Republic v. Sese (G.R. No. 185092; June 4, 2014)


FACTS: Respondents filed with the MTC an application for original registration of land over a parcel of land with an area of 10, 792 square meters, situated in Barangay Sto. Cristo, Municipality of Pulilan, Province of Bulacan, and more particularly described as Lot 11247, Cad. 345, PulilanCadastre, under Plan No. AP-03-004226.

Respondents alleged that on July 22, 1972, they acquired, through a donation inter vivos from their mother, Resurreccion L. Castro (Resurreccion), the subject agricultural land; that they, through their predecessors-in-interest, had been in possession of the subject property; and that the property was not within a reservation.

In support of their application, respondents submitted among others a survey plan approved by the Regional Technical Director of the Land Management Service, Region III of the DENR stating that the land subject of the survey was alienable and disposable land, and as certified to by the Bureau of Forestry on March 1, 1927, was outside of any civil or military reservation. On the lower portion of the plan, there was a note stating that a deed of absolute sale over the subject property was executed by a certain Luis Santos and Fermina Santos (the Santoses) in favor of Resurreccion on October 4, 1950.

On the lower portion of the survey plan, a note stated, that: "This survey is inside the alienable and disposable area as per Project No. 20 LC Map No. 637 certified by the Bureau of Forestry on March 1, 1927. It is outside any civil or military reservation." Finding the application sufficient in form and substance, the MTC issued the Order, dated October 10, 2002, setting the case for hearing with the corresponding publication. After compliance with all the requirements of the law regarding publication, mailing and posting, hearing on the merits of the application followed.

During the trial, respondent Corazon C. Sese (Corazon) testified on their claim over the subject lot. Thereafter, respondents submitted their formal offer of evidence, after which the evidence offered were admitted by the MTC in the Order, without objection from the public prosecutor.

The OSG did not present any evidence to oppose the application.

The MTC ordered the registration of the subject property in the name of respondents.

Later, the OSG interposed an appeal with the CA. In its brief, the OSG presented the following assignment of errors: a) only alienable lands of the public domain occupied and possessed in concept of owner for a period of at least thirty (30) years is entitled to confirmation of title; and b) respondents failed to prove specific acts of possession.

The OSG argued that there was no proof that the subject property was already segregated from inalienable lands of the public domain. Verily, it was only from the date of declaration of such lands as alienable and disposable that the period for counting the statutory requirement of possession would start.

Also, there was absolutely no proof of respondents supposed possession of the subject property. Save for the testimony of Corazon that "at present, the worker of (her) mother is occupying the subject property," there was no evidence that respondents were actually occupying the subject tract of land or that they had introduced improvement thereon.

The CA however, affirming the judgment of the MTC ordering the registration of the subject property in the name of respondents. The CA was of the view that the doctrine of constructive possession was applicable. Respondents acquired the subject property through a donation inter vivos executed on July 22, 1972 from their mother. The latter acquired the said property from the Santoses on October 4, 1950 by virtue of a deed of absolute sale. Further, respondent Corazon testified that a small hut was built on the said land, which was occupied by the worker of her mother. Moreover, neither the public prosecutor nor any private individual appeared to oppose the application for registration of the subject property.

The CA also stated that respondents claim of possession over the subject property was buttressed by the Tax Declaration No. 99-19015-01557 "in the name of Corazon Sese and Fe Sese, minor, representing their mother Resurreccion Castro, as her Natural Guardian"; the official receipt of payment of real property tax over the subject property; and the certificate from the Office of the Municipal Treasurer of Pulilan, stating that the registered owner of a property under Tax Declaration No. 99-19015-01557 were respondents.

The CA added that although tax declaration or realty tax payments of property were not conclusive evidence of ownership, nevertheless, they were good indicia of possession in the concept of owner. Hence, the OSG filed this petition.

ISSUES: Did the Court of Appeals err on a question of law in ruling that the approved survey plan identified by one of the respondents is proof that the subject land is alienable and disposable?

Did the Court of Appeals err on a question of law in granting the application for registration?HELD: In Republic v. Espinosa, G.R. No. 171514, July 18, 2012 citing Republic v. Sarmiento 547 Phil. 157, 166167 (2007) and Menguito v. Republic, 401 Phil. 274, 287-288 (2000), the Court reiterated the rule that that a notation made by a surveyor-geodetic engineer that the property surveyed was alienable and disposable was not the positive government act that would remove the property from the inalienable domain and neither was it the evidence accepted as sufficient to controvert the presumption that the property was inalienable. Thus:

To discharge the onus, respondent relies on the blue print Copy of the conversion and subdivision plan approved by the DENR Center which bears the notation of the surveyor-geodetic engineer that "this survey is inside the alienable and disposable area, Project No. 27-B. L.C. Map No. 2623, certified on January 3, 1968 by the Bureau of Forestry."

Menguito v. Republic teaches, however, that reliance on such annotation to prove that the lot is alienable is insufficient and does not constitute incontrovertible evidence to overcome the presumption that it remains part of the inalienable public domain.

"To prove that the land in question formed part of the alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, petitioners relied on the printed words which read: This survey plan is inside Alienable and Disposable Land Area, Project No. 27-B as per L.C. Map No. 2623, certified by the Bureau of Forestry on January 3, 1968, appearing on Exhibit "E" (Survey Plan No. Swo-13-000227).

This proof is not sufficient. Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, provides: "All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State..."

For the original registration of title, the applicant (petitioners in this case) must overcome the presumption that the land sought to be registered forms part of the public domain. Unless public land is shown to have been reclassified or alienated to a private person by the State, it remains part of the inalienable public domain. Indeed, "occupation thereof in the concept of owner, no matter how long, cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title." To overcome such presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be shown by the applicant. Absent such evidence, the land sought to be registered remains inalienable.

In the present case, petitioners cite a surveyor geodetic engineers notation in Exhibit "E" indicating that the survey was inside alienable and disposable land. Such notation does not constitute a positive government act validly changing the classification of the land in question. Verily, a mere surveyor has no authority to reclassify lands of the public domain. By relying solely on the said surveyors assertion, petitioners have not sufficiently proven that the land in question has been declared alienable."

Thus, under Section 14(2) of P.D. No. 1529, for acquisitive prescription to commence and operate against the State, the classification of land as alienable and disposable alone is not sufficient. The applicant must be able to show that the State, in addition to the said classification, expressly declared through either a law enacted by Congress or a proclamation issued by the President that the subject land is no longer retained for public service or the development of the national wealth or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Consequently, without an express declaration by the State, the land remains to be a property of public dominion and, hence, not susceptible to acquisition by virtue of prescription. 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. It is still insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

For the above reasons, the respondents cannot avail of either Section 14 (1) or 14 (2) of P.O. No. 1529. Under Section 14 (1), respondents failed to prove (a) that the property is alienable and disposable; and (b) that their possession of the property dated back to June 12, 1945 or earlier. Failing to prove the alienable and disposable nature of the subject land, respondents all the more cannot apply for registration by way of prescription pursuant to Section 14 (2) which requires possession for 30 years to acquire or take. Not only did respondents need to prove the classification of the subject land as alienable and disposable, but also to show that it has been converted into patrimonial. As to whether respondents were able to prove that their possession and occupation were of the character prescribed by law, the resolution of this issue has been rendered unnecessary by the foregoing considerations. GRANTED.