CASE DIGEST: Republic v. Bacas (G.R. No. 182913)


In 1938, Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon (Pres. Quezon) issued Presidential Proclamation No. 265, which took effect on March 31, 1938, reserving for the use of the Philippine Army three (3) parcels of the public domain situated in the barrios of Bulua and Carmen, then Municipality of Cagayan, Misamis Oriental. The parcels of land were withdrawn from sale or settlement and reserved for military purposes, "subject to private rights, if any there be."The Bacases filed their Application for Registrationon November 12, 1964 covering a parcel of land, together with all the improvements found thereon, located in Patag, Cagayan de Oro City.

They alleged ownership in fee simple of the property and indicated in their application the names and addresses of the adjoining owners, as well as a statement that the Philippine Army (Fourth Military Area) recently occupied a portion of the land by their mere tolerance.

The Director of the Bureau of Lands, registered its written Oppositionagainst the application.

On April 10, 1968, based on the evidence presented by the Bacases, the Land Registration Court (LRC) rendered a decisionholding that the applicants had conclusively established their ownership in fee simple over the subject land and that their possession, including that of their predecessor-in-interest, had been open, adverse, peaceful, uninterrupted, and in concept of owners for more than forty (40) years.

No appeal was interposed by the Republic from the decision of the LRC. Thus, the decision became final and executory, resulting in the issuance of a decree and the corresponding certificate of title over the subject property.

Also, the Chabons filed their Application for Registrationon May 8, 1974 covering a parcel of land located in Carmen-District, Cagayan de Oro City, known as Lot 4357, Cagayan Cadastre.

They alleged ownership in fee simple over the property and indicated therein the names and addresses of the adjoining owners, but no mention was made with respect to the occupation, if any, by the Philippine Army. The Chabons likewise alleged that, to the best of their knowledge, no mortgage or encumbrance of any kind affecting said land with the exception of 18,957 square meters sold to Minda J. Castillo and 1,000 square meters sold and conveyed to Atty. Arturo R. Legaspi.

On February 18, 1976, there being no opposition made, even from the government, hearing on the application ensued. The LRC then rendered a decisionholding that Chabons evidence established their ownership in fee simple over the subject property and that their possession, including that of their predecessor-in-interest, had been actual, open, public, peaceful, adverse, continuous, and in concept of owners for more than thirty (30) years.

The decision then became final and executory. Thus, an orderfor the issuance of a decree and the corresponding certificate of title was issued.

As a consequence of the LRC decisions in both applications for registration, the Republic filed a complaint for annulment of titles against the Bacases and the Chabons before the RTC. As the facts and issues in both cases were substantially the same and identical, and the pieces of evidence adduced were applicable to both, the cases were consolidated and jointly tried. Thereafter, a joint decision dismissing the two complaints of the Republic was rendered.

In dismissing the complaints, the RTC explained that the stated fact of occupancy by Camp Evangelista over certain portions of the subject lands in the applications for registration by the respondents was a substantial compliance with the requirements of the law.It would have been absurd to state Camp Evangelista as an adjoining owner when it was alleged that it was an occupant of the land.Thus, the RTC ruled that the respondents did not commit fraud in filing their applications for registration.

Not satisfied, the Republic filed a petition before the CA. The appeal allowed, the CA docketed the case as CA G.R. CV No. 64142.

On November 12, 2007, the CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC. It explained that once a decree of registration was issued under the Torrens system and the reglementary period had passed within which the decree may be questioned, the title was perfected and could not be collaterally questioned later on.Even assuming that an action for the nullification of the original certificate of title may still be instituted, the review of a decree of registration under Section 38 of Act No. 496 [Section 32 of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529] would only prosper upon proof that the registration was procured through actual fraud,which proceeded from an intentional deception perpetrated through the misrepresentation or the concealment of a material fact.The CA stressed that "the fraud must be actual and extrinsic, not merely constructive or intrinsic; the evidence thereof must be clear, convincing and more than merely preponderant, because the proceedings which are assailed as having been fraudulent are judicial proceedings which by law, are presumed to have been fair and regular."

Not in conformity, the Republic filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied. Hence, this petition.


1. Whether or not the decisions of the LRC over the subject lands can still be questioned?

2. Whether or not the applications for registration of the subject parcels of land should be allowed?

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is reversed.

The governing rule in the application for registration of lands at that time was Section 21 of Act 496which provided for the form and content of an application for registration, and it reads:

Section 21. The application shall be in writing, signed and sworn to by applicant, or by some person duly authorized in his behalf. It shall also state the name in full and the address of the applicant, and also the names and addresses of all adjoining owners and occupants, if known; and, if not known, it shall state what search has been made to find them.

The reason behind the law was explained in the case of Fewkes vs. Vasquez,where it was written:

Under Section 21 of the Land Registration Act an application for registration of land is required to contain, among others, a description of the land subject of the proceeding, the name, status and address of the applicant, as well as the names and addresses of all occupants of the land and of all adjoining owners, if known, or if unknown, of the steps taken to locate them. When the application is set by the court for initial hearing, it is then that notice (of the hearing), addressed to all persons appearing to have an interest in the lot being registered and the adjoining owners, and indicating the location, boundaries and technical description of the land being registered, shall be published in the Official Gazette for two consecutive times. It is this publication of the notice of hearing that is considered one of the essential bases of the jurisdiction of the court in land registration cases, for the proceedings being in rem, it is only when there is constructive seizure of the land, effected by the publication and notice, that jurisdiction over the res is vested on the court. Furthermore, it is such notice and publication of the hearing that would enable all persons concerned, who may have any rights or interests in the property, to come forward and show to the court why the application for registration thereof is not to be granted.

Here, the Chabons did not make any mention of the ownership or occupancy by the Philippine Army. They also did not indicate any efforts or searches they had exerted in determining other occupants of the land. Such omission constituted fraud and deprived the Republic of its day in court. Not being notified, the Republic was not able to file its opposition to the application and, naturally, it was not able to file an appeal either.

POLITICAL LAW: The Republic can also question a final and executory judgment when the LRC had no jurisdiction over the land in question

With respect to the Bacases, although the lower courts might have been correct in ruling that there was substantial compliance with the requirements of law when they alleged that Camp Evangelista was an occupant, the Republic is not precluded and estopped from questioning the validity of the title.

The success of the annulment of title does not solely depend on the existence of actual and extrinsic fraud, but also on the fact that a judgment decreeing registration is null and void. In Collado v. Court of Appeals and the Republic,the Court declared that any title to an inalienable public land is void ab initio. Any procedural infirmities attending the filing of the petition for annulment of judgment are immaterial since the LRC never acquired jurisdiction over the property. All proceedings of the LRC involving the property are null and void and, hence, did not create any legal effect. A judgment by a court without jurisdiction can never attain finality.In Collado, the Court made the following citation:

The Land Registration Court has no jurisdiction over non-registrable properties, such as public navigable rivers which are parts of the public domain, and cannot validly adjudge the registration of title in favor of private applicant. Hence, the judgment of the Court of First Instance of Pampanga as regards the Lot No. 2 of certificate of Title No. 15856 in the name of petitioners may be attacked at any time, either directly or collaterally, by the State which is not bound by any prescriptive period provided for by the Statute of Limitations.

POLITICAL LAW: Prescription or estoppel cannot lie against the government

In denying the petition of the Republic, the CA reasoned out that 1) once a decree of registration is issued under the Torrens system and the reglementary period has passed within which the decree may be questioned, the title is perfected and cannot be collaterally questioned later on;2) there was no commission of extrinsic fraud because the Bacases allegation of Camp Evangelistas occupancy of their property negated the argument that they committed misrepresentation or concealment amounting to fraud;and 3) the Republic did not appeal the decision and because the proceeding was one in rem, it was bound to the legal effects of the decision.

Granting that the persons representing the government was negligent, the doctrine of estoppel cannot be taken against the Republic. It is a well-settled rule that the Republic or its government is not estopped by mistake or error on the part of its officials or agents. In Republic v. Court of Appeals,it was written:

In any case, even granting that the said official was negligent, the doctrine of estoppel cannot operate against the State . "It is a well-settled rule in our jurisdiction that the Republic or its government is usually not estopped by mistake or error on the part of its officials or agents Consequently, the State may still seek the cancellation of the title issued to Perpetuo Alpuerto and his successors-interest pursuant to Section 101 of the Public Land Act. Such title has not become indefeasible, for prescription cannot be invoked against the State (Republic vs. Animas, supra).

CIVIL LAW: Procedure to acquire alienable lands of the public domain

The subject lands, being part of a military reservation, are inalienable and cannot be the subjects of land registration proceedings.

The application of the Bacases and the Chabons were filed on November 12, 1964 and May 8, 1974, respectively. Accordingly, the law governing the applications was Commonwealth Act (C.A.) No. 141,as amended by RA 1942,particularly Sec. 48(b) which provided that:

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.

Such power of the President to segregate lands was provided for in Section 64(e) of the old Revised Administrative Code and C.A. No. 141 or the Public Land Act. Later, the power of the President was restated in Section 14, Chapter 4, Book III of the 1987 Administrative Code. When a property is officially declared a military reservation, it becomes inalienable and outside the commerce of man.It may not be the subject of a contract or of a compromise agreement.A property continues to be part of the public domain, not available for private appropriation or ownership, until there is a formal declaration on the part of the government to withdraw it from being such.

Regarding the subject lots, there was a reservation respecting "private rights." In Republic v. Estonilo,where the Court earlier declared that Lot No. 4318 was part of the Camp Evangelista Military Reservation and, therefore, not registrable, it noted the proviso in Presidential Proclamation No. 265 requiring the reservation to be subject to private rights as meaning that persons claiming rights over the reserved land were not precluded from proving their claims. Stated differently, the said proviso did not preclude the LRC from determining whether or not the respondents indeed had registrable rights over the property.

As there has been no showing that the subject parcels of land had been segregated from the military reservation, the respondents had to prove that the subject properties were alienable and disposable land of the public domain prior to its withdrawal from sale and settlement and reservation for military purposes under Presidential Proclamation No. 265. The question is of primordial importance because it is determinative if the land can in fact be subject to acquisitive prescription and, thus, registrable under the Torrens system. Without first determining the nature and character of the land, all the other requirements such as the length and nature of possession and occupation over such land do not come into play. The required length of possession does not operate when the land is part of the public domain.

In this case, however, the respondents miserably failed to prove that, before the proclamation, the subject lands were already private lands. They merely relied on such "recognition" of possible private rights. In their application, they alleged that at the time of their application,they had been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession of the subject parcels of land for at least thirty (30) years and became its owners by prescription. There was, however, no allegation or showing that the government had earlier declared it open for sale or settlement, or that it was already pronounced as inalienable and disposable.

It is well-settled that land of the public domain is not ipso facto converted into a patrimonial or private property by the mere possession and occupation by an individual over a long period of time.

A mere casual cultivation of portions of the land by the claimant, and the raising thereon of cattle, do not constitute possession under claim of ownership. In that sense, possession is not exclusive and notorious as to give rise to a presumptive grant from the State. While grazing livestock over land is of course to be considered with other acts of dominion to show possession, the mere occupancy of land by grazing livestock upon it, without substantial enclosures, or other permanent improvements, is not sufficient to support a claim of title thru acquisitive prescription. The possession of public land, however long the period may have extended, never confers title thereto upon the possessor because the statute of limitations with regard to public land does not operate against the State unless the occupant can prove possession and occupation of the same under claim of ownership for the required number of years to constitute a grant from the State.

Well-entrenched is the rule that unless a land is reclassified and declared alienable and disposable, occupation in the concept of an owner, no matter how long, cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title. Consequently, respondents could not have occupied the Lot in the concept of an owner in 1947 and subsequent years when respondents declared the Lot for taxation purposes, or even earlier when respondents' predecessors-in-interest possessed the Lot, because the Lot was considered inalienable from the time of its declaration as a military reservation in 1904. Therefore, respondents failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Lot is alienable and disposable.

Public lands not shown to have been classified as alienable and disposable land remain part of the inalienable public domain. In view of the lack of sufficient evidence showing that the Lot was already classified as alienable and disposable, the Lot applied for by respondents is inalienable land of the public domain, not subject to registration under Section 14(1) of PD 1529 and Section 48(b) of CA 141, as amended by PD 1073. Hence, there is no need to discuss the other requisites dealing with respondents' occupation and possession of the Lot in the concept of an owner.

CIVIL LAW: inalienable lands of the public domain

While it is an acknowledged policy of the State to promote the distribution of alienable public lands to spur economic growth and in line with the ideal of social justice, the law imposes stringent safeguards upon the grant of such resources lest they fall into the wrong hands to the prejudice of the national patrimony. We must not, therefore, relax the stringent safeguards relative to the registration of imperfect titles.

In Estonilo,where the Court ruled that persons claiming the protection of "private rights" in order to exclude their lands from military reservations must show by clear and convincing evidence that the properties in question had been acquired by a legal method of acquiring public lands, the respondents therein failed to clearly prove that the lands over which they lay a claim were alienable and disposable so that the same belonged and continued to belong to the State and could not be subject to the commerce of man or registration. Specifically, the Court wrote: Land that has not been acquired from the government, either by purchase or by grant, belongs to the State as part of the public domain. For this reason, imperfect titles to agricultural lands are subjected to rigorous scrutiny before judicial confirmation is granted. In the same manner, persons claiming the protection of "private rights" in order to exclude their lands from military reservations must show by clear and convincing evidence that the pieces of property in question have been acquired by a legal method of acquiring public lands.

CIVIL LAW: tax declarations are indicia of a claim of ownership

In granting respondents judicial confirmation of their imperfect title, the trial and the appellate courts gave much weight to the tax declarations presented by the former. However, while the tax declarations were issued under the names of respondents predecessors-in-interest, the earliest one presented was issued only in 1954.The Director, Lands Management Bureau v. CAheld thus: Tax receipts and tax declarations are not incontrovertible evidence of ownership.They are mere indicia of [a] claim of ownership.

In addition, the lower courts credited the alleged prior possession by Calixto and Rosendo Bacas, from whom respondents predecessors had purportedly bought the property. This alleged prior possession, though, was totally devoid of any supporting evidence on record. Respondents evidence hardly supported the conclusion that their predecessors-in-interest had been in possession of the land since "time immemorial."

It must be stressed that respondents, as applicants, have the burden of proving that they have an imperfect title to Lot 4318. Even the absence of opposition from the government does not relieve them of this burden. Thus, it was erroneous for the trial and the appellate courts to hold that the failure of the government to dislodge respondents, judicially or extrajudicially, from the subject land since 1954 already amounted to a title.

The Court is not unmindful of the principle of immutability of judgments that nothing is more settled in law than that once a judgment attains finality it thereby becomes immutable and unalterable.Such principle, however, must yield to the basic rule that a decision which is null and void for want of jurisdiction of the trial court is not a decision in contemplation of law and can never become final and executory.