Republic v. AFPRSBS (G.R. No. 180463; January 16, 2013)


FACTS: Lots X, Y-1 and Y-2 were lands of the public domain pursuant to Proclamation No. 168 (Proc. 168). In 1983, Proclamation No. 2273 (Proc. 2273) was issued which removed and segregated Lots Y-1 and Y-2 from the reservation and declaring them open for disposition to qualified applicants. As a result, only Lot X which consists of 15,020 square meters remained part of the reservation now known as Magsaysay Park.

The record discloses that the heirs of CabaloKusop and Atty. Flaviano petitioned the President to have Lots Y-1 and Y-2 taken out of the reservation for the reason that through their predecessor CabaloKusop (Kusop), they have acquired vested private rights over these lots. This campaign resulted in Proc. 2273, which re-classified and returned Lots Y-1 and Y-2 to their original alienable and disposable state.

In 1997, the heirs and Flaviano filed applications for the issuance of individual miscellaneous sales patents over the whole of Lot X. Consequently, 16 original certificates of title (OCTs) covering Lot X were issued in the names of the heirs, Flaviano and several others. These 16 titles were simultaneously conveyed to respondent AFP-Retirement and Separation Benefits System (AFP-RSBS).

Petitioner Republic of the Philippines a complaint for reversion, cancellation and annulment of the AFP-RSBS titles, on the thesis that they were issued over a public park which is classified as inalienable and non-disposable public land.

The heirs and Flaviano intervened, and, together with the AFP-RSBS, argued that their predecessor-in-interest Kusop had acquired vested interests over Lot X for having occupied the same for more than 30 years. The RTC ruled in favor of the Republic.

The CA reversed the RTC and ruled that the lands in dispute are alienable and disposable lands. Hence this present appeal.

ISSUE: Did the CA err in ruling that the lands in question are alienable and disposable lands?

HELD: From the wording of Proc. 168, the land it comprises is subject to sale or settlement, and thus alienable and disposable. However, this alienable and disposable character of the land covered by the proclamation was subsequently withdrawn, and the land was re-classified by then President Macapagal to pave the way for the establishment of a park reservation, subject only to previously acquired private rights. The heirs then lobbied for the exclusion of certain portions of the reservation which they claimed to be theirs, allegedly acquired by their predecessor Kusop through prescription. They were successful, for in 1983, then President Marcos issued Proc. 2273, which excluded and segregated Lots Y-1 and Y-2 from the coverage of Proc. 168. In addition, Proc. 2273 declared Lots Y-1 and Y-2 open for distribution to qualified beneficiaries which included the heirs. However, Lot X was retained as part of the reservation.The heirs did not question Proc. 2273, precisely because they were the beneficiaries thereof; nor did they object to the retention of Lot X as part of the park reserve. Instead, in 1997, they applied for, and were granted, sales patents over Lot X.

Evidently, the sales patents over Lot X are null and void, for at the time the sales patents were applied for and granted, the land had lost its alienable and disposable character. It was set aside and was being utilized for a public purpose, that is, as a recreational park. And under the present Constitution, national parks are declared part of the public domain, and shall be conserved and may not be increased nor diminished, except by law.

The government, as the agent of the State, is possessed of the plenary power as the persona in law to determine who shall be the favored recipients of public lands, as well as under what terms they may be granted such privilege, not excluding the placing of obstacles in the way of their exercise of what otherwise would be ordinary acts of ownership.

The heirs and Flavianos actions betray their claim of ownership to Lot X. When Proc. 168 was issued, they did not institute action to question its validity, using as cause of action their claimed ownership and title over the land. The same is true when Proc. 2273 came out. They did not file suit to invalidate it because it contravenes their claimed ownership over Lot X. They simply sat and waited for the good graces of the government to fall on their laps. They simply waited for the State to declare them beneficiaries of the land.

The principle of estoppel bars one from denying the truth of a fact which has, in the contemplation of law, become settled by the acts and proceedings of judicial or legislative officers or by the act of the party himself, either by conventional writing or by representations, express or implied or in pais.

Finally, as regards AFP-RSBS rights, the Court sustains the petitioners view that any title issued covering non-disposable lots even in the hands of an alleged innocent purchaser for value shall be cancelled.

The Court cannot ignore the basic principle that a spring cannot rise higher than its source; as successor-in-interest, AFP-RSBS cannot acquire a better title than its predecessor, the herein respondents-intervenors. GRANTED.