowed by the Section 3 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution.

The CA affirmed the RTC decision.

The appellate court ruled that the 12-hectare limit under the Constitution was not violated. It explained that Section 3 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, the constitutional provision which provided for the 12-hectare limit in the acquisition of land, covers only agricultural lands of the public domain. It ratiocinated that when the subject land was acquired through acquisitive prescription by RRDC’s predecessors-in-interest, it was converted into a private property and, as such, it ceased to be part of the public domain. Thus, when RRDC acquired the subject land by purchase, it was no longer within the ambit of the constitutional limitation.

The Republic moved for reconsideration. It was denied.

Hence, they filed a petition for review on certiorari to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES:

A.     Whether Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution applies to private lands.
B.       What are the requirements for original registration of title?
C.       Whether RRDC sufficiently established its compliance with the provisions of either
a) Section 14(1) or;
b) Section 14(2) of P.D. No. 1529.

RULING:

A. No.

Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, provides:

SECTION 3. Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks. Agricultural lands of the public domain may be further classified by law according to the uses which they may be devoted. Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands. Private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease, for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and not to exceed one thousand hectares in area. Citizens of the Philippines may lease not more than five hundred hectares, or acquire not more than twelve hectares thereof by purchase, homestead, or grant. 

As can be clearly gleaned from its language, Section 3, Article XII applies only to lands of the public domain. Private lands are, therefore, outside of the prohibitions and limitations stated therein. Thus, the appellate court correctly declared that the 12-hectare limitation on the acquisition of lands under Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution has no application to private lands.

A case in point is the absolute prohibition on private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the public domain. This prohibition could be traced to the 1973 Constitution which limited the alienation of lands of the public domain to individuals who were citizens of the Philippines. This constitutional prohibition, however, does not necessarily mean that corporations may not apply for original registration of title to lands. In fact, the Court, in several instances, affirmed the grant of applications for original registration filed by corporations, for as long as the lands were already converted to private ownership by operation of law as a result of satisfying the requisite possession required by the Public Land Act.

The limitation and the prohibition on corporations to acquire lands, do not cover ownership of private lands. Stated differently, whether RRDC can acquire the subject land and to what extent, depends on whether the pieces of evidence it presented before the trial court sufficiently established that the subject land is alienable and disposable land of the public domain; and that the nature and duration of the possession of its individual predecessors-in-interest converted the subject land to private land by operation of law.

B.       Applicants for original registration of title to land must first establish compliance with the provisions of either Section 14(1) or Section 14(2) of P.D. No. 1529, which state:

Sec. 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.

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

It must be emphasized that the requirements and bases for registration under these two provisions of law differ from one another. Section 14 (1) mandates registration on the basis of possession, while Section 14 (2) entitles registration on the basis of prescription. Thus, it is important to ascertain under what provision of Section 14 the registration is sought.

A reading of the application, however, is unavailing. In its application, RRDC alleged that it and its predecessors-in-interest “had been in open, continuous, adverse, and peaceful possession in concept of owner of the subject property since time immemorial or for more than thirty years.” This allegation made it unclear whether registration is sought under Section 14(1) – possession since 12 June 1945 or earlier; or under Section 14(2) – possession for more than thirty years.

An examination of the 7 November 2003 RTC decision also proved futile considering that, and as previously pointed out, aside from enumerating the exhibits offered by the applicant, the trial court did not discuss how these pieces of evidence established the requisites for registration. Thus, for the proper resolution of the issues and arguments raised herein, it becomes necessary for the present application to be scrutinized based on the requirements of the provisions of Sections 14 (1) and (2) of P.D. No. 1529.

C.      
a) No.

Under Section 14(1), applicants for registration of title must sufficiently establish the following requisites: first, that the subject land forms part of the disposable and alienable lands of the public domain; second, that the applicant and his predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the same; and third, that the possession is under a bona fide claim of ownership since 12 June 1945, or earlier.

The first requisite of Section 14(1) entails only that the property sought to be registered be alienable and disposable at the time of the filing of the application for registration. To prove that the land sought to be registered is alienable and disposable, the present rule is that the application for original registration must be accompanied by (1) a CENRO or PENRO Certification; and (2) a copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary, and certified as true copy by the legal custodian of the official records.

 In the present case, to prove that the subject land is alienable and disposable, RRDC presented a CENRO certification stating that the subject land is “alienable and disposable and not covered by any public land application.” RRDC, however, failed to present a certified true copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary declaring the subject land alienable and disposable. Clearly, the evidence presented by RRDC falls short of the requirements. Thus, the trial and appellate courts erred when they ruled that the subject land is alienable and disposable part of the public domain and susceptible to original registration.

Furthermore, RRDC also failed to prove that it and its individual predecessors-in-interest sufficiently complied with the required period and nature of possession.

An applicant for land registration must exhibit that it and its predecessors-in-interest had been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership since 12 June 1945 or earlier. It has been held that possession is open when it is patent, visible, apparent, notorious, and not clandestine; it is continuous when uninterrupted, unbroken, and not intermittent or occasional; it is exclusive when the adverse possessor can show exclusive dominion over the land and an appropriation of it to his own use and benefit; and notorious when it is so conspicuous, that it is generally known and talked of by the public or the people in the neighborhood.

In Republic vs. Remman Enterprises, Inc.,[2014] the Court held that for purposes of land registration under Section 14(1) of P.D. No. 1529, proof of specific acts of ownership must be presented to substantiate the claim of open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the land subject of the application. Applicants for land registration cannot just offer general statements which are mere conclusions of law rather than factual evidence of possession. Actual possession is in the manifestation of acts of dominion over it of such nature as a party would actually exercise over his own property.

In Republic v. Gielczyk [2013],  the Court explained that “possession” and “occupation” are not synonymous to each other. Possession is broader than occupation because it includes constructive possession; whereas occupation delimits the all-encompassing effect of constructive possession. Thus, taken together with the words open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious, the word occupation means that for one’s title to land to be judicially recognized, his possession of the land must not be mere fiction.

In this case, aside from the deeds of absolute sale covering the subject land which were executed prior to 12 June 1945, RRDC did not present any evidence which would show that its predecessors-in-interest actually exercised acts of dominion over the subject land even before the cut-off period. As such, RRDC failed to prove that its possession of the land, or at the very least, its individual predecessors-in-interest’s possession over the same was not mere fiction.

RRDC failed to prove that its individual predecessors-in-interest had been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land under a bona fide claim of ownership since 12 June 1945 or earlier; and that said possession and occupation converted the subject land into a private property by operation of law. Consequently, the subject land cannot be registered in the name of RRDC under Section 14(1) of P.D. No. 1529.

b) No. RRDC also failed to establish compliance with the requirements for registration under Section 14(2).

In Heirs of Mario Malabanan vs. Republic [2009], the Court explained that when Section 14(2) of P.D. No. 1529 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.

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 all things which are within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription, and that property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.

Nonetheless, this does not necessarily mean that when a piece of land is declared alienable and disposable part of the public domain, it can already be acquired by prescription. In Malabanan, this Court ruled that declaration of alienability and disposability is not enough – there must be an express declaration 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, thus:

“(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. “

The classification of the land 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. As such, said land, although classified as alienable and disposable, is insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

In this case, RRDC did not present any evidence which would show that the subject land was expressly declared as no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth, or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Hence, it failed to prove that acquisitive prescription has begun to run against the State, and that it has acquired title to the subject land by virtue thereof.

In fine, RRDC failed to satisfy all the requisites for registration of title to land under either Sections 14(1) or (2) of P.D. No. 1529. RRDC also failed to establish that when it or P.N. Roa Enterprises, Inc., also a corporation and its direct predecessor-in-interest, acquired the subject land, it had already been converted to private property, thus, the prohibition on the corporation’s acquisition of agricultural lands of the public domain under Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution applies. RRDC’s application for original registration of imperfect title over the land it sought to register is denied.

Related CASE BrieF:
a) Heirs of Mario Malabanan vs. Republic [2009]
b) Republic vs. Remman Enterprises, Inc. [2014] 
c) Republic v. Gielczyk [2013]  
———————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A) The 12-hectare limitation on the acquisition of lands under Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution has no application to private lands..

B) To prove that the land sought to be registered is alienable and disposable, the present rule is that the application for original registration must be accompanied by (1) a CENRO or PENRO Certification; and (2) a copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary, and certified as true copy by the legal custodian of the official records.

C) Possession is open when it is patent, visible, apparent, notorious, and not clandestine; it is continuous when uninterrupted, unbroken, and not intermittent or occasional; it is exclusive when the adverse possessor can show exclusive dominion over the land and an appropriation of it to his own use and benefit; and notorious when it is so conspicuous, that it is generally known and talked of by the public or the people in the neighborhood.

D) Proof of specific acts of ownership must be presented to substantiate the claim of open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the land subject of the application.

E) “Possession” and “occupation” are not synonymous to each other. Possession is broader than occupation because it includes constructive possession; whereas occupation delimits the all-encompassing effect of constructive possession. Thus, taken together with the words open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious, the word occupation means that for one’s title to land to be judicially recognized, his possession of the land must not be mere fiction.

F) Declaration of alienability and disposability is not enough – there must be an express declaration 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. (Malabanan Case)

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