Land is presumed inalienable, disposable

Who may apply for registration of title of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain? What must they prove? These are the questions answered in this case of Pedro, Luis, Ricardo, Ben and Gerry (Pedro et. al).
The case involved a parcel of land with an area of 504,535 situated in Negros Occidental. It was the subject of a Deed of Sale dated May 19, 1916 handwritten in Spanish language in favor of Basilio, the uncle of Pedro On August 11, 1987, Pedro filed with the Regional Trial Court as Land Registration Court (LRC) an application for registration of said land under the Torrens system.

In support of their application Pedro and Gerry testified and presented the Deed of Sale dated May 19, 1916 in favor of Basilio who allegedly took uninterrupted possession of said land from that date, openly, continuously, peacefully, adversely, notoriously and in the concept of an owner. They also testified that upon the death of their uncle in 1947, they continued possession of said land until 1966 when Marcos who acquired the right of Luis, unlawfully and violently dispossessed them which compelled them to file complaints of Grave Coercion and Qualified Theft against him. In support of their claim of possession over the subject land, they submitted in evidence, Tax Declaration No. 9562 dated September 29, 1976 under the names of the “heirs of Basilio”.

The Republic of the Philippines as well as Marcos and another person Manny, opposed the petition on the ground that (1) the land applied for has not been declared alienable and disposable and still belongs to the Republic as a portion of the public domain; and (2) neither Pedro nor their predecessors-in-interest had been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land since June 12, 1945 or prior thereto; and (3) the tax declarations, tax payments/receipts do not constitute competent and sufficient evidence of a bona fide acquisition of the land applied for or of their open, continuous, exclusive possession and occupation in concept of owner.

On December 15, 1995 however the LRC (RTC) granted Pedro et. al’s application except applicant Luis who sold his right to Marcos. Was the RTC correct?

No. Pedro, need to prove by clear, positive and convincing evidence that: (1) the land forms part of the alienable and disposable of the public domain; and (2) they, by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership from June 12, 1945 or earlier (Section 14 (1) PD 1529).

Under the Regalian Doctrine, all lands not appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. They are beyond the commerce of man and not susceptible of private appropriation and acquisitive prescription. Occupation thereof in the concept of owner no matter how long cannot ripen into ownership and be registered. The burden of overcoming the presumption is on the person applying for registration who must prove that the land is alienable and disposable by means of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order; an administrative action; investigation reports of the Bureau of lands; and a legislative act or statute. The applicant may also secure a government certification that the land claimed to have been possessed for the required number of years is alienable and disposable. In this case, no such evidence was offered by Pedro So land is still an inalienable public domain.

The applicant must also present proof of specific acts of ownership and cannot just offer general statements which are mere conclusions of law than factual evidence of possession. The testimonies of Pedro and Gerry in this regard are not convincing. They claim they are in possession way back in 1916. Yet no tax declaration covering the subject property during the period Basilio allegedly occupied the property from 1916 to 1947 was presented in evidence. Even Pedro’s possession of the land from 1947 to 1966 is not supported by evidence. The tax declaration they presented dated September 29, 1976 can only prove possession on said date. What is required is possession since June 12, 1945 or earlier. Moreover tax declarations are not conclusive evidence of ownership or of the right to possess the land when not supported by any other evidence. They are mere indicia of a claim of ownership (Valiao vs. Republic, G.R. No. 170757, November 28, 2011).

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