G.R. No. 48321, August 31, 1946


This is an appeal from a Judgment decreeing the registration of a residential lot located in the Municipality of Guinayangan., Province of Tayabas, in the name of the applicant.

The opposition of the Director of Lands is based on the applicant's lack of title to the lot, and on his disqualification, as alien, from acquiring lands of the public domain.

The applicant, who is an alien, and his predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the lot from 1880 to the filing of the application for registration on January 17, 1940.

The Solicitor-General reiterates the second objection of the opponent and adds that the lower court committed an error in not declaring null and void the sale of the lot to the applicant.)

The applicant invokes the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496), or should it not be applicable to the case, then he would apply for the benefits of the Public Land Act (C.A. No. 141).
The applicant failed to show that he has title to the lot that may be confirmed under the Land Registration Act. He failed to show that he or any of his predecessors in interest had acquired the lot from the Government, either by purchase or by grant, under the laws, orders and decrees promulgated by the Spanish Government in the Philippines, or by possessory information under the Mortgage Law (section 19, Act 496). All lands that were not acquired from the Government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the public domain. An exception to the rule would be any land that should have been in the possession of an occupant and of predecessors in interest since time immemorial, such possession would justify the presumption that the land had never been part of the public domain or that it had been a private property even before the Spanish conquest. (Cariño vs. Insular Government, 212 U. S., 449; 53 Law. ed., 594). The applicant does not come under the exception, for the earliest possession of the lot by his first predecessor in interest began in 1880.

As the applicant failed to show title to the lot, the next question is whether he is entitled to a decree of registration thereof under the provisions of the Public Land Act (C. A. No. 141). Under the provisions of the Act invoked by the applicant, he is not entitled to a decree of registration of the lot, because he is an alien disqualified from acquiring lands of the public domain (sections 48, 49, C. A. No. 141).

As the applicant failed to prove title to the lot and has invoked the provisions of the Public Land Act, it seems unnecessary to make pronouncement in this case on the nature, character or classification of the lot sought to be registered.

It may be argued that under the provisions of the Public Land Act the applicant's immediate predecessors in interest would have been entitled to a decree of registration of the lot had they applied for its registration; and that he having purchased or acquired it, the right of his immediate predecessors in interest to a decree of registration must be deemed also to have been acquired by him. The benefits provided in the Public Land Act for applicant's immediate predecessors in interest are or constitute a grant or concession by the State; and before they could acquire any right under such benefits, the applicant's immediate predecessors in interest should comply with the condition precedent for the grant of such benefits. The condition precedent is to apply for the registration of the land of which they had been in possession at least since July 26, 1894. This the applicant's immediate predecessors in interest failed to do. They did not have any vested right in the lot amounting to title which was transmissible to the applicant. The only right, if it may thus be called, is their possession of the lot which, tacked to that of their predecessors in interest, may be availed of by a qualified person to apply for its registration but not by a person as the applicant who is disqualified.

It is urged that the sale of the lot to the applicant should have been declared null and void. In a suit between vendor and vendee for the annulment of the sale, such pronouncement would be necessary, if the court were of the opinion that it is void. It is not necessary in this case where the vendors 4o not even object to the application filed by the vendee.

Accordingly, judgment is reversed and the application for registration dismissed, without costs.

Moran, C. J., Feria, Pablo, Hilado and Bengzon, JJ., concur.

PERFECTO, J., concurring:

Oh Cho, a citizen of the Republic of China, purchased in 1928 from Antonio, Luis and Rafael Lagdameo a parcel of land located in the residential district of Guinayangan, Tayabas, which has been in the continuous, public, and adverse possession of their predecessors in interest as far back as 1830. On June 17, 1940, Oh Cho applied for the registration of said parcel of land. She Director of lands opposed the application because, among other grounds, the Constitution prohibits aliens from acquiring public or private agricultural lands.

One of the witnesses for the applicant, on cross-examination, expressly admitted that this land in question is susceptible of cultivation and may be converted into an orchard or garden. Rodolfo Tiquia, inspector of the Bureau of lands, testifying as a witness for the government, stated that the land, notwithstanding the use to which it is actually devoted, is agricultural land in accordance with an opinion rendered in 1939 by the Secretary of Justice. The pertinent part of said opinion, penned by Secretary Jose Abad Santos, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is as follows:
"1. Whether or not the phrase ‘public agricultural land’ in section 1 Article XII, of the Constitution may be interpreted to include residential, commercial or industrial lots for purposes of their disposition.

"1. Section 1, Article XII of the Constitution classifies lands of the public domain in the Philippines into agricultural, timber and mineral. This is the basic classification adopted since the enactment of the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, known as the Philippine Bill. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the Philippines, the term 'agricultural public lands' had, therefore; acquired a technical meaning in our public laws. The Supreme Court of the Philippines in the leading, case of Mapa vs. Insular Government, 10 Phil., 175, held that the phrase 'agricultural public lands' means those public lands acquired from Spain which are neither timber nor mineral lands. This definition has been followed by our Supreme Court in many subsequent cases. (Montano vs. Ins. Gov’t 12 Phil., 572, 574; Santiago vs. Ins. Gov't., 12 Phil., 593; Ibañes de Aldecoa vs. Ins. Gov’t., 13 Phil., 159; Ins. Gov’t. vs. Aldecoa & Co., 19 Phil., 505; 516; Mercado vs. Collector of Internal Revenue, 32 Phil.; 271, 276; Molina vs. Rafferty, 38 Phil., 167, 170; Ramos vs. Director of lands, 39 Phil., 175, 181; Jocson vs. Director of Forestry, 39 Phil., 560, 564; and Ankron vs. Government of the Philippines, 40 Phil., 10, 14.)

"Residential, commercial or industrial lots forming part of the public domain must have to be included in one or more of these classes. Clearly, they are neither timber nor mineral, of necessity, therefore, they must be classified as agricultural.

Viewed from another angle, It has been held that in determining whether lands are agricultural or not, the character of the land is the test (Odell vs. Durant, 62 N. W. 524; Lerch vs. Missoula Brick & Tile Co., 123 p. 85). In other words, it is the susceptibility of the land to cultivation for agricultural purposes by ordinary farming methods which determines whether it is; agricultural or not (State vs. Stewart, 190 p. 129).”
Judge Pedro Magsalin, of the Court of First Instance of Tayabas, rendered a decision on August 15, 1940, overruling the opposition without much explanation and decreeing the registration prayed for by the applicant. The Director of lands appealed from the decision, and the Solicitor General appearing for appellant, maintains that the applicant, not being a citizen of the Philippines, is disqualified to buy or acquire the parcel of land in question and that the purchase made in 1938 is null and void.

This is the question squarely submitted to us for decision. She majority; although reversing the lower court's decision and dismissing the application with which we agree, abstained from declaring null and void the purchase made by Oh Cho in 1938 as prayed for by the appellant. We deem it necessary to state our opinion on the important question raised by the Solicitor General. Having been squarely raised, it must be squarely decided.

The Solicitor General argued in his brief as follows:
"I. The lower court erred in decreeing the registration of the lot in question in favour of the complaint who, according to his own voluntary admission, is a citizen of the Chinese Republic.

“(a) The phrase ‘agricultural land’ as used in the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, and in the Public Land Act includes residential lots.

"In this jurisdiction lands of the public domain suitable for residential purposes are considered agricultural lands under the Public and law. The phrase ‘agricultural public lands’ has a well settled judicial definition. It was used for the first time in the Act of Congress of July 1, 1908, known as the Philippine Bill. It means those public lands acquired from Spain which are neither mineral nor timber lands (Mapa vs. Insular Government, 10 Phil. 175; Montano vs. Insular Government, 12 Phil. 572; Ibañes de Aldecoa vs. Insular Government, 13 Phil. 159; Ramos vs. Director of Lands, 39 Phil. 175; Jocson vs. Director of Forestry, 39 Phil., 560; Ankron vs. Government of the Philippine Islands, 40 Phil., 10). In the case of Mapa vs. Insular Government, supra, the Supreme Court, in defining the meaning and scope of that phrase from the context of sections 13 and 15 of that Act; said:

"The phrase ‘agricultural public lands’ as defined by the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, which phrase is also to be found in several sections of the Public Land Act (No. 926) means those public lands acquired from Spain which are neither mineral nor timber lands.

* * * * * * * * *

"'We hold that here is to be found in the act of Congress a definition of the phrase “agricultural public lands,” and after a careful consideration of the question we are satisfied that the only definition which exists in said Act is the definition adopted by the court below. Section 13 says that the Government shall "make rules and regulations for the lease, sale; or other dispositions of public lands other than timber or mineral lands." To our minds that is the only definition that can be said to be given to agricultural lands. In, other words, that the phrases “agricultural lands” as used in Act No. 926 means those public lands acquired from Spain which are not timber or mineral land. * * *’ (Mapa vs. Insular Government, 10 Phil., 175, 178, 182, emphasis added.)
“This phrase 'agricultural public lands' was subsequently used in Act No. 926, which is the first public land law of the Philippines. As therein used, the phrase was expressly given by the Philippine Commission the same meaning Intended for it by Congress as interpreted in the case of Mapa vs. Insular Government, supra. This is self-evident from a reading of sections 1, 10, 32, and 64 (subsection 6 of Act No. 926). Whenever the phrase 'agricultural public lands' is used in any of said sections, it is invariably followed by the qualifications 'as defined by said Act Congress of July first, nineteen hundred and two.'

"More specifically, in the case of Ibañez de Aldecoa vs. Insular Government, supra the Supreme Court held that a residential or building lot, forming part of the public domain, is agricultural land, irrespective of the fact that it is not actually used for purposes or agriculture for the simple reason that it is susceptible of cultivation and may be converted into a rural estate, and because when a land is not mineral or forestal in Its nature it must necessarily be included within the classification of agricultural land. Because of the special applicability of the doctrine laid down in said case, we quote at some length from the decision therein rendered:

“’The question set up in these proceedings by virtue of the appeal interposed by counsel for Juan Ibañez de Aldecoa, is whether or not a parcel of land that is susceptible of being cultivated, and ceasing to be agricultural land, was converted into a building lot, is subject to the legal provisions in force regarding Government public lands which may be alienated in favor of private individuals or corporations. * * *
* * * * * * * * *

“’Hence, any parcel of land or building lot is susceptible of cultivation, and may be converted into a field, and planted with all kinds of vegetation; for this reason, where land is not mining or forestall in its nature, it must necessarily be included within the classification of agricultural land, but because it is actually used for the purposes of agriculture, but because it was originally agricultural and may again become so under other circumstances; besides the Act of Congress (of July 1, 1902) contains only three classifications, and makes no special provision with respect to building lots or urban land that have ceased to be agricultural land, * * *

* * * * * * * * *

“’From the language of the foregoing provisions of the law, it is deduced that, with the exception of those comprised within the mineral and timber zone, all lands owned by the State or by the sovereign nation are public in character, and per se alienable and, provided they are not destined to the use of public in general or reserved by the Government in accordance with law, they may be acquired by any private or juridical person; and considering their origin and primitive state and the general uses to which they are accorded, they are called agricultural lands, urban lands and building lots being included in this classification for the purpose of distinguishing rural and urban estates from mineral and timber lands; the transformation they may have undergone is no obstacle to such classification as the possessor thereof may again convert them into rural estates.’ (Ibañez de Al decoa vs. Insular Government 13 Phil., 161, 163, 164, 165 166; emphasis added.)

“(b) Under the Constitution and Commonwealth Act No. 141 (Public Land Act), the phrase ‘public agricultural land’ includes land of the public domain suitable for residential purposes. 
“Section 1, Article XII of the Constitution, reads as follows:
”’All agricultural timber, and mineral lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, and other natural resources of the Philippines belong to the State, and their disposition, exploitation, development, or utilization shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of the capital of which is owned by such citizens, subject to any existing right, grant, lease, or concession at the time of the inauguration of the Government established under this Constitution. Natural resources, with the exception of public agricultural land, shall not be alienated * * *.’ (Emphasis added.)
“Under the above-quoted provision, the disposition, exploitation, development or utilization of the natural resources, including agricultural lands of the public domain, is limited to citizens of the Philippines or to the corporations or associations therein mentioned. It also clearly appears from said provision that natural resources, with the exception of public agricultural land, are not subject to alienation.

“On November 7, 1936, or more than one year after the adoption of the Constitution, Commonwealth Act No. 141, known as the Public Land Act, was approved. Under this Act the lands of the public domain have been classified into three divisions: (a) alienable or disposable, (b) timber, and (c) mineral lands. The lands designated alienable or disposable correspond to the lands designated in the Constitution as public agricultural lands, because under section 1, Article XII, public agricultural lands are the only natural resources of the country which are subject to alienation or disposition.

"Section 9 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 provides that the alienable or disposable public lands shall be classified, according to the use or purposes to which they are destined, into agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial, etc., lands. At first blush it would seem that under this classification residential land is different from agricultural land. The difference, however, is more apparent than real. 'Public agricultural lauds' as that phrase is used in the. Constitution means alienable lands of the public domain and therefore this phrase is equivalent to the lands classified by Commonwealth Act No. 141 as alienable or disposable. The classification provided in section 9 is only for purposes of administration and disposition, according to the purposes to which said lands are especially adapted. But notwithstanding this classification all of said lands are essentially agricultural public lauds because only agricultural public lands are subject to alienation or disposition under section 1, Article XII of the Constitution. A contrary view would necessarily create a conflict between Commonwealth Act No. 141 and section 1 of Article XII of the Constitution, and such conflict should be avoided, if possible, and said Act construed in the light of the fundamental provisions of the Constitution and in entire harmony therewith.
“’Another universal principle applied in considering constitutional questions is, that an Act will be so construed, if possible, as to avoid conflict with the Constitution, although such a construction may not be the most obvious or natural one. "The Courts may resort to an implication to sustain a statute, but not to destroy it." But the courts cannot go beyond the province of legitimate construction, in order to save a statute; and where the meaning is plain, words cannot be read into it or out of it for that purpose.’ (1 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, pp. 135, 126.)
“In view of the fact that more than one year after the adoption of the Constitution the National Assembly revised the Public land law and passed Commonwealth Act No. 141, which is a compilation of the laws relative to lands of the public domain and the amendments thereto, the statute so revised and compiled must necessarily conform to the Constitution.
“’Where the legislature has revised a statute after a Constitution has been adopted, such a revision is to be regarded as a legislative construction that the statute so revised conforms to the Constitution.” (59 C.J., 1102; emphasis added.)
"By way of illustration, let us suppose that a piece or tract of public land has been classified pursuant to section 9 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 as residential land. If, by reason of this classification, it is maintained that said land has ceased to be agricultural public land, it will no longer be subject to alienation or disposition by reason of the constitutional provision that only agricultural lands are alienable; and yet such residential lot is alienable under sections 58, 59, and 60 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations mentioned, in section 1, Article XII of the Constitution. Therefore, the classification of public agricultural lands into various subdivisions is only for purposes of administration, alienation or disposition, but it does not destroy the inherent nature of all such lands as public agricultural lands.
(c) Judicial interpretation of doubtful clause or phrase used in the law, controlling.
“The judicial interpretation given to the phrase “public agricultural land” is a sufficient authority for giving the same interpretation to that phrase as used in subsequent legislation, and this is especially so in view of the length of time during which this interpretation has been maintained by the Courts. On this point Sutherland has the following to says:
"’When a Judicial interpretation has once been put upon a clause, expressed in a vague manner by the legislature, and difficult to be understood that ought of itself to be a sufficient authority for adopting the same construction. Bullar, J., said: "We find one solemn determination, of these doubtful expressions in the statute, and as that construction has since prevailed, there is no reason why we should now put another construction on the act on account of any supposed change of convenience." This rule of construction will hold good even if the court be of opinion that the practical construction is erroneous; so that if the matter were res integra the court would adopt a different construction. Lord Cairns said: "I think that with regard to statutes * * * it is desirable not so much that the principle of the decision should be capable at all times of justification, as that the law should be settled, and should, when once settled, be maintained without any danger of vacillation or uncertainty.” Judicial usage and practice will have weight, and when continued for a long time will be sustained though carried beyond the fair purport of the statute.’ (II Lewis' Sutherland Statutory Construction, pp. 892, 893.)

“’An important consideration affecting the weight of contemporary Judicial construction is the length of time it has continued. It is adopted, and derives, great force from being adopted, soon after the enactment of the lets. It may be, find is presumed, that the legislative sense of its policy, and of its true scope and meaning, permeates the judiciary and controls its exposition. Having received at that time a construction which is for the time settled, accepted, and thereafter followed or acted upon, it has the sanction of the authority appointed to expound the law, just and correct conclusions, when reached, they are, moreover, within the strongest reasons on which is founded the maxim of stare decisis. Such "a construction is publicly given, and the subsequent silence of the legislature is strong evidence of acquiescence, though not conclusive, * * * (II Lewis Sutherland Statutory Construction, pp. 894-895.)
"Furthermore, when the phrase 'public agricultural land' was used in section 1 of Article XII of the Constitution, it la presumed that it was so used with the same judicial meaning therefore given to it and therefore the meaning of the phrase, as used in the Constitution, includes residential lands and other lands of the public domain, but excludes mineral and timber lands.
“'Adoption of provisions previously construed—ad. Previous construction by Courts—Where a statute that has been construed by the courts of last resort has been reenacted in same, or substantially the same, terms, the legislature is presumed to have been familiar with its construction, and to have adopted it as a part of the law, unless a contrary intent clearly appears, or a different construction is expressly provided for; and the same rule applies in the construction of a statute enacted after a similar or cognate statute has been judicially construed. So where words or phrases employed in a new statute, have been construed by the courts to have been used in a particular sense in a previous statute on the same subject, or one analogous to it, they are presumed, in the absence of clearly expressed intent to the contrary, to be used in the same sense in the new statute as in the previous statute.’ (59 C. J., 1061-1063.)

“'Legislative adoption of judicial constructor.— In the adoptions of the code, the legislature is presumed to have known the judicial construction which had been placed on the former statutes; and therefore the reenactment in the code or general revision of provisions substantially the same as those contained in the former statutes is a legislative adoption of their known judicial construction, unless a contrary intent is clearly manifest. So the fact that the revisers eliminated statutory language after it had been judicially construed shows that they had such construction in view.’ (59 C. J. 1102.)
“II. The lower court erred in not declaring null and the sale of said land to the appellant (appellee).

"Granting that the land in question has ceased to be a part of the lands of the public domain by reason of the long, continuous, public and adverse possession of the applicant's predecessors in interest, and that the latter had performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and were entitled to a certificate of title under section 48, subsection (b), of Commonwealth Act No. 141, still the Sale of said land on December 8, 1938, to the applicant as evidenced by Exhibits B and C, was null and void for being contrary to section 5, Article XII of the Constitution, which reads as follows:
'"Save in oases of hereditary succession, no private agricultural land shall be transferred or assigned except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain in the Philippines.'
"The applicant, being a Chinese citizen, is disqualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain (section 1, Article XII of the Constitution; sections 12, 22, 23, 33, 44, 48, Commonwealth Act No. 141), consequently also disqualified to buy and acquire private agricultural land.

“In view of the well settled judicial meaning of the phrase 'public agricultural land,' as hereinbefore demonstrated, the; phrase 'private agricultural land,’ as used in the above quoted provision, can only mean land of private ownership, whether agricultural, residential, commercial or industrial. And this is necessarily so, because the phrase 'agricultural land' used in the Constitution and in the Public Land Law must be given the same uniform meaning, to wit, any land of the public domain or any land of private ownership, which is neither mineral nor forestal.
“A word or phrase repeated in a statute will bear the same meaning throughout the statute, unless a different intention appears. * * * Where words have been long used in a technical sense and have been judicially construed to have a certain meaning, and have been adopted by the legislature as having a certain meaning prior to a particular statute in which they are used, the rule of construction requires that the words used In such statute should be construction according to the sense in which they have been so previously used, although that sense may vary from the strict literal meaning of the words.’ (II Sutherland, Statutory Construction. p. 758.)
“This interpretation is in harmony with the nationalistic policy, spirit and purpose of our Constitution and laws, to wit, 'to conserve and develop the patrimony of the nation,' as solemnly enunciated in the preamble to the Constitution.

“A narrow and literal interpretation of the phrase 'private agricultural land’ would impair and defeat the nationalistic aim and general policy of our laws and would allow a gradual, steady, and unlimited accumulation in alien hands of a substantial portion of our patrimonial estate, to the detriment of our national solidarity, stability and independence. Nothing could prevent the acquisition of a great portion or the whole of a city by subjects of a foreign power. And yet a city or urban area is more strategical than a farm or rural land.
"'The mere literal construction of a section in a statute ought not to prevail if it is opposed to the intention of the legislature apparent by the statute; and if the words are sufficiently flexible to admit of some other construction it is to be adopted to effectuate that intention. The intent prevails over the letter, and the letter will, if possible, be so read as to conform to the spirit of the act. While the intention of the legislature must be ascertained from the words used to express it, the manifest reason and the obvious purpose of the law should not be sacrificed to a liberal interpretation of such words.’ (II Sutherland, Stat. Construction, pp. 721, 722.)
"We conclude, therefore, that the residential lot which the applicant seeks to register in his name falls within the meaning of private agricultural land as this phrase is used in our Constitution and, consequently, is not subject to acquisition by foreigners except by hereditary succession.

The argument holds water. It expresses a correct interpretation of the Constitution and the real intent of the Constitutional Convention.

One of our fellow members therein, Delegate Montilla, said:
"The constitutional precepts that I believe will ultimately lead us to our desired goal are: (1) the complete nationalization of our lands and natural resources; (2) the nationalization of our commerce and industry compatible with good international practices. With the complete nationalization of our lands and natural resources it is to be understood that our God-given birthright should be one hundred per cent in Filipino hands * * * Lands and natural resources are immovable and as such can be compared to the vital organs of a person's body, the lack of possession of which may cause instant death or the shortening of life. If we do not completely nationalize these two of our most important belongings, I am afraid that the time will come when we shall be sorry for the time we were born. Our independence will be just a mockery, for what kind of independence are we going to have if a part of our country is not in our hands but in those of foreigners?” (2 Aruego, The Framing of the Philippine Constitution, p. 592.)
From the same book of Delegate Aruego, we quote;
"The nationalization of the natural resources of the country was intended (1) to insure their conservation for Filipino posterity; (2) to serve as an instrument of national defense, helping prevent the extension into the country of foreign control through peaceful economic penetration; and (3) to prevent making the Philippines a source of international conflicts with the consequent danger to its internal security and independence.

* * * * * * * * *

"* * * In the preface to its report, the committee on nationalization and preservation of lands and other natural resources said:

"International complications have often resulted from the existence of alien ownership of land and natural resources in a weak country. Because of this danger, it is best that aliens should be restricted in the acquisition of land and other natural resources, in example is afforded by the case of Texas. This state was originally a province of Mexico. In order to secure its rapid settlement and development, the Mexican government offered free land to settlers in Texas. Americans responded more rapidly than the Mexicans, and soon they organized a revolt against Mexican rule, and then secured annexation to the United States. Anew increase of alien landholding in Mexico has brought about a desire to prevent a repetition of the Texas affair. Accordingly the Mexican constitution of 1917 contains serious limitations on the right of aliens to hold lands and mines in Mexico. The Filipinos should profit from this example.’

* * * * * * * * *

"It was primarily for these reasons that the Convention approved readily the proposed principle of prohibiting aliens to acquire, exploit, develop, or utilize agricultural, timber, and mineral lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, and other natural resources of the Philippines. For the same reasons the Convention approved equally readily the proposed principle of prohibiting the transfer or assignment to aliens of private agricultural land, save in case of hereditary succession.” (2 Aruego, Framing of the Philippine Constitution, pp. 604, 605, 606.)
All the foregoing show why we, having been a member of the Constitutional Convention, agree with the Solicitor General’s position and concur in the result in this case, although we would go as far as the outright pronouncement that the purchase made by appellee is null and void.