Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Laches bars recovery of possession, ownership


“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 owner 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.”