HEIRS OF DELFIN and MARIA TAPPA, Petitioners, vs. HEIRS OF JOSE BACUD, HENRY CALABAZARON and VICENTE MALUPENG, Respondents. G.R. No. 187633, April 4, 2016.
“x x x.
The action for quieting of title
should not prosper.
The action filed by Spouses Tappa was one for quieting of title and recovery of possession. In Baricuatro, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 59 an action for quieting of title is essentially a common law remedy grounded on equity, to wit:
x x x Originating in equity jurisprudence, its purpose is to secure"... an adjudication that a claim of title to or an interest in property, adverse to that of the complainant, is invalid, so that the complainant and those claiming under him may be forever afterward free from any danger of hostile claim." In an action for quieting of title, the competent court is tasked to determine the respective rights of the complainant and other claimants, "... not only to place things in their proper place, to make the one who has no rights to said immovable respect and not disturb the other, but also for the benefit of both, so that he who has the right would see every cloud of doubt over the property dissipated, and he could afterwards without fear introduce the improvements he may desire, to use, and even to abuse the property as he deems best. x x x. "60 (Emphasis in the original.)
In our jurisdiction, the remedy is governed by Article 476 and 477 of the Civil Code, which state:
Art. 476. Whenever there is a cloud on title to real property or any interest therein, by reason of any instrument, record, claim, encumbrance or proceeding which is apparently valid or effective but is in truth and in fact invalid, ineffective, voidable, or unenforceable, and may be prejudicial to said title, an action may be brought to remove such cloud or to quiet the title.
An action may also be brought to prevent a cloud from being cast upon title to real property or any interest therein.
Art. 477. The plaintiff must have legal or equitable title to, or interest in the real property which is the subject-matter of the action. He need not be in possession of said property.
From the foregoing provisions, we reiterate the rule that for an action to quiet title to prosper, two indispensable requisites must concur, namely: (1) the plaintiff or complainant has a legal or an equitable title to or interest in the real property subject of the action; and (2) the deed, claim, encumbrance or proceeding claimed to be casting cloud on his title must be shown to be in fact invalid or inoperative despite its prima facie appearance of validity or legal efficacy.61
Spouses Tappa failed to meet these two requisites.
First, Spouses Tappa's claim of iegal title over Lot No. 3341 by virtue of the free patent and the certificate of title, OCT No. P-69103 issued in their name cannot stand. The certificate of title indjcates that it was issued by virtue of Patent No. 021519-92-3194. We agree with the CA that at the time of the application for free patent, Lot No. 3341 had already become private land by virtue of the open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession by respondents. Hence, Lot No. 3341 had been removed from the coverage of the Public Land Act,62 which governs public patent applications.
The settled rule is that a free patent issued over a private land is null and void, and produces no legal effects. whatsoever.1awp++i1 Private ownership of land-as when there is a prima facie proof of ownership like a duly registered possessory information or a clear showing of open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession, by present or previous occupants-is not affected by the issuance of a free patent over the same land, because the Public Land Law applies only to lands of the public domain. The Director of Lands has no authority to grant free patent to lands that have ceased to be public in character and have passed to private ownership.63
In Magistrado v. Esplana, 64 we cancelled the titles issued pursuant to a free patent after finding that the lots involved were privately owned since time immemorial. A free patent that purports to convey land to which the Government did not have any title at the time of its issuance does not vest any title in the patentee as against the true owner. 65
In this case, the parties were able to show that Lot No. 3341 was occupied by, and has been in possession of the Tappa family, even before the 1963 Affidavit was executed. After the execution of the 1963 Affidavit, respondents occupied their respective portions of the property. Delfin testified that before his father, Lorenzo, died in 1961, Lorenzo had been occupying the lot since before the war, and that Delfin was born there in 1934.66
Records show that Lorenzo declared Lot No. 3341 for taxation purposes as early as 1948, and paid the real property taxes (evidenced by real property tax payment receipts in the name of Lorenzo from 1952 until his death in 1961).67 Spouses Tappa were likewise shown to pay the real property taxes from 1961 to 2000.68 Similarly, respondents also declared their respective portions of Lot No. 3341 for taxation in their names in 1994, and paid real property taxes on those portions from 1967 to 2004.69 Although tax declarations or realty tax payment of property are not conclusive evidence of ownership, they are good indicia of possession in the concept of owner, for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in his actual or constructive possession. They constitute at least proof that the holder has a claim of title over the property. 70
Spouses Tappa also admitted in their complaint that sometime in 1963, Bacud and Malupeng started occupying portions of Lot No. 3341 and planted crops on the property, while Calabazaron did the same on another portion of the lot in the 1970's.71 The complaint stated further that since 1963. the respondents "continuously occupied portion of the subject land." 72
In view of the foregoing circumstances that show open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of Lot No. 3341, the property had been segregated from the public domain. 73 At the time the patent and the certificate of title were issued in 1992, Spouses Tappa and their predecessors-in-interest were already in possession, at least to the half of the lot, since 1934; and respondents were also in possession of the other half since 1963. Therefore, the free patent issued covers a land already segregated from the public domain.
In Heirs of Simplicio Santiago v. Heirs of Mariano E. Santiago,74 we ruled, thus:
Considering the open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land by respondents and their predecessors in interests, they are deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a government grant without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land was thus segregated from the public domain and the director of lands had no authority to issue a patent. Hence, the free patent covering Lot 2344, a private land, and the certificate of title issued pursuant thereto, are void.75
Records also show that Spouses Tappa were aware of respondents' possession of the disputed portions of Lot No. 3341. They even admitted such possession (since 1963) by respondents in their complaint filed in 1999. Despite this, Spouses Tappa were able to obtain a free patent of the whole property even if they were not in possession of some of its portions. Therefore, Free Patent No. 021519-92-3194 and OCT No. P-69103 are void not only because it covers a private land, but also because they fraudulently included76 respondents' portion of the property. In Avila v. Tapucar, 77 we held that "[i]f a person obtains a title under the Torrens system, which includes by mistake or oversight land which can no longer be registered under the system, he does not, by virtue of the said certificate alone, become the owner of the lands illegally included."78
In an action to quiet title, legal title denotes registered ownership, while equitable title means beneficial ownership. 79 As discussed, the free patent and the certificate of title issued to Spouses Tappa could not be the source of their legal title.
The second requisite for an action to quiet title is likewise wanting. We find that although an instrument (the 1963 Affidavit) exists, and which allegedly casts cloud on Spouses Tappa's title, it was not shown to be in fact invalid or ineffective against Spouses Tappa's rights to the property.
A cloud on a title exists when (1) there is an instrument (deed, or contract) or record or claim or encumbrance or proceeding; (2) which is apparently valid or effective; (3) but is, in truth and in fact, invalid, ineffective, voidable, or unenforceable or extinguished (or terminated) or barred by extinctive prescription; and (4) and may be prejudicial to the title.80
The 1963 Affidavit it is no doubt an instrument, which appears to be valid. It is dated and appears to be executed and signed by Delfin, his mother, and sisters. It is also notarized by a public notary. It states that Genaro originally owns the land described, and that one-half (l/2) of which is actually owned by Irene as a co-heir. This is contrary to the claim of
Spouses Tappa that the property was solely Lorenzo's. Respondents' argue that this affidavit evidences the title of their predecessor-in-interest over Lot No. 3341 and effectively, theirs.81
The 1963 Affidavit however, was not proven to be, in fact, invalid, ineffective, voidable, or unenforceable, or extinguished (or terminated) or barred by extinctive prescription. The CA correctly found that Spouses Tappa's claim of force and intimidation in the execution of the 1963 Affidavit was "unsubstantiated."82 The CA pointed out that, "[a]side from the testimony of Delfin Tappa, no other evidence was presented to prove the claim of force and intimidation, hence, it is at most, self-serving."53 Also, the 1963 Affidavit was duly notarized and, as such, is considered a public document, and enjoys the presumption of validity as to its authenticity and due execution.
Thus, we affirm the ruling of the CA that the requisites for an action to quiet title are wanting in this case.84
X x x.”