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573 Phil. 503

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 173525, March 28, 2008 ]

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, vs. GERTRUDES B. VERZOSA, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

TINGA, J,:

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed this Petition[1] dated 22 August 2006, assailing the Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals dated 3 April 2006, and its Resolution[3] dated 10 July 2006, in CA-G.R. CV No. 73890. The questioned Decision affirmed the trial court's Decision dated 19 November 2001, directing the reconstitution of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 140606.

The factual findings of the Court of Appeals are as follows:

On January 3, 2001, Gertrudes B. Verzosa (herein petitioner-appellee) filed a petition for reconstitution of the original copy of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 140606 of the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City, docketed as LRC Case No. Q-13686 (01), which was raffled to Branch 218 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. In support thereof, petitioner-appellee alleged that she and Edna Verzosa Garcia are the registered owners of a parcel of land situated in the University District, Quezon City, covered by TCT No. 140606 and that to her has been allotted Lot 7-B thereof by virtue of a court order. However, the original copy of their title was burned when the Quezon City Hall was gutted by fire on June 11, 1988 while the owner's Duplicate Certificate thereof was lost as shown by the Affidavit of Loss executed by her co-owner, Edna Garcia. She also claimed that the said title was in full force and effect and that no deed or other instrument involving the said property has been presented or pending registration with the Office of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City, at the time the title was destroyed. Moreoever, plaintiff-appellee posited that the current real estate taxes on the property have been paid. Thus, she prays that after due notice, publication and hearing, the subject title be reconstituted and thereafter, a second owner's duplicate copy be issued to the registered owners.

On January 15, 2001, the RTC, finding the petition to be sufficient in form and substance, set the case for hearing on May 18, 2001 and ordered the publication of its Order in the Official Gazette as well as its posting at the Main Entrance of the Quezon City Hall, the Bulletin Board of the Branch and the Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC, Quezon City, at least 30 days prior to the date of hearing. It likewise required the service of copies of the said order on the Register of Deeds of Quezon City, Administrator of Land Registration Authority, Director of Land Management Bureau, Office of the Solicitor General, City Prosecutor of Quezon City, City Legal Officer of Quezon City and all the adjoining property owners, enjoining them and/or their representatives to appear and/or intervene in the case.

On the scheduled date of hearing on May 18, 2001, only the representative from the Office of the Solicitor General appeared. Petitioner's counsel presented and marked his evidence to establish the jurisdictional requirements. Thereafter, on her counsel's motion, petitioner-appellee was allowed to present further evidence before the Commissioner. On the date set for the presentation of petitioner's evidence on June 7, 2001, however, the hearing was reset on the ground, among others, of the need to amend the petition to implead petitioner's co-owner, Edna Garcia, who is also her sister. On July 18, 2001, petitioner filed a motion for leave to present evidence ex-parte without impleading her co-owner, citing the irreconcilable differences between them which the RTC granted in the Resolution dated August 22, 2001. Thereafter, or on September 13, 2001, petitioner presented her evidence and formally offered the same.

In the meantime, the Land Registration Authority (LRA) submitted to the RTC a Report dated October 30, 2001 stating that:
x x x

(2) Our records show that Transfer Certificate of Title No. 140606 covering Lot 7, Block 8 of the consolidation-subdivision plan (LRC) Pes-1011. registered in the name of Edna Verzosa Garcia and Gertrudes B. Verzosa (sic) is also applied for Administrative Reconstitution Proceedings (Republic Act 6732), however, no Administrative Order has as yet been issued for the aforesaid TCT.

(3) The plan and technical description of Lot 7, Block 8 of the consolidation-subdivision plan (LRC) Pes-1011, were verified correct by the Authority to represent the aforesaid lot and the same have been approved under (LRA) PR-18966 pursuant to the provisions of Section 12 of Republic Act No. 26.

x x x
On November 19, 2001, the RTC rendered the assailed Decision directing the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to reconstitute TCT No. 140606. Hence, the instant appeal by the Oppositor-Appellant, the Republic of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General, based on the following assignment of errors, to wit:
I
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING THE PRESENT PETITION FOR RECONSTITUTION BECAUSE APPELLEE FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE MANDATORY REQUIREMENTS PROVIDED FOR UNDER SECTIONS 12 AND 13 OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 26 IN RELATION TO SECTION 110 OF P.D. NO. 1529.

II

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING THE PETITION FOR RECONSTITUTION OF THE ORIGINAL COPY OF TRANSFER CERTIFICATE OF TITLE NO. 140606 FOR FAILURE OF APPELLEE TO PRESENT CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT SHE IS THE OWNER OF SAID PARCEL OF LAND.[4]
According to the Court of Appeals, the petition for reconstitution was filed under Sec. 3(f) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 26 which grants the court the authority to consider other documents which it finds sufficient and proper bases for the reconstitution prayed for. In this case, the documentary evidence presented by respondent Gertrudes B. Verzosa, coupled with the Report submitted by the Land Registration Authority (LRA) confirming the previous existence of TCT No. 140606, is sufficient basis to grant the reconstitution.

The OSG, however, argues that the photocopy of TCT No. 140606 presented by respondent is not among the documentary evidence required by R.A. No. 26 and cannot be considered competent evidence, especially because respondent did not prove that she had exerted honest efforts to secure the documents enumerated in the law and had failed to find them.

Respondent's Comment/Opposition to Petition[5] dated 7 June 2007, for the most part, merely reproduces the pertinent portions of the Decision of the appellate court, but adds that petitioner is already estopped from assailing the sufficiency of the evidence presented by respondent because it did not raise a timely objection to the evidence before the trial court.

The OSG filed a Reply[6] dated 15 November 2007, contending that the doctrine of estoppel does not operate against the government for the acts of its agents, and reiterating that a petition for reconstitution based on a mere photocopy of the certificate of title is only regarded as "reconstitution petition based on plainly inferior evidence."

We shall first dispose of the issue of estoppel.

It is a well-settled rule that the state cannot be put in estoppel by the mistakes or errors of its officials or agents, especially absent any showing that it had dealt capriciously or dishonorably with its citizens.[7] Thus, the OSG's failure to raise an effective objection to the evidence presented in support of the petition does not bar petitioner from assailing the propriety of the reconstitution ordered by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Having said this, we shall now proceed to the heart of this case.

The reconstitution of a lost or destroyed certificate of title may be done judicially, in accordance with the special procedure laid down in R.A. No. 26, or administratively, in accordance with the provisions of R.A. No. 6732. The petition in this case sought the judicial reconstitution of TCT No. 140606.

Sec. 3 of R.A. No. 26 enumerates the sources upon which the reconstitution of transfer certificates of title shall be based. It provides:
Sec. 3. Transfer certificates of title shall be reconstituted from such of the sources hereunder enumerated as may be available, in the following order:

(a) The owner's duplicate of the certificate of titles;

(b) The co-owner's, mortgagee's, or lessee's duplicate of the certificate of title;

(c) A certified copy of the certificate of title, previously issued by the register of deeds or by a legal custodian thereof;

(d) The deed of transfer or other document on file in the registry of deeds, containing the description of the property, or an authenticated copy thereof, showing that its original had been registered, and pursuant to which the lost or destroyed transfer certificate of title was issued;

(e) A document, on file in the registry of deeds, by which the property, the description of which is given in said documents, is mortgaged, leased or encumbered, or an authenticated copy of said document showing that its original had been registered; and

(f) Any other document which, in the judgment of the court, is sufficient and proper basis for reconstituting the lost destroyed certificate of title.
In relation to the foregoing, Sec. 12 of the same law provides:
SEC. 12. Petitions for reconstitution from sources enumerated in Sections 2(c), 2(d), 2(e), 2(f), 3(c), 3(d), 3(e), and/or 3(f) of this Act, shall be filed with the proper Court of First Instance, by the registered owner, his assigns, or any person having an interest in the property. The petition shall state or contain, among other things, the following: (a) that the owner's duplicate of the certificate of title had been lost or destroyed; (b) that no co-owner's, mortgagee's or lessee's duplicate had been issued, or, if any had been issued, the same had been lost or destroyed; (c) the location, area and boundaries of the property; (d) the nature and description of the buildings or improvements, if any, which do not belong to the owner of the land, and the names and addresses of the owners of such buildings or improvements; (e) the names and addresses of the occupants or persons in possession of the property, of the owners of the adjoining properties and of all persons who may have interest in the property; (f) a detailed decription of the encumbrances, if any, affecting the property; and (g) a statement that no deeds or other instruments affecting the property have been presented for registration, or, if there be any, the registration thereof has not been accomplished, as yet. All the documents, or authenticated copies thereof, to be introduced in evidence in support to the petition for reconstitution shall be attached thereto and filed with the same: Provided, That in case the reconstitution is to be made exclusively from sources enumerated in Section 2(f) or 3(f) of this Act, the petition shall be further accompanied with a plan and technical description of the property duly approved by the Commissioner of Land Registration, or with a certified copy of the description taken from a prior certificate of title covering the same property.
The petition for reconstitution, in this case, was accompanied by the following documents:
  1. a copy of TCT No. 140606;

  2. the Certification from the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City that the original copy thereof was among those burned during the fire that razed the Quezon City Hall on June 11, 1988;

  3. a certified copy of the Affidavit of Loss executed by respondent's co-owner, Edna V. Garcia, attesting to the loss of the same;

  4. the duly approved technical description and survey plan of the subject property;

  5. the Order dated December 3, 1999 issued by the RTC of Quezon City, Branch 93; and

  6. the corresponding Tax Declaration and Tax Receipts.[8]
Among the sources enumerated in Sec. 3 of R.A. No. 26, the owner's duplicate of the transfer certificate of title is given primacy because such document is, by all accounts, an exact reproduction of the original copy of the transfer certificate of title. It is required, however, that the owner's duplicate certificate itself, and not a mere photocopy thereof, be presented to the court. This is to preclude any question as to the genuineness and authenticity of the owner's duplicate certificate and bar the possibility of reconstitution based on a fraudulent or forged owner's duplicate certificate.[9]

In this case, only a photocopy of the owner's duplicate was presented to the court. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals agree, however, that the petition may be treated as one filed under Sec. 3(f) of R.A. No. 26. Even petitioner concedes this point, but argues that the rule on admission of secondary evidence under Sec. 5, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court should have first been complied with.

While, indeed, the petition for reconstitution may be considered as having been filed under Sec. 3(f) of R.A. No. 26, the photocopy of the owner's certificate of title presented by respondent in support of her petition is still considered secondary evidence. As such, it is inadmissible unless respondent proves any of the exceptions provided in Sec. 3, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court and establishes the conditions for their admissibility under Section 5 of the same rule.[10]

In Republic v. Mateo,[11] the Spouses Lorenzo and Feliciana Mateo filed a petition for the reconstitution of the original and owner's duplicate copy of Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-38769. In support of the petition, the Spouses Mateo presented, among others, a photocopy of the lost title. The trial court denied reconstitution. The Court of Appeals, however, declared that the trial court erred in not giving weight to the photocopy of the owner's duplicate certificate of title and ruled that the requirements of the Rules of Court as regards the introduction of secondary evidence (as an exception to the best evidence rule) had been complied with.

The Court explained the order of presentation of secondary evidence under Sec. 5, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court as existence, execution, loss, contents. The order may be changed if necessary in the discretion of the court. The sufficiency of the proof offered as a predicate for the admission of an allegedly lost document lies within the judicial discretion of the trial court under all the circumstances of the particular case.

Ultimately, the Court reinstated the decision of the trial court because of the failure of the Spouses Mateo to satisfactorily show that the original of the transfer certificate of title sought to be reconstituted had been lost or is no longer available, as well as the illegibility of the photocopy presented.

Although the records of this case do not disclose that the trial court and the Court of Appeals consciously passed upon the admissibility of the photocopy presented by respondent, the latter did submit several documents to prove the existence, execution and contents of the certificate of title sought to be reconstituted. Among these are the photocopy of TCT No. 140606; the certification from the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City that the original of the certificate was among those burned in the fire that razed the City Hall on June 11, 1988; the technical description and survey plan of the property; the tax declaration and tax receipts; and the report submitted by the LRA confirming the previous existence of TCT No. 140606.

Respondent also duly proved the loss of the owner's copy of the certificate through the Affidavit of Loss dated December 29, 1988 executed by her sister, Dr. Edna V. Garcia.

The foregoing documents on record already constitute sufficient bases for reconstituting the lost certificate of title, even without the photocopy of the title which is disparaged by petitioner as "plainly inferior evidence."[12]

Notably, the LRA report states that, "[T]he plan and technical description of Lot 7, Block 8 of the consolidation-subdivision plan (LRC) Pcs-1011, were verified correct by this Authority to represent the aforesaid lot and the same have been approved under (LRA) PR-18966 pursuant to the provisions of Section 12 of Republic Act No. 26."[13] The report also mentions that the approved plan and technical description may be used as bases for the inscription of the technical description on the reconstituted certificate.[14] The plan and technical description, furthermore, contain the notations of the LRC that they have been "previously plotted under the same TCT No. (140606)" sought to be reconstituted.[15]

Petitioner fusses over what appears to be a disparity in the technical description reflected in the certificate of title sought to be reconstituted, which states the land area to be 441 square meters, and the technical description indicated in respondent's Annex "E," which states the land area to be only 221 sq m. However, it is obvious from Annex "E," which petitioner incidentally marked as its own Exhibit "1," that even before the original of the title was gutted by fire in 1988, the portion of TCT No. 140606 pertaining to respondent had already been the subject of a subdivision survey dated 11 June 1984. This document adequately explains the 220-sq m disparity between the land area reflected in TCT No. 140606 and that stated in Annex "E."

It is correct, as petitioner avers, that courts must exercise the greatest caution in entertaining petitions for reconstitution of destroyed or lost certificates of title. In Republic v. Holazo,[16] the Court warned that:
The tampering of genuine certificates of title and the issuance of fake ones are a widespread malaise that has seriously threatened the very stability of the Torrens system. Worse, the courts have been, at times, unwitting accomplices in these acts of corruption. In Alabang, supra, we sounded this admonition:

x x x We can take judicial notice of innumerable litigations and controversies that have been spawned by the reckless and hasty grant of such reconstitution of alleged lost or destroyed titles as well as of the numerous purchasers who have been victimized only to find that the "lands" purchased by them were covered by forged or fake titles or their areas simply "expanded" through "table surveys" with the cooperation of unscrupulous officials.
However, this caveat should not be taken to the extent of depriving a person who had already fully complied with the jurisdictional requirements set forth in R.A. No. 26 from being granted the reconstitution prayed for. When a court, after hearing of a petition for reconstitution, finds that the evidence presented is sufficient and proper to grant the same, that the petitioner therein is the registered owner of the property, and that the certificate sought to be reconstituted was in force at the time it was lost, it becomes the duty of the court to issue the order of reconstitution. This duty is mandatory. The law does not give the court discretion to deny the reconstitution if all the basic requirements have been complied with.[17]

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 3 April 2006 and its Resolution dated 10 July 2006 are AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, (Chairperson), Carpio Morales, Chico-Nazario and Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1]Rollo, pp. 18-28.

[2]Id. at 30-39; penned by Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and concurred in by Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Hakim S. Abdulwahid.

[3]Id. at 40.

[4]Id. at 30-32.

[5]Id. at 49-58.

[6]Id. at 66-76.

[7]Public Estates Authority, et al. v. Bolinao Security and Investigation Service, Inc., G.R. No. 158812, 5 October 2005, 472 SCRA 165.

[8]Rollo, pp. 37-38.

[9]Republic v. Casimiro, G.R. No. 166139, 20 June 2006, 491 SCRA 499, 516-517.

[10]Department of Agrarian Reform v. Republic, G.R. No. 160560, 29 July 2005, 465 SCRA 419.

[11]G.R. No. 148025, 13 August 2004, 436 SCRA 502.

[12]Rollo, p. 20.

[13]Records, p. 43.

[14]Id. at 43-44.

[15]Id. at 45-46.

[16]G.R. No. 146846, 31 August 2004, 437 SCRA 345, citing Republic v. IAC, 157 SCRA 62 (1988) and Alabang Development Corporation v. Judge Valenzuela, 116 SCRA 261 (1982).

[17]Republic v. Casimiro, supra. Sec. 15 of RA 26 provides in part:

SEC. 15. If the court, after hearing, finds that the documents presented, as supported by parole evidence or otherwise, are sufficient and proper to warrant the reconstitution of the lost or destroyed certificate of title, and that the petitioner is the registered owner of the property or has an interest therein, that the said certificate of title was in force at the time it was lost or destroyed certificate of title, an order of reconstitution shall be issued.

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