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G.R. No.

144057

January 17, 2005

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner, vs. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS and CORAZON NAGUIT, respondents. DECISION TINGA, J.: This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking to review the Decision1 of the Sixth Division of the Court of Appeals dated July 12, 2000 in CA-G.R. SP No. 51921. The appellate court affirmed the decisions of both the Regional Trial Court (RTC),2 Branch 8, of Kalibo, Aklan dated February 26, 1999, and the 7th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC)3 of Ibajay-Nabas, Aklan dated February 18, 1998, which granted the application for registration of a parcel of land of Corazon Naguit (Naguit), the respondent herein. The facts are as follows: On January 5, 1993, Naguit, a Filipino citizen, of legal age and married to Manolito S. Naguit, filed with the MCTC of Ibajay-Nabas, Aklan, a petition for registration of title of a parcel of land situated in Brgy. Union, Nabas, Aklan. The parcel of land is designated as Lot No. 10049, Cad. 758-D, Nabas Cadastre, AP 060414-014779, and contains an area of 31,374 square meters. The application seeks judicial confirmation of respondents imperfect title over the aforesaid land. On February 20, 1995, the court held initial hearing on the application. The public prosecutor, appearing for the government, and Jose Angeles, representing the heirs of Rustico Angeles, opposed the petition. On a later date, however, the heirs of Rustico Angeles filed a formal opposition to the petition. Also on February 20, 1995, the court issued an order of general default against the whole world except as to the heirs of Rustico Angeles and the government. The evidence on record reveals that the subject parcel of land was originally declared for taxation purposes in the name of Ramon Urbano (Urbano) in 1945 under Tax Declaration No. 3888 until 1991.4 On July 9, 1992, Urbano executed a Deed of Quitclaim in favor of the heirs of Honorato Maming (Maming), wherein he renounced all his rights to the subject property and confirmed the sale made by his father to Maming sometime in 1955 or 1956.5Subsequently, the heirs of Maming executed a deed of absolute sale in favor of respondent Naguit who thereupon started occupying the same. She constituted Manuel Blanco, Jr. as her attorney-in-fact and administrator. The administrator introduced improvements, planted trees, such as mahogany, coconut and gemelina trees in addition to existing coconut trees which were then 50 to 60 years old, and paid the corresponding taxes due on the subject land. At present, there are

parcels of land surrounding the subject land which have been issued titles by virtue of judicial decrees. Naguit and her predecessors-in-interest have occupied the land openly and in the concept of owner without any objection from any private person or even the government until she filed her application for registration. After the presentation of evidence for Naguit, the public prosecutor manifested that the government did not intend to present any evidence while oppositor Jose Angeles, as representative of the heirs of Rustico Angeles, failed to appear during the trial despite notice. On September 27, 1997, the MCTC rendered a decision ordering that the subject parcel be brought under the operation of the Property Registration Decree or Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529 and that the title thereto registered and confirmed in the name of Naguit.6 The Republic of the Philippines (Republic), thru the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), filed a motion for reconsideration. The OSG stressed that the land applied for was declared alienable and disposable only on October 15, 1980, per the certification from Regional Executive Director Raoul T. Geollegue of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Region VI.7 However, the court denied the motion for reconsideration in an order dated February 18, 1998.81awphi1.nt Thereafter, the Republic appealed the decision and the order of the MCTC to the RTC, Kalibo, Aklan, Branch 8. On February 26, 1999, the RTC rendered its decision, dismissing the appeal.9 Undaunted, the Republic elevated the case to the Court of Appeals via Rule 42 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. On July 12, 2000, the appellate court rendered a decision dismissing the petition filed by the Republic and affirmed in toto the assailed decision of the RTC. Hence, the present petition for review raising a pure question of law was filed by the Republic on September 4, 2000.10 The OSG assails the decision of the Court of Appeals contending that the appellate court gravely erred in holding that there is no need for the governments prior release of the subject lot from the public domain before it can be considered alienable or disposable within the meaning of P.D. No. 1529, and that Naguit had been in possession of Lot No. 10049 in the concept of owner for the required period.11 Hence, the central question for resolution is whether is necessary under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree that the subject land be first classified as alienable and disposable before the applicants possession under a bona fide claim of ownership could even start. The OSG invokes our holding in Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court12 in arguing that the property which is in open, continuous and exclusive possession must first be alienable. Since the subject land was declared

alienable only on October 15, 1980, Naguit could not have maintained a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, as required by Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree, since prior to 1980, the land was not alienable or disposable, the OSG argues. Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree, governing original registration proceedings, bears close examination. It expressly provides: SECTION 14. Who may apply. 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-ininterest 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. (2) Those who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws. There are three obvious requisites for the filing of an application for registration of title under Section 14(1) that the property in question is alienable and disposable land of the public domain; that the applicants by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation, and; that such possession is under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier. Petitioner suggests an interpretation that the alienable and disposable character of the land should have already been established since June 12, 1945 or earlier. This is not borne out by the plain meaning of Section 14(1). "Since June 12, 1945," as used in the provision, qualifies its antecedent phrase "under a bonafide claim of ownership." Generally speaking, qualifying words restrict or modify only the words or phrases to which they are immediately associated, and not those distantly or remotely located.13 Ad proximum antecedents fiat relation nisi impediatur sentencia. Besides, we are mindful of the absurdity that would result if we adopt petitioners position. Absent a legislative amendment, the rule would be, adopting the OSGs view, that all lands of the public domain which were not declared alienable or disposable before June 12, 1945 would not be susceptible to original registration, no matter the length of unchallenged possession by the occupant. Such interpretation renders paragraph (1) of Section 14 virtually inoperative and even precludes the government from giving it effect even as it decides to reclassify public agricultural lands as alienable and disposable. The unreasonableness of the situation would even be aggravated considering that before June 12, 1945, the Philippines was not yet even considered an independent state. Instead, the more reasonable interpretation of Section 14(1) is that it merely requires the property sought to be registered as already alienable and disposable at the time the application for registration of title is filed. If the State,

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at the time the application is made, has not yet deemed it proper to release the property for alienation or disposition, the presumption is that the government is still reserving the right to utilize the property; hence, the need to preserve its ownership in the State irrespective of the length of adverse possession even if in good faith. However, if the property has already been classified as alienable and disposable, as it is in this case, then there is already an intention on the part of the State to abdicate its exclusive prerogative over the property. This reading aligns conformably with our holding in Republic v. Court of Appeals .14 Therein, the Court noted that "to prove that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable, an applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order; an administrative action; investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators; and a legislative act or a statute."15In that case, the subject land had been certified by the DENR as alienable and disposable in 1980, thus the Court concluded that the alienable status of the land, compounded by the established fact that therein respondents had occupied the land even before 1927, sufficed to allow the application for registration of the said property. In the case at bar, even the petitioner admits that the subject property was released and certified as within alienable and disposable zone in 1980 by the DENR.16 This case is distinguishable from Bracewell v. Court of Appeals,17 wherein the Court noted that while the claimant had been in possession since 1908, it was only in 1972 that the lands in question were classified as alienable and disposable. Thus, the bid at registration therein did not succeed. In Bracewell, the claimant had filed his application in 1963, or nine (9) years before the property was declared alienable and disposable.1awphi1.nt Thus, in this case, where the application was made years after the property had been certified as alienable and disposable, theBracewell ruling does not apply. A different rule obtains for forest lands,18 such as those which form part of a reservation for provincial park purposes19 the possession of which cannot ripen into ownership.20 It is elementary in the law governing natural resources that forest land cannot be owned by private persons. As held in Palomo v. Court of Appeals,21 forest land is not registrable and possession thereof, no matter how lengthy, cannot convert it into private property, unless such lands are reclassified and considered disposable and alienable.22 In the case at bar, the property in question was undisputedly classified as disposable and alienable; hence, the ruling in Palomo is inapplicable, as correctly held by the Court of Appeals.23 It must be noted that the present case was decided by the lower courts on the basis of Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, which pertains to original registration through ordinary registration proceedings. The right to file the application for registration derives from a bona fide claim of ownership going back to June 12, 1945 or earlier, by reason of the claimants open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. A similar right is given under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, which reads:

Sec. 48. The following described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such land or an interest therein, but those titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit: (b) 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. When the Public Land Act was first promulgated in 1936, the period of possession deemed necessary to vest the right to register their title to agricultural lands of the public domain commenced from July 26, 1894. However, this period was amended by R.A. No. 1942, which provided that the bona fide claim of ownership must have been for at least thirty (30) years. Then in 1977, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act was again amended, this time by P.D. No. 1073, which pegged the reckoning date at June 12, 1945. This new starting point is concordant with Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. Indeed, there are no material differences between Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree and Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended. True, the Public Land Act does refer to "agricultural lands of the public domain," while the Property Registration Decree uses the term "alienable and disposable lands of the public domain." It must be noted though that the Constitution declares that "alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands."24 Clearly, the subject lands under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act and Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree are of the same type. Did the enactment of the Property Registration Decree and the amendatory P.D. No. 1073 preclude the application for registration of alienable lands of the public domain, possession over which commenced only after June 12, 1945? It did not, considering Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, which governs and authorizes the application of "those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws." Prescription is one of the modes of acquiring ownership under the Civil Code.25 There is a consistent jurisprudential rule that properties classified as alienable public land may be converted into private property by reason of open, continuous and exclusive possession of at least thirty (30) years.26 With such conversion, such property may now fall within the contemplation of "private lands" under Section 14(2), and thus susceptible to registration by those who have acquired ownership through prescription. Thus, even if possession of the alienable public land commenced on a date later than June 12, 1945, and such possession being been open, continuous and exclusive, then the possessor

may have the right to register the land by virtue of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree. The land in question was found to be cocal in nature, it having been planted with coconut trees now over fifty years old.27 The inherent nature of the land but confirms its certification in 1980 as alienable, hence agricultural. There is no impediment to the application of Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, as correctly accomplished by the lower courts.l^vvphi1.net The OSG posits that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Naguit had been in possession in the concept of owner for the required period. The argument begs the question. It is again hinged on the assertionshown earlier to be unfoundedthat there could have been no bona fide claim of ownership prior to 1980, when the subject land was declared alienable or disposable. We find no reason to disturb the conclusion of both the RTC and the Court of Appeals that Naguit had the right to apply for registration owing to the continuous possession by her and her predecessors-in-interest of the land since 1945. The basis of such conclusion is primarily factual, and the Court generally respects the factual findings made by lower courts. Notably, possession since 1945 was established through proof of the existence of 50 to 60-year old trees at the time Naguit purchased the property as well as tax declarations executed by Urbano in 1945. Although tax declarations and realty tax payment of property are not conclusive evidence of ownership, nevertheless, they are good indicia of the possession in the concept of owner for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in his actual or at least constructive possession. They constitute at least proof that the holder has a claim of title over the property. The voluntary declaration of a piece of property for taxation purposes manifests not only ones sincere and honest desire to obtain title to the property and announces his adverse claim against the State and all other interested parties, but also the intention to contribute needed revenues to the Government. Such an act strengthens ones bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership.28 Considering that the possession of the subject parcel of land by the respondent can be traced back to that of her predecessors-in-interest which commenced since 1945 or for almost fifty (50) years, it is indeed beyond any cloud of doubt that she has acquired title thereto which may be properly brought under the operation of the Torrens system. That she has been in possession of the land in the concept of an owner, open, continuous, peaceful and without any opposition from any private person and the government itself makes her right thereto undoubtedly settled and deserving of protection under the law. WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals dated July 12, 2000 is hereby AFFIRMED. No costs. SO ORDERED.

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G.R. No. 127060

November 19, 2002

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, FLORENTINO CENIZA, SANTIAGO CENIZA, ESTANISLAO CENIZA, ROMEO SIMBAJON, PABLO RAMOS, ATILANO BONGO, EDGAR ADOLFO, EMMA ADOLFO, JERRY ADOLFO, GLENN ADOLFO, GINA ADOLFO, LORNA ADOLFO, CHONA ADOLFO, EVELYN ADOLFO, in her own behalf and as guardian of the minors HUBERT and AMIEL ADOLFO, and ELNITA ADOLFO in her own behalf and as guardian of minors DAVID and PRESTINE MAY ADOLFO, respondents. YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.: This is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision 1 dated September 28, 1994, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 31728, affirming the decision2 in LRC Case No. N-46 of the Regional Trial Court in Mandaue City, Branch XXVIII, which declared private respondents as the owners entitled to the registration of the lots in question. The antecedent facts of the case are as follows: Apolinar Ceniza was the declared owner in 1948 of Lot No. 1104, located at Cabancalan, Mandaue City, under Tax Declaration No. 01686. When he died, his heirs took possession of the property and in 1960 partitioned the same through a deed of extrajudicial partition. Apolinars children, namely, Santiago, Estanislao, Florencia, Manuela, Mercedes and Florentino, all surnamed Ceniza, each got 1/8 share of the property. His grandchildren, namely, the siblings Remedios Adolfo, Melecio Ceniza, and Constancia Zanoria, each got 1/24 share, while Apolinars other grandchildren, namely, the siblings Concepcion Suico, Benjamin Ceniza, Lilia Ceniza and Delfin Ceniza, each got 1/32 share. Private respondent Florentino Ceniza purchased the shares of his sisters Manuela and Mercedes and the share pertaining to the siblings Jesusa, 3 Benjamin and Delfin. Together with his share, Florentino became the owner of Lot Nos. 1104-A&C and had them tax declared in his name. Florencias share, a portion of Lot No. 1104-B, was purchased by Mercedes who in turn bartered the same with the share acquired by Santiago, another private respondent in this case. A portion of Santiagos property was bought by his daughter, Asuncion Ceniza, married to private respondent Atillano Bongo and who successfully obtained a tax declaration therefor. From the portion purchased by Asuncion Ceniza, another private respondent, Romeo Simbajon, purchased an area of 270 square meters. Romeo also acquired a tax declaration in his name. He was the husband of Felicitas Ceniza, another daughter of Santiago.

The share acquired by Estanislao, another child of Apolinar, was also a portion of Lot No. 1104-B. He also caused the tax declaration pertaining to the said lot transferred in his name. The siblings Remedios Adolfo and Constancia Zanoria, married to private respondent Pablo Ramos, bought the share of their brother, Melecio Ceniza. Remedios share, in turn, was transferred to her heirs, private respondents Edgar, Emma, Jerry, Glenn, Gina, Lorna, Chona, Evelyn, Hubert, Amiel, all surnamed Adolfo, and the heirs of their brother Leoncio Adolfo, namely, his wife Elenita Adolfo, and children David and Prestine May Adolfo. On November 4, 1986, private respondents applied for registration of their respective titles over the property they inherited from Apolinar Ceniza, with the Regional Trial Court of Mandaue City, Branch 28. Petitioner Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General opposed the application on the following grounds: 1. That neither the applicant/s nor their precedessors-in-interest have been in open continuous exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land in question since June 12, 1945 or prior thereto (Sec. 48 [b], C.A. 141, as amended by P.D. 1073). 2. That the muniment/s or title and/or the tax declaration/s and tax payment/s receipt/s of applicant/s if any, attached to or alleged in the application, do/es not constitute competent and sufficient evidence of a bona fide acquisition of the lands applied for or of their open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation thereof in the concept of owner, since June 12, 1945, or prior thereto. Said muniment/s of title do/es not appear to be genuine and the tax declaration/s and/or tax payment receipts indicate pretended possession of applicants to be of recent vintage. 3. That the claim of ownership in fee simple on the basis of Spanish title or grant can no longer be availed of by the applicants who have failed to file an appropriate application for registration within the period of six (6) months from February 16, 1976 as required by Presidential Decree No. 892. From the records, it appears that the instant application was filed on October 25, 1996. 4. That the parcel/s applied for is/are portions of the public domain belonging to the Republic of the Philippines not subject to private appropriation. In a decision dated February 28, 1990, the Regional Trial Court of Mandaue City granted the application.4 It held that since the applicants possession of the land for more than thirty (30) years was continuous, peaceful, adverse, public and to the exclusion of everybody, the same was "in the concept of owners." Since the land was neither encumbered nor subject to any other application for registration, the trial court ordered that, upon the finality of its decision, the decrees of registration should be issued in favor of the applicants. The Solicitor General interposed an appeal for petitioner Republic of the Philippines before the Court of Appeals. In a decision dated September 28, 1994, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. It held that the ruling in Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals, 5 that before public land could be registered in the name of a private individual, it must first be established that the land had been classified alienable and disposable, "refers to

public lands and not to those which have acquired the nature of a private property in view of the continuous possession thereof by its claimants." The Court of Appeals held: In this case, it was sufficiently established by appellees that they have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the subject lots even before the year 1927, or fifty nine (59) years before the application was filed (TSN, April 13, 1989, pp. 3-4; February 6, 1989, p. 7-11; June 2, 1988, pp. 3, 8-9). This period more than sufficiently satisfies the 30 years requirement of the Public Land Act for property to be considered as private land. Significantly, Section 4, Presidential Decree No. 1073 provides: Sec. 4. The provisions of Section 48(b) and Section 4(c), Chapter VIII, of the Public Land Act are hereby amended in the sense that these provisions shall apply only to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain which have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation by the applicant himself or thru his predecessor-in-interest, under a bonafide claim of ownership, since June 12, 1945. Appellant was thus no longer required to prove that the property in question is classified as alienable and disposable land of the public domain. Clearly, the property no longer forms part of the public domain. The long and continuous possession thereof by appellees converted said property to a private one. This finds support in the ruling in Director of Lands vs. Bengzon, 152 SCRA 369, to wit: "x x x alienable public land held by a possessor, personally or through his predecessor-in-interest, openly, continuously and exclusively for the prescribed statutory period (30) years under the Public Land Act, as amendedis converted to private property by the mere lapse or completion of said period, ipso jure." The above is a reaffirmation of the principle established in the earlier cases of Cario v. Insular Government, Suzi v. Razon, and Herico v. Dar, that open exclusive and undisputed possession of alienable public land for the period prescribed by law creates the legal fiction whereby the land, upon completion of the requisite period ipso jure and without the need of judicial or other sanction, ceases to be public land and becomes private property. x x x In interpreting the provisions of Section 48 (b) of Commonwealth Act No. 141, this Court said in Herico v. Dar, "x x x when the conditions as specified in the foregoing provision are complied with, the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the torrens title to be issued upon the strength of the patent." The Court of Appeals then cited Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court. 6 In that case, this Court ruled that "alienable public land held by a possessor, personally or through his predecessors-in-interest, openly, continuously and exclusively for the prescribed statutory period (30 years under the Public Land Act, as amended)is converted to private property by the mere lapse or completion of said period, ipso jure." Moreover, appellant Republics claim that the property in question remains to be "public land" under the Constitution, is "refuted" by this Courts pronouncement in Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court that "the Constitution cannot impair vested rights."

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The Court of Appeals concluded its decision with the following observations: Finally, we note that no opposition was filed by the Bureaus of Lands and Forestry to contest the application of appellees on the ground that the property still forms part of the public domain. Nor is there any showing that the lots in question are forestal land, unlike the case of Director of Lands vs. Court of Appeals, 133 SCRA 701, wherein the Director of Lands questioned the petition for registration filed by the applicant therein on the claim that the property applied for registration in his favor was classified and proven to be forestal land. Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied in a resolution dated October 29, 1996. Traversing petitioners argument that under Section 2, Article XII of the Constitution, all lands of the public domain are owned by the State, the Court of Appeals stated that said provision "further states that agricultural lands are excluded from those lands that may not be alienated." It further ruled: In the instant case, among the documents presented by appellees are Real Estate tax receipts that sufficiently show that the subject land is mainly utilized for agricultural purposes devoted to the planting of coconut, corn x x x and sugar cane x x x aside from using the same for residential purposes x x x. It is noticeable that appellant failed to present any proof to establish its claim that the land in question is not alienable. Although on July 10, 1989, the court a quo issued an order "directing the Bureau of Forest Development [BFD] to submit xx within thirty (30) days from its receipt of [said order] a report on the status of the land xx to determine whether said land or any portion thereof is within the forest zone xxx" (Record, p. 63), the BFD failed to comply. Moreover, appellant never contested appellees application nor did it may (sic) any manifestation that the land in question is not alienable. Likewise, the prosecutor representing the Republic of the Philippines during the trial did not even contest the classification of the land as stated in the evidence of appellees. Their belated objection should therefore not prejudice appellees who openly and in good faith presented all the documents pertinent to their claims. Presidential Decree No. 1073 extended the period within which a qualified person may apply for confirmation of an imperfect or incomplete title by judicial legalization to December 31, 1987. The filing of this case in October, 1986 was therefore seasonable. Under the decree, this right is available to a person who has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation, by himself and through his predecessors-in-interest, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership since June 12, 1945. We reiterate that appellees have proven themselves to have been in possession of the subject land even prior to June 12, 1945. Hence, this petition for review, alleging that the Court of Appeals erred in: (1) holding that private respondents have registerable title to the lots in question, and (2) ordering the registration thereof in their names.7 The issues raised before us are: (a) whether there is a need for private respondents to establish that the land subject of their application was alienable and disposable despite proofs showing their possession thereof for more than 30 years; and (b) whether private respondents were able to meet the period required by the Public Land Act, as amended.

Petitioner contends that before a public land can be registered in the name of a private individual, it must be shown first that (a) the land has been classified alienable and disposable, and (b) the applicant, by himself or through his predecessors-ininterest, has been in continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or prior thereto. Petitioner claims that private respondents failed to meet the said requirements. They did not cite any official proclamation or presented the land classification map covering the subject parcels of land to prove that they are alienable and disposable public lands. Neither did private respondents adduce evidence to show that they had been in possession of the land since June 12, 1945. Although they were able to show possession by Apolinar, their predecessor-in-interest, since 1948, and private respondents actual possession beginning in 1960, no proof was presented to show possession prior to 1948. Consequently, private respondents are not entitled to have the subject parcels of land registered in their names. In their comment, private respondents cite Section 48(b),8 before it was amended by PD No. 1073, and Section (50)9 of the Public Land Act as the applicable law in this case. They maintain that the land subject of their application is an agricultural land devoted to corn and other root crops. Further, they have been in possession of the land since 1927. Estanislao Ceniza, one of the children of Apolinar and who was already ten years old at that time, testified that his father was the one in possession of the land, appropriating its fruits and paying its realty taxes. When their father died in 1947, Apolinars chidren took possession of the land. They also appropriated the fruits and paid realty taxes therefor. In 1960, Apolinars heirs partitioned the property, declared their respective shares in their names for tax purposes and paid the realty taxes. Apart from this, private respondents claim that the land in question has long been a private one, it being a part of Hacienda de Mandaue de Cebu, which in turn was recognized as a private land by the Court of First Instance of Cebu in several decisions dated February 27, 1934, March 27, 1935, May 6, 1937 and August 6, 1937. Indeed, before one can be granted a confirmation of title to lands of the public domain, the Public Land Act "requires that the applicant must prove (a) that the land is alienable public land and (b) that his open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same must either be since time immemorial or for the period prescribed in the Public Land Act." Only when these conditions are met may the possessor of the land acquire, by operation of law, "a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued."10 Conclusively, the Court of Appeals erred when it held that mere adverse possession in accordance with law for a period likewise provided for by law would automatically entitle the possessor to the right to register public land in his name. The applicant has to establish first the disposable and alienable character of the public land. Otherwise, all public lands, regardless of their classification, can be subject of registration of private titles, as long as the applicant shows that he meets the required years of possession. Worth noting is the case of Bracewell v. Court of Appeals, 11 where the applicant had been in possession of the property since 1908 but it was conclusively shown by the government that the land was classified as alienable or disposable only on 27 March 1972. The Court said:

x x x. Thus, even granting that petitioner and his predecessors-in-interest had occupied the same since 1908, he still cannot claim title thereto by virtue of such possession since the subject parcels of land were not yet alienable land at that time nor capable of private appropriation. The adverse possession which may be the basis of a grant of title or confirmation of an imperfect title refers only to alienable or disposable portions of the public domain.12(Italics supplied) To prove that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable, an applicant must establish the existence of a positive act of the government such as a presidential proclamation or an executive order;13 an administrative action;14 investigation reports of Bureau of Lands investigators;15 and a legislative act or a statute.16 In this case, private respondents presented a certification dated November 25, 1994, issued by Eduardo M. Inting, the Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office in Cebu City, stating that the lots involved were "found to be within the alienable and disposable (sic) Block-I, Land Classification Project No. 32-A, per map 2962 4-I555 dated December 9, 1980."17 This is sufficient evidence to show the real character of the land subject of private respondents application.18 Further, the certification enjoys a presumption of regularity in the absence of contradictory evidence,19 which is true in this case. Worth noting also was the observation of the Court of Appeals stating that: no opposition was filed by the Bureaus of Lands and Forestry to contest the application of appellees on the ground that the property still forms part of the public domain. Nor is there any showing that the lots in question are forestal land.... 20 Thus, while the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that mere possession of public land for the period required by law would entitle its occupant to a confirmation of imperfect title, it did not err in ruling in favor of private respondents as far as the first requirement in Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is concerned, for they were able to overcome the burden of proving the alienability of the land subject of their application. As correctly found by the Court of Appeals, private respondents were able to prove their open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the subject land even before the year 1927. As a rule, we are bound by the factual findings of the Court of Appeals.21 Although there are exceptions, petitioner did not show that this is one of them.22 WHEREFORE, the petition for review on certiorari is DENIED and the decision, as well as the resolution, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 31728 are AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.

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G.R. No. 73002 December 29, 1986 THE DIRECTOR OF LANDS, petitioner, vs. INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT and ACME PLYWOOD & VENEER CO. INC., ETC., respondents. NARVASA, J.: The Director of Lands has brought this appeal by certiorari from a judgment of the Intermediate Appellate Court affirming a decision of the Court of First Instance of Isabela, which ordered registration in favor of Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc. of five parcels of land measuring 481, 390 square meters, more or less, acquired by it from Mariano and Acer Infiel, members of the Dumagat tribe. The registration proceedings were for confirmation of title under Section 48 of Commonwealth Act No. 141 (The Public Land Act). as amended: and the appealed judgment sums up the findings of the trial court in said proceedings in this wise: 1. That Acme Plywood & Veneer Co. Inc., represented by Mr. Rodolfo Nazario is a corporation duly organized in accordance with the laws of the Republic of the Philippines and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on December 23, 1959; 2. That Acme Plywood & Veneer Co. Inc., represented by Mr. Rodolfo Nazario can acquire real properties pursuant to the provisions of the Articles of Incorporation particularly on the provision of its secondary purposes (paragraph (9), Exhibit 'M-l'); 3. That the land subject of the Land Registration proceeding was ancestrally acquired by Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc., on October 29, 1962, from Mariano Infiel and Acer Infiel, both members of the Dumagat tribe and as such are cultural minorities; 4. That the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines of 1935 is applicable as the sale took place on October 29, 1962; 5. That the possession of the Infiels over the land relinquished or sold to Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc., dates back before the Philippines was discovered by Magellan as the ancestors of the Infiels have possessed and occupied the land from generation to generation until the same came into the possession of Mariano Infiel and Acer Infiel; 6. That the possession of the applicant Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc., is continuous, adverse and public from 1962 to the

present and tacking the possession of the Infiels who were granted from whom the applicant bought said land on October 29, 1962, hence the possession is already considered from time immemorial. 7. That the land sought to be registered is a private land pursuant to the provisions of Republic Act No. 3872 granting absolute ownership to members of the non-Christian Tribes on land occupied by them or their ancestral lands, whether with the alienable or disposable public land or within the public domain; 8. That applicant Acme Plywood & Veneer Co. Inc., has introduced more than Forty-Five Million (P45,000,000.00) Pesos worth of improvements, said improvements were seen by the Court during its ocular investigation of the land sought to be registered on September 18, 1982; 9. That the ownership and possession of the land sought to be registered by the applicant was duly recognized by the government when the Municipal Officials of Maconacon, Isabela, have negotiated for the donation of the townsite from Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc., and this negotiation came to reality when the Board of Directors of the Acme Plywood & Veneer Co., Inc., had donated a part of the land bought by the Company from the Infiels for the townsite of Maconacon Isabela (Exh. 'N') on November 15, 1979, and which donation was accepted by the Municipal Government of Maconacon, Isabela (Exh. 'N-l'), during their special session on November 22, 1979. The Director of Lands takes no issue with any of these findings except as to the applicability of the 1935 Constitution to the matter at hand. Concerning this, he asserts that, the registration proceedings have been commenced only on July 17, 1981, or long after the 1973 Constitution had gone into effect, the latter is the correctly applicable law; and since section 11 of its Article XIV prohibits private corporations or associations from holding alienable lands of the public domain, except by lease not to exceed 1,000 hectares (a prohibition not found in the 1935 Constitution which was in force in 1962 when Acme purchased the lands in question from the Infiels), it was reversible error to decree registration in favor of Acme Section 48, paragraphs (b) and (c), of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, reads: SEC. 48. The following described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such lands or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims, and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit: xxx xxx xxx

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-ininterest 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 or 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. (c) Members of the National Cultural minorities who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open. continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of lands of the public domain suitable to agriculture, whether disposable or not, under a bona fide claim of ownership for at least 30 years shall be entitled to the rights granted in subsection (b) hereof. The Petition for Review does not dispute-indeed, in view of the quoted findings of the trial court which were cited and affirmed by the Intermediate Appellate Court, it can no longer controvert before this Court-the fact that Mariano and Acer Infiel, from whom Acme purchased the lands in question on October 29, 1962, are members of the national cultural minorities who had, by themselves and through their progenitors, possessed and occupied those lands since time immemorial, or for more than the required 30-year period and were, by reason thereof, entitled to exercise the right granted in Section 48 of the Public Land Act to have their title judicially confirmed. Nor is there any pretension that Acme, as the successor-in-interest of the Infiels, is disqualified to acquire and register ownership of said lands under any provisions of the 1973 Constitution other than Section 11 of its Article XIV already referred to. Given the foregoing, the question before this Court is whether or not the title that the Infiels had transferred to Acme in 1962 could be confirmed in favor of the latter in proceedings instituted by it in 1981 when the 1973 Constitution was already in effect, having in mind the prohibition therein against private corporations holding lands of the public domain except in lease not exceeding 1,000 hectares. The question turns upon a determination of the character of the lands at the time of institution of the registration proceedings in 1981. If they were then still part of the public domain, it must be answered in the negative. If, on the other hand, they were then already private lands, the constitutional prohibition against their acquisition by private corporations or associations obviously does not apply. In this regard, attention has been invited to Manila Electric Company vs. CastroBartolome, et al, 1 where a similar set of facts prevailed. In that case, Manila Electric Company, a domestic corporation more than 60% of the capital stock of which is Filipino-owned, had purchased in 1947 two lots in Tanay, Rizal from the Piguing spouses. The lots had been possessed by the vendors and, before them, by their predecessor-in-interest, Olimpia Ramos, since prior to the

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outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941. On December 1, 1976, Meralco applied to the Court of First Instance of Rizal, Makati Branch, for confirmation of title to said lots. The court, assuming that the lots were public land, dismissed the application on the ground that Meralco, a juridical person, was not qualified to apply for registration under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act which allows only Filipino citizens or natural persons to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect titles to public land. Meralco appealed, and a majority of this Court upheld the dismissal. It was held that: ..., the said land is still public land. It would cease to be public land only upon the issuance of the certificate of title to any Filipino citizen claiming it under section 48(b). Because it is still public land and the Meralco, as a juridical person, is disqualified to apply for its registration under section 48(b), Meralco's application cannot be given due course or has to be dismissed. Finally, it may be observed that the constitutional prohibition makes no distinction between (on the one hand) alienable agricultural public lands as to which no occupant has an imperfect title and (on the other hand) alienable lands of the public domain as to which an occupant has on imperfect title subject to judicial confirmation. Since section 11 of Article XIV does not distinguish, we should not make any distinction or qualification. The prohibition applies to alienable public lands as to which a Torrens title may be secured under section 48(b). The proceeding under section 48(b) 'presupposes that the land is public' (Mindanao vs. Director of Lands, L-19535, July 30, 1967, 20 SCRA 641, 644). The present Chief Justice entered a vigorous dissent, tracing the line of cases beginning with Carino in 1909 2thru Susi in 1925 3 down to Herico in 1980, 4 which developed, affirmed and reaffirmed the doctrine that open, exclusive and undisputed possession of alienable public land for the period prescribed by law creates the legal fiction whereby the land, upon completion of the requisite period ipso jure and without the need of judicial or other sanction, ceases to be public land and becomes private property. That said dissent expressed what is the better and, indeed, the correct, view-becomes evident from a consideration of some of the principal rulings cited therein, The main theme was given birth, so to speak, in Carino involving the Decree/Regulations of June 25, 1880 for adjustment of royal lands wrongfully occupied by private individuals in the Philippine Islands. It was ruled that: It is true that the language of articles 4 and 5 5 attributes title to those 'who may prove' possession for the necessary time and we do not overlook the argument that this means may prove in registration proceedings. It may be that an English conveyancer would have recommended an application under the foregoing decree, but certainly it was not calculated to convey to the mind of an Igorot chief the notion that ancient family possessions were in

danger, if he had read every word of it. The words 'may prove' (acrediten) as well or better, in view of the other provisions, might be taken to mean when called upon to do so in any litigation. There are indications that registration was expected from all but none sufficient to show that, for want of it, ownership actually gained would be lost. The effect of the proof, wherever made, was not to confer title, but simply to establish it, as already conferred by the decree, if not by earlier law. ... That ruling assumed a more doctrinal character because expressed in more categorical language, in Susi: .... In favor of Valentin Susi, there is, moreover, the presumption juris et de jure established in paragraph (b) of section 45 of Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926, that all the necessary requirements for a grant by the Government were complied with, for he has been in actual and physical possession, personally and through his predecessors, of an agricultural land of the public domain openly, continuously, exclusively and publicly since July 26, 1984, with a right to a certificate of title to said land under the provisions of Chapter VIII of said Act. So that when Angela Razon applied for the grant in her favor, Valentin Susi had already acquired, by operation of law not only a right to a grant, but a grant of the Government, for it is not necessary that a certificate of title should be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the courts, an application therefore is sufficient, under the provisions of section 47 of Act No. 2874. If by a legal fiction, Valentin Susi had acquired the land in question by a grant of the State, it had already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property, at least by presumption, of Valentin Susi, beyond the control of the Director of Lands. Consequently, in selling the land in question of Angela Razon, the Director of Lands disposed of a land over which he had no longer any title or control, and the sale thus made was void and of no effect, and Angela Razon did not thereby acquire any right. 6 Succeeding cases, of which only some need be mentioned, likeof Lacaste vs. Director of Lands, 7 Mesina vs. Vda. de Sonza, 8 Manarpac vs. Cabanatuan, 9 Miguel vs. Court of Appeals 10 and Herico vs. Dar, supra, by invoking and affirming the Susi doctrine have firmly rooted it in jurisprudence. Herico, in particular, appears to be squarely affirmative: 11 .... Secondly, under the provisions of Republic Act No. 1942, which the respondent Court held to be inapplicable to the petitioner's case, with the latter's proven occupation and cultivation for more than 30 years since 1914, by himself and by his predecessors-ininterest, title over the land has vested on petitioner so as to segregate the land from the mass of public land. Thereafter, it is no longer disposable under the Public Land Act as by free patent. ....

xxx xxx xxx As interpreted in several cases, when the conditions as specified in the foregoing provision are complied with, the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of said patent. 12 Nothing can more clearly demonstrate the logical inevitability of considering possession of public land which is of the character and duration prescribed by statute as the equivalent of an express grant from the State than the dictum of the statute itself 13 that the possessor(s) "... shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title .... " No proof being admissible to overcome a conclusive presumption, confirmation proceedings would, in truth be little more than a formality, at the most limited to ascertaining whether the possession claimed is of the required character and length of time; and registration thereunder would not confer title, but simply recognize a title already vested. The proceedings would not originally convert the land from public to private land, but only confirm such a conversion already affected by operation of law from the moment the required period of possession became complete. As was so well put in Carino, "... (T)here are indications that registration was expected from all, but none sufficient to show that, for want of it, ownership actually gained would be lost. The effect of the proof, wherever made, was not to confer title, but simply to establish it, as already conferred by the decree, if not by earlier law." If it is accepted-as it must be-that the land was already private land to which the Infiels had a legally sufficient and transferable title on October 29, 1962 when Acme acquired it from said owners, it must also be conceded that Acme had a perfect right to make such acquisition, there being nothing in the 1935 Constitution then in force (or, for that matter, in the 1973 Constitution which came into effect later) prohibiting corporations from acquiring and owning private lands. Even on the proposition that the land remained technically "public" land, despite immemorial possession of the Infiels and their ancestors, until title in their favor was actually confirmed in appropriate proceedings under the Public Land Act, there can be no serious question of Acmes right to acquire the land at the time it did, there also being nothing in the 1935 Constitution that might be construed to prohibit corporations from purchasing or acquiring interests in public land to which the vendor had already acquired that type of so-called "incomplete" or "imperfect" title. The only limitation then extant was that corporations could not acquire, hold or lease public agricultural lands in excess of 1,024 hectares. The purely accidental circumstance that confirmation proceedings were brought under the aegis of the 1973 Constitution which forbids corporations from owning

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lands of the public domain cannot defeat a right already vested before that law came into effect, or invalidate transactions then perfectly valid and proper. This Court has already held, in analogous circumstances, that the Constitution cannot impair vested rights. We hold that the said constitutional prohibition 14 has no retroactive application to the sales application of Binan Development Co., Inc. because it had already acquired a vested right to the land applied for at the time the 1973 Constitution took effect. That vested right has to be respected. It could not be abrogated by the new Constitution. Section 2, Article XIII of the 1935 Constitution allows private corporations to purchase public agricultural lands not exceeding one thousand and twenty-four hectares. Petitioner' prohibition action is barred by the doctrine of vested rights in constitutional law. xxx xxx xxx The due process clause prohibits the annihilation of vested rights. 'A state may not impair vested rights by legislative enactment, by the enactment or by the subsequent repeal of a municipal ordinance, or by a change in the constitution of the State, except in a legitimate exercise of the police power'(16 C.J.S. 1177-78). xxx xxx xxx In the instant case, it is incontestable that prior to the effectivity of the 1973 Constitution the right of the corporation to purchase the land in question had become fixed and established and was no longer open to doubt or controversy. Its compliance with the requirements of the Public Land Law for the issuance of a patent had the effect of segregating the said land from the public domain. The corporation's right to obtain a patent for the land is protected by law. It cannot be deprived of that right without due process (Director of Lands vs. CA, 123 Phil. 919).<re||an1w> 15 The fact, therefore, that the confirmation proceedings were instituted by Acme in its own name must be regarded as simply another accidental circumstance, productive of a defect hardly more than procedural and in nowise affecting the substance and merits of the right of ownership sought to be confirmed in said proceedings, there being no doubt of Acme's entitlement to the land. As it is unquestionable that in the light of the undisputed facts, the Infiels, under either the 1935 or the 1973 Constitution, could have had title in themselves confirmed and registered, only a rigid subservience to the letter of the law would deny the same benefit to their lawful successor-in-interest by valid conveyance which violates no constitutional mandate.

The Court, in the light of the foregoing, is of the view, and so holds, that the majority ruling in Meralco must be reconsidered and no longer deemed to be binding precedent. The correct rule, as enunciated in the line of cases already referred to, is that alienable public land held by a possessor, personally or through his predecessors-in-interest, openly, continuously and exclusively for the prescribed statutory period (30 years under The Public Land Act, as amended) is converted to private property by the mere lapse or completion of said period, ipso jure. Following that rule and on the basis of the undisputed facts, the land subject of this appeal was already private property at the time it was acquired from the Infiels by Acme. Acme thereby acquired a registrable title, there being at the time no prohibition against said corporation's holding or owning private land. The objection that, as a juridical person, Acme is not qualified to apply for judicial confirmation of title under section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is technical, rather than substantial and, again, finds its answer in the dissent in Meralco: 6. To uphold respondent judge's denial of Meralco's application on the technicality that the Public Land Act allows only citizens of the Philippines who are natural persons to apply for confirmation of their title would be impractical and would just give rise to multiplicity of court actions. Assuming that there was a technical error not having filed the application for registration in the name of the Piguing spouses as the original owners and vendors, still it is conceded that there is no prohibition against their sale of the land to the applicant Meralco and neither is there any prohibition against the application being refiled with retroactive effect in the name of the original owners and vendors (as such natural persons) with the end result of their application being granted, because of their indisputable acquisition of ownership by operation of law and the conclusive presumption therein provided in their favor. It should not be necessary to go through all the rituals at the great cost of refiling of all such applications in their names and adding to the overcrowded court dockets when the Court can after all these years dispose of it here and now. (See Francisco vs. City of Davao) The ends of justice would best be served, therefore, by considering the applications for confirmation as amended to conform to the evidence, i.e. as filed in the names of the original persons who as natural persons are duly qualified to apply for formal confirmation of the title that they had acquired by conclusive presumption and mandate of the Public Land Act and who thereafter duly sold to the herein corporations (both admittedly Filipino corporations duly qualified to hold and own private lands) and granting the applications for confirmation of title to the private lands so acquired and sold or exchanged. There is also nothing to prevent Acme from reconveying the lands to the Infiels and the latter from themselves applying for confirmation of title and, after issuance of the certificate/s of title in their names, deeding the lands back to Acme. But this would be merely indulging in empty charades, whereas the same result is more efficaciously and speedily obtained, with no prejudice to

anyone, by a liberal application of the rule on amendment to conform to the evidence suggested in the dissent in Meralco. While this opinion seemingly reverses an earlier ruling of comparatively recent vintage, in a real sense, it breaks no precedent, but only reaffirms and reestablished, as it were, doctrines the soundness of which has passed the test of searching examination and inquiry in many past cases. Indeed, it is worth noting that the majority opinion, as well as the concurring opinions of Chief Justice Fernando and Justice Abad Santos, in Meralco rested chiefly on the proposition that the petitioner therein, a juridical person, was disqualified from applying for confirmation of an imperfect title to public land under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act. Reference to the 1973 Constitution and its Article XIV, Section 11, was only tangential limited to a brief paragraph in the main opinion, and may, in that context, be considered as essentially obiter. Meralco, in short, decided no constitutional question. WHEREFORE, there being no reversible error in the appealed judgment of the Intermediate Appellate Court, the same is hereby affirmed, without costs in this instance. SO ORDERED.

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G.R. No. 95608 January 21, 1997 SPOUSES IGNACIO PALOMO and TRINIDAD PASCUAL, and CARMEN PALOMO VDA. DE BUENAVENTURA,petitioners, vs. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, FAUSTINO J. PERFECTO, RAFFY SANTILLAN, BOY ARIADO, LORENZO BROCALES, SALVADOR DOE, and other DOES, respondents. ROMERO, J.: The issue in the case at bar pertains to ownership of 15 parcels of land in Tiwi, Albay which form part of the "Tiwi Hot Spring National Park." The facts of the case are as follows. On June 13, 1913, then Governor General of the Philippine Islands, William Cameron Forbes issued Executive Order No. 40 which reserved for provincial park purposes some 440,530 square meters of land situated in Barrio Naga, Municipality of Tiwi, Province of Albay pursuant to the provisions of Act 648 of the Philippine Commission. 1 Subsequently, the then Court of First Instance of Albay, 15th Judicial District, United States of America, ordered the registration of 15 parcels of land covered by Executive Order No. 40 in the name of Diego Palomo on December 9, 1916; 2 December 28, 3 and January 17, 1917. 4 Diego Palomo donated these parcels of land consisting of 74,872 square meters which were allegedly covered by Original Certificates of Title Nos. 513, 169, 176 and 173 5 to his heirs, herein petitioners, Ignacio and Carmen Palomo two months before his death in April 1937. 6 Claiming that the aforesaid original certificates of title were lost during the Japanese occupation, Ignacio Palomo filed a petition for reconstitution with the Court of First Instance of Albay on May 30, 1950. 7 The Register of Deeds of Albay issued Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. 3911, 3912, 3913 and 3914 sometime in October 1953. 8 On July 10, 1954 President Ramon Magsaysay issued Proclamation No. 47 converting the area embraced by Executive Order No. 40 into the "Tiwi Hot Spring National Park," under the control, management, protection and administration of the defunct Commission of Parks and Wildlife, now a division of the Bureau of Forest Development. The area was never released as alienable and disposable portion of the public domain and, therefore, is neither susceptible to disposition under the provisions of the Public Land Law (CA 141) nor registrable under the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496). The Palomos, however, continued in possession of the property, paid real estate taxes thereon 9 and introduced improvements by planting rice, bananas, pandan and coconuts. On April 8, 1971, petitioner Carmen vda. de

Buenaventura and spouses Ignacio Palomo and Trinidad Pascual mortgaged the parcels of land covered by TCT 3911, 3912, 3913 and 3914 to guarantee a loan of P200,000 from the Bank of the Philippine Islands. In May 7, 1974 petitioner Carmen vda. de Buenaventura and spouses Ignacio Palomo and Trinidad Pascual filed Civil Case No. T-143 before the then Court of First Instance of Albay for Injunction with damages against private respondents Faustino J. Perfecto, Raffy Santillan, Boy Ariado, Lorenzo Brocales, Salvador Doe and other Does who are all employees of the Bureau of Forest Development who entered the land covered by TCT No. 3913 and/or TCT 3914 and cut down bamboos thereat, totally leveling no less than 4 groves worth not less than P2,000.00. On October 11, 1974, the Republic of the Philippines filed Civil Case No. T-176 for annulment and cancellation of Certificates of Title involving the 15 parcels of land registered in the name of the petitioners and subject of Civil Case T-143. Impleaded with the petitioners as defendants were the Bank of the Philippine Islands, Legazpi Branch and the Register of Deeds of Albay. The case against the Bank of Philippine Islands was dismissed because the loan of P200,000 with the Bank was already paid and the mortgage in its favor cancelled. A joint trial of Civil Case T-143 and T-176 was conducted upon agreement of the parties and on July 31, 1986, the trial court rendered the following decision: WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered: IN CIVIL CASE No. T-143, in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiffs, dismissing the complaint for injunction and damages, as it is hereby DISMISSED. Costs against the plaintiffs. In CIVIL CASE No. T-176, in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants: (1) Declaring null and void and no force and effect the Order dated September 14, 1953, as well as the Original Certificate of Titles Nos. 153, 10 169, 173 and 176 and Transfer Certificates of Titles Nos. 3911, T3912, T-3913, and T-3914, all of the Register of Deeds of Albay and all transactions based on said titles. (2) Forfeiting in favor of the plaintiff Government any and all improvements on the lands in question that are found therein and introduced by the defendants;

(3) Declaring Lot Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9,10, 11 and 12, Plan II-9299 and Lots 1, 21, 11 3 and 4 of Plan II9205 as part of the Tiwi Hot Spring National Park; (4) and Finally, the Register of Deeds of Albay is hereby ordered to cancel the alleged Original Certificates of Titles Nos. 513, 169, 173 and 176, Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. T-3911, T-3912, T3913 and T-3914. Costs against the defendants. So Ordered. 12 The court a quo in ruling for the Republic found no sufficient proof that the Palomos have established property rights over the parcels of land in question before the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War at the end of the century. The court further stated that assuming that the decrees of the Court of First Instance of Albay were really issued, the Palomos obtained no right at all over the properties because these were issued only when Executive Order No. 40 was already in force. At this point, we take note that although the Geodetic Engineer of the Bureau of Lands appointed as one of the Commissioners in the relocation survey of the properties stated in his reamended report that of the 3,384 square meters covered by Lot 2, Plan II9205, only 1,976 square meters fall within the reservation area, 13 the RTC ordered TCT 3913 covering the entire Lot 21 (sic) Plan II-9205 cancelled. The petitioners appealed to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in toto the findings of the lower Court; hence this petition raising the following issues: 1. The respondent Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion in affirming in toto the decision of the lower court. 2. The declaration of nullity of the original certificates of title and subsequent transfer certificates of titles of the petitioners over the properties in question is contrary to law and jurisprudence on the matter. 3. The forfeiture of all improvements introduced by the petitioners in the premises in favor of the government is against our existing law and jurisprudence. The issues raised essentially boil down to whether or not the alleged original certificate of titles issued pursuant to the order of the Court of First Instance in 1916-1917 and the subsequent TCTs issued in 1953 pursuant to the petition for reconstitution are valid.

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Petitioners contend that the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century recognized the property rights of Spanish and Filipino citizens and the American government had no inherent power to confiscate properties of private citizens and declare them part of any kind of government reservation. They allege that their predecessors in interest have been in open, adverse and continuous possession of the subject lands for 20-50 years prior to their registration in 1916-1917. Hence, the reservation of the lands for provincial purposes in 1913 by then Governor-general Forbes was tantamount to deprivation of private property without due process of law. In support of their claim, the petitioners presented copies of a number of decisions of the Court of First Instance of Albay, 15th Judicial District of the United States of America which state that the predecessors in interest of the petitioners' father Diego Palomo, were in continuous, open and adverse possession of the lands from 20 to 50 years at the time of their registration in 1916. We are not convinced. The Philippines passed to the Spanish Crown by discovery and conquest in the 16th century. Before the Treaty of Paris in April 11, 1899, our lands, whether agricultural, mineral or forest were under the exclusive patrimony and dominion of the Spanish Crown. Hence, private ownership of land could only be acquired through royal concessions which were documented in various forms, such as (1) Titulo Real or Royal Grant," (2) Concesion Especial or Special Grant, (3) Titulo de Compra or Title by Purchase and (4) Informacion Posesoria or Possessory Information title obtained under the Spanish Mortgage Law or under the Royal Decree of January 26, 1889. Unfortunately, no proof was presented that the petitioners' predecessors in interest derived title from an old Spanish grant. Petitioners placed much reliance upon the declarations in Expediente No. 5, G.L.R.O. Record Decision No. 9820, dated January 17, 1917; Expediente No. 6, G.L.R.O. Record No. 9821, dated December 28, 1916; Expediente No. 7, G.L.R.O. Record No. 9822, dated December 9, 1916; Expediente No. 8, G.L.R.O. Record No. 9823, dated December 28, 1916 and Expediente No. 10, G.L.R.O. Record No. 9868, dated December 9, 1916 of the Court of First Instance of Albay, 15th Judicial District of the United States of America presided by Judge Isidro Paredes that their predecessors in interest were in open, adverse and continuous possession of the subject lands for 20-50 years. 14 The aforesaid "decisions" of the Court of First Instance, however, were not signed by the judge but were merely certified copies of notification to Diego Palomo bearing the signature of the clerk of court. Moreover, despite claims by the petitioners that their predecessors in interest were in open, adverse and continuous possession of the lands for 20 to 50 years prior to their registration in 1916-1917, the lands were surveyed only in December 1913, the very same year they were acquired by Diego Palomo. Curiously , in February 1913 or 10 months before the lands were surveyed for Diego Palomo, the government had already surveyed the area in preparation for its reservation for provincial park purposes. If the petitioners' predecessors in

interest were indeed in possession of the lands for a number of years prior to their registration in 1916-1917, they would have undoubtedly known about the inclusion of these properties in the reservation in 1913. It certainly is a trifle late at this point to argue that the government had no right to include these properties in the reservation when the question should have been raised 83 years ago. As regards the petitioners' contention that inasmuch as they obtained the titles without government opposition, the government is now estopped from questioning the validity of the certificates of title which were granted. As correctly pointed out by the respondent Court of Appeals, the principle of estoppel, does not operate against the Government for the act of its agents. 15 Assuming that the decrees of the Court of First Instance were really issued, the lands are still not capable of appropriation. The adverse possession which may be the basis of a grant of title in confirmation of imperfect title cases applies only to alienable lands of the public domain. There is no question that the lands in the case at bar were not alienable lands of the public domain. As testified by the District Forester, records in the Bureau of Forestry show that the subject lands were never declared as alienable and disposable and subject to private alienation prior to 1913 up to the present. 16 Moreover, as part of the reservation for provincial park purposes, they form part of the forest zone. It is elementary in the law governing natural resources that forest land cannot be owned by private persons. It is not registrable and possession thereof, no matter how lengthy, cannot convert it into private property, 17 unless such lands are reclassified and considered disposable and alienable. Neither do the tax receipts which were presented in evidence prove ownership of the parcels of land inasmuch as the weight of authority is that tax declarations are not conclusive proof of ownership in land registration cases. 18 Having disposed of the issue of ownership, we now come to the matter regarding the forfeiture of improvements introduced on the subject lands. It bears emphasis that Executive Order No. 40 was already in force at the time the lands in question were surveyed for Diego Palomo. Petitioners also apparently knew that the subject lands were covered under the reservation when they filed a petition for reconstitution of the lost original certificates of title inasmuch as the blueprint of Survey Work Order Number 21781 of Plan II-9299 approved by the Chief of the Land Registration Office Enrique Altavas in 1953 as a true and correct copy of the Original Plan No. II-9299 filed in the Bureau of Lands dated September 11, 1948 19 contains the following note, "in conflict with provincial reservation."20 In any case, petitioners are presumed to know the law and the failure of the government to oppose the registration of the lands in question is no justification for the petitioners to plead good faith in introducing improvements on the lots.

Finally, since 1,976 square meters of the 3,384 square meters covered by TCT 3913 fall within the reservation, TCT 3913 should be annulled only with respect to the aforesaid area. Inasmuch as the bamboo groves leveled in TCT 3913 and subject of Civil Case T-143, 21 were within the perimeter of the national park, 22 no pronouncement as to damages is in order. WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED with the modification that TCT 3913 be annulled with respect to the 1,976 square meter area falling within the reservation zone. SO ORDERED.

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