MODESTO PALALI, Petitioner, vs. JULIET AWISAN, represented by her Attorney-in-Fact GREGORIO AWISAN, Respondent. G.R. No. 158385, February 12, 2010.
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As found by the trial court, petitioner was able to prove his and his predecessors’ actual, open, continuous and physical possession of the subject property dating at least to the pre-war era (aside from petitioner’s tax declaration over the subject property). Petitioner’s witnesses were long time residents of Sitio Camambaey. They lived on the land, knew their neighbors and were familiar with the terrain. They were witnesses to the introduction of improvements made by petitioner and his predecessors-in-interest.
From their consistent, unwavering, and candid testimonies, we find that petitioner’s grandfather Mocnangan occupied the land during the pre-war era. He planted camote on the property because this was the staple food at that time. He then gave the subject property to his daughter Tammam, while he gave a separate one to his son Pacolan Mocnangan. In the 1960s, Tammam and her husband Palalag cultivated the land, built a cogon home, and started a family there. Palalag introduced terraces and, together with his sons, built earth fences around the property. Palalag’s family initially planted bananas, coffee, and oranges; they later added avocadoes, persimmons, and pineapples. When Tammam and Palalag died, their son, petitioner herein, buried them in the subject property and continued cultivating the land. He also constructed a new home.
On the other hand, respondent relied merely on her tax declaration, but failed to prove actual possession insofar as the subject property is concerned. To be sure, respondent attempted to prove possession of the subject property. Her predecessor-in-interest, Cadwising, had allegedly introduced improvements like a piggery, poultry, terracing, plantings, and a barbed wire fence. However, not one of these alleged improvements was found during the ocular inspection conducted by the trial court. The absence of all his alleged improvements on the property is suspicious in light of his assertion that he has a caretaker living near the subject property for 20 years. Cadwising did not even bother to explain the absence of the improvements. The trial court’s rejection of Cadwising’s assertions regarding the introduction of improvements is therefore not baseless.1avvphi1
Thus, respondent having failed to prove possession, her claim rests solely on her tax declaration. But tax declarations, by themselves, are not conclusive evidence of ownership of real property. In the absence of actual, public, and adverse possession, the declaration of the land for tax purposes does not prove ownership.37 Respondent’s tax declaration, therefore, cannot serve as basis to oust petitioner who has been in possession (by himself and his predecessors) of the subject property since before the war.
Neither can respondent rely on the public instruments dealing with the 6.6698-hectare property covered by her tax declaration. Such public documents merely show the successive transfers of the property covered by said documents. They do not conclusively prove that the transferor actually owns the property purportedly being transferred, especially as far as third parties are concerned. For it may very well be that the transferor does not actually own the property he has transferred, in which case he transfers no better right to his transferee. No one can give what he does not have – nemo dat quod non habet.38 Thus, since respondent’s predecessor-in-interest Cadwising appeared not to have any right to the subject property, he transferred no better right to his transferees, including respondent.
All told, we hold that as between the petitioner and the respondent, it is the petitioner who has the better claim or title to the subject property. While the respondent merely relied on her tax declaration, petitioner was able to prove actual possession of the subject property coupled with his tax declaration. We have ruled in several cases that possession, when coupled with a tax declaration, is a weighty evidence of ownership.39 It certainly is more weighty and preponderant than a tax declaration alone.
The preponderance of evidence is therefore clearly in favor of petitioner, particularly considering that, as the actual possessor under claim of ownership, he enjoys the presumption of ownership.40 Moreover, settled is the principle that a party seeking to recover real property must rely on the strength of her case rather than on the weakness of the defense.41 The burden of proof rests on the party who asserts the affirmative of an issue. For he who relies upon the existence of a fact should be called upon to prove that fact. Having failed to discharge her burden to prove her affirmative allegations, we find that the trial court rightfully dismissed respondent’s complaint.
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