Saturday, December 17, 2016

Proof of Open, Continuous, Exclusive, and Notorious Possession and Occupation in the Concept of an Owner

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. T.A.N. PROPERTIES, INC., Respondent. [G.R. NO. 154953 : June 26, 2008]

“x x x.

There was No Open, Continuous, Exclusive, and Notorious
Possession and Occupation in the Concept of an Owner

Petitioner alleges that the trial court's reliance on the testimonies of Evangelista and Torres was misplaced. Petitioner alleges that Evangelista's statement that the possession of respondent's predecessors-in-interest was open, public, continuous, peaceful, and adverse to the whole world was a general conclusion of law rather than factual evidence of possession of title. Petitioner alleges that respondent failed to establish that its predecessors-in-interest had held the land openly, continuously, and exclusively for at least 30 years after it was declared alienable and disposable.

We agree with petitioner.

Evangelista testified that Kabesang Puroy had been in possession of the land before 1945. Yet, Evangelista only worked on the land for three years. Evangelista testified that his family owned a lot near Kabesang Puroy's land. The Court of Appeals took note of this and ruled that Evangelista's knowledge of Kabesang Puroy's possession of the land stemmed "not only from the fact that he had worked thereat but more so that they were practically neighbors."32 The Court of Appeals observed:

In a small community such as that of San Bartolome, Sto. Tomas, Batangas, it is not difficult to understand that people in the said community knows each and everyone. And, because of such familiarity with each other, news or events regarding the acquisition or disposition for that matter, of a vast tract of land spreads like wildfire, thus, the reason why such an event became of public knowledge to them.33

Evangelista testified that Kabesang Puroy was succeeded by Fortunato. However, he admitted that he did not know the exact relationship between Kabesang Puroy and Fortunato, which is rather unusual for neighbors in a small community. He did not also know the relationship between Fortunato and Porting. In fact, Evangelista's testimony is contrary to the factual finding of the trial court that Kabesang Puroy was succeeded by his son Antonio, not by Fortunato who was one of Antonio's children. Antonio was not even mentioned in Evangelista's testimony.

The Court of Appeals ruled that there is no law that requires that the testimony of a single witness needs corroboration. However, in this case, we find Evangelista's uncorroborated testimony insufficient to prove that respondent's predecessors-in-interest had been in possession of the land in the concept of an owner for more than 30 years. We cannot consider the testimony of Torres as sufficient corroboration. Torres testified primarily on the fact of respondent's acquisition of the land. While he claimed to be related to the Dimayugas, his knowledge of their possession of the land was hearsay. He did not even tell the trial court where he obtained his information.

The tax declarations presented were only for the years starting 1955. While tax declarations are not conclusive evidence of ownership, they constitute proof of claim of ownership.34 Respondent did not present any credible explanation why the realty taxes were only paid starting 1955 considering the claim that the Dimayugas were allegedly in possession of the land before 1945. The payment of the realty taxes starting 1955 gives rise to the presumption that the Dimayugas claimed ownership or possession of the land only in that year.

X x x.”