Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Torrens title cannot be attacked collaterally, and the issue on its validity can be raised only in an action expressly instituted for that purpose. A collateral attack is made when, in another action to obtain a different relief, the certificate of title is assailed as an incident in said action. - G.R. No. 171209

G.R. No. 171209

"x x x.


As for the spouses Decaleng’s contention that Certificate of Title No. 1 does not exist, the Court fully agrees with the Court of Appeals that the same constitutes a collateral attack of Certificate of Title No. 1.

It is a hornbook principle that “a certificate of title serves as evidence of an indefeasible title to the property in favor of the person whose name appears therein.”[57]  In order to establish a system of registration by which recorded title becomes absolute, indefeasible, and imprescriptible, the legislature passed Act No. 496, which took effect on February 1, 1903.  Act No. 496 placed all registered lands in thePhilippines under the Torrens system.  The Torrens system requires the government to issue a certificate of title stating that the person named in the title is the owner of the property described therein, subject to liens and encumbrances annotated on the title or reserved by law.  The certificate of title is indefeasible and imprescriptible and all claims to the parcel of land are quieted upon issuance of the certificate. Presidential Decree No. 1529, known as the Property Registration Decree, enacted on June 11, 1978, amended and updated Act No. 496.[58]

Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529 provides:

Section 48. Certificate not subject to collateral attack. – A certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified, or cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law.


A Torrens title cannot be attacked collaterally, and the issue on its validity can be raised only in an action expressly instituted for that purpose.[59]  A collateral attack is made when, in another action to obtain a different relief, the certificate of title is assailed as an incident in said action.[60] 

In this case, the original complaint filed by PEC-EDNP before the RTC is for accion publicianaand accion reinvindicatoria (for recovery of possession and ownership) of the Ken-geka and Ken-gedeng properties.  In said complaint, PEC-EDNP alleged ownership of the Ken-geka property as evidenced by Certificate of Title No. 1.  In their defense, the spouses Decaleng raised issues as to the validity of Certificate of Title No. 1 (by asserting in their Answer that Certificate of Title No. 1 covered an area much larger than that actually owned by PEC-EDNP), and as to the existence of Certificate of Title No. 1 (by presenting Mountain Province Register of Deeds Dailay-Papa’s certification that Certificate of Title No. 1 does not appear in the record of registered titles).  Nevertheless, the spouses Decaleng only sought the dismissal of the complaint of PEC-EDNP, plus the grant of their counterclaim for the payment of moral damages, exemplary damages, litigation expenses, and attorney’s fees; and they conspicuously did not pray for the annulment or cancellation of Certificate of Title No. 1.  Evidently, the spouses Decaleng’s attack on the validity, as well as the existence of Certificate of Title No. 1 is only incidental to their defense against the accion publiciana and accion reinvindicatoria instituted by PEC-EDNP, hence, merely collateral. 

The spouses Decaleng, in an effort to skirt the prohibition against collateral attack of certificates of title, argue that they are not attacking the validity of Certificate of Title No. 1, but, rather, the existence of such a certificate.  The Court notes that the spouses Decaleng did not only put in issue the purported non-existence of Certificate of Title No. 1, but also questioned the validity of the certificate itself.    

The Court stresses that PEC-EDNP submitted to the RTC the owner’s duplicate certificate of Certificate of Title No. 1, which can be used in evidence before Philippine courts in the same way as the original certificates in the registration book.  Section 47 of Act No. 496 clearly states:

SEC. 47.  The original certificate in the registration book, any copy thereof duly certified under the signature of the clerk, or of the register of deeds of the province or city where the land is situated, and the seal of the court, and also the owner’s duplicate certificate, shall be received as evidence in all the courts of the Philippine Islands and shall be conclusive as to all matters contained therein except as far as otherwise provided in this Act.


Moreover, Mountain Province Register of Deeds Dailay-Papa’s certification to the effect that Certificate of Title No. 1 does not appear in the record of registered titles does not necessarily mean that such certificate has never been issued.  As the Court held in Chan v. Court of Appeals[61]:

Petitioners’ submission that OCT 2553 is not in the records of the Registry of Deeds concerned and the xerox copy of subject title exhibited before the trial court was not a genuine and faithful reproduction of the original copy of said certificate of title does not merit serious consideration.  The mere fact  that the Registry of Deeds of the Province of Rizal does not have the original of a certificate of title does not necessarily mean that such title never existed because the same could have been lost, stolen, or removed from where said title was kept.   To show that no record of the original certificate of title in question existed requires a preponderance of proof petitioners failed to adduce.[62]  (Emphasis supplied.)


In fact, in the present case, the Records Management Division Chief Jose C. Mariano, for the Director of Lands, wrote a letter dated August 31, 1993 addressed to the counsel for PEC-EDNP, giving the reason for the lack of records on the sales patent for the Ken-geka property and Certificate of Title No. 1 issued to the U.S. Episcopal Church:

In reply to your letter dated August 25, 1993, we regret to inform you that we have no reconstituted records of pre-war sales application of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, which the basis of the issuance of alleged Sales Patent No. 14 on February 18, 1915.  It may be informed further that all our pre-war records were burned and/or destroyed when theOriente Building where the Bureau of Lands was then housed was razed by fire during the liberation ofManila.[63] (Emphasis supplied.)


In contrast, the spouses Decaleng were unable to present convincing evidence to establish their rights of possession and ownership over the disputed properties superior to those of PEC-EDNP.  The spouses Decaleng could not even establish the identity of the properties they claim to own.  Although the spouses Decaleng were able to give the purported area measurements of said properties, they could not give the exact location and boundaries thereof.  Assuming as true that the spouses Decaleng received properties from their parents as part of the ay-yeng or liw-liwa custom, there is no showing that such properties thus given to them are actually the same as the ones they are now occupying. 


The spouses Decaleng were similarly vague as to the basis of their title.  The evidence for the spouses Decaleng do not establish how their predecessors-in-interest acquired the disputed properties and how long they and their predecessors-in-interest have been in possession of the same. 

While the spouses Decaleng testified that they inherited the properties in Ken-geka and Ken-gedeng from their parents who, in turn, inherited the same from their own parents, there still remains the question as to how the spouses Decaleng’s predecessors-in-interest originally came into possession of the subject properties.                 
x x x."

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