Tuesday, October 2, 2012

malabanan v. republic (2009)


EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 179987, April 29, 2009 ]

HEIRS OF MARIO MALABANAN, PETITIONER, VS. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N


TINGA, J.:

One main reason why the informal sector has not become formal is that from Indonesia to Brazil, 90 percent of the informal lands are not titled and registered. This is a generalized phenomenon in the so-called Third World. And it has many consequences.

xxx
The question is: How is it that so many governments, from Suharto's in Indonesia to Fujimori's in Peru, have wanted to title these people and have not been able to do so effectively? One reason is that none of the state systems in Asia or Latin America can gather proof of informal titles. In Peru, the informals have means of proving property ownership to each other which are not the same means developed by the Spanish legal system. The informals have their own papers, their own forms of agreements, and their own systems of registration, all of which are very clearly stated in the maps which they use for their own informal business transactions.

If you take a walk through the countryside, from Indonesia to Peru, and you walk by field after field—in each field a different dog is going to bark at you. Even dogs know what private property is all about. The only one who does not know it is the government. The issue is that there exists a "common law" and an "informal law" which the Latin American formal legal system does not know how to recognize.

- Hernando De Soto[1]
This decision inevitably affects all untitled lands currently in possession of persons and entities other than the Philippine government. The petition, while unremarkable as to the facts, was accepted by the Court en banc in order to provide definitive clarity to the applicability and scope of original registration proceedings under Sections 14(1) and 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree. In doing so, the Court confronts not only the relevant provisions of the Public Land Act and the Civil Code, but also the reality on the ground. The countrywide phenomenon of untitled lands, as well as the problem of informal settlement it has spawned, has unfortunately been treated with benign neglect. Yet our current laws are hemmed in by their own circumscriptions in addressing the phenomenon. Still, the duty on our part is primarily to decide cases before us in accord with the Constitution and the legal principles that have developed our public land law, though our social obligations dissuade us from casting a blind eye on the endemic problems.

I.

On 20 February 1998, Mario Malabanan filed an application for land registration covering a parcel of land identified as Lot 9864-A, Cad-452-D, Silang Cadastre,[2] situated in Barangay Tibig, Silang Cavite, and consisting of 71,324 square meters. Malabanan claimed that he had purchased the property from Eduardo Velazco,[3] and that he and his predecessors-in-interest had been in open, notorious, and continuous adverse and peaceful possession of the land for more than thirty (30) years.

The application was raffled to the Regional Trial Court of (RTC) Cavite-Tagaytay City, Branch 18. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) duly designated the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor of Cavite, Jose Velazco, Jr., to appear on behalf of the State.[4] Apart from presenting documentary evidence, Malabanan himself and his witness, Aristedes Velazco, testified at the hearing. Velazco testified that the property was originally belonged to a twenty-two hectare property owned by his great-grandfather, Lino Velazco. Lino had four sons- Benedicto, Gregorio, Eduardo and Esteban-the fourth being Aristedes's grandfather. Upon Lino's death, his four sons inherited the property and divided it among themselves. But by 1966, Esteban's wife, Magdalena, had become the administrator of all the properties inherited by the Velazco sons from their father, Lino. After the death of Esteban and Magdalena, their son Virgilio succeeded them in administering the properties, including Lot 9864-A, which originally belonged to his uncle, Eduardo Velazco. It was this property that was sold by Eduardo Velazco to Malabanan.[5]

Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Jose Velazco, Jr. did not cross-examine Aristedes Velazco. He further manifested that he "also [knew] the property and I affirm the truth of the testimony given by Mr. Velazco."[6] The Republic of the Philippines likewise did not present any evidence to controvert the application.

Among the evidence presented by Malabanan during trial was a Certification dated 11 June 2001, issued by the Community Environment & Natural Resources Office, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (CENRO-DENR), which stated that the subject property was "verified to be within the Alienable or Disposable land per Land Classification Map No. 3013 established under Project No. 20-A and approved as such under FAO 4-1656 on March 15, 1982."[7]

On 3 December 2002, the RTC rendered judgment in favor of Malabanan, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, this Court hereby approves this application for registration and thus places under the operation of Act 141, Act 496 and/or P.D. 1529, otherwise known as Property Registration Law, the lands described in Plan Csd-04-0173123-D, Lot 9864-A and containing an area of Seventy One Thousand Three Hundred Twenty Four (71,324) Square Meters, as supported by its technical description now forming part of the record of this case, in addition to other proofs adduced in the name of MARIO MALABANAN, who is of legal age, Filipino, widower, and with residence at Munting Ilog, Silang, Cavite.

Once this Decision becomes final and executory, the corresponding decree of registration shall forthwith issue.

SO ORDERED.
The Republic interposed an appeal to the Court of Appeals, arguing that Malabanan had failed to prove that the property belonged to the alienable and disposable land of the public domain, and that the RTC had erred in finding that he had been in possession of the property in the manner and for the length of time required by law for confirmation of imperfect title.

On 23 February 2007, the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision[8] reversing the RTC and dismissing the application of Malabanan. The appellate court held that under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree any period of possession prior to the classification of the lots as alienable and disposable was inconsequential and should be excluded from the computation of the period of possession. Thus, the appellate court noted that since the CENRO-DENR certification had verified that the property was declared alienable and disposable only on 15 March 1982, the Velazcos' possession prior to that date could not be factored in the computation of the period of possession. This interpretation of the Court of Appeals of Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree was based on the Court's ruling in Republic v. Herbieto.[9]

Malabanan died while the case was pending with the Court of Appeals;[10] hence, it was his heirs who appealed the decision of the appellate court. Petitioners, before this Court, rely on our ruling in Republic v. Naguit,[11] which was handed down just four months prior to Herbieto. Petitioners suggest that the discussion in Herbieto cited by the Court of Appeals is actually obiter dictum since the Metropolitan Trial Court therein which had directed the registration of the property had no jurisdiction in the first place since the requisite notice of hearing was published only after the hearing had already begun. Naguit, petitioners argue, remains the controlling doctrine, especially when the property in question is agricultural land. Therefore, with respect to agricultural lands, any possession prior to the declaration of the alienable property as disposable may be counted in reckoning the period of possession to perfect title under the Public Land Act and the Property Registration Decree.

The petition was referred to the Court en banc,[12] and on 11 November 2008, the case was heard on oral arguments. The Court formulated the principal issues for the oral arguments, to wit:
  1. In order that an alienable and disposable land of the public domain may be registered under Section 14(1) of Presidential Decree No. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, should the land be classified as alienable and disposable as of June 12, 1945 or is it sufficient that such classification occur at any time prior to the filing of the applicant for registration provided that it is established that the applicant has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier?
  2. For purposes of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree may a parcel of land classified as alienable and disposable be deemed private land and therefore susceptible to acquisition by prescription in accordance with the Civil Code?
  3. May a parcel of land established as agricultural in character either because of its use or because its slope is below that of forest lands be registrable under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree in relation to the provisions of the Civil Code on acquisitive prescription?
  4. Are petitioners entitled to the registration of the subject land in their names under Section 14(1) or Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree or both?[13]
Based on these issues, the parties formulated their respective positions.

With respect to Section 14(1), petitioners reiterate that the analysis of the Court in Naguit is the correct interpretation of the provision. The seemingly contradictory pronouncement in Herbieto, it is submitted, should be considered obiter dictum, since the land registration proceedings therein was void ab initio due to lack of publication of the notice of initial hearing. Petitioners further point out that in Republic v. Bibonia,[14] promulgated in June of 2007, the Court applied Naguit and adopted the same observation that the preferred interpretation by the OSG of Section 14(1) was patently absurd. For its part, the OSG remains insistent that for Section 14(1) to apply, the land should have been classified as alienable and disposable as of 12 June 1945. Apart from Herbieto, the OSG also cites the subsequent rulings in Buenaventura v. Republic,[15] Fieldman Agricultural Trading v. Republic[16] and Republic v. Imperial Credit Corporation,[17] as well as the earlier case of Director of Lands v. Court of Appeals.[18]

With respect to Section 14(2), petitioners submit that open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of an alienable land of the public domain for more than 30 years ipso jure converts the land into private property, thus placing it under the coverage of Section 14(2). According to them, it would not matter whether the land sought to be registered was previously classified as agricultural land of the public domain so long as, at the time of the application, the property had already been "converted" into private property through prescription. To bolster their argument, petitioners cite extensively from our 2008 ruling in Republic v. T.A.N. Properties.[19]

The arguments submitted by the OSG with respect to Section 14(2) are more extensive. The OSG notes that under Article 1113 of the Civil Code, the acquisitive prescription of properties of the State refers to "patrimonial property," while Section 14(2) speaks of "private lands." It observes that the Court has yet to decide a case that presented Section 14(2) as a ground for application for registration, and that the 30-year possession period refers to the period of possession under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, and not the concept of prescription under the Civil Code. The OSG further submits that, assuming that the 30-year prescriptive period can run against public lands, said period should be reckoned from the time the public land was declared alienable and disposable.

Both sides likewise offer special arguments with respect to the particular factual circumstances surrounding the subject property and the ownership thereof.

II.

First, we discuss Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. For a full understanding of the provision, reference has to be made to the Public Land Act.

A.

Commonwealth Act No. 141, also known as the Public Land Act, has, since its enactment, governed the classification and disposition of lands of the public domain. The President is authorized, from time to time, to classify the lands of the public domain into alienable and disposable, timber, or mineral lands.[20]  Alienable and disposable lands of the public domain are further classified according to their uses into (a) agricultural; (b) residential, commercial, industrial, or for similar productive purposes; (c) educational, charitable, or other similar purposes; or (d) reservations for town sites and for public and quasi-public uses.[21]

May a private person validly seek the registration in his/her name of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain? Section 11 of the Public Land Act acknowledges that public lands suitable for agricultural purposes may be disposed of "by confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles" through "judicial legalization."[22] Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by P.D. No. 1073, supplies the details and unmistakably grants that right, subject to the requisites stated therein:
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 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

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, 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.
Section 48(b) of Com. Act No. 141 received its present wording in 1977 when the law was amended by P.D. No. 1073. Two significant amendments were introduced by P.D. No. 1073. First, the term "agricultural lands" was changed to "alienable and disposable lands of the public domain." The OSG submits that this amendment restricted the scope of the lands that may be registered.[23] This is not actually the case. Under Section 9 of the Public Land Act, "agricultural lands" are a mere subset of "lands of the public domain alienable or open to disposition." Evidently, alienable and disposable lands of the public domain are a larger class than only "agricultural lands."

Second, the length of the requisite possession was changed from possession for "thirty (30) years immediately preceding the filing of the application" to possession "since June 12, 1945 or earlier." The Court in Naguit explained:
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. xxx
It bears further observation that Section 48(b) of Com. Act No, 141 is virtually the same as Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree. Said Decree codified the various laws relative to the registration of property, including lands of the public domain. It is Section 14(1) that operationalizes the registration of such lands of the public domain. The provision reads:
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-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier.
Notwithstanding the passage of the Property Registration Decree and the inclusion of Section 14(1) therein, the Public Land Act has remained in effect. Both laws commonly refer to persons or their predecessors-in-interest who "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." That circumstance may have led to the impression that one or the other is a redundancy, or that Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act has somehow been repealed or mooted. That is not the case.

The opening clauses of Section 48 of the Public Land Act and Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree warrant comparison:
Sec. 48 [of the Public Land Act]. 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 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

Sec. 14 [of the Property Registration Decree]. 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:

xxx
It is clear that Section 48 of the Public Land Act is more descriptive of the nature of the right enjoyed by the possessor than Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree, which seems to presume the pre-existence of the right, rather than establishing the right itself for the first time. It is proper to assert that it is the Public Land Act, as amended by P.D. No. 1073 effective 25 January 1977, that has primarily established the right of a Filipino citizen who has 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 acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945" to perfect or complete his title by applying with the proper court for the confirmation of his ownership claim and the issuance of the corresponding certificate of title.

Section 48 can be viewed in conjunction with the afore-quoted Section 11 of the Public Land Act, which provides that public lands suitable for agricultural purposes may be disposed of by confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles, and given the notion that both provisions declare that it is indeed the Public Land Act that primarily establishes the substantive ownership of the possessor who has been in possession of the property since 12 June 1945. In turn, Section 14(a) of the Property Registration Decree recognizes the substantive right granted under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as well provides the corresponding original registration procedure for the judicial confirmation of an imperfect or incomplete title.

There is another limitation to the right granted under Section 48(b). Section 47 of the Public Land Act limits the period within which one may exercise the right to seek registration under Section 48. The provision has been amended several times, most recently by Rep. Act No. 9176 in 2002. It currently reads thus:
Section 47. The persons specified in the next following section are hereby granted time, not to extend beyond December 31, 2020 within which to avail of the benefits of this Chapter:Provided, That this period shall apply only where the area applied for does not exceed twelve (12) hectares: Provided, further, That the several periods of time designated by the President in accordance with Section Forty-Five of this Act shall apply also to the lands comprised in the provisions of this Chapter, but this Section shall not be construed as prohibiting any said persons from acting under this Chapter at any time prior to the period fixed by the President.[24]
Accordingly under the current state of the law, the substantive right granted under Section 48(b) may be availed of only until 31 December 2020.

B.

Despite the clear text of Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended and Section 14(a) of the Property Registration Decree, the OSG has adopted the position that for one to acquire the right to seek registration of an alienable and disposable land of the public domain, it is not enough that the applicant and his/her predecessors-in-interest be in possession under a bona fide claim of ownership since 12 June 1945; the alienable and disposable character of the property must have been declared also as of 12 June 1945. Following the OSG's approach,  all lands certified as alienable and disposable after 12 June 1945 cannot be registered either under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree or Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act as amended. The absurdity of such an implication was discussed in Naguit.
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.[25] Ad proximum antecedents fiat relation nisi impediatur sentencia.

Besides, we are mindful of the absurdity that would result if we adopt petitioner's position. Absent a legislative amendment, the rule would be, adopting the OSG's 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.
Accordingly, the Court in Naguit explained:
[T]he 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, 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.
The Court declares that the correct interpretation of Section 14(1) is that which was adopted in Naguit. The contrary pronouncement in Herbieto, as pointed out in Naguit, absurdly limits the application of the provision to the point of virtual inutility since it would only cover lands actually declared alienable and disposable prior to 12 June 1945, even if the current possessor is able to establish open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession under a bona fide claim of ownership long before that date.

Moreover, the Naguit interpretation allows more possessors under a bona fide claim of ownership to avail of judicial confirmation of their imperfect titles than what would be feasible under Herbieto. This balancing fact is significant, especially considering our forthcoming discussion on the scope and reach of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

Petitioners make the salient observation that the contradictory passages from Herbieto are obiter dicta since the land registration proceedings therein is void ab initio in the first place due to lack of the requisite publication of the notice of initial hearing. There is no need to explicitly overturn Herbieto, as it suffices that the Court's acknowledgment that the particular line of argument used therein concerning Section 14(1) is indeed obiter.

It may be noted that in the subsequent case of Buenaventura,[26] the Court, citing Herbieto, again stated that "[a]ny period of possession prior to the date when the [s]ubject [property was] classified as alienable and disposable is inconsequential and should be excluded from the computation of the period of possession..." That statement, in the context of Section 14(1), is certainly erroneous. Nonetheless, the passage as cited in Buenaventura should again be considered as obiter. The application therein was ultimately granted, citing Section 14(2). The evidence submitted by petitioners therein did not establish any mode of possession on their part prior to 1948, thereby precluding the application of Section 14(1). It is not even apparent from the decision whether petitioners therein had claimed entitlement to original registration following Section 14(1), their position being that they had been in exclusive possession under a bona fide claim of ownership for over fifty (50) years, but  not before 12 June 1945.

Thus, neither Herbieto nor its principal discipular ruling Buenaventura has any precedental value with respect to Section 14(1). On the other hand, the ratio of Naguit is embedded in Section 14(1), since it precisely involved situation wherein the applicant had been in exclusive possession under a bona fide claim of ownership prior to 12 June 1945. The Court's interpretation of Section 14(1) therein was decisive to the resolution of the case. Any doubt as to which between Naguit or Herbieto provides the final word of the Court on Section 14(1) is now settled in favor of Naguit.

We noted in Naguit that it should be distinguished from Bracewell v. Court of Appeals[27] since in the latter, the application for registration had been filed before the land was declared alienable or disposable. The dissent though pronounces Bracewell as the better rule between the two. Yet two years after Bracewell, its ponente, the esteemed Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, penned the ruling in Republic v. Ceniza,[28] which involved a claim of possession that extended back to 1927 over a public domain land that was declared alienable and disposable only in 1980. Ceniza cited Bracewell, quoted extensively from it, and following the mindset of the dissent, the attempt at registration in Ceniza should have failed. Not so.
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.

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." This is sufficient evidence to show the real character of the land subject of private respondents' application. Further, the certification enjoys a presumption of regularity in the absence of contradictory evidence,which is true in this case. Worth noting also was the observation of the Court of Appeals stating that:
[n]o 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....
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. Although there are exceptions, petitioner did not show that this is one of them.[29]
Why did the Court in Ceniza, through the same eminent member who authored Bracewell, sanction the registration under Section 48(b) of public domain lands declared alienable or disposable thirty-five (35) years and 180 days after 12 June 1945? The telling difference is that in Ceniza, the application for registration was filed nearly six (6) years after the land had been declared alienable or disposable, while in Bracewell, the application was filed nine (9) years before the land was declared alienable or disposable. That crucial difference was also stressed in Naguit to contradistinguish it from Bracewell, a difference which the dissent seeks to belittle.

III.

We next ascertain the correct framework of analysis with respect to Section 14(2). The provision reads:
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:

xxx

(2) Those who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws.
The Court in Naguit offered the following discussion concerning Section 14(2), which we did even then recognize, and still do, to be  an obiter dictum, but we nonetheless refer to it as material for further discussion, thus:
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.[30] 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.[31] 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.
Naguit did not involve the application of Section 14(2), unlike in this case where petitioners have based their registration bid primarily on that provision, and where the evidence definitively establishes their claim of possession only as far back as 1948. It is in this case that we can properly appreciate the nuances of the provision.

A.

The obiter in Naguit cited the Civil Code provisions on prescription as the possible basis for application for original registration under Section 14(2). Specifically, it is Article 1113 which provides legal foundation for the application. It reads:
All things which are within the commerce of men are susceptible of prescription, unless otherwise provided. Property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.
It is clear under the Civil Code that where lands of the public domain are patrimonial in character, they are susceptible to acquisitive prescription. On the other hand, among the public domain lands that are not susceptible to acquisitive prescription are timber lands and mineral lands. The Constitution itself proscribes private ownership of timber or mineral lands.

There are in fact several provisions in the Civil Code concerning the acquisition of real property through prescription. Ownership of real property may be acquired by ordinary prescription of ten (10) years,[32] or through extraordinary prescription of thirty (30) years.[33] Ordinary acquisitive prescription requires possession in good faith,[34] as well as just title.[35]

When Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree explicitly provides that persons "who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws," it unmistakably refers to the Civil Code as a valid basis for the registration of lands. The Civil Code is the only existing law that specifically allows the acquisition by prescription of private lands, including patrimonial property belonging to the State. Thus, the critical question that needs affirmation is whether Section 14(2) does encompass original registration proceedings over patrimonial property of the State, which a private person has acquired through prescription.

The Naguit obiter had adverted to a frequently reiterated jurisprudence holding 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.[36] Yet if we ascertain the source of the "thirty-year" period, additional complexities relating to Section 14(2) and to how exactly it operates would emerge. For there are in fact two distinct origins of the thirty (30)-year rule.

The first source is Rep. Act No. 1942, enacted in 1957, which amended Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act by granting the right to seek original registration of alienable public lands through possession in the concept of an owner for at least thirty years.
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:

x x x             x x x             x x x

(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 abona fideclaim 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. (emphasis supplied)[37]
This provision was repealed in 1977 with the enactment of P.D. 1073, which made the date 12 June 1945 the reckoning point for the first time. Nonetheless, applications for registration filed prior to 1977 could have invoked the 30-year rule introduced by Rep. Act No. 1942.

The second source is Section 14(2) of P.D. 1529 itself, at least by implication, as it applies the rules on prescription under the Civil Code, particularly Article 1113 in relation to Article 1137. Note that there are two kinds of prescription under the Civil Code-ordinary acquisitive prescription and extraordinary acquisitive prescription, which, under Article 1137, is completed "through uninterrupted adverse possession... for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith."

Obviously, the first source of the thirty (30)-year period rule, Rep. Act No. 1942, became unavailable after 1977. At present, the only legal basis for the thirty (30)-year period is the law on prescription under the Civil Code, as mandated under Section 14(2). However, there is a material difference between how the thirty (30)-year rule operated under Rep. Act No. 1942 and how it did under the Civil Code.

Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, did not refer to or call into application the Civil Code provisions on prescription. It merely set forth a requisite thirty-year possession period immediately preceding the application for confirmation of title, without any qualification as to whether the property should be declared alienable at the beginning of, and continue as such, throughout the entire thirty-(30) years. There is neither statutory nor jurisprudential basis to assert Rep. Act No. 1942 had mandated such a requirement,[38] similar to our earlier finding with respect to the present language of Section 48(b), which now sets 12 June 1945 as the point of reference.

Then, with the repeal of Rep. Act No. 1942, the thirty-year possession period as basis for original registration became Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, which entitled those "who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws" to apply for original registration. Again, the thirty-year period is derived from the rule on extraordinary prescription under Article 1137 of the Civil Code. At the same time, Section 14(2) puts into operation the entire regime of prescription under the Civil Code, a fact which does not hold true with respect to Section 14(1).

B.

Unlike Section 14(1), Section 14(2) explicitly refers to the principles on prescription under existing laws. Accordingly, we are impelled to apply the civil law concept of prescription, as set forth in the Civil Code, in our interpretation of Section 14(2). There is no similar demand on our part in the case of Section 14(1).

The critical qualification under Article 1113 of the Civil Code is thus: "[p]roperty of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription." The identification what consists of patrimonial property is provided by Articles 420 and 421, which we quote in full:
Art. 420. The following things are property of public dominion:

(1) Those intended for public use, such as roads, canals, rivers, torrents, ports and bridges constructed by the State, banks, shores, roadsteads, and others of similar character;

(2) Those which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.

Art. 421. All other property of the State, which is not of the character stated in thepreceding article, is patrimonialproperty
It is clear that property of public dominion, which generally includes property belonging to the State, cannot be the object of prescription or, indeed, be subject of the commerce of man.[39] Lands of the public domain, whether declared alienable and disposable or not, are property of public dominion and thus insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

Let us now explore the effects under the Civil Code of a declaration by the President or any duly authorized government officer of alienability and disposability of lands of the public domain. Would such lands so declared alienable and disposable be converted, under the Civil Code, from property of the public dominion into patrimonial property? After all, by connotative definition, alienable and disposable lands may be the object of the commerce of man; Article 1113 provides that all things within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription; and the same provision further provides that patrimonial property of the State may be acquired by prescription.

Nonetheless, Article 422 of the Civil Code states that "[p]roperty of public dominion, when no longer intended for public use or for public service, shall form part of the patrimonial property of the State."  It is this provision that controls how public dominion property may be converted into patrimonial property susceptible to acquisition by prescription. After all, Article 420 (2) makes clear that those property "which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth" are public dominion property. For as long as the property belongs to the State, although already classified as alienable or disposable, it remains property of the public dominion if when it is "intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth".

Accordingly, there must be an express declaration by the State that the public dominion property is no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Without such express declaration, the property, even if classified as alienable or disposable, remains property of the public dominion, pursuant to Article 420(2), and thus incapable of acquisition by prescription. It is only when such alienable and disposable lands are expressly declared by the State to be no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth that the period of acquisitive prescription can begin to run. Such declaration shall be in the form of a law duly enacted by Congress or a Presidential Proclamation in cases where the President is duly authorized by law.

It is comprehensible with ease that this reading of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree limits its scope and reach and thus affects the registrability even of lands already declared alienable and disposable to the detriment of the bona fide possessors or occupants claiming title to the lands. Yet this interpretation is in accord with the Regalian doctrine and its concomitant assumption that all lands owned by the State, although declared alienable or disposable, remain as such and ought to be used only by the Government.

Recourse does not lie with this Court in the matter. The duty of the Court is to apply the Constitution and the laws in accordance with their language and intent. The remedy is to change the law, which is the province of the legislative branch. Congress can very well be entreated to amend Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree and pertinent provisions of the Civil Code to liberalize the requirements for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles.

The operation of the foregoing interpretation can be illustrated by an actual example. Republic Act No. 7227, entitled "An Act Accelerating The Conversion Of Military Reservations Into Other Productive Uses, etc.," is more commonly known as the BCDA law.  Section 2 of the law authorizes the sale of certain military reservations and portions of military camps in Metro Manila, including Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Air Base.  For purposes of effecting the sale of the military camps, the law mandates the President to transfer such military lands to the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA)[40] which in turn is authorized to own, hold and/or administer them.[41] The President is authorized to sell portions of the military camps, in whole or in part.[42] Accordingly, the BCDA law itself declares that the  military lands subject thereof are "alienable and disposable pursuant to the provisions of existing laws and regulations governing sales of government properties."[43]

From the moment the BCDA law was enacted the subject military lands have become alienable and disposable. However, said lands did not become patrimonial, as the BCDA law itself expressly makes the reservation that these lands are to be sold in order to raise funds for the conversion of the former American bases at Clark and Subic.[44] Such purpose can be tied to either "public service" or "the development of national wealth" under Article 420(2). Thus, at that time, the lands remained property of the public dominion under Article 420(2), notwithstanding their status as alienable and disposable. It is upon their sale as authorized under the BCDA law to a private person or entity that such lands become private property and cease to be property of the public dominion.

C.

Should public domain lands become patrimonial because they are declared as such in a duly enacted law or duly promulgated proclamation that they are no longer intended for public service or for the development of the national wealth, would the period of possession prior to the conversion of such public dominion into patrimonial be reckoned in counting the prescriptive period in favor of the possessors? We rule in the negative.

The limitation imposed by Article 1113 dissuades us from ruling that the period of possession before the public domain land becomes patrimonial may be counted for the purpose of completing the prescriptive period. Possession of public dominion property before it becomes patrimonial cannot be the object of prescription according to the Civil Code. As the application for registration under Section 14(2) falls wholly within the framework of prescription under the Civil Code, there is no way that possession during the time that the land was still classified as public dominion property can be counted to meet the requisites of acquisitive prescription and justify registration.

Are we being inconsistent in applying divergent rules for Section 14(1) and Section 14(2)? There is no inconsistency. Section 14(1) mandates registration on the basis of possession, while Section 14(2) entitles registration on the basis of prescription. Registration under Section 14(1) is extended under the aegis of the Property Registration Decree and the Public Land Act while registration under Section 14(2) is made available both by the Property Registration Decree and the Civil Code.

In the same manner, we can distinguish between the thirty-year period under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1472, and the thirty-year period available through Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree in relation to Article 1137 of the Civil Code. The period under the former speaks of a thirty-year period of possession, while the period under the latter concerns a thirty-year period of extraordinary prescription. Registration under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act as amended by Rep. Act No. 1472 is based on thirty years of possession alone without regard to the Civil Code, while the registration under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree is founded on extraordinary prescription under the Civil Code.

It may be asked why the principles of prescription under the Civil Code should not apply as well to Section 14(1). Notwithstanding the vaunted status of the Civil Code, it ultimately is just one of numerous statutes, neither superior nor inferior to other statutes such as the Property Registration Decree. The legislative branch is not bound to adhere to the framework set forth by the Civil Code when it enacts subsequent legislation. Section 14(2) manifests a clear intent to interrelate the registration allowed under that provision with the Civil Code, but no such intent exists with respect to Section 14(1).

IV.

One of the keys to understanding the framework we set forth today is seeing how our land registration procedures correlate with our law on prescription, which, under the Civil Code, is one of the modes for acquiring ownership over property.

The Civil Code makes it clear that patrimonial property of the State may be acquired by private persons through prescription. This is brought about by Article 1113, which states that "[a]ll things which are within the commerce of man are susceptible to prescription," and that [p]roperty of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription."

There are two modes of prescription through which immovables may be acquired under the Civil Code. The first is ordinary acquisitive prescription, which, under Article 1117, requires possession in good faith and with just title; and, under Article 1134, is completed through possession of ten (10) years. There is nothing in the Civil Code that bars a person from acquiring patrimonial property of the State through ordinary acquisitive prescription, nor is there any apparent reason to impose such a rule. At the same time, there are indispensable requisites-good faith and just title. The ascertainment of good faith involves the application of Articles 526, 527, and 528, as well as Article 1127 of the Civil Code,[45] provisions that more or less speak for themselves.

On the other hand, the concept of just title requires some clarification.  Under Article 1129, there is just title for the purposes of prescription "when the adverse claimant came into possession of the property through one of the modes recognized by law for the acquisition of ownership or other real rights, but the grantor was not the owner or could not transmit any right." Dr. Tolentino explains:
Just title is an act which has for its purpose the transmission of ownership, and which would have actually transferred ownership if the grantor had been the owner. This vice or defect is the one cured by prescription. Examples: sale with delivery, exchange, donation, succession, and dacion in payment.[46]
The OSG submits that the requirement of just title necessarily precludes the applicability of ordinary acquisitive prescription to patrimonial property. The major premise for the argument is that "the State, as the owner and grantor, could not transmit ownership to the possessor before the completion of the required period of possession."[47] It is evident that the OSG erred when it assumed that the grantor referred to in Article 1129 is the State. The grantor is the one from whom the person invoking ordinary acquisitive prescription derived the title, whether by sale, exchange, donation, succession or any other mode of the acquisition of ownership or other real rights.

Earlier, we made it clear that, whether under ordinary prescription or extraordinary prescription, the period of possession preceding the classification of public dominion lands as patrimonial cannot be counted for the purpose of computing prescription. But after the property has been become patrimonial, the period of prescription begins to run in favor of the possessor. Once the requisite period has been completed, two legal events ensue: (1) the patrimonial property is ipso jure converted into private land; and (2) the person in possession for the periods prescribed under the Civil Code acquires ownership of the property by operation of the Civil Code.

It is evident that once the possessor automatically becomes the owner of the converted patrimonial property, the ideal next step is the registration of the property under the Torrens system. It should be remembered that registration of property is not a mode of acquisition of ownership, but merely a mode of confirmation of ownership.[48]

Looking back at the registration regime prior to the adoption of the Property Registration Decree in 1977, it is apparent that the registration system then did not fully accommodate the acquisition of ownership of patrimonial property under the Civil Code. What the system accommodated was the confirmation of imperfect title brought about by the completion of a period of possession ordained under the Public Land Act (either 30 years following Rep. Act No. 1942, or since 12 June 1945 following P.D. No. 1073).

The Land Registration Act[49] was noticeably silent on the requisites for alienable public lands acquired through ordinary prescription under the Civil Code, though it arguably did not preclude such registration.[50] Still, the gap was lamentable, considering that the Civil Code, by itself, establishes ownership over the patrimonial property of persons who have completed the prescriptive periods ordained therein. The gap was finally closed with the adoption of the Property Registration Decree in 1977, with Section 14(2) thereof expressly authorizing original registration in favor of persons who have acquired ownership over private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws, that is, the Civil Code as of now.

V.

We synthesize the doctrines laid down in this case, as follows:

(1) In connection with Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act recognizes and confirms that "those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945" have acquired ownership of, and registrable title to, such lands  based on the length and quality of their possession.

(a) Since Section 48(b) merely requires possession since 12 June 1945 and does not require that the lands should have been alienable and disposable during the entire period of possession, the possessor is entitled to secure judicial confirmation of his title thereto as soon as it is declared alienable and disposable, subject to the timeframe imposed by Section 47 of the Public Land Act.[51]

(b) The right to register granted under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act is further confirmed by Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

(2) In complying with Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, consider that under the Civil Code, prescription is recognized as a mode of acquiring ownership of patrimonial property. However, public domain lands become only patrimonial property not only with a declaration that these are alienable or disposable.  There must also be an express government manifestation that the property is already patrimonial or no longer retained for public service or the development of national wealth, under Article 422 of the Civil Code. And only when the property has become patrimonial can the prescriptive period for the acquisition of property of the public dominion begin to run.

(a) Patrimonial property is private property of the government. The person acquires ownership of patrimonial property by prescription under the Civil Code is entitled to secure registration thereof under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

(b) There are two kinds of prescription by which patrimonial property may be acquired, one ordinary and other extraordinary. Under ordinary acquisitive prescription, a person acquires ownership of a patrimonial property through possession for at least ten (10) years, in good faith and with just title. Under extraordinary acquisitive prescription, a person's uninterrupted adverse possession of patrimonial property for at least thirty (30) years, regardless of good faith or just title, ripens into ownership.

B.

We now apply the above-stated doctrines to the case at bar.

It is clear that the evidence of petitioners is insufficient to establish that Malabanan has acquired ownership over the subject property under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act. There is no substantive evidence to establish that Malabanan or petitioners as his predecessors-in-interest have been in possession of the property since 12 June 1945 or earlier. The earliest that petitioners can date back their possession, according to their own evidence—the Tax Declarations they presented in particular—is to the year 1948. Thus, they cannot avail themselves of registration under Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

Neither can petitioners properly invoke Section 14(2) as basis for registration. While the subject property was declared as alienable or disposable in 1982, there is no competent evidence that is no longer intended for public use service or for the development of the national evidence, conformably with Article 422 of the Civil Code. The classification of the subject property as alienable and disposable land of the public domain does not change its status as property of the public dominion under Article 420(2) of the Civil Code.  Thus, it is insusceptible to acquisition by prescription.

VI.

A final word. The Court is comfortable with the correctness of the legal doctrines established in this decision. Nonetheless, discomfiture over the implications of today's ruling cannot be discounted. For, every untitled property that is occupied in the country will be affected by this ruling. The social implications cannot be dismissed lightly, and the Court would be abdicating its social responsibility to the Filipino people if we simply levied the law without comment.

The informal settlement of public lands, whether declared alienable or not, is a phenomenon tied to long-standing habit and cultural acquiescence, and is common among the so-called "Third World" countries. This paradigm powerfully evokes the disconnect between a legal system and the reality on the ground. The law so far has been unable to bridge that gap. Alternative means of acquisition of these public  domain  lands,  such as  through  homestead  or free patent, have proven unattractive due to limitations imposed on the grantee in the encumbrance or alienation of said properties.[52] Judicial confirmation of imperfect title has emerged as the most viable, if not the most attractive means to regularize the informal settlement of alienable or disposable lands of the public domain, yet even that system, as revealed in this decision, has considerable limits.

There are millions upon millions of Filipinos who have individually or exclusively held residential lands on which they have lived and raised their families.  Many more have tilled and made productive idle lands of the State with their hands. They have been regarded for generation by their families and their communities as common law owners.  There is much to be said about the virtues of according them legitimate states. Yet such virtues are not for the Court to translate into positive law, as the law itself considered such lands as property of the public dominion. It could only be up to Congress to set forth a new phase of land reform to sensibly regularize and formalize the settlement of such lands which in legal theory are lands of the public domain before the problem becomes insoluble. This could be accomplished, to cite two examples, by liberalizing the standards for judicial confirmation of imperfect title, or amending the Civil Code itself to ease the requisites for the conversion of public dominion property into patrimonial.

One's sense of security over land rights infuses into every aspect of well-being not only of that individual, but also to the person's family. Once that sense of security is deprived, life and livelihood are put on stasis. It is for the political branches to bring welcome closure to the long pestering problem.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 23 February 2007 and Resolution dated 2 October 2007 are AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.
Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Tinga, Velasco, Jr., Nachura, Peralta, and Bersamin, JJ., concur.
Chico-Nazario, J., Pls. see concurring and dissenting opinion.
Brion, J., see dissenting opinion.
Puno, C.J., and Leonardo-De Castro J., joins the concurring and dissenting opinion of Justice Nazario.
Corona, J., joins the dissenting of Mr. Justice Brion.
Quisumbing, J., on official leave.



[1] "Hernando de Soto Interview" by Reason Magazine dated 30 November 1999, at http://www.reason.com/news/show/32213.html (Last visited, 21 April 2009).

[2] More particularly described and delineated in Plan CSD-04-017123. Records, p. 161.

[3] But see note 5.

[4] Id.

[5] The trial court decision identified Eduardo Velazco as the vendor of the property, notwithstanding the original allegation in the application that Malabanan purchased the same from Virgilio Velazco. See note 3. In his subsequent pleadings, including those before this Court, Malabanan or his heirs stated that the property was purchased from Eduardo Velazco, and not Virgilio. On this point, the appellate court made this observation:

"More importantly, Malabanan failed to prove his ownership over Lot 9864-A.  In his application for land registration, Malabanan alleged that he purchased the subject lot from Virgilio Velazco. During the trial of the case, however, Malabanan testified that he purchased the subject lot from Eduardo Velazco, which was corroborated by his witness, Aristedes Velazco, a son of Virgilio Velazco, who stated that Eduardo was a brother of his grandfather.  As aptly observed by the Republic, no copy of the deed of sale covering Lot 9864-A, executed either by Virgilio or Eduardo Velazco, in favor of Malabanan was marked and offered in evidence. In the appealed Decision, the court a quo mentioned of a deed of sale executed in 1995 by Eduardo Velazco in favor of Malabanan which was allegedly marked as Exhibit "I."  It appears, however, that what was provisionally marked as Exhibit "I" was a photocopy of the deed of sale executed by Virgilio Velazco in favor of Leila Benitez and Benjamin Reyes.  Section 34, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides that the court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered.  The offer is necessary because it is the duty of a judge to rest his findings of facts and his judgment only and strictly upon the evidence offered by the parties at the trial. Thus, Malabanan has not proved that Virgilio or Eduardo Velazco was his predecessor-in-interest." Rollo, pp. 39-40.

[6] Rollo, p. 74.

[7] Id. at 38. Emphasis supplied.

[8] Penned by Associate Justice Marina Buzon of the Court of Appeals Fifth Division, and concurred in by Associate Justices Edgardo Sundiam and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa.

[9] G.R. No. 156117, 26 May 2005, 459 SCRA 183.

[10] See rollo, p. 11.

[11] G.R. No. 144507, 17 January 2005, 448 SCRA 442.

[12] Through a Resolution dated 5 December 2007. See rollo, p. 141.

[13] Id. at  186-187.

[14] G.R. No. 157466, 21 June 2007, 525 SCRA 268.

[15] G.R. No. 166865, 2 March 2007, 459 SCRA 271.

[16] G.R. No. 147359, 28 March 2008, 550 SCRA 92.

[17] G.R. No. 173088, 25 June 2008, 555 SCRA 314.

[18] G.R. No. 85322, 30 April 1991, 178 SCRA 708.

[19] G.R. No. 154953, 16 June 2008.

[20] Section  6, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

[21] Section 9, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

[22] Section 11, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

[23] OSG Memorandum, p. 13.

[24] Section 47, Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 9176.

[25] R. AGPALO, STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION (3rd ed., 1995) at 182.

[26] See note 3.

[27] 380 Phil. 156 (2000).

[28] Also known as Republic v. Court of Appeals, 440 Phil. 697 (2002).

[29] Id. at 710-712.

[30] See CIVIL CODE, Art. 1113.

[31] See e.g., Director of Lands v. IAC, G.R. No. 65663, 16 October 1992, 214 SCRA 604, 611; Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108998, 24 August 1994, 235 SCRA 567, 576; Group Commander, Intelligence and Security Group v. Dr. Malvar, 438 Phil. 252, 275 (2002).

[32] See Article 1134, CIVIL CODE.

[33] See Article 1137, CIVIL CODE.

[34] See Article 1117 in relation to Article 1128, Civil Code. See also Articles 526, 527, 528 & 529, Civil Code on the conditions of good faith required.

[35] See Article 1117, in relation to Article 1129, Civil Code.

[36] Citing Director of Lands v. IAC, G.R. No. 65663, 16 October 1992, 214 SCRA 604, 611; Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108998, 24 August 1994, 235 SCRA 567, 576; Group Commander, Intelligence and Security Group v. Dr. Malvar, 438 Phil. 252, 275 (2002).

[37] Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, immediately before its amendment by Rep. Act No. 1942, reads as follows:

"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 abona fideclaim of acquisition of ownership, except as against the Government, since July twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and ninety-four, 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."

[38] Again, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, was superseded by P.D. No. 1073, which imposed the 12 June 1945 reckoning point, and  which was then incorporated in Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

[39] See Vllarico v. Sarmiento, G.R. No. 136438, 11 November 2004, 442 SCRA 110.

[40] Rep. Act No.  7227, Sec.7.

[41] Rep. Act No. 7227, Sec. 4(a).

[42] Rep. Act No. 7227, Sec. 7.

[43] Id.

[44] Section 2,  Rep. Act No. 7227.

[45] See CIVIL CODE, Art. 1128.

[46] A. TOLENTINO, IV CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES (1991 ed.) at 26; citing 2 Castan 175.

[47] Memorandum of the OSG, p. 21.

[48] See Angeles v. Samia, 66 Phil. 44 (1938).

[49] Act No. 496.

[50] See Section 19, Land Registration Act, which allowed application for registration of title by "person or persons claiming, singly or collectively, to own the legal estate in fee simple."

[51] See note 24.

[52] See Section 118, Com. Act No. 141, as amended.

"Except in favor of the Government or any of its branches, units, or institutions, lands acquired under free patent or homestead provisions shall not be subject to encumbrance or alienation from the date of the approval of the application and for a term of five years from and after the date of issuance of the patent or grant, nor shall they become liable to the satisfaction of any debt contracted prior to the expiration of said period, but the improvements or crops on the land may be mortgaged or pledged to qualified persons, associations, or corporations.

No alienation, transfer, or conveyance of any homestead after five years and before twenty-five years after issuance of title shall be valid without the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, which approval shall not be denied except on constitutional and legal grounds."





CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

I concur in the majority opinion in dismissing the application for registration of a piece of land originally filed by the late Mario Malabanan (Malabanan), petitioners' predecessor-in-interest.  The land subject of the instant Petition, being alienable and disposable land of the public domain, may not be acquired by prescription under the provisions of the Civil Code, nor registered pursuant to Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.

At the outset, it must be made clear that the Property Registration Decree governs registration of land under the Torrens system. It can only identify which titles, already existing or vested, may be registered under the Torrens system; but it cannot be the source of any title to land.  It merely confirms, but does not confer ownership.[1]

Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree allows "those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws," to apply for registration of their title to the lands.

Petitioners do not fall under such provision, taking into account that the land they are seeking to register is alienable and disposable land of the public domain, a fact which would have several substantial implications.

First, Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree clearly and explicitly refers to "private lands," without mention at all of public lands.  There is no other way to understand the plain language of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree except that the land was already private when the applicant for registration acquired ownership thereof by prescription.  The prescription therein was not the means by which the public land was converted to private land; rather, it was the way the applicant acquired title to what is already private land, from another person previously holding title to the same.[2]  The provision in question is very clear and unambiguous.  Well-settled is the rule that when the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no reason for interpretation or construction, but only for application.[3]

With the understanding that Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree applies only to what are already private lands, then, there is no question that the same can be acquired by prescription under the provisions of the Civil Code, because, precisely, it is the Civil Code which governs rights to private lands.

Second, Section 11 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, otherwise known as the Public Land Act, as amended, reads:
Section 11.  Public lands suitable for agricultural purposes can be disposed of only as follows:

(1) For homestead settlement;

(2) By sale;

(3) By lease; and

(4) By confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles;

(a) By judicial legalization; or

(b) By administrative legalization (free patent). (Emphasis ours.)
The afore-quoted provision recognizes that agricultural public lands may be disposed of by the State, and at the same time, mandates that the latter can only do so by the modes identified in the same provision.  Thus, the intent of the legislature to make exclusive the enumeration of the modes by which agricultural public land may be disposed of by the State in Section 11 of the Public Land Act, as amended, is not only readily apparent, but explicit.  And, undeniably, the enumeration of the modes for acquiring agricultural public land in the said provision does not include prescription, in the concepts described and periods prescribed by the Civil Code.

Neither the Civil Code nor the Property Registration Decree can overcome the express restriction placed by the Public Land Act, as amended, on the modes by which the State may dispose of agricultural public land.

The Public Land Act, as amended, is a special law specifically applying to lands of the public domain, except timber and mineral lands. The Public Land Act, as amended, being a special law, necessarily prevails over the Civil Code, a general law. Basic is the rule in statutory construction that "where two statutes are of equal theoretical application to a particular case, the one designed therefor specially should prevail." Generalia specialibus non derogant.[4]

As for the Property Registration Decree, it must be stressed that the same cannot confer title to land and can only confirm title that already exists or has vested.  As has already been previously discussed herein, title to agricultural public land vests or is acquired only by any of the modes enumerated in Section 11 of the Public Land Act, as amended.

And, third, Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act was amended several times, changing the period of possession required for acquiring an imperfect title to agricultural public land:
Under the public land act, judicial confirmation of imperfect title required possession en concepto de dueƱo since time immemorial, or since July 26, 1894. Under C.A. No. 141, this requirement was retained. However, on June 22, 1957, Republic Act No. 1942 was enacted amending C.A. No. 141. This later enactment required adverse possession for a period of only thirty (30) years. On January 25, 1977, the President enacted P. D. No. 1073, further amending C.A. No. 141, extending the period for filing applications for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles to December 31, 1987. Under this decree, "the provisions of Section 48 (b) and Section 48 (c), Chapter VIII, of the Public Land Act are hereby amended in the sense that these provisions shall apply only to alienable and disposable land 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 bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945."[5] (Emphasis ours.)
Prior to Presidential Decree No. 1073, imperfect title to agricultural land of the public domain could be acquired by adverse possession of 30 years.  Presidential Decree No. 1073, issued on 25 January 1977, amended Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act by requiring possession and occupation of alienable and disposable land of the public domain since 12 June 1945 or earlier for an imperfect title.  Hence, by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1073, the requisite period of possession for acquiring imperfect title to alienable and disposable land of the public domain is no longer determined according to a fixed term (i.e., 30 years); instead, it shall be reckoned from a fixed date (i.e., 12 June 1945 or earlier) from which the possession should have commenced.

If the Court allows the acquisition of alienable and disposable land of the public domain by prescription under the Civil Code, and registration of title to land thus acquired under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree, it would be sanctioning what is effectively a circumvention of the amendment introduced by Presidential Decree No. 1073 to Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act.  Acquisition of alienable and disposable land of the public domain by possession would again be made to depend on a fixed term (i.e., 10 years for ordinary prescription and 30 years for extraordinary prescription), rather than being reckoned from the fixed date presently stipulated by Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended.

There being no basis for petitioners' application for registration of the public agricultural land in question, accordingly, the same must be dismissed.

I, however, must express my dissent to the discussion in the majority opinion concerning the contradictory pronouncements of the Court in Republic v. Naguit[6] and Republic v. Herbieto,[7] on imperfect titles to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, acquired in accordance with Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, and registered pursuant to Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree.

According to Naguit, a person seeking judicial confirmation of an imperfect title under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, need only prove that he and his predecessors-in-interest have been in possession and occupation of the subject land since 12 June 1945 or earlier, and that the subject land is alienable and disposable at the time of filing of the application for judicial confirmation and/or registration of title.  On the other hand, it was held in Herbieto that such a person must establish that he and his predecessors-in-interest have been in possession and occupation of the subject land since 12 June 1945 or earlier, and that the subject land was likewise already declared alienable and disposable since 12 June 1945 or earlier.  The majority opinion upholds the ruling in Naguit, and declares the pronouncements on the matter in Herbieto as mere obiter dictum.

As the ponente of Herbieto, I take exception to the dismissive treatment of my elucidation in said case on the acquisition of imperfect title to alienable and disposable land of the public domain, as mere obiter dictum.

An obiter dictum has been defined as an opinion expressed by a court upon some question of law which is not necessary to the decision of the case before it. It is a remark made, or opinion expressed, by a judge, in his decision upon a cause, "by the way," that is, incidentally or collaterally, and not directly upon the question before him, or upon a point not necessarily involved in the determination of the cause, or introduced by way of illustration, or analogy or argument.  Such are not binding as precedent.[8]

To recall, the Republic of the Philippines opposed in Herbieto the registration of certain parcels of land of the public domain in the names of Jeremias and David Herbieto, based on two grounds, one substantive and the other procedural, i.e., (1) the applicants for registration failed to prove that they possessed the subject parcels of land for the period required by law; and (2) the application for registration suffers from fatal infirmity as the subject of the application consisted of two parcels of land individually and separately owned by two applicants.

The Court, in Herbieto, addressed the procedural issue first, and held that the alleged infirmity in the application constituted a misjoinder of causes of action which did not warrant a dismissal of the case, only the severance of the misjoined causes of action so that they could be heard by the court separately.  The Court though took note of the belated publication of the notice of hearing on the application for registration of Jeremias and David Herbieto, the hearing was already held before the notice of the same was published.  Such error was not only procedural, but jurisdictional, and was fatal to the application for registration of Jeremias and David Herbieto.

The Court then proceeded to a determination of the substantive issue in Herbieto, particularly, whether Jeremias and David Herbieto possessed the parcels of land they wish to register in their names for the period required by law. The Court ruled in the negative. Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, on judicial confirmation of imperfect title, requires possession of alienable and disposable land of the public domain since 12 June 1945 or earlier.  Given that the land sought to be registered was declared alienable and disposable only on 25 June 1963, and the period of possession prior to such declaration should not be counted in favor of the applicants for registration, then Jeremias and David Herbieto could not be deemed to have possessed the parcels of land in question for the requisite period as to acquire imperfect title to the same.

The discussion in Herbieto on the acquisition of an imperfect title to alienable and disposable land of the public domain, which could be the subject of judicial confirmation, was not unnecessary to the decision of said case.  It was not a mere remark made or opinion expressed upon a cause, "by the way," or only incidentally or collaterally, and not directly upon a question before the Court; or upon a point not necessarily involved in the determination of the cause; or introduced by way of illustration, or analogy or argument, as to constitute obiter dictum.

It must be emphasized that the acquisition of an imperfect title to alienable and disposable land of the public domain under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, was directly raised as an issue in the Petition in Herbieto and discussed extensively by the parties in their pleadings.  That the application of Jeremias and David Herbieto could already be dismissed on the ground of lack of proper publication of the notice of hearing thereof, did not necessarily preclude the Court from resolving the other issues squarely raised in the Petition before it.  Thus, the Court dismissed the application for registration of Jeremias and David Herbieto on two grounds: (1) the lack of jurisdiction of the land registration court over the application, in light of the absence of proper publication of the notice of hearing; and (2) the evident lack of merit of the application given that the applicants failed to comply with the requirements for judicial confirmation of an imperfect title under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended. This is only in keeping with the duty of the Court to expeditiously and completely resolve the cases before it and, once and for all, settle the dispute and issues between the parties. Without expressly discussing and categorically ruling on the second ground, Jeremias and David Herbieto could have easily believed that they could re-file their respective applications for registration, just taking care to comply with the publication-of-notice requirement.

Of particular relevance herein is the following discourse in Villanueva v. Court of Appeals[9] on what constitutes, or more appropriately, what does not constitute obiter dictum:
It has been held that an adjudication on any point within the issues presented by the case cannot be considered as obiter dictum, and this rule applies to all pertinent questions, although only incidentally involved, which are presented and decided in the regular course of the consideration of the case, and led up to the final conclusion, and to any statement as to matter on which the decision is predicated. Accordingly, a point expressly decided does not lose its value as a precedent because the disposition of the case is, or might have been, made on some other ground, or even though, by reason of other points in the case, the result reached might have been the same if the court had held, on the particular point, otherwise than it did. A decision which the case could have turned on is not regarded as obiter dictum merely because, owing to the disposal of the contention, it was necessary to consider another question, nor can an additional reason in a decision, brought forward after the case has been disposed of on one ground, be regarded as dicta. So, also, where a case presents two (2) or more points, any one of which is sufficient to determine the ultimate issue, but the court actually decides all such points, the case as an authoritative precedent as to every point decided, and none of such points can be regarded as having the status of a dictum, and one point should not be denied authority merely because another point was more dwelt on and more fully argued and considered, nor does a decision on one proposition make statements of the court regarding other propositions dicta.
An adjudication on any point within the issues presented by the case cannot be considered a dictum; and this rule applies as to all pertinent questions, although only incidentally involved, which are presented and decided in the regular course of the consideration of the case, and lead up to the final conclusion, and to any statement in the opinion as to a matter on which the decision is predicated. Accordingly, a point expressly decided does not lose its value as a precedent because the disposition of the case is or might have been made on some other ground, or even though, by reason of other points in the case, the result reached might have been the same if the court had held, on the particular point, otherwise than it did.[10]

I submit that Herbieto only applied the clear provisions of the law and established jurisprudence on the matter, and is binding as a precedent.

Section 14(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, explicitly requires for the acquisition of an imperfect title to alienable and disposable land of the public domain, possession by a Filipino citizen of the said parcel of land since 12 June 1945 or earlier, to wit:
Section. 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 thereafter, under the Land Registration Act, to wit:

x x x x

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, immediately preceding the filing of the applications 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.  (Emphasis ours.)
Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, by substantially reiterating Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, recognizes the imperfect title thus acquired and allows the registration of the same, viz:
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-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier. (Emphasis ours.)
Meanwhile, jurisprudence has long settled that possession of the land by the applicant for registration prior to the reclassification of the land as alienable and disposable cannot be credited to the applicant's favor.[11]

Given the foregoing, judicial confirmation and registration of an imperfect title, under Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, and Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, respectively, should only be granted when: (1) a Filipino citizen, by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural land of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since 12 June 1945, or earlier; and (2) the land in question, necessarily, was already declared alienable and disposable also by 12 June 1945 or earlier.

There can be no other interpretation of Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, and Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, which would not run afoul of either the clear and unambiguous provisions of said laws or binding judicial precedents.

I do not agree in the observation of the majority opinion that the interpretation of Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, adopted in Herbieto, would result in absurdity.  Indeed, such interpretation forecloses a person from acquiring an imperfect title to a parcel of land declared alienable and disposable only after 12 June 1945, which could be judicially confirmed.  Nonetheless, it must be borne in mind that the intention of the law is to dispose of agricultural public land to qualified individuals and not simply to dispose of the same.  It may be deemed a strict interpretation and application of both law and jurisprudence on the matter, but it certainly is not an absurdity.

Stringency and prudence in interpreting and applying Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, is well justified by the significant consequences arising from a finding that a person has an imperfect title to agricultural land of the public domain.  Not just any lengthy occupation of an agricultural public land could ripen into an imperfect title.  An imperfect title can only be acquired by occupation and possession of the land by a person and his predecessors-in-interest for the period required and considered by law sufficient as to have segregated the land from the mass of public land.  When a person is said to have acquired an imperfect title, by operation of law, he acquires a right to a grant, a government grant to the land, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued.  As such, the land ceased to be part of the public domain and goes beyond the authority of the State to dispose of.  An application for confirmation of title, therefore, is but a mere formality.[12]

In addition, as was emphasized in Herbieto, Section 11 of the Public Land Act, as amended, has identified several ways by which agricultural lands of the public domain may be disposed of.  Each mode of disposing of agricultural public land has its own specific requirements which must be complied with.  If a person is not qualified for a judicial confirmation of an imperfect title, because the land in question was declared alienable and disposable only after 12 June 1945, he is not totally without recourse for he could still acquire the same by any of the other modes enumerated in the afore-quoted provision.

Regardless of my dissent to the affirmation by the majority of the ruling in Naguit on Section 48(b) of the Public Land Act, as amended, and Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree, I cast my vote with the majority, to DENY the Petition at bar and AFFIRM the Decision dated 23 February 2007 and Resolution dated 2 October 2000 of the Court of Appeals dismissing, for absolute lack of basis, petitioners' application for registration of alienable and disposable land of the public domain.



[1] Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 108998, 24 August 1994, 235 SCRA 567, 576.

[2] As in the case where the land was already the subject of a grant by the State to a private person, but the latter failed to immediately register his title, thus, allowing another person to acquire title to the land by prescription under the provisions of the Civil Code.

[3] Department of Agrarian Reform v. Court of Appeals, 327 Phil. 1048, 1052 (1996).

[4] See De Guzman v. Court of Appeals, 358 Phil. 397, 408 (1998).

[5] Public Estates Authority v. Court of Appeals, 398 Phil. 901, 909-910 (2000).

[6] G.R. No. 144057, 17 January 2005, 448 SCRA 442.

[7] G.R. No. 156117, 26 May 2005, 459 SCRA 183..

[8] Delta Motors Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 342 Phil. 173, 186 (1997).

[9] 429 Phil. 194, 203-204 (2002).

[10] 1 C. J. S. 314-315, as quoted in the dissenting opinion of Tuason, J., in Primicias v. Fugoso,  80 Phil. 71, 125 (1948).

[11] See Almeda v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 85322, 30 April 1991, 196 SCRA 476, 480; Vallarta v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 235 Phil. 680, 695-696 (1987); and Republic v. Court of Appeals, 232 Phil. 444, 457 (1987), cited in Republic v. Herbieto, supra note 7.  See also Republic v. Court of Appeals, 238 Phil. 475, 486-487 (1987); Republic v. Bacus, G.R. No. 73261, 11 August 1989, 176 SCRA 376-380; Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 38810, 7 May 1992, 208 SCRA 428, 434; De la Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 349 Phil. 898, 904 (1998), Republic v. De Guzman, 383 Phil. 479, 485 (2000).

[12] See National Power Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 45664, 29 January 1993, 218 SCRA 41, 54.





CONCURRING AND DISSENTING OPINION

BRION, J.:

I concur with the ponencia's modified positions on the application of prescription under Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree (PRD), and on the denial of the petition of the Heirs of Mario Malabanan.

I dissent in the strongest terms from the ruling that the classification of a public land as alienable and disposable can be made after June 12, 1945, in accordance with this Court's ruling in Republic v. Court of Appeals and Naguit (Naguit).[1] Effectively, what results from this decision is a new law, crafted by this Court, going beyond what the Constitution ordains and beyond the law that the Legislature passed.  Because the majority has not used the standards set by the Constitution and the Public Land Act (PLA),[2]  its conclusions are based on a determination on what the law ought to be - an exercise in policy formulation that is beyond the Court's authority to make.

The discussions of these grounds for dissent follow, not necessarily in the order these grounds are posed above.

Prefatory Statement

Critical to the position taken in this Dissent is the reading of the hierarchy of laws that govern public lands to fully understand and appreciate the grounds for dissent.

In the area of public law, foremost in this hierarchy is the Philippine Constitution, whose Article XII (entitled National Economy and Patrimony) establishes and fully embraces the regalian doctrine as a first and overriding principle.[3] This doctrine postulates that all lands belong to the State,[4] and that no public land can be acquired by private persons without any grant, express or implied, from the State.[5]

In the statutory realm, the PLA governs the classification, grant, and disposition of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain and, other than the Constitution, is the country's primary law on the matter.  Section 7 of the PLA delegates to the President the authority to administer and dispose of alienable public lands. Section 8 sets out the public lands open to disposition or concession, and the requirement that they should be officially delimited and classified and, when practicable, surveyed. Section 11, a very significant section, states that -
Public lands suitable for agricultural purposes can be disposed of only as follows and not otherwise:

(1) For homestead settlement;
(2) By sale;
(3) By lease;
(4) By confirmation of imperfect or incomplete title;
(5) By judicial legalization;
(6) By administrative legalization (free patent)
Section 48 covers confirmation of imperfect title, and embodies a grant of title to the qualified occupant or possessor of an alienable public land.  This section provides:
SECTION 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:

(a) Those who prior to the transfer of sovereignty from Spain to the United States have applied for the purchase, composition or other form of grant of lands of the public domain under the laws and royal decrees then in force and have instituted and prosecuted the proceedings in connection therewith, but have, with or without default upon their part, or for any other cause, not received title therefor, if such applicants or grantees and their heirs have occupied and cultivated said lands continuously since the filing of their applications.

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in the open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition or ownership, except as against the Government, since July twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and ninety-four, 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.
Significantly, subsection (a) has now been deleted, while subsection (b) has been amended by PD 1073 as follows:
SECTION 4. The provisions of Section 48(b) and Section 48(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 bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945.
Complementing the PLA is the PRD.[6] It was enacted to codify the various laws relating  to property registration. It governs the registration of lands under the Torrens System, as well as unregistered lands, including chattel mortgages. Section 14 of the PRD 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-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier.


(2)
Those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws.


(3)
Those who have acquired ownership of private lands or abandoned river beds by right of accession or accretion under the existing laws.


(4)
Those who have acquired ownership of land in any other manner provided for by law.
Subsection (1) of Section 14 is a copy of, and appears to have been lifted from, Section 48(b) of the PLA.  The two provisions, however, differ in intent and legal effect based on the purpose of the law that contains them. The PLA is a substantive law that classifies and provides for the disposition of alienable lands of the public domain. The PRD, on the other hand, specifically refers to the manner of bringing registerable lands, among them alienable public lands, within the coverage of the Torrens system. Thus, the first is a substantive law, while the other is essentially procedural, so that in terms of substantive content, the PLA should prevail.[7]

Significantly bearing on the matter of lands in general is the Civil Code and its provisions on Property[8] and Prescription.[9]  The law on property assumes importance because land, whether public or private, is property.  Prescription, on the other hand, is a mode of acquiring ownership of land, although it is not one of the modes of disposition mentioned in the PLA.

Chapter 3, Title I of Book II of the Civil Code is entitled "Property in Relation to the Person to Whom it Belongs."  On this basis, Article 419 classifies property to be property of public dominion or of private ownership.  Article 420 proceeds to further classify property of public dominion into those intended for public use, for public service, and for the development of the national wealth.  Article 421 states that all other properties of the State not falling under Article 420 are patrimonial property of the State, and Article 422 adds that property of public dominion, no longer intended for public use or for public service, shall form part of the patrimonial property of the State.  Under Article 425, property of private ownership, besides patrimonial property of the State, provinces, cities and municipalities, consists of all property belonging to private persons, either individually or collectively.

Prescription is essentially a civil law term and is not mentioned as one of the modes of acquiring alienable public land under the PLA, (Significantly, the PLA - under its Section 48 - provides for its system of how possession can ripen into ownership; the PLA does not refer to this as acquisitive prescription but as basis for confirmation of title.)  Section 14(2) of the PRD, however, specifies that "[t]hose who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provisions of existing laws" as among those who may apply for land registration. Thus, prescription was introduced into the land registration scheme (the PRD), but not into the special law governing lands of the public domain (the PLA).

A starting point in considering prescription in relation with public lands is Article 1108 of the Civil Code, which states that prescription does not run against the State and its subdivisions.  At the same time, Article 1113 provides that "all things which are within the commerce of men are susceptible of prescription, unless otherwise provided; property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription."  The provisions of Articles 1128 to 1131 may also come into play in the application of prescription to real properties.

In light of our established hierarchy of laws, particularly the supremacy of the Philippine Constitution, any consideration of lands of the public domain should start with the Constitution and its Regalian doctrine; all lands belong to the State, and he who claims ownership carries the burden of proving his claim.[10]  Next in the hierarchy is the PLA for purposes of the terms of the grant, alienation and disposition of the lands of the public domain, and the PRD for the registration of lands.  The PLA and the PRD are special laws supreme in their respective spheres, subject only to the Constitution.  The Civil Code, for its part, is the general law on property and prescription and should be accorded respect as such.  In more concrete terms, where alienable and disposable lands of the public domain are involved, the PLA is the primary law that should govern, and the Civil Code provisions on property and prescription must yield in case of conflict.[11] 

The Public Land Act

At  the risk  of  repetition, I  start  the discussion  of  the PLA  with a reiteration of the first principle that under the regalian doctrine, all lands of the public domain belong to the State, and the State is the source of any asserted right to ownership in land and charged with the conservation of such patrimony. Otherwise expressed, all lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State.[12]  Thus, all lands that have not been acquired from the government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the State as part of the inalienable public domain.[13]  We should never lose sight of the impact of this first principle where a private ownership claim is being asserted against the State.

The PLA has undergone many revisions and changes over time, starting from the first PLA, Act No. 926; the second public land law that followed, Act No. 2874; and the present CA 141 and its amendments.  Act No. 926 was described in the following terms:
The law governed the disposition of lands of the public domain.  It prescribed rules and regulations for the homesteading, selling and leasing of portions of the public domain of the Philippine Islands, and prescribed the terms and conditions to enable persons to perfect their titles to public lands in the Islands.  It also provided for the "issuance of patents to certain native settlers upon public lands," for the establishment of town sites and sale of lots therein, for the completion of imperfect titles, and for the cancellation or confirmation of Spanish concessions and grants in the Islands."  In short, the Public Land Act operated on the assumption that title to public lands in the Philippine Islands remained in the government; and that the government's title to public land  sprung from the Treaty of Paris  and other subsequent treaties between Spain and the United States.  The term "public land" referred to all lands of the public domain whose title still remained in the government and are thrown open to private appropriation and settlement, and excluded the patrimonial property of the government and the friar lands.[14]
This basic essence of the law has not changed and has been carried over to the present PLA and its amendments. Another basic feature, the requirement for open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the alienable and disposable public land under a bona fide claim of ownership also never changed. Still another consistent public land feature is the concept that once a person has complied with the requisite possession and occupation in the manner provided by law, he is automatically given a State grant that may be asserted against State ownership; the land, in other words, ipso jure becomes private land.[15]  The application for judicial confirmation of imperfect title shall then follow, based on the procedure for land registration.[16]  It is in this manner that the PLA ties up with the PRD.

A feature that has changed over time has been the period for reckoning the required occupation or possession.  In the first PLA, the required occupation/possession to qualify for judicial confirmation of imperfect title was 10 years preceding the effectivity of Act No. 926 - July 26, 1904 (or since July 26, 1894 or earlier). This was retained up to CA 141, until this law was amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 1942 (enacted on June 22, 1957),[17] which provided for a simple 30-year prescriptive period for judicial confirmation of imperfect title.  This period did not last; on January 25, 1977, Presidential Decree No. 1073 (PD 1073) [18] changed the required 30-year possession and occupation period provision, to possession and occupation of the land applied for since June 12, 1945, or earlier.  PD 1073 likewise changed the lands subject of imperfect title, from agricultural lands of the public domain to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain.  PD 1073 also extended the period for applications for free patents and judicial confirmation of imperfect titles to December 31, 1987.

The significance of the date "June 12, 1945" appears to have been lost to history.  A major concern raised against this date is that the country was at this time under Japanese occupation, and for some years after, was suffering from the uncertainties and instabilities that World War II brought. Questions were raised on how one could possibly comply with the June 12, 1945 or earlier occupation/possession requirement of PD 1073 when the then prevailing situation did not legally or physically permit it.

Without the benefit of congressional records, as the enactment of the law (a Presidential Decree) was solely through the President's lawmaking powers under a regime that permitted it, the most logical reason or explanation for the date is the possible impact of the interplay between the old law and the amendatory law.  When PD 1073 was enacted, the utmost concern, in all probability, was how the law would affect the application of the old law which provided for a thirty-year possession period. Counting 30 years backwards from the enactment of PD 1073 on January 25, 1977, PD 1073 should have provided for a January 24, 1947 cut-off date, but it did not.  Instead, it provided, for unknown reasons, the date June 12, 1945.

The June 12, 1945 cut-off date raised legal concerns; vested rights acquired under the old law (CA 141, as amended by RA 1942) providing for a 30-year possession period could not be impaired by the PD 1073 amendment. We recognized this legal dilemna in Abejaron v. Nabasa,[19] when we said:
However, as petitioner Abejaron's 30-year period of possession and occupation required by the Public Land Act, as amended by R.A. 1942 ran from 1945 to 1975, prior to the effectivity of P.D. No. 1073 in 1977, the requirement of said P.D. that occupation and possession should have started on June 12, 1945 or earlier, does not apply to him. As the Susi doctrine holds that the grant of title by virtue of Sec. 48(b) takes place by operation of law, then upon Abejaron's satisfaction of the requirements of this law, he would have already gained title over the disputed land in 1975.  This follows the doctrine laid down in Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court, et al., that the law cannot impair vested rights such as a land grant. More clearly stated, "Filipino citizens who by themselves or their predecessors-in-interest have been, prior to the effectivity of P.D. 1073 on January 25, 1977, 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 30 years, or at least since January 24, 1947" may apply for judicial confirmation of their imperfect or incomplete title under Sec. 48(b) of the Public Land Act.
From this perspective, PD 1073 should have thus provided January 24, 1947 and not June 12, 1945 as its cut-off date, yet the latter date is the express legal reality. The reconciliation, as properly defined by jurisprudence, is that where an applicant has satisfied the requirements of Section 48 (b) of CA 141, as amended by RA 1942, prior to the effectivity of PD 1073, the applicant is entitled to perfect his or her title, even if possession and occupation does not date back to June 12, 1945. For purposes of the present case, a discussion of the cut-off date has been fully made to highlight that it is a date whose significance and import cannot be minimized nor glossed over by mere judicial interpretation or by judicial social policy concerns; the full legislative intent must be respected.

In considering the PLA, it should be noted that its amendments were not confined to RA 1942 and PD 1073.  These decrees were complemented by Presidential Decree No. 892 (PD 892)[20] - issued on February 16, 1976 - which limited to six months the use of Spanish titles as evidence in land registration proceedings.[21]  Thereafter, the recording of all unregistered lands shall be governed by Section 194 of the Revised Administrative Code, as amended by Act No. 3344. Section 3 of PD 1073 totally disallowed the judicial confirmation of incomplete titles to public land based on unperfected Spanish grants.

Subsequently, RA 6940[22] extended the period for filing applications for free patent and judicial confirmation of imperfect title to December 31, 2000.  The law now also allows the issuance of free patents for lands not in excess of 12 hectares to any natural-born citizen of the Philippines who is not the owner of more than 12 hectares and who, for at least 30 years prior to the effectivity of the amendatory Act, has continuously occupied and cultivated, either by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, a tract or tracts of agricultural public lands subject to disposition.

Congress recently extended the period for filing applications for judicial confirmation of imperfect and incomplete titles to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under RA 9176 from December 31, 2000 under RA 6940 to December 31, 2020.[23]

Read together with Section 11 of the PLA (which defines the administrative grant of title to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain through homestead settlement and sale, among others), RA 6940 and RA 9176 signify that despite the cut-off date of June 12, 1945 that the Legislature has provided, ample opportunities exist under the law for the grant of alienable lands of the public domain to deserving beneficiaries.

Presidential Decree No. 1529 or the
Property Registration Decree


As heretofore mentioned, PD 1529 amended Act No. 496 on June 11, 1978 to codify the various laws relative to registration of property. Its Section 14 describes the applicants who may avail of registration under the Decree, among them -
(1) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier.

(2) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provision of existing laws
These subsections and their impact on the present case are separately discussed below.

Section 14(1)

Section 14(1) merely repeated PD 1073 which sets a cut-off date of June 12, 1945 and which, under the conditions discussed above, may be read to be January 24, 1947.

The ponencia discussed Section 48(b) of the PLA in relation with Section 14(1) of the PRD and, noted among others, that "under the current state of the law, the substantive right granted under Section 48(b) may be availed of only until December 31, 2020."  This is in light of RA 9176, passed in 2002,[24] limiting the filing of an application for judicial confirmation of imperfect title to December 31, 2020.  The amendatory law apparently refers only to the use of Section 14(1) of the PRD as a mode of registration.  Where ownership right or title has already vested in the possessor-occupant of the land that Section 48(b) of the PLA grants by operation of law, Section 14(2) of the PRD continuous to be open for purposes of registration of a "private land" since compliance with Section 48(b) of the PLA vests title to the occupant/possessor and renders the land private in character.

The ponencia likewise rules against the position of the Office of the Solicitor General that the public land to be registered must have been classified as alienable and disposable as of the cut-off date for possession stated in Section 48(b) - June 12, 1945.  In doing this, it cites and reiterates its continuing support for the ruling in Republic v. Court of Appeals and Naguit that held:[25]
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. Ad proximum antecedents fiat relation nisi impediatur sentencia.

Besides, we are mindful of the absurdity that would result if we adopt petitioner's position. Absent a legislative amendment, the rule would be, adopting the OSG's 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, 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.

x x x

This case is distinguishable from Bracewell v. Court of Appeals, 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. Thus, in this case, where the application was made years after the property had been certified as alienable and disposable, the Bracewell ruling does not apply.
As it did in Naguit, the present ponencia as well discredits Bracewell.  It does the same with Republic v. Herbieto[26] that came after Naguit and should have therefore overtaken the Naguit ruling. In the process, the ponencia cites with approval the ruling in Republic v. Ceniza,[27] penned by the same ponente who wrote Bracewell.

While the ponencia takes pains to compare these cases, it however completely misses the point from the perspective of whether possession of public lands classified as alienable and disposable after June 12, 1945 should be credited for purposes of a grant under Section 48(b) of the PLA, and of registration under Section 14(1) of the PRD. These cases, as analyzed by the ponencia, merely granted or denied registration on the basis of whether the public land has been classified as alienable and disposable at the time the petition for registration was filed.  Thus, except for Naguit, these cases can be cited only as instances when registration was denied or granted despite the classification of the land as alienable after June 12, 1945.

The ruling in Naguit is excepted because, as shown in the quotation above, this is one case that explained why possession prior to the classification of public land as alienable should be credited in favor of the possessor who filed his or her application for registration after the classification of the land as alienable and disposable, but where such classification occurred after June 12, 1945.

Closely analyzed, the rulings in Naguit that the ponencia relied upon are its statutory construction interpretation of Section 48(b) of the PLA and the observed ABSURDITY of using June 12, 1945 as the cut-off point for the classification.

Five very basic reasons compel me to strongly disagree with Naguit and its reasons.

First. The constitutional and statutory reasons. The Constitution classifies public lands into agricultural, mineral, and timber.  Of these, only agricultural lands can be alienated.[28]  Without the requisite classification, there can be no basis to determine which lands of the public domain are alienable and which are not; hence, classification is a constitutionally-required step whose importance should be given full legal recognition and effect. Otherwise stated, without classification into disposable agricultural land, the land forms part of the mass of the public domain that, not being agricultural, must be mineral or timber land that are completely inalienable and as such cannot be possessed with legal effects.  To allow effective possession is to do violence to the regalian doctrine; the ownership and control that the doctrine denotes will be less than full if the possession that should be with the State as owner, but is elsewhere without any authority, can anyway be recognized.

From the perspective of the PLA under which grant can be claimed under its Section 48(b), it is very important to note that this law does not apply until a classification into alienable and disposable land of the public domain is made. If the PLA does not apply prior to a public land's classification as alienable and disposable, how can possession under its Section 48(b) be claimed prior such classification?  There can simply be no imperfect title to be confirmed over lands not yet classified as disposable or alienable because, in the absence of such classification, the land remains unclassified public land that fully belongs to the State.  This is fully supported by Sections 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of CA 141.[29]  If the land is either mineral or timber and can never be the subject of administration and disposition, it defies legal logic to allow the possession of these unclassified lands to produce legal effect. Thus, the classification of public land as alienable and disposable is inextricably linked to effective possession that can ripen into a claim under Section 48(b) of the PLA.

Second. The Civil Code reason. Possession is essentially a civil law term that can best be understood in terms of the Civil Code in the absence of any specific definition in the PLA other than in terms of time of possession.[30] Article 530 of the Civil Code provides that "[O]nly things and rights which are susceptible of being appropriated may be the object of possession." Prior to the declaration of alienability, a land of the public domain cannot be appropriated; hence, any claimed possession cannot have legal effects.   This perspective fully complements what has been said above under the constitutional and PLA reasons.  It confirms, too, that the critical difference the ponencia saw in the Bracewell and Naguit situations does not really exist. Whether an application for registration is filed before or after the declaration of alienability becomes immaterial if, in one as in the other, no effective possession can be recognized prior to the declaration of alienability.

Third.  Statutory construction and the cut-off date - June 12, 1945. The ponencia assumes, based on its statutory construction reasoning and its reading of Section 48(b) of the PLA, that all that the law requires is possession from June 12, 1945 and that it suffices if the land has been classified as alienable at the time of application for registration. As heretofore discussed, this cut-off date was painstakingly set by law and should be given full significance.  Its full import appears from PD 1073 that amended Section 48(b), whose exact wordings state:
SECTION 4.   The provisions of Section 48(b) and Section 48(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 bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945.
Under this formulation, it appears clear that PD 1073 did not expressly state what Section 48(b) should provide under the amendment PD 1073 introduced in terms of the exact wording of the amended Section 48(b).  But under the PD 1073 formulation, the intent to count the alienability to June 12, 1945 appears very clear.  The provision applies only to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain that is described in terms of the character of the possession required since June 12, 1945. This intent - seen in the direct, continuous and seamless linking of the alienable and disposable lands of the public domain to June 12, 1945 under the wording of the Decree - is clear and should be respected.

Fourth. Other Modes of Acquisition of lands under the PLA. Naguit's absurdity argument that the ponencia effectively adopted is more apparent than real, since the use of June 12, 1945 as cut-off date for the declaration of alienability will not render the grant of alienable public lands out of reach. The acquisition of ownership and title may still be obtained by other modes under the PLA.  Among other laws, RA 6940, mentioned above, now allows the use of free patents.[31] It was approved on March 28, 1990; hence, counting 30 years backwards, possession since April 1960 or thereabouts may qualify a possessor to apply for a free patent.  The administrative modes provided under Section 11 of the PLA are also open, particularly, homestead settlement and sales.

Fifth. Addressing the wisdom - the absurdity - of the law.   This Court acts beyond the limits of the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers in giving Section 48(b), as amended by PD 1073, an interpretation beyond its plain wording.  Even this Court cannot read into the law an intent that is not there even your purpose is to avoid an absurd situation.  If we feel that a law already has absurd effects because of the passage of time, our role under the principle of separation of powers is not to give the law an interpretation that is not there in order to avoid the perceived absurdity.  We thereby dip into the realm of policy - a role delegated by the Constitution to the Legislature.  If only for this reason, we should avoid expanding - through Naguit and the present ponencia - the plain meaning of Section 48(b) of the PLA, as amended by PD 1073.

In standing by Naguit, the ponencia pointedly discredits the ruling in Herbieto; it is, allegedly, either an incorrect ruling or an obiter dictum.  As to legal correctness, Herbieto is in full accord with what we have stated above; hence, it cannot be dismissed off-hand as an incorrect ruling. Likewise, its ruling on the lack of effective legal possession prior to the classification of a public land as alienable and disposable cannot strictly be obiter because it responded to an issue directly raised by the parties. Admittedly, its ruling on jurisdictional grounds could have fully resolved the case, but it cannot be faulted if it went beyond this threshold issue into the merits of the claim of effective possession prior to the classification of the land as alienable and disposable.

To be sure, Herbieto has more to it than the Naguit ruling that the ponencia passes off as the established and definitive rule on possession under Section 14(1) of the PRD.  There, too, is the undeniable reason that no definitive ruling touching on Section 14(1) can be deemed to have been established in the present case since the applicant Heirs could only prove possession up to 1948. For this reason, the ponencia falls back on and examines Section 14(2) of the PRD.  In short, if there is a perfect example of a ruling that is not necessary for the resolution of a case, that unnecessary ruling is the ponencia's ruling that Naguit is now the established rule.

Section 14(2)

Section 14(2), by its express terms, applies only to private lands.  Thus, on plain reading, it does not apply to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain that Section 14(1) covers.  This is the difference between Sections 14(1) and 14(2).

The ponencia, as originally formulated, saw a way of expanding the coverage of Section 14(2) via the Civil Code by directly applying civil law  provisions on prescription on alienable and disposable lands of the public domain. To quote the obiter dictum in Naguit that the ponencia wishes to enshrine as the definitive rule and leading case on Sections 14(1) and 14(2):[32]
Prescription is one of the modes of acquiring ownership under the Civil Code.  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.  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 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 ponencia then posits that Article 1113 of the Civil Code should be considered in the interpretation of Section 14(2).  Article 1113 of the Civil Code provides:
All things which are within the commerce of men are susceptible of prescription, unless otherwise provided.  Property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.
The application of Article 1113 assumes, of course, that (1) the Civil Code fully applies to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain; (2) assuming that the Civil Code fully applies, these properties are patrimonial and are therefore "private property"; and (3) assuming that the Civil Code fully applies, that these properties are within the commerce of men and can be acquired through prescription.

I find the Naguit obiter to be questionable because of the above assumptions and its direct application of prescription under Section 14(2) to alienable or disposable lands of the public domain.  This Section becomes relevant only once the ownership of an alienable and disposable land of the public domain vests in the occupant or possessor pursuant to the terms of Section 48(b) of the PLA, with or without judicial confirmation of title, so that the land has become a private land.  At that point, Section 14(2) becomes fully operational on what had once been an alienable and disposable land of the public domain.

Hierarchy of Law in Reading PRD's
Section 14(2)


The hierarchy of laws governing the lands of the public domain is clear from Article XII, Section 3 of the Constitution. There are matters that the Constitution itself provides for, and some that are left for Congress to deal with. Thus, under Section 3, the Constitution took it upon itself to classify lands of the public domain, and to state that only agricultural lands may be alienable lands of the public domain.  It also laid down the terms under which lands of the public domain may be leased by corporations and individuals.  At the same time, it delegated to Congress the authority to classify agricultural lands of the public domain according to the uses to which they may be devoted.  Congress likewise determines, by law, the size of the lands of the public domain that may be acquired, developed, held or leased, and the conditions therefor.

In acting on the delegation, Congress is given the choice on how it will act, specifically, whether it will pass a general or a special law.  On alienable and disposable lands of the public domain, Congress has, from the very beginning, acted through the medium of a special law, specifically, through the Public Land Act that by its terms "shall apply to the lands of the public domain; but timber and mineral lands shall be governed by special laws." Notably, the Act goes on to provide that nothing in it "shall be understood or construed to change or modify the administration and disposition of the lands commonly called `friar lands' and those which, being privately owned, have reverted to or become property of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, which administration and disposition shall be governed by laws at present in force or which may hereafter be enacted."[33]  Under these terms, the PLA can be seen to be a very specific act whose coverage extends only to lands of the public domain; in this sense, it is a special law on that subject.

In contrast, the Civil Code is a general law that covers general rules on the effect and application of laws and human relations; persons and family relations; property and property relations; the different modes of acquiring ownership; and obligations and contracts.[34]  Its general nature is best appreciated when in its Article 18, it provides that: "In matters which are governed by the Code of Commerce and special laws, their deficiency shall be supplied by the provisions of this Code."

The Civil Code has the same relationship with the PRD with respect to the latter's special focus - land registration - and fully applies civil law provisions in so far only as they are allowed by the PRD. One such case where the Civil Code is expressly allowed to apply is in the case of Section 14(2) of the PRD which calls for the application of prescription under existing laws.

As already explained above, the PLA and the PRD have their own specific purposes and are supreme within their own spheres, subject only to what the higher Constitution provides.  Thus, the PRD must defer to what the PLA provides when the matter to be registered is an alienable and disposable land of the public domain.

Application of the Civil Code

In its Book II, the Civil Code has very clear rules on property, including State property.  It classifies property as either of public dominion or of private ownership,[35] and property for public use, public service and those for the development of the national wealth as property of the public dominion.[36] All property not so characterized are patrimonial property of the State[37] which are susceptible to private ownership,[38] against which prescription will run.[39]

In reading all these provisions, it should not be overlooked that they refer to the properties of the State in general, i.e., to both movable and immovable properties.[40]  Thus, the Civil Code provisions on property do not refer to land alone, much less do they refer solely to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain.  For this specie of land, the PLA is the special governing law and, under the Civil Code itself, the Civil Code provisions shall apply only in case of deficiency.[41]

This conclusion gives rise to the question - can alienable and disposable lands of the public domain at the same time be patrimonial property of the State because they are not for public use, public purpose, and for the development of national wealth?

The answer to this question can be found, among others, in the interaction discussed above between the PLA and PRD, on the one hand, and the Civil Code, on the other, and will depend on the purpose for which an answer is necessary.

If, as in the present case, the purpose is to determine whether a grant or disposition of an alienable and disposable land of the public domain has been made, then the PLA primarily applies and the Civil Code applies only suppletorily.  The possession and occupation that the PLA recognizes is based on its Section 48(b) and, until the requirements of this Section are satisfied, the alienable and disposable land of the public domain remains a State property that can be disposed only under the terms of Section 11 of the PLA. In the face of this legal reality, the question of whether - for purposes of prescription - an alienable and disposable land of the public domain is patrimonial or not becomes immaterial; a public land, even if alienable and disposable, is State property and prescription does not run against the State.[42]  In other words, there is no room for any hairsplitting that would allow the inapplicable concept of prescription under the Civil Code to be directly applied to an alienable and disposable land of the public domain before this land satisfies the terms of a grant under Section 48(b) of the PLA.

Given this conclusion, any further discussion of the patrimonial character of alienable and disposable public lands under the norms of the Civil Code is rendered moot and academic.

From the prism of the overriding regalian doctrine that all lands of the public domain are owned by the State, an applicant for land registration invoking Section 14(2) of the PRD to support his claim must first clearly show that the land has been withdrawn from the public domain through an express and positive act of the government.[43]

A clear express governmental grant or act withdrawing a particular land from the mass of the public domain is provided both in the old and the prevailing Public Land Acts.  These laws invariably provide that compliance with the required possession of agricultural public land (under the first and second PLAs) or alienable and disposable land of the public domain (under the prevailing PLA) in the manner and duration provided by law is equivalent to a government grant.  Thus, the land ipso jure becomes private land.  It is only at that point that the "private land" requirement of Section 14(2) materializes.[44]

Prescription

In my original Dissent (in response to the original ponencia), I discussed ordinary acquisitive prescription as an academic exercise to leave no stone unturned in rejecting the ponencia's original conclusion that prescription directly applies to alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under Section 14(2) of the PRD.  I am happy to note that the present ponencia has adopted, albeit without any attribution, part of my original academic discussion on the application of the Civil Code, particularly on the subjects of patrimonial property of the State and prescription.

Specifically, I posited - assuming arguendo that the Civil Code applies - that the classification of a public land as alienable and disposable does not per se signify that the land is patrimonial under the Civil Code since property, to be patrimonial, must not be for public use, for public purpose or for the development of national wealth. Something more must be done or shown beyond the fact of classification. The ponencia now concedes that "[T]here must also be an express government manifestation that the property is already patrimonial or no longer retained for public use or the development of the national wealth, under Article 422 of the Civil Code.  And only when the property has become patrimonial can the prescriptive period for the acquisition of property of the public domain begin to run."

I agree with this statement as it describes a clear case when the property has become private by the government's own declaration so that prescription under the Civil Code can run.  Note in this regard that there is no inconsistency between this conclusion and the hierarchy of laws on lands of the public domain that I expounded on.  To reiterate, the PLA applies as a special and primary law when a public land is classified as alienable and disposable, and remains fully and exclusively applicable until the State itself expressly declares that the land now qualifies as a patrimonial property.  At that point, the application of the Civil Code and its law on prescription are triggered.  The application of Section 14(2) of the PRD follows.

To summarize, I submit in this Concurring and Dissenting Opinion that:
  1. The hierarchy of laws on public domain must be given full application in considering lands of the public domain.  Top consideration should be accorded to the Philippine Constitution, particularly its Article XII, followed by the consideration of applicable special laws - the PLA and the PRD, insofar as this Decree applies to lands of the public domain.  The Civil Code and other general laws apply to the extent expressly called for by the primary laws or to supply any of the latter's deficiencies.
  2. The ruling in this ponencia and in Naguit that the classification of public lands as alienable and disposable does not need to date back to June 12, 1945 at the latest, is wrong because:

    1. Under the Constitution's regalian doctrine, classification is a required step whose full import should be given full effect and recognition; giving legal effect to possession prior to classification runs counter to the regalian doctrine.
    2. The Public Land Act applies only from the time a public land is classified as alienable and disposable;  thus, Section 48(b) of this law and the possession it requires cannot be recognized prior to any classification.
    3. Under the Civil Code, "[O]nly things and rights which are susceptible of being appropriated may be the object of possession." Prior to the classification of a public land as alienable and disposable, a land of the public domain cannot be appropriated; hence, any claimed possession cannot have legal effects.
    4. There are other modes of acquiring alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under the Public Land Act; this legal reality renders the ponencia's absurdity argument misplaced.
    5. The alleged absurdity of the law addresses the wisdom of the law and is a matter for the Legislature, not for this Court, to address.
Consequently, Naguit must be abandoned and rejected for being based on legally-flawed premises and for being an aberration in land registration jurisprudence. At the very least, the present ponencia cannot be viewed as an authority on the effective possession prior to classification since this ruling, by the ponencia's own admission, is not necessary for the resolution of the present case.



[1] G.R. No. 144507, January 17, 2005, 442 SCRA 445.

[2] Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended (CA 141).

[3] See Collado v. Court of Appeals, G. R. No. 107764, October 4, 2002, 390 SCRA 343.

[4] CONSTITUTION, Article XII, Section 2.

[5] See Republic v. Herbieto, G. R. No. 156117, May 26, 2005, 459 SCRA 182.

[6] Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1529, amending Act No. 496 that originally brought the Torrens system into the Philippines in 1903.

[7] Substantive law is that which creates, defines and regulates rights, or which regulates the rights and duties which give rise to a cause of action, that part of the law which courts are established to administer, as opposed to adjective or remedial law, which prescribes the method of enforcing rights or obtain redress for their invasion (Primicias v. Ocampo, 93 Phil. 446.)  It is the nature and the purpose of the law which determines whether it is substantive or procedural, and not its place in the statute, or its inclusion in a code (Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Volume I [Ninth Revised Edition], p. 19). Note that Section 55 of the PLA refers to the Land Registration Act (the predecessor law of the PRD) on how the Torrens title may be obtained.

[8] CIVIL CODE, Book II (Property, Ownership and its Modifications), Articles 415-711.

[9] CIVIL CODE, Book III (Different Modes of Acquiring Ownership), Articles 1106-1155.

[10] See the consolidated cases of The Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources v. Yap, G.R. No. 167707 and Sacay v. The Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, G.R. No. 173775, jointly decided on October 8, 2008 (the Boracay cases).

[11] CIVIL CODE, Article 18.

[12] Director of Lands and Director of Forest Development v. Intermediate Appellate Court and  J. Antonio Araneta, G.R. No. 73246, March 2, 1993, 219 SCRA 339.

[13] See the Boracay cases, supra note 8.

[14] See the opinion of Justice Reynato S. Puno (now Chief Justice) in Cruz v. Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (G.R. No. 135385, December 6, 2000, 347 SCRA 128) quoted in Collado (supra note 2).

[15] Enunciated in the old case of Susi v. Razon and Director of Lands, 48 Phil. 424 (1925); See Abejaron v. Nabasa, cited on p. 10 of this Dissent.

[16] PLA, Sections 49-56; the reference to the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496) should now be understood to mean the PRD which repealed Act 496.

[17] An Act to Amend Subsection (b) of Section Forty Eight of Commonwealth Act Numbered One Hundred Forty One, otherwise known as the The Public Land Act.

[18] Extending the Period of Filing Applications for Administrative Legislation (Free Patent) and Judicial Confirmation of Imperfect and Incomplete Titles to Alienable and Disposable Lands in the Public Domain Under Chapter VII and Chapter VIII of Commonwealth Act No. 141, As Amended, For Eleven (11) Years Commencing January 1, 1977.

[19] G.R. No. 84831, June 20, 2001, 359 SCRA 47.

[20] Discontinuance of the Spanish Mortgage System of Registration and of the Use of Spanish Titles as Evidence in Land Registration Proceedings.

[21] Section 1of PD 892 states:
SECTION 1. The system of registration under the Spanish Mortgage Law is discontinued, and all lands recorded under said system which are not yet covered by Torrens title shall be considered as unregistered lands.

All holders of Spanish titles or grants should apply for registration of their lands under Act No. 496, otherwise known as the Land Registration Act, within six (6) months from the effectivity of this decree. Thereafter, Spanish titles cannot be used as evidence of land ownership in any registration proceedings under the Torrens system.

Hereafter, all instruments affecting lands originally registered under the Spanish Mortgage Law may be recorded under Section 194 of the Revised Administrative Code, as amended by Act. 3344.
[22] An Act Granting a Period ending on December 31, 2000 for Filing Applications for Free Patent and Judicial Confirmation of Imperfect Title to Alienable and Disposable Lands of the Public Domain under Chapters VII and VIII of the Public Land Act (CA 141, as amended).

[23] R.A. No. 9176, Section 2.

[24] See pp. 14-15 of the ponencia.

[25] Supra note 1.

[26] G.R. No. 156117, May 26, 2005, 459 SCRA 183, 201-202.

[27] 440 Phil. 697 (2002); penned by Mme. Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago.

[28] CONSTITUTION, Article XII, Section 2.

[29] SECTION 6. The President, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, shall from time to time classify the lands of the public domain into —

(a) Alienable or disposable,
(b) Timber, and
(c) Mineral lands,

and may at any time and in a like manner transfer such lands from one class to another, for the purposes of their administration and disposition.

SECTION 7. For the purposes of the administration and disposition of alienable or disposable public lands, the President, upon recommendation by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, shall from time to time declare what lands are open to disposition or concession under this Act.

SECTION 8. Only those lands shall be declared open to disposition or concession which have been officially delimited and classified and, when practicable, surveyed, and which have not been reserved for public or quasi-public uses, nor appropriated by the Government, nor in any manner become private property, nor those on which a private right authorized and recognized by this Act or any other valid law may be claimed, or which, having been reserved or appropriated, have ceased to be so. However, the President may, for reasons of public interest, declare lands of the public domain open to disposition before the same have had their boundaries established or been surveyed, or may, for the same reason, suspend their concession or disposition until they are again declared open to concession or disposition by proclamation duly published or by Act of the National Assembly.

SECTION 9. For the purpose of their administration and disposition, the lands of the public domain alienable or open to disposition shall be classified, according to the use or purposes to which such lands are destined, as follows:

(a) Agricultural;
(b) Residential, commercial, industrial, or for similar productive purposes;
(c) Educational, charitable, or other similar purposes;
(d) Reservations for town sites and for public and quasi-public uses.

The President, upon recommendation by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, shall from time to time make the classifications provided for in this section, and may, at any time and in a similar manner, transfer lands from one class to another.

SECTION 10. The words "alienation," "disposition," or "concession" as used in this Act, shall mean any of the methods authorized by this Act for the acquisition, lease, use, or benefit of the lands of the public domain other than timber or mineral lands.

[30] See Article 18, Civil Code.

[31] See pp. 10-11 of this Dissent.

[32] See p. 20 of the ponencia.

[33] CA 141, Section 2.

[34] These are the Introductory Chapters and Books I to IV of the Civil Code.

[35] CIVIL CODE, Article 419.

[36] Id.., Article 420.

[37] Id.., Article 421.

[38] Id.., Article 425.

[39] Id.., Article 1108.

[40] Article 415 of the Civil Code defines immovable property, while Article 416 defines movable property.

[41] CIVIL CODE, Article 18.

[42] Id., Article 1108.

[43] Supra note 10, Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court.

[44] At this point, prescription can be invoked, not by the occupant/possessor who now owns the land in his private capacity, but against the new owner by whomsoever shall then occupy the land and comply with the ordinary or extraordinary prescription that the Civil Code ordains.  This assumes that the new owner has not placed the land under the Torrens system; otherwise, indefeasibility and imprescriptibility would set in.




Source: Supreme Court E-Library | Date created: June 09, 2009
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