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361 Phil. 660


[ G.R. No. 127833, January 22, 1999 ]




VICENTE CASES and ANITA CRISOSTOMO, spouses, are the registered owners of Lot No. 6532 with an area of 26,152 square meters situated in Sicayab, Dipolog City, covered by Original Certificate of Title No. P-16635.   They acquired the property on 23 May 1969 pursuant to Sales Patent No. 4511.  It was originally designated as Lot No. 4443-B-1.  On 15 January 1979 they caused the subdivision of Lot No. 6532 into Lot No. 6532-A containing an area of 6,275 square meters, and Lot No. 6532-B with an area of 19,877 square meters.  Thereafter, Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. T-1424 and T-1425 were issued for the two (2) lots.

Sometime in 1981 workers of petitioners Teodoro Urquiaga and Maria Aguirre entered Lot No. 6532-B and gathered nipa palms therefrom.  Respondents called the attention of petitioner Urquiaga regarding the intrusion but the latter allegedly assured them that the incident would not be repeated.  However, on several occasions in June 1984 workers of petitioners again entered the premises of Lot No. 6532-B this time claiming that the property was owned by petitioners.  They further claimed that the property was priorly owned and possessed "since time immemorial" by the parents of petitioner Maria Aguirre, Jose Aguirre and Cristina Gonzales.  Petitioner Aguirre allegedly took over the subject lot when it was donated to her by her parents on 5 November 1955.  On his part, petitioner Urquiaga claimed possession of the lot in his capacity as administrator thereof.

Private respondents Vicente and Anita attempted to settle the controversy amicably.  However, during the conference before the Barangay Captain, petitioner Urquiaga questioned the validity of private respondents' title by ascribing actual fraud in its acquisition.  As a consequence, respondents filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court for quieting of title, recovery of material possession, damages and preliminary mandatory injunction.

On 14 August 1985 respondent spouses moved for the issuance of a temporary restraining order against petitioner Urquiaga on the ground that he constructed a dike on the subject property.  An ocular inspection by the trial court confirmed their allegation.  Consequently, on 28 August 1985 the trial court issued an order enjoining petitioner   Urquiaga and/or any of his representatives and workers from further building a dike, destroying nipa palms or undertaking any activity that would alter the status of Lot No. 6532-B.

But petitioners Urquiaga and Aguirre defied the trial court as shown by the series of written manifestations with accompanying pictures submitted by respondents:  (a) addition of height to existing dike on 10 September 1985;[1] (b) construction of a new dike on 28 September 1985;[2] (c) continuation of construction of the same dike on 14 October 1985;[3] (d) further continuation of construction of the same dike on 24 October 1985;[4] (e) cutting down of nipa palms on 26 May 1986;[5] (f) continuation of the cutting down of nipa palms on 17 June 1986;[6] (g) cutting down of a big  piapi tree on 19 September 1986;[7] and, (h) further cutting down of nipa palms on 27 November 1986.[8]

On 13 January 1992 the trial court rendered judgment:  (a) declaring respondent spouses Vicente Cases and Anita Crisostomo as the absolute and lawful owners and possessors of Lot No. 6532-B without prejudice to the provisions of Sec. 90, par. (i), of the Public Land  Act  as  amended;[9] (b)  finding  respondents' documents and titles over Lot No. 6532-B valid and binding, more particularly TCT No. T-1425, OCT No. P-16635, Patent  Award  and  sketch map of Lot No. 6532; (c) ordering petitioners to pay jointly to respondents P5,000.00 representing the damages sustained by respondents' nipa plantation, P2,000.00 which was equivalent to the amount petitioners realized from the nipa palms taken out of the lot in question, P5,000.00 as attorney's fees, and P1,000.00 as litigation costs; and, (d) dismissing the counterclaim of petitioners for lack of merit.[10]

Petitioners appealed.  Private respondents likewise appealed due to the failure of the trial court to grant them their prayer for moral damages of P500,000.00[11] and actual damages of P150,000.00.[12]

On 31 July 1996 respondent Court of Appeals modified the decision by deleting the award of actual damages for lack of proof and explanation on the basis thereof; instead, it ordered petitioners to pay jointly and severally to respondents P20,000.00 as nominal damages and another P20,000.00 for moral damages.  The rest of the judgment was affirmed.[13] On 19 December 1996 reconsideration of its decision was denied by the appellate court.[14]

Petitioners now come to us maintaining that respondents acquired title over Lot No. 6532-B through fraud and misrepresentation. They contend that their predecessors-in-interest had been in possession thereof long before World War II, which possession has now ripened into ownership, and that respondents are not entitled to any award of damages.

We find no reversible error committed by respondent Court of Appeals.  We sustain private respondents' ownership of Lot No. 6532-B.  As between the verbal claim of ownership by petitioners through possession for a long period of time, which was found by the court a quo to be inherently weak, and the validly documented claim of ownership of respondents, the latter must naturally prevail.  As succinctly observed by respondent Court of Appeals in assessing the totality of the evidence -
We do not agree with defendants that they are also the occupants and possessors of the subject lot just because it "is adjacent to their titled property."  Precisely, the boundaries of defendants' titled property were determined, delineated and surveyed during the cadastral survey of Dipolog and thereafter indicated in their certificate of title in order that the extent of their property will be known and fixed.  Since the subject lot was already found to be outside their titled property, defendants have no basis in claiming it or other adjacent lots for that matter.  Otherwise, the very purpose of the cadastral survey as a process of determining the exact boundaries of adjoining properties will be defeated.

Defendants' own title, O.C.T. No. 0-357 (in the names of Jose Aguirre and Cristina Gonzales), in fact belies their claim of occupation and possession over the adjacent subject lot.  Examining said title, we note that: (1) the cadastral survey of Dipolog was conducted from January, 1923 to November, 1925; (2) defendants' titled property was one of those lots surveyed and this was designated as Lot No. 2623; (3) during the survey, it was already determined and known that Lot No. 2623 is bounded on the northeast, southeast, southwest and west by Lot No. 4443 (as we have seen in our narration of facts, the subject lot is a subdivision lot of Lot No. 6532 which was originally identified as Lot No. 4443-B-1, Dipolog Cadastre 85 Ext.: hence, the subject lot is a portion of Lot No. 4443); and (4) O.C.T. No. 0-357 was issued on October 11, 1965 on the strength of the judgment rendered on July 31 (sic), 1941 by the then Court of First Instance of Zamboanga del Norte in Cadastral Case No. 6, LRC Cadastral Record No. 756.

From the foregoing facts, we find that as early as January, 1923 when the cadastral survey was started, the boundaries of Lot Nos. 2623 and 4443 were already determined and delineated.  Since the subject lot was surveyed to be part of Lot No. 4443, it means that during that time defendants' predecessors-in-interest never claimed ownership or possession over the subject lot.  Otherwise, they would have complained so that the subject lot could be excluded from Lot No. 4443 and included in Lot No. 2623, they being adjacent lots.  It is obvious then that defendants' predecessors only claimed Lot No. 2623 and they pursued their claim in Cadastral Case No. 6, LRC Cadastral Record No. 756 until O.C.T. No. 0-357 was issued to them.  The contention of defendants that they and their predecessors-in-interest occupied and possessed the subject lot since time immemorial therefore is not true.

The judgment of the CFI of Zamboanga del Norte on July 15, 1941 in Cadastral Case No. 6, LRC Cadastral Record No. 756 with respect to Lot No. 4443 further negates defendants' claim over the subject lot.  The dispositive portion of the judgment provides:
In view of the foregoing, Lot No. 4443 is hereby ordered subdivided by specifically delimiting the perimeter of the seven-are (sic) portion thereof occupied by Elena Casellon and her children which is the only elevated and dry portion of the whole lot, and this portion shall be marked as Lot No. 4443-A xx xx xx

x  x  x  x

The remaining portion of this lot 4443 shall be numbered Lot No. 4443-B and same is hereby declared public land with communal forest belonging to the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
In the above judgment, the only claimants of Lot No. 4443 were a certain Elena Casellon and her children.  However, they were only adjudged to be entitled to a portion thereof, designated as Lot No. 4443-A.  The remaining portion, Lot No. 4443-B, was then declared public land.  This judgment was never amended, supplemented, or modified.  Consequently, there is no doubt that at the time plaintiffs filed their sales application, the subject lot was still public land.

Moreover, in connection with the sales application of plaintiffs, verification, investigation and inspection were conducted by representatives of the Bureau of Lands.  As a result thereof, the subject lot was found to be free from any private claim, hence open to disposition according to law.

Thus, in view of the fact that defendants' predecessors were never in possession of the subject lot, the claim of defendants that said lot was part of the land donated by Jose Aguirre to defendant Maria Aguirre is without any basis.  What We find is that the lot actually donated was Lot No. 2623.  This is shown by the fact that on October 29, 1986, while this case was pending before the lower court, defendants caused the annotation of the Deed of Donation on O.C.T. No. 0-357.  On that same day, defendants also presented to and registered with the Registry of Deeds of Dipolog City a Deed of Sale dated September 20, 1986 executed by defendant Aguirre in favor of her co-defendant Urquiaga.  As a consequence thereof, O.C.T. No. 0-357 was cancelled and Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-5662 was directly issued to defendant Urquiaga.  This act of defendants in using the Deed of Donation to transfer ownership over Lot No. 2623 is an acknowledgment on their part that it is actually this lot which Jose Aguirre donated to defendant Aguirre.

It is clear that the subject lot was public land at the time plaintiffs filed their sales application.  Thus, the Director of Lands had jurisdiction to act on the sales application and to eventually issue the order of award and issuance of patent after he was satisfied that the requirements of law were complied with.[15]
Petitioners' claim of ownership over Lot No. 6532-B stands on quicksand and its alleged roots do not actually exist.  The parents of petitioner Maria Aguirre could not have possessed the subject lot for a long duration because as early as January 1923 when the cadastral survey was started they did not claim any right much less interest thereto.   Neither were they claimants in the cadastral case.  On the other hand, respondents' avowal of ownership is supported by a certificate of title issued on account of a sales patent duly awarded by the Director of Lands.

Even assuming that private respondents acquired title to Lot No. 6532-B through fraud and misrepresentation, it is only the State which may institute reversion proceedings under Sec. 101 of the Public Land Act[16] considering the finding that the subject lot was public land at the time of the sales application.  This law provides -
Sec. 101. - All actions for reversion to the Government of lands of the public domain or improvements thereon shall be instituted by the Solicitor General or the officer acting in his stead, in the proper courts, in the name of the Republic of the Philippines. 
In other words, petitioners have no standing at all to question the validity of respondents' title.  Respondent court cannot be faulted when it held -
Defendants' claim that plaintiffs committed actual fraud in obtaining their title need not be passed upon.  It was already shown that defendants have no right or interest over the subject lot, it being public land when plaintiffs filed their sales application.  Hence, they have no personality to question the validity of plaintiffs' title.  Granting, for the sake of argument that plaintiffs indeed committed fraud, it is the State, in a reversion case, which is the proper party to file the necessary action.  The State has not done so and thus, we have to uphold the validity and regularity of plaintiffs' title.[17]
Again, we uphold respondent court for awarding nominal and moral damages and affirming the awards for attorney's fees and litigation expenses against petitioners.  Respondents are entitled to the following: (a) nominal damages[18] of P20,000.00 for violation or invasion of the right of respondents as owners of subject property and disregard of the restraining order of the trial court, demonstrated by petitioners and their workers in obstinately intruding into, building a dike and destroying nipa palms thereon; (b) moral damages[19] of P20,000.00 for the mental anguish suffered by respondents due to such unlawful acts; and, (c) attorney's fees[20] of P5,000.00 and litigation expenses[21] of P1,000.00 since respondents were compelled to litigate and incur expenses to protect their ownership over the subject lot.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.  The decision of respondent Court of Appeals dated 31 July 1996 affirming with modification the decision of the Regional Trial Court dated 13 January 1992 is AFFIRMED.   Respondents Vicente Cases and Anita Crisostomo are declared the absolute and lawful owners and possessors of Lot No. 6532-B; TCT No. T-1425, OCT No. P-16635, the Patent Award and the sketch map of  Lot No. 6532  are  declared valid, binding and regular; and petitioners are ordered to pay respondents jointly and severally P20,000.00 as nominal damages, P20,000.00 as moral damages, P5,000.00 as attorney's fees and P1,000.00 as litigation expenses.   Costs against petitioners.


Puno, Mendoza, Quisumbing, and Buena, JJ., concur.

[1] Records, pp. 220-226.

[2] Id., pp. 239-240.

[3] Id., pp. 242-245.

[4] Id., pp. 247-253.

[5] Id., pp. 293-301.

[6] Id., pp. 302-309.

[7] Id., pp. 316-319.

[8] Id., pp. 322-325.

[9] Sec. 90, par. (i) of the Public Land Act as amended provides: x x x x  That the applicant agrees that a strip of forty meters wide starting from the bank on each side of any river or stream that may be found on the land applied for, shall be demarcated and preserved as permanent timberland to be planted exclusively to trees of known economic value, and that he shall not make any clearing thereon or utilize the same for ordinary farming purposes even after patent shall have been issued to him or a contract of lease shall have been executed in his favor.

[10] Decision penned by Judge Jesus O. Angeles, RTC-Br. 6, Dipolog City, CA Rollo, p. 53.

[11] In the Amended Complaint, prayer for moral damages was only for P20,000.00; Records, p. 106.

[12] In the Amended Complaint, prayer for actual damages was only for P7,000.00;  ibid.

[13] Decision penned by Justice Romeo A. Brawner, concurred in by Justices Alfredo L. Benipayo and  Buenaventura J. Guerrero; Rollo, p. 46.

[14] Id., p. 47.

[15] Rollo, pp. 42-44.

[16] Republic v. Court of Appeals, G. R. No. 104296, 29 March 1996, 255 SCRA 335, citing Republic v. Animas, 56 SCRA 499; PiƱero v. Director of Lands, 57 SCRA 386; Director of Lands v. Abanilla, 124 SCRA 358; Republic v. Mina, 114 SCRA 945; Republic v. Court of Appeals, 183 SCRA 620.

[17] Rollo, p. 44.

[18] Art.  2221 of the Civil Code provides:  Nominal damages are adjudicated in order that a right of the plaintiff, which has been violated or invaded by the defendant, may be vindicated or recognized, and not for the purpose of indemnifying the plaintiff for any loss suffered by him.

Art.  2222.   The court may award nominal damages x x x x in every case where any property right has been invaded.

[19] Art. 2220.  Willful injury to property may be a legal ground for awarding moral damages if the court should find that, under the circumstances, such damages are justly due x x x x

[20] Art. 2208. In the absence of stipulation, attorney's fees and expenses of litigation, other than judicial costs, cannot be recovered, except x x x x (2) when the defendant's act or omission has compelled the plaintiff to litigate with third persons or to incur expenses to protect his interest x x x x

[21] Ibid.

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