Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Claim for Recovery of Possession and Ownership Barred by Laches


“x x x.

The Petitioner’s Claim for Recovery of Possession and Ownership is Barred by Laches

Laches has been defined as the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence could or should have been done earlier⁠18 It should be stressed that laches is not concerned only with the mere lapse of time.⁠19 

As a general rule, an action to recover registered land covered by the Torrens System may not be barred by laches.⁠20 Neither can laches be set up to resist the enforcement of an imprescriptible legal right.⁠21 In exceptional cases, however, the Court allowed laches as a bar to recover a titled property. Thus, in Romero v. Natividad,⁠22 the Court ruled that laches will bar recovery of the property even if the mode of transfer was invalid. Likewise, in Vda. de Cabrera v. CA,⁠23 the Court ruled:

In our jurisdiction, it is an enshrined rule that even a registered owners of property may be barred from recovering possession of property by virtue of laches. Under the Land Registration Act (now the Property Registration Decree), no title to registered land in derogation to that of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession. The same is not true with regard to laches. x x x.⁠24 (Citation omitted and emphasis supplied)

More particularly, laches will bar recovery of a property, even if the mode of transfer used by an alleged member of a cultural minority lacks executive approval.⁠25 Thus, in Heirs of Dicman v. Cariño,⁠26 the Court upheld the Deed of Conveyance of Part Rights and Interests in Agricultural Land executed by Ting-el Dicman in favor of Sioco Cariño despite lack of executive approval. The Court stated that “despite the judicial pronouncement that the sale of real property by illiterate ethnic minorities is null and void for lack of approval of competent authorities, the right to recover possession has nonetheless been barred through the operation of the equitable doctrine of laches.”⁠27 Similarly in this case, while the respondent may not be considered as having acquired ownership by virtue of its long and continued possession, nevertheless, the petitioner’s right to recover has been converted into a stale demand due to the respondent’s long period of possession and by the petitioner’s own inaction and neglect.⁠28 The Court cannot accept the petitioner’s explanation that his delayed filing and assertion of rights was due to Martial Law and the Cotabato Ilaga-Black Shirt Troubles. The Martial Law regime was from 1972 to 1986, while the Ilaga-Black Shirt Troubles were from the 1970s to the 1980s. The petitioner could have sought judicial relief, or at the very least made his demands to the respondent, as early as the third quarter of 1962 after the execution of the Deed of Sale and before the advent of these events. Moreover, even if, as the petitioner claims, access to courts were restricted during these times, he could have immediately filed his claim after Martial Law and after the Cotabato conflict has ended. The petitioner’s reliance on the Court’s treatment of Martial Law as force majeure that suspended the running of prescription in Development Bank of the Philippines v. Pundogar⁠29 is inapplicable because the Court’s ruling therein pertained to prescription and not laches. Consequently, the petitioner’s lengthy inaction sufficiently warrants the conclusion that he acquiesced or conformed to the sale.

Vigilantibus sed non dormientibus jura subverniunt. The law aids the vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights. This legal percept finds application in the petitioner’s case.

X x x.”


1 Imani v. Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company, G.R. No. 187023, November 17, 2010, 635 SCRA 357, 371.

2 Lorzano v. Tabayag, Jr., G.R. No. 189647, February 6, 2012, 665 SCRA 38.

5 David v. Misamis Occidental II Electric Cooperative, Inc., G.R. No. 194785, July 11, 2012, 676 SCRA 367, 376-377.

6 Heirs of Paulino Atienza v. Espidol, G.R. No. 180665, August 11, 2010, 628 SCRA 256, 262, citing Lim v. Court of Appeals, 261 Phil. 690, 695 (1990).

9 Province of Cebu v. Heirs of Rufina Morales, G.R. No. 170115, February 19, 2008, 546 SCRA 315, 323.

11 These provisions read:

Sec. 145. Contracts with non-Christians: requisites.—Save and except contracts of sale or barter of personal property and contracts of personal service comprehended in chapter seventeen hereof no contract or agreement shall be made in the Department by any person with any Moro or other non-Christian inhabitant of the same for the payment or delivery of money or other thing of value in present or in prospective, or any manner affecting or relating to any real property, unless such contract or agreement be executed and approved as follows:

(a) Such contract or agreement shall be in writing, and a duplicate thereof delivered to each party.

(b) It shall be executed before a judge of a court of record, justice or auxiliary justice of the peace, or notary public, and shall bear the approval of the provincial governor wherein the same was executed or his representative duly authorized in writing for such purpose, indorsed upon it.

(c) It shall contain the names of all parties in interest, their residence and occupation; x x x

(d) It shall state the time when and place where made, the particular purpose for which made, the special thing or things to be done under it, and, if for the collection of money, the basis of the claim, the source from which it is to be collected and the person or persons to whom payment is to be made, the disposition to be made thereof when collected, the amount or rate per centum of the fee in all cases; and if any contingent matter or condition constitutes a part of the contract or agreement, the same shall be specifically set forth.

(e) x x x

(f) The judge, justice or auxiliary justice of the peace, or notary public before whom such contract or agreement is executed shall certify officially thereon the time when and the place where such contract or agreement was executed, and that it was in his presence, and who are the interested parties thereto, as stated to him at the time; the parties making the same; the source and extent of authority claimed at the time by the contracting parties to make the contract or agreement, and whether made in person or by agent or attorney of any party or parties thereto.

12 Sec. 146. Void contracts. — Every contract or agreement made in violation of the next preceding section shall be null and void; x x x.

13 Jandoc-Gatdula v. Dimalanta, 528 Phil. 839, 858-859 (2006), citing Cunanan v. CA, 134 Phil. 338, 341-342 (1968).

14 Sec.120 states:

Conveyance and encumbrance made by persons belonging to the so-called “non-christian Filipinos” or national cultural minorities, when proper, shall be valid if the person making the conveyance or encumbrance is able to read and can understand the language in which the instrument of conveyance or encumbrances is written. Conveyances or encumbrances made by illiterate non-Christian or literate non-Christians where the instrument of conveyance or encumbrance is in a language not understood by the said literate non-Christians shall not be valid unless duly approved by the Chairman of the Commission on National Integration.

15 Entitled, “An Act to Amend Sections Forty-four, forty-eight and one hundred Twenty of Commonwealth Act Numbered One Hundred Forty-one, As Amended otherwise Known as the ‘Public Land Act, and for other Purposes,” approved on June 18, 1964.

16 528 Phil. 839 (2006).

Isabela Colleges, Inc. v. The Heirs of Tolentino-Rivera, 397 Phil. 955, 969 (2000).

19 Pineda v. Heirs of Eliseo Guevara, 544 Phil. 554, 562 (2007).

20 Mateo v. Diaz, 424 Phil. 772, 781 (2002).

21 Heirs of Ingjug-Tiro v. Spouses Casals, 415 Phil. 665, 674 (2001).

22 500 Phil. 322 (2005).

23 335 Phil. 19 (1997).

26 523 Phil. 630 (2006).

28 Mejia de Lucas v. Gamponia, 100 Phil. 277, 282-284 (1956).

29 G.R. No. 96921, January 29, 1993, 218 SCRA 118.