Actions for: nullity of free patents; reversion; reconveyance

The Supreme Court in Spouses Galang v. Spouses Reyes, citing Heirs of Kionisala v. Heirs of Dacut, explained the essential differences among an action for declaration of nullity of free patents and the corresponding certificates of titles issued pursuant thereto, an action for reversion and an action for reconveyanceviz.:

An ordinary civil action for declaration of nullity of free patents and certificates of title is not the same as an action for reversion. The difference between them lies in the allegations as to the character of ownership of the realty whose title is sought to be nullified. In an action for reversion, the pertinent allegations in the complaint would admit State ownership of the disputed land. xxx

On the other hand, a cause of action for declaration of nullity of free patent and certificate of title would require allegations of the plaintiffs ownership of the contested lot prior to the issuance of such free patent and certificate of title as well as the defendant's fraud or mistake; as the case may be, in successfully obtaining these documents of title over the parcel of land claimed by plaintiff. In such a case, the nullity arises strictly not from the fraud or deceit but from the fact that the land is beyond the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands to bestow and whatever patent or certificate of title obtained therefor is consequently void ab initio. The real party in interest is x x x the plaintiff who alleges a pre-existing right of ownership over the parcel of land in question even before the grant of title to the defendant. xxxWith respect to the purported cause of action for reconveyance, it is settled that in this kind of action the free patent and the certificate of title are respected as incontrovertible. What is sought instead is the transfer of the property, in this case the title thereof, which has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in the defendant's name. All that must be alleged in the complaint are two (2) facts which admitting them to be true would entitle the plaintiff to recover title to the disputed land, namely, (1) that the plaintiff was the owner of the land and, (2) that the defendant had illegally dispossessed him of the same.

Given the foregoing differences, an action for reconveyance and an action for declaration of nullity of the free patent cannot be pursued simultaneously. The former recognizes the certificate of title issued pursuant to the free patent as indefeasible while the latter does not. They may, however, be pursued alternatively pursuant to Section 2, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court on alternative causes of action or defenses.

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