Substantial compliance

Published by rudy Date posted on January 7, 2009

What are the requisites for the filing of an application for registration of title to a parcel of land? This is answered in this case of the spouses Gardo and Luisa.

The land subject of this case was Cadastral Lot No. 5812 with an area of 4,014 square meters originally in the name of Gardo’s grandmother Dora since 1930 and covered by Tax Declarations (TD) issued and renewed over the years the last of which was in 1963 (TD 12371). It was classified as agricultural land and was being cultivated by Gardo’s father Franco, son of Dora, who planted it with rice.

Possession and cultivation of the land as well as its TDs were subsequently transferred from Dora to Gardo’s brother Gerry in 1965 and from Gerry to Gardo on December 29, 1995. Thus the latest TD was in the names of Gardo and Luisa (TD No. 011-00474) who religiously paid the real property taxes thereon as shown by a Tax Clearance issued by the Municipal Treasurer.

In 1996, Gardo and Luisa conveyed the property to ICTSI Warehousing Inc. by virtue of a Deed of Absolute Sale. Then on April 10, 1997, ICTSI filed an application for registration of title over the subject property. Since the TD covering the property was still in the names of Gardo and Luisa and could not yet be transferred in the name if ICTSI due to some technicalities, the petition for registration of title was amended to substitute ICTSI with the spouses Gardo and Luisa as applicants.

Only the Director of Lands filed an opposition through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on the grounds that (1) neither the spouses nor their predecessors in interest had been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the land since June 12, 1945; and (2) the TD and tax payments of the spouses appeared to be of recent vintage and cannot constitute as sufficient and competent evidence of the bona fide acquisition of the land and continuous possession thereof.

At the hearing, the couple formally submitted and filed their evidence consisting of the testimony of Gardo’s brother Gerry who testified on the possession and cultivation of the land by his family starting from his grandmother Dora through his father then to him and lastly to Gardo. Also presented were the various TDs starting 1930s. To prove that the property was alienable and disposable, Gardo and Luisa submitted the certifications of the DENR IV Forest Management Bureau and by the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO).

On July 10, 2003, the MTC granted the application for registration of the spouses. The OSG however questioned the said decision before the Court of Appeals (CA) pointing out a discrepancy as to the dates when the land became alienable and disposable. DENR declared it was on March 26, 1928 whereas CENRO declared it was only on December 22, 1997. Since the MCTC did not mention said discrepancy in its decision, the OSG contended that it was only on December 22, 1997 when the property became alienable and disposable.

When the spouses discovered the discrepancy, they verified the correctness of the CENRO certification and found that CENRO committed a mistake which CENRO itself rectified by issuing another certification consistent with the date of the DENR. Then they attached the said corrected certification to their brief filed with the CA. But the CA disregarded it and found that the land became alienable only after the application for registration was filed. So it set aside the decision of the MTC. Was the CA correct?

No. The requisites for registration of titles are: (1) that the property is alienable and disposable land of the public domain; (2) that the applicants by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation; and (3) that such possession has been under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier.

In this case, the CA did not admit the corrected CENRO certification since it was not formally offered as evidence before the MTC as provided by Section 34 Rule 132 of the Rules of Court. Nevertheless, since the determination of the true date when the property became alienable and disposable is material to the resolution of the case, the said corrected CENRO certification should be considered in the interest of substantial fairness, justice and equity. Rules of procedure are mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice so the Court can suspend them or exempt a particular case from its application. Moreover the spouses should not be made to suffer the grave consequences arising from the mistake of CENRO which admitted it and willingly corrected it.

The testimonial and documentary evidence presented by Gardo and Luisa show that the generations of Gardo’s family have cultivated and declared the subject property for taxation purposes since the 1930s. While TDs and tax receipts are not incontrovertible evidence of ownership, they constitute at the least, proof that the holder has a claim of title over the property. They are good indicia of possession in the concept of owner, for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes on a property that is not in his actual or constructive possession. They can be the basis of a claim of ownership through prescription. All told spouses were able to submit evidence complying with the requisites for registration and judicial confirmation of an imperfect title (Spouses Llanes vs. Republic, G.R. 177947, November 27, 2008).

Note: Books containing compilation of my articles on Labor Law and Criminal Law (Vols. I and II) are now available. Call tel. 7249445. –Jose C. Sison, Philippine Star

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