REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. T.A.N. PROPERTIES, INC., Respondent. [G.R. NO. 154953 : June 26, 2008]
“x x x.
Respondent Failed to Prove
that the Land is Alienable and Disposable
Petitioner argues that anyone who applies for registration has the burden of overcoming the presumption that the land forms part of the public domain. Petitioner insists that respondent failed to prove that the land is no longer part of the public domain.
The well-entrenched rule is that all lands not appearing to be clearly of private dominion presumably belong to the State.14 The onus to overturn, by incontrovertible evidence, the presumption that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable and disposable rests with the applicant.15
In this case, respondent submitted two certifications issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The 3 June 1997 Certification by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Offices (CENRO), Batangas City,16 certified that "lot 10705, Cad-424, Sto. Tomas Cadastre situated at Barangay San Bartolome, Sto. Tomas, Batangas with an area of 596,116 square meters falls within the ALIENABLE AND DISPOSABLE ZONE under Project No. 30, Land Classification Map No. 582 certified [on] 31 December 1925." The second certification17 in the form of a memorandum to the trial court, which was issued by the Regional Technical Director, Forest Management Services of the DENR (FMS-DENR), stated "that the subject area falls within an alienable and disposable land, Project No. 30 of Sto. Tomas, Batangas certified on Dec. 31, 1925 per LC No. 582."
The certifications are not sufficient. DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 20,18 dated 30 May 1988, delineated the functions and authorities of the offices within the DENR. Under DAO No. 20, series of 1988, the CENRO issues certificates of land classification status for areas below 50 hectares. The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Offices (PENRO) issues certificate of land classification status for lands covering over 50 hectares. DAO No. 38,19 dated 19 April 1990, amended DAO No. 20, series of 1988. DAO No. 38, series of 1990 retained the authority of the CENRO to issue certificates of land classification status for areas below 50 hectares, as well as the authority of the PENRO to issue certificates of land classification status for lands covering over 50 hectares.20 In this case, respondent applied for registration of Lot 10705-B. The area covered by Lot 10705-B is over 50 hectares (564,007 square meters). The CENRO certificate covered the entire Lot 10705 with an area of 596,116 square meters which, as per DAO No. 38, series of 1990, is beyond the authority of the CENRO to certify as alienable and disposable.
The Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR, has no authority under DAO Nos. 20 and 38 to issue certificates of land classification. Under DAO No. 20, the Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR:
1. Issues original and renewal of ordinary minor products (OM) permits except rattan;
2. Approves renewal of resaw/mini-sawmill permits;
3. Approves renewal of special use permits covering over five hectares for public infrastructure projects; andcralawlibrary
4. Issues renewal of certificates of registration for logs, poles, piles, and lumber dealers.
Under DAO No. 38, the Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR:
1. Issues original and renewal of ordinary minor [products] (OM) permits except rattan;
2. Issues renewal of certificate of registration for logs, poles, and piles and lumber dealers;
3. Approves renewal of resaw/mini-sawmill permits;
4. Issues public gratuitous permits for 20 to 50 cubic meters within calamity declared areas for public infrastructure projects; andcralawlibrary
5. Approves original and renewal of special use permits covering over five hectares for public infrastructure projects.
Hence, the certification issued by the Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR, in the form of a memorandum to the trial court, has no probative value.
Further, it is not enough for the PENRO or CENRO to certify that a land is alienable and disposable. The applicant for land registration must prove that the DENR Secretary had approved the land classification and released the land of the public domain as alienable and disposable, and that the land subject of the application for registration falls within the approved area per verification through survey by the PENRO or CENRO. In addition, the applicant for land registration must present a copy of the original classification approved by the DENR Secretary and certified as a true copy by the legal custodian of the official records.
These facts must be established to prove that the land is alienable and disposable. Respondent failed to do so because the certifications presented by respondent do not, by themselves, prove that the land is alienable and disposable.
Only Torres, respondent's Operations Manager, identified the certifications submitted by respondent. The government officials who issued the certifications were not presented before the trial court to testify on their contents. The trial court should not have accepted the contents of the certifications as proof of the facts stated therein. Even if the certifications are presumed duly issued and admissible in evidence, they have no probative value in establishing that the land is alienable and disposable.
Public documents are defined under Section 19, Rule 132 of the Revised Rules on Evidence as follows:
(a) The written official acts, or records of the official acts of the sovereign authority, official bodies and tribunals, and public officers, whether of the Philippines, or of a foreign country;
(b) Documents acknowledged before a notary public except last wills and testaments; andcralawlibrary
(c) Public records, kept in the Philippines, of private documents required by law to be entered therein.
Applying Section 24 of Rule 132, the record of public documents referred to in Section 19(a), when admissible for any purpose, may be evidenced by an official publication thereof or by a copy attested by the officer having legal custody of the record, or by his deputy x x x. The CENRO is not the official repository or legal custodian of the issuances of the DENR Secretary declaring public lands as alienable and disposable. The CENRO should have attached an official publication21 of the DENR Secretary's issuance declaring the land alienable and disposable.
Section 23, Rule 132 of the Revised Rules on Evidence provides:
Sec. 23. Public documents as evidence. Documents consisting of entries in public records made in the performance of a duty by a public officer are prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein. All other public documents are evidence, even against a third person, of the fact which gave rise to their execution and of the date of the latter.
The CENRO and Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR, certifications do not fall within the class of public documents contemplated in the first sentence of Section 23 of Rule 132. The certifications do not reflect "entries in public records made in the performance of a duty by a public officer," such as entries made by the Civil Registrar22 in the books of registries, or by a ship captain in the ship's logbook.23 The certifications are not the certified copies or authenticated reproductions of original official records in the legal custody of a government office. The certifications are not even records of public documents.24 The certifications are conclusions unsupported by adequate proof, and thus have no probative value.25 Certainly, the certifications cannot be considered prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.
The CENRO and Regional Technical Director, FMS-DENR, certifications do not prove that Lot 10705-B falls within the alienable and disposable land as proclaimed by the DENR Secretary. Such government certifications do not, by their mere issuance, prove the facts stated therein.26 Such government certifications may fall under the class of documents contemplated in the second sentence of Section 23 of Rule 132. As such, the certifications are prima facie evidence of their due execution and date of issuance but they do not constitute prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.
The Court has also ruled that a document or writing admitted as part of the testimony of a witness does not constitute proof of the facts stated therein.27 Here, Torres, a private individual and respondent's representative, identified the certifications but the government officials who issued the certifications did not testify on the contents of the certifications. As such, the certifications cannot be given probative value.28 The contents of the certifications are hearsay because Torres was incompetent to testify on the veracity of the contents of the certifications.29 Torres did not prepare the certifications, he was not an officer of CENRO or FMS-DENR, and he did not conduct any verification survey whether the land falls within the area classified by the DENR Secretary as alienable and disposable.
Petitioner also points out the discrepancy as to when the land allegedly became alienable and disposable. The DENR Secretary certified that based on Land Classification Map No. 582, the land became alienable and disposable on 31 December 1925. However, the certificate on the blue print plan states that it became alienable and disposable on 31 December 1985.
We agree with petitioner that while the certifications submitted by respondent show that under the Land Classification Map No. 582, the land became alienable and disposable on 31 December 1925, the blue print plan states that it became alienable and disposable on 31 December 1985. Respondent alleged that "the blue print plan merely serves to prove the precise location and the metes and bounds of the land described therein x x x and does not in any way certify the nature and classification of the land involved."30 It is true that the notation by a surveyor-geodetic engineer on the survey plan that the land formed part of the alienable and disposable land of the public domain is not sufficient proof of the land's classification.31 However, respondent should have at least presented proof that would explain the discrepancy in the dates of classification. Marquez, LRA Records Officer II, testified that the documents submitted to the court consisting of the tracing cloth plan, the technical description of Lot 10705-B, the approved subdivision plan, and the Geodetic Engineer's certification were faithful reproductions of the original documents in the LRA office. He did not explain the discrepancy in the dates. Neither was the Geodetic Engineer presented to explain why the date of classification on the blue print plan was different from the other certifications submitted by Respondent.
X x x.”