Dr. Mely F. Sorra, Document Examiner V and presently the Chief of Questioned Documents Division, Philippine National Police (PNP), testified that the LMB submitted for examination on December 1, 2009 three (3) questioned documents: “Q-1” - Assignment of Sale Certificate No. 1054 dated March 11, 1919 executed by Regina Geronimo, Modesto Zacarias and Felicisimo Villanueva; “Q-2” - Assignment of Sale Certificate No. 1054 dated May 4, 1923; and “Q-3” – Assignment of Sale Certificate No. 511 dated June 24, 1939 (transmittal letter marked as Exh. 139 signed by Atty. Fe. T. Tuanda, OIC, RMD). Her laboratory report (Exh. 138) contains the findings of the microscopic, ultraviolet (UV) transmitted light and physical examinations, and photographic procedure she performed on the questioned documents. She also went to the National Archives for comparison of the appearance of documents dated 1919, 1923 and 1932 with “Q-1”, “Q-2” and “Q-3.” She found the three (3) documents authentic being old and because of their discoloration and tattered condition, but she admitted that she cannot tell the age of said documents, nor the age of the paper used. She merely determined the age through the browning and discoloration, tears or tattered condition of the paper. In this case, she concluded that the documents were old because they are attested/notarized and because of their physical appearance, such as the ink used in the signatures was already fading and had evaporated/oxidized. Because of age, the ink of the signatures appearing on the documents had evaporated and the color is brownish; the particular ink which evaporates refers to a fountain pen ink. The entries that were in ballpoint pen ink were the written entries on the stamp pad bearing the words “Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Land Management Bureau-RMD Manila.” When the documents were subjected under ultraviolet light examination, they gave a dull fluorescence reaction as opposed to a very bright fluorescence reaction of a new coupon bond.
On cross-examination, Dr. Sorra said that at the National Archives she saw the duplicates of the originals of documents “Q-1” and “Q-2” and had examined and photographed them; they appeared newer than those copies submitted by the LMB because of good storage. She did not examine contemporaneous documents in the records of the LMB because she believes that the National Archives is the repository of all the documents in the Philippines and because the three (3) questioned documents came from the LMB, and she presumed that the record-keeping facilities at the LMB are not as good as that of the National Archives based on the difference in the appearance of the documents from these offices. However, she was not able to see how the documents are being stored at the LMB as she was not able to visit said office. Based on her findings, the questioned documents are old; she had seen documents dated 1919 and 1923 on file with the National Archives. Documents “Q-1 and Q-2” were from 1919 based on their copies at the National Archives and her examination thereof. She explained that her conclusion that the document is authentic does not mean that the signatures are also authentic because she had no basis for comparison, and that she would not be able to determine the age of a document when there was an artificial aging.
Dr. Sorra admitted that she did not conduct a chemical examination of the questioned documents because the PNP Crime Laboratory has no scientific equipment for chemical analysis, and that she did not refer the said documents to the Chemistry Division of the PNP because the carbon dating equipment is with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST); she also did not refer the documents to the DOST. She agreed that the best and more accurate way of determining the age of a paper or a document is through carbon dating, and explained that through microscopic and physical examination she will be able to tell whether the document is old but not its exact age.
x x x.
Evaluating the documentary and testimonial evidence adduced by the Manotoks, the CA concluded that they still failed to establish a valid claim over
x x x.
The most fatal defect stressed by the CA in its Commissioners’ Report is the lack of signature of the Chief of the Bureau of Public Lands (now Director of Lands) on Sale Certificate No. 1054 and approval by the Secretary of Interior/Agriculture and Commerce on the Manotoks’ Sale Certificate No. 1054 and Deed of Conveyance No. 29204, as required under Act No. 1120. For being null and void ab initio, Sale Certificate No. 1054 cannot thus be the source of any legal right over
x x x.
The Court’s Ruling
The core issue presented is whether the absence of approval of the Secretary of the Interior/Agriculture and Natural Resources in Sale Certificate No. 1054 and Deed of Conveyance No. 29204 warrants the annulment of the Manotok title.
From the proceedings in the CA, it was established that while records of the DENR-LMB indicate the original claimant/applicant of
Sale Certificate No. 1054 dated
Section 18 of Act No. 1120 provides:
SECTION 18. No lease or sale made by Chief of the Bureau of Public Lands under the provisions of this Act shall be valid until approved by the Secretary of the Interior. (Emphasis supplied.)
It is clear from the foregoing provision that the sale of friar lands shall be valid only if approved by the Secretary of the Interior (later the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce). In Solid State Multi-Products Corporation v. Court of Appeals, this Court categorically declared that the approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce is indispensable for the validity of the sale of friar lands. This was reiterated in Liao v. Court of Appeals, where sales certificates issued by the Director of Lands in 1913 were held to be void in the absence of approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
In their Memorandum, the Manotoks pointed out that their photocopy of the original Deed of Conveyance No. 29204 (Exh. 51-A), sourced from the National Archives, shows on the second page a poorly imprinted typewritten name over the words “Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources”, which name is illegible, and above it an even more poorly imprinted impression of what may be a stamp of the Secretary’s approval. Considering that the particular copy of said deed of conveyance on which the transfer certificate of title was issued by the Register of Deeds in the name of the buyer Severino Manotok is required by law to be filed with and retained in the custody of the Register of Deeds in accordance with Sec. 56 of Act No. 496 and Sec. 56 of P.D. No. 1529, the Manotoks contend that “we can assume that the Manotok deed of conveyance was in fact approved by the Department Secretary because the register of deeds did issue TCT No. 22813 in the name of the buyer Severino Manotok.” It is also argued that since the Bureau of Lands was required by law to transmit the deed of conveyance directly to the Register of Deeds, said office is legally presumed to have observed the law’s requirements for issuing that deed. The presumption of regularity therefore stands as uncontradicted proof, in this case, that “all...requirements for the issuance of” that deed of conveyance had been obeyed. In any event, the Manotoks assert that even if we were to ignore the presumption of validity in the performance of official duty, Department Memorandum Order No. 16-05 issued on
These arguments fail.
Applying the rule laid down in Solid State Multi-Products Corporation v. Court of Appeals and Liao v. Court of Appeals, we held in Alonso v. Cebu Country Club, Inc., that the absence of approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce in the sale certificate and assignment of sale certificate made the sale null and void ab initio. Necessarily, there can be no valid titles issued on the basis of such sale or assignment. The Manotoks’ reliance on the presumption of regularity in the statutorily prescribed transmittal by the Bureau of Lands to the Register of Deeds of their deed of conveyance is untenable. In our Resolutiondenying the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners in Alonso v. Cebu Country Club, Inc., we underscored the mandatoryrequirement in Section 18, as follows:
Section 18 of Act No. 1120 or the Friar Lands Act unequivocally provides: “No lease or sale made by the Chief of the Bureau of Public Lands (now the Director of Lands) under the provisions of this Act shall be valid until approved by the Secretary of the Interior (now, the Secretary of Natural Resources). Thus, petitioners’ claim of ownership must fail in the absence of positive evidence showing the approval of the Secretary of Interior. Approval of the Secretary of the Interior cannot simply be presumed or inferred from certain acts since the law is explicit in its mandate. This is the settled rule as enunciated in Solid State Multi-Products Corporation vs. Court of Appeals and reiterated in Liao vs. Court of Appeals. Petitioners have not offered any cogent reason that would justify a deviation from this rule.
x x x x
DENR Memorandum Order No. 16, invoked by both the Manotoks and the Manahans, states:
WHEREAS, it appears that there are uncertainties in the title of the land disposed of by the Government under Act 1120 or the Friar Lands Act due to the lack of the signature of the Secretary on the Deeds of Conveyance;
WHEREAS, said Deeds of Conveyance were only issued by the then Bureau of Lands (now the Land Management Bureau) after full payment had been made by the applicants thereon subject to the approval of the Secretary of the then Department of Interior, then Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and presently the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in accordance with Act 1120;
WHEREAS, some of these Deeds of Conveyance on record in the field offices of the Department and the Land Management Bureau do not bear the signature of the Secretary despite full payment by the friar land applicant as can be gleaned in the Friar Lands Registry Book;
WHEREAS, it is only a ministerial duty on the part of the Secretary to sign the Deed of Conveyance once the applicant had already made full payment on the purchase price of the land;
WHEREFORE, for and in consideration of the above premises, and in order to remove all clouds of doubt regarding the validity of these instruments, it is hereby declared that all Deeds of Conveyance that do not bear the signature of the Secretary are deemed signed or otherwise ratified by this Memorandum Order, provided, however, that full payment of the purchase price of the land and compliance with all the other requirements for the issuance of the Deed of Conveyance under Act 1120 have been accomplished by the applicant;
This Memorandum Order, however, does not modify, alter or otherwise affect any subsequent assignments, transfers and/or transactions made by the applicant or his successors-in-interest or any rights arising therefrom after the issuance of a Transfer Certificate of Title by the concerned Registry of Deeds.
The CA opined that the Manotoks cannot benefit from the above department issuance because it makes reference only to those deeds of conveyance on file with the records of the DENR field offices. The Manotoks’ copy of the alleged Deed of Conveyance No. 29204 issued in 1932, was sourced from the National Archives. Apparently, for the Manotoks, Memorandum Order No. 16 provides the remedy for an inequitable situation where a deed of conveyance “unsigned” by the Department Secretary could defeat their right to the subject lot after having fully paid for it. They point out that the Friar Lands Act itself states that the Government ceases reservation of its title once the buyer had fully paid the price.
The first paragraph of Section 15 states:
SECTION 15. The Government hereby reserves the title to each and every parcel of land sold under the provisions of this Act until the full payment of all installments or purchase money and interest by the purchaser has been made, and any sale or encumbrance made by him shall be invalid as against the Government of the Philippine Islands and shall be in all respects subordinate to its prior claim.
x x x x (Emphasis supplied.)
Indeed, in the early case of Director of Lands v. Rizal, this Court ruled that in the sale of friar lands under Act No. 1120, “the purchaser, even before the payment of the full price and before the execution of the final deed of conveyance is considered by the law as the actual owner of the lot purchased, under obligation to pay in full the purchase price, the role or position of the Government being that of a mere lien holder or mortgagee.” Subsequently, in Pugeda v. Trias, we declared that “the conveyance executed in favor of a buyer or purchaser, or the so-called certificate of sale, is a conveyance of the ownership of the property, subject only to the resolutory condition that the sale may be cancelled if the price agreed upon is not paid for in full.
In Dela Torre v. Court of Appeals, we held:
This is well-supported in jurisprudence, which has consistently held that under Act No. 1120, the equitable and beneficial title to the land passes to the purchaser the moment the first installment is paid and a certificate of sale is issued. Furthermore, when the purchaser finally pays the final installment on the purchase price and is given a deed of conveyance and a certificate of title, the title, at least in equity, retroacts to the time he first occupied the land, paid the first installment and was issued the corresponding certificate of sale.
All told, notwithstanding the failure of the government to issue the proper instrument of conveyance in favor of Mamerto or his heirs, the latter still acquired ownership over the subject land. (Emphasis supplied.)
Clearly, it is the execution of the contract to sell and delivery of the certificate of sale that vests title and ownership to the purchaser of friar land. Such certificate of sale must, of course, be signed by the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as evident from Sections 11, 12 and the second paragraph of Section 15, in relation to Section 18, of Act No. 1120:
SECTION 11. Should any person who is the actual and bona fide settler upon, and occupant of, any portion of said lands at the time the same is conveyed to the Government of the Philippine Islands desire to purchase the land so occupied by him, he shall be entitled to do so at the actual cost thereof to the Government, and shall be granted fifteen years from the date of the purchase in which to pay for the same in equal annual installments, should he so desire paying interest at the rate of four per centum per annum on all deferred payments.
…The terms of purchase shall be agreed upon between the purchaser and the Director of Lands, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
SECTION 12. ...When the cost thereof shall have been thus ascertained, the Chief of the Bureau of Public Lands shall give the said settler and occupant a certificate which shall set forth in detail that the Government has agreed to sell to such settler and occupant the amount of land so held by him, at the price so fixed, payable as provided in this Act. . .and that upon the payment of the final installment together with all accrued interest the Government will convey to such settler and occupant the said land so held by him by proper instrument of conveyance, which shall be issued and become effective in the manner provided in section one hundred and twenty-two of the Land Registration Act….
SECTION 15. …
The right of possession and purchase acquired by certificates of sale signed under the provisions hereof by purchasers of friar lands, pending final payment and the issuance of title, shall be considered as personal property for the purposes of serving as security for mortgages, and shall be considered as such in judicial proceedings relative to such security. (Emphasis supplied.)
In the light of the foregoing, we hold that the Manotoks could not have acquired ownership of the subject lot as they had no valid certificate of sale issued to them by the Government in the first place. Sale Certificate No. 1054 dated
The decades-long occupation by the Manotoks of Lot 823, their payment of real property taxes and construction of buildings, are of no moment. It must be noted that the Manotoks miserably failed to prove the existence of the title allegedly issued in the name of Severino Mantotok after the latter had paid in full the purchase price. The Manotoks did not offer any explanation as to why the only copy of TCT No. 22813 was torn in half and no record of documents leading to its issuance can be found in the registry of deeds. As to the certification issued by the Register of Deeds of Caloocan, it simply described the copy presented (Exh. 5-A) as “DILAPIDATED” without stating if the original copy of TCT No. 22813 actually existed in their records, nor any information on the year of issuance and name of registered owner. While TCT No. 22813 was mentioned in certain documents such as the deed of donation executed in 1946 by Severino Manotok in favor of his children and the first tax declaration (Exh. 26), these do not stand as secondary evidence of an alleged transfer from OCT No. 614. This hiatus in the evidence of the Manotoks further cast doubts on the veracity of their claim.
As we stressed in Alonso:
Neither may the rewards of prescription be successfully invoked by respondent, as it is an iron-clad dictum that prescription can never lie against the Government. Since respondent failed to present the paper trail of the property’s conversion to private property, the lengthy possession and occupation of the disputed land by respondent cannot be counted in its favor, as the subject property being a friar land, remained part of the patrimonial property of the Government. Possession of patrimonial property of the Government, whether spanning decades or centuries, can not ipso facto ripen into ownership. Moreover, the rule that statutes of limitation do not run against the State, unless therein expressly provided, is founded on the “the great principle of public policy, applicable to all governments alike, which forbids that the public interests should be prejudiced by the negligence of the officers or agents to whose care they are confided.” (Emphasis supplied.)
With respect to the claim of the Manahans, we concur with the finding of the CA that no copy of the alleged Sale Certificate No. 511can be found in the records of either the DENR-NCR, LMB or National Archives. Although the OSG submitted a certified copy of Assignment of Sale Certificate No. 511 allegedly executed by Valentin Manahan in favor of Hilaria de Guzman, there is no competent evidence to show that the claimant Valentin Manahan or his successors-in-interest actually occupied
Even assuming arguendo the existence and validity of the alleged Sale Certificate No. 511 and Assignment of Sale Certificate No. 511 presented by the Manahans, the CA correctly observed that the claim had become stale after the lapse of eighty six (86) years from the date of its alleged issuance. As this Court held in Liao v. Court of Appeals, “the certificates of sale x x x became stale after ten (10) years from its issuance” and hence “can not be the source documents for issuance of title more than seventy (70) years later.”
Considering that none of the parties has established a valid acquisition under the provisions of Act No. 1120, as amended, we therefore adopt the recommendation of the CA declaring the Manotok title as null and void ab initio, and
WHEREFORE, the petitions filed by the Manotoks under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, as well as the petition-in-intervention of the Manahans, are DENIED. The petition for reconstitution of title filed by the Barques is likewise DENIED. TCT No. RT-22481 (372302) in the name of Severino Manotok IV, et al., TCT No. 210177 in the name of Homer L. Barque and Deed of Conveyance No. V-200022 issued to Felicitas B. Manahan, are all hereby declared NULL and VOID. The Register of Deeds of Caloocan City and/or
With costs against the petitioners.
x x x."
x x x."