Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Regalian doctrine in land registration - G.R. No. 172331

G.R. No. 172331
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"x x x.

We deny the petition.

The Property Registration Decree (P.D. No. 1529) provides for original registration of land in an ordinary registration proceeding. Under Section 14(1)[14] thereof, a petition may be granted upon compliance with the following requisites: (a) that the property in question is alienable and disposable land of the public domain; (b) that the applicants by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation; and (c) that such possession is under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier.

Under the Regalian doctrine which is embodied in Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, all lands of the public domain belong to the State, which is the source of any asserted right to ownership of land. All lands not appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. Unless public land is shown to have been reclassified or alienated to a private person by the State, it remains part of the inalienable public domain. To overcome this presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be established that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable.[15]

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.[16] The applicant may also secure a certification from the Government that the lands applied for are alienable and disposable.[17]

In this case, the Assistant Regional Executive Director For Operations-Mainland Provinces of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in compliance with the directive of the trial court, issued a certification stating that the subject property “falls within the Alienable and Disposable Land, Project No. 22-A of Lipa, Batangas per LC Map 718 certified on March 26, 1928.”[18] However, in the Certification[19] dated January 14, 2000 issued by the DENR CENR Officer of Batangas City, Pancrasio M. Alcantara, which was submitted in evidence by the petitioner, it states that:

This is to certify that based on projection from the technical reference map of this Office, Lot No. 3730, Ap-04-009883, situated at Barangay San Andres, Malvar, Batangas containing an area of NINE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED THREE AND FORTY SEVEN (9,103.47) SQUARE METERS and shown at the reverse side hereof has been verified to be within the ALIENABLE AND DISPOSABLE ZONE underProject No. 39, Land Classification Map No. 3601 certified on 22 December 1997 except for twenty meters strip of land along the creek bounding on the northeastern portion which is to be maintained as streambank protection.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied.)

Petitioner has not explained the discrepancies in the dates of classification[20] mentioned in the foregoing government certifications. Consequently, the status of the land applied for as alienable and disposable was not clearly established.

We also agree with the CA that petitioner’s evidence failed to show that he possessed the property in the manner and for the duration required by law.

Petitioner presented tax declarations and the deeds of confirmation of the 1946 sale from the original owner (Lucio Olan) to Anatalio Aranda and the 1965 donation made by the latter in favor of petitioner. But as found by the CA, the history of the land shows that it was declared for taxation purposes for the first time only in 1981. On the other hand, the Certification issued by the Municipal Treasurer of Malvar stated that petitioner, who supposedly received the property from his father in 1965, had been paying the corresponding taxes for said land “for more than five consecutive years including the current year [1999],” or beginning 1994 only or just three years before the filing of the application for original registration. While, as a rule, tax declarations or realty tax payments of property are not conclusive evidence of ownership, nevertheless they are good indicia of possession in the concept of owner, for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in his actual or constructive possession – they constitute at least proof that the holder has a claim of title over the property.[21]

Petitioner likewise failed to prove the alleged possession of his predecessors-in-interest. His witness Luis Olan testified that he had been visiting the land along with his father Lucio since he was 6 years old (he was 70 years old at the time he testified), or as early as 1936. Yet, there was no evidence that Lucio Olan declared the property for tax purposes at anytime before he sold it to Anatalio Aranda. There is also no showing that Anatalio Aranda declared the property in his name from the time he bought it from Lucio Olan. And even assuming that Lucio actually planted rice and corn on the land, such statement is not sufficient to establish possession in the concept of owner as contemplated by law. Mere casual cultivation of the land does not amount to exclusive and notorious possession that would give rise to ownership.[22] Specific acts of dominion must be clearly shown by the applicant.

We have held that a person who seeks the registration of title to a piece of land on the basis of possession by himself and his predecessors-in-interest must prove his claim by clear and convincing evidence, i.e., he must prove his title and should not rely on the absence or weakness of the evidence of the oppositors.[23] Furthermore, the court has the bounden duty, even in the absence of any opposition, to require the petitioner to show, by a preponderance of evidence and by positive and absolute proof, so far as possible, that he is the owner in fee simple of the lands which he is attempting to register.[24] Since petitioner failed to meet the quantum of proof required by law, the CA was correct in reversing the trial court and dismissing his application for judicial confirmation of title.

x x x."