Republic v. Directo (G.R. No. 168044. August 5, 2015)

CASE DIGEST: REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. DIONISIO A. DIRECTO, Respondent. G.R. No. 168044. August 5, 2015.

In sum, the Republic via the OSG attacks the land registration approved by the RTC and, on appeal, by the CA in favor of respondent Directo.

On January 8, 1996, the respondent filed in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Balaoan, La Union his application to have the parcels of land known as Lots 1, 2 and 5, PcadM 496-D, all located in Barangay Cabua-an, Balaoan, La Union, registered under Presidential Decree No. 1529 (Property Registration Decree), and to have the title thereto confirmed (docketed as LRCNo.N-90).

The application and the notice of the initial hearing were duly published. On the date set for the hearing, the only opposition was filed by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, representing the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). The background facts, as found by the RTC, follow:
Evidence for the applicant shows that the three (3) lots subject for registration are one whole parcel of land subdivided as Lot 1, Lot 2, and Lot 5 with an area of 400 sq.m., 586.50 sq.m., and 24 sq.m. respectively. The three (3) lots are embodied on a survey plan marked as exhibit B-2(Lot 1), Exhibit B-l(Lot 2) and Exhibit B-3(Lot 5), together with the corresponding. Technical Descriptions (Exhibits C,D,&E). The parcels of land sought to be registered are owned by the applicant Dionisio A. Directo declared in his name under TD No. 1162 (Exhibit G). He bought it from one Constancia Directo, his aunt, thru a Deed of Absolute Sale dated September 18, 1982 (Exhibit F). The original owner of the whole parcel of land was one Rosendo Directo, the grandfather of the applicant. One Timoteo Domondon, a 73 yr. old man, knew Rosendo Directo as the original owner of said property 63 years ago, he being his former classmate, and at present the neighbor of the applicant. From Rosendo Directo, the ownership of the whole parcel of land was transfered [sic] to the uncles and nieces of the applicant the Directos, that included his father Dominador Directo and his aunt Constancia Directo, from whom he bought said property. Constancia Directo had been the owner and in possession of the property since the 1950s. At the time the Directos were the owner and in possession of the property, which included his father Dominador, the applicant had lived/resided in the property since he was 10 years old, in that portion where lot 1 was located. There were improvements introduced in the property at that time. When the applicant became the owner of the property, he also introduced some improvements like renovating the 2-storey house constructed thereat. The applicant is now 56 years old and up to the present, there are no adverse claims filed against the three (3) lots sought to be registered. The applicant had been paying the land tax of the property (Exhibit N) and does not encroach any public property like municipal road. There is no public land application for title issued over the property sought to be registered (Exhibit O).
Considering that no evidence to controvert the application was presented, the RTC ruled favorably on the application through its decision dated March 6, 2003, finding that the respondent had acquired ownership of the lots by virtue of his possession, including the possession by his predecessors-in-interest, for a period exceeding 30 years in the concept of an owner, public, adverse, uninterrupted and peaceful.

The OSG appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA), which affirmed the decision of the RTC,[5] holding and decreeing as follows:

The CA found no merit in the instant appeal.
There are two facts that the applicant must prove to support an application for registration. The first is that the land sought to be registered is the same land described in the application; the second is that the applicant must be the owner of the land, (page 90-91, Noblejas and Noblejas, Registration of Land Titles and Deeds, 1992 Revised Edition). It is settled that a person who seeks registration of title to a piece of land must prove the claim by clear and convincing evidence (Republic of the Philippines vs. Alconaba, et al, G.R. No. 155012, April 14, 2004).Section 14(1) of P.D. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, provides:
"SEC. 14. Who may file. - 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."
The presumption is that lands of whatever classification belong to the State and evidence of a land grant must be "well-nigh incontrovertible." (Director of Lands vs. Court of Appeals, 209 SCRA 427). The burden of proof in land registration cases in incumbent on the applicant who must show that she is the real and absolute owner in fee simple of the land applied for. (Turqueza vs. Valera, 322 SCRA 573). As the Supreme Court ruled in Director, Land Management Bureau vs. Court of Appeals, 324 SCRA 757:
"x x x The phrase 'adverse, continuous, open, public, peaceful and in concept of owner,' by which characteristics private respondent describes his possession and that of his parents, are mere conclusion of law requiring evidentiary support and substantiation. The burden of proof is on the private respondent, as applicant, to prove by clear, positive and convincing evidence that the alleged possession of his parents was of the nature and duration required by law. His bare allegations without more, do not amount to preponderant evidence that would shift the burden of proof to the oppositor."
In the case at bar, applicant Dionisio A. Directo was able to prove that he and his predecessors-in-interest has been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject property under a bona fide claim of ownership for the period required by law. We agree with the trial court's declaration that, and We quote:
"From the foregoing testimonial and documentary evidence, there is substantial proof that the applicant had acquired lawful ownership of the three (3) lots sought to be registered, and that his possession, including those of his predecessors-in-interest, covers more than thirty (30) years in the concept of an owner, publicly, adversely, uninterruptedly and peacefully, xxx." (page 2 of the Assailed Decision; page 200 of the Record).
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the present appeal is hereby DENIED. The assailed Decision (dated March 06, 2003) of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 34), of Balaoan, La Union, In LRC No. N-90, is hereby AFFIRMED in toto. No pronouncement as to costs.

Hence, this appeal to the Supreme Court.

The OSG challenges the rulings of the lower courts, claiming that the respondent did not prove that his possession, including that of his predecessors-in-interest, had been open, continuous, exclusive, notorious and in the concept of owner; that the allegation of such possession was a mere conclusion of law that was not substantiated by evidence; that the testimony of Timoteo Domondon was hearsay; and that the respondent did not establish his own title because the deed of sale offered in evidence was only a mere photocopy, in violation of the best evidence rule.

The Supreme Court found NO MERIT in this appeal.

The questions raised by the OSG are factual in nature, and cannot be reviewed by the Court in this appeal by petition for review on certiorari. Section 1 of Rule 45, Rules of Court, limits the review to questions of law. There is good reason to enforce this stricture because the RTC and the CA had no disagreements in their findings of fact.

Moreover, the OSG bases its arguments not on the weight or appreciation but on the admissibility of the evidence. The arguments cannot be upheld considering that, as the RTC noted, no objections to the admissibility of the evidence were raised during the trial.