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G.R. No. 117247


[ G.R. No. 117247, April 12, 1996 ]




Does the judgment in a land registration case denying the application filed in court in 1957 by the parents of the herein petitioner for the registration of land allegedly formed by alluvial deposits, which judgment was eventually affirmed by the Court of Appeals in 1968 and became final, constitute res judicata as to bar a subsequent application by the herein petitioner to register the same property?

This is the question tackled by this Court in the instant petition for review on certiorari assailing the Decision[1] dated September 6, 1994 of the respondent Court[2] in CA-G.R. SP No. 33735, and the subsequent Resolution[3] denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.

By a Resolution dated October 23, 1995, the First Division of this Court transferred the instant case to the Third. After careful deliberation on the submissions of the parties, this case was assigned to the undersigned ponente, who assumed his position as a member of the Court on October 10, 1995, for the writing of the herein Decision.

Antecedent Facts

In August, 1929, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in Government of the Phil. Islands vs. Colegio de San Jose,[4] declaring that two parcels of land bordering on Laguna de Bay and identified as Lots 1 and 2 form an integral part of the Hacienda de San Pedro Tunasan belonging to the Colegio de San Jose. Ten years later, the Colegio de San Jose sold the said two lots, together with an adjoining unregistered land, to the Government. The three parcels of land acquired by the Government became known as the Tunasan Homesite. The Rural Progress Administration (RPA), which was charged with the administration and disposition of the homesite, caused the subdivision thereof into small lots for the purpose of selling them to bona fide occupants.

In December, 1940, Lot 17, Block 78 of the Tunasan Homesite, which was part of Lot 2, and containing an area of 5,158 square meters, was sold by the RPA to Apolonio Diaz. In May, 1948, Lot 19 of the same homesite, which was also a part of Lot 2, with an area of 1,170 square meters, was acquired by Apolonio Diaz, although his son Pastor Diaz was made to appear as the vendee. In January, 1955, the heirs of Apolonio Diaz transferred their rights to both Lots 17 and 19 to Marta Ygonia, wife of Arcadio Ramirez (said spouses being the parents of herein petitioner), who paid the balance of the purchase price for the lots. The Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources approved the deeds of transfer of rights executed by the heirs of Apolonio Diaz, and in July, 1958, the Land Tenure Administration executed a deed of sale in favor of Marta Ygonia over Lots 17 and 19.

An original application for registration was filed by spouses Marta Ygonia and Arcadio Ramirez (docketed as LRC Case No. B-46) with the then Court of First Instance of Laguna in May, 1957. It had for its subject matter a parcel of land on the eastern side of Lot 17, with an area of 11,055 square meters (later increased to 11,311 sq. meters), which was claimed by the applicants as an accretion to their land gradually formed by alluvial deposits.

The Director of Lands opposed the application on the grounds that the applicants did not possess sufficient title to the land sought to be registered, and that the land in question is a part of the public domain. Canuto Ponce (herein private respondent’s predecessor) also filed an opposition claiming that the land applied for is foreshore land covered by a revocable permit granted to him in June 1956 by the Bureau of Lands. The Land Tenure Administration likewise opposed the application on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, on the ground that, inasmuch as the Government was the previous owner of Lots 17 and 19, and considering that only the two lots -excluding the accretion - were sold to the predecessors of the applicant-spouses, the latter cannot claim ownership of the accretion and the same should be declared as part of the Government’s patrimonial property.

The principal question raised, both in the lower court and on appeal before the Court of Appeals (in CA-G.R. No. 2893 8-R) was simply whether the accretion came into existence only in 1943, as the applicant-spouses claimed, or as far back as 1918, as maintained by the oppositors. As the appellate Court noted, resolution of said question rested on the credibility of witnesses presented. In its decision of October 31, 1960, the court a quo found for the oppositors, and denied the application for registration, holding that the accretion, based on preponderance of evidence, must have been gradual and dated back even before the acquisition of the Tunasan Homesite by the Government in 1939.

The appellate court upheld the findings of the lower court since the applicants-spouses failed to show any fact or circumstance of weight which was overlooked or misinterpreted by the trial court, and since the testimonies of the witnesses for the applicants-spouses were either not credible or else tended to support the oppositors’ position instead. The appellate court further stated:

"Considering that the Colegio de San Jose was the owner of Lot 2 (of which lots 17 and 19 are part) to which the accretion in question is contiguous, it follows that the Colegio de San Jose also became the owner of said accretion at the time of its formation. Neither the applicants nor their predecessors can lay a claim of ownership over the land because it is clear from the documents that the property sold by the Government to Apolonio Diaz which was in turn conveyed to the applicants (herein petitioner’s parents) was just a little more than one-half hectare. True it is that the applicants tried to prove that the heirs of Apolonio Diaz verbally agreed with them to include the accretion in the transfer deeds, but such oral evidence cannot prevail over the solemn recitals of the documents. Besides, the heirs of Apolonio Diaz cannot pretend to convey what did not belong to them.

"As a final attempt to have the land in dispute decreed in their names, the applicants claim that their possession of the land, tacked to that of their predecessors, is sufficient to vest title in them by acquisitive prescription. However, the evidence clearly demonstrates that from 1918 to 1940 it was Juan Ponce who was in possession of the land, and the possession of Canuto Ponce commenced from 1940 and extends up to the time this case was being tried. There is therefore no basis for the applicants’ claim of acquisitive prescription."[5]

The decision of the Court of Appeals in the above case, promulgated on July 6, 1968, became final and executory for failure of the applicants-spouses (parents of herein petitioner) to appeal therefrom.

However, that was not to be the end of the story. Herein petitioner, as the buyer of Lots 17 and 19 from his parents, filed on May 17, 1989, in LRC Case No. B-526, before the Regional Trial Court of Laguna, Branch XXV, Biñan, Laguna,[6] an application for registration of the same land formed by accretion. After due publication, mailing and posting of notices, the petition was called for hearing.

Among petitioner’s witnesses was Mario Lantican, chief of the Forest Engineering and Infrastructure Unit at Los Baños, Laguna, who testified that the function of said office is to know whether the property involved is alienable and disposable. He testified that he conducted an inspection to determine the status of the subject property and prepared a report to the effect that the land is indeed disposable.

The trial court also noted the following findings in its Order of May 13, 1991:

"The REPORT of the Community Environment and Natural Resources states that the parcel of land, after it has been inspected/investigated, was verified to be within the alienable and disposable land under the Land Certification Project No. 10-A of San Pedro, Laguna certified and declared as such on September 28, 1981 pursuant to the Forestry Administrative Order No. 4-1627 per BFIC Map No. 3004 (Exh. "T"). Likewise, (sic) the Director of the Land Management Bureau in its "COMPLIANCE WITH REPORT," dated December 12, 1990, states that the land applied for registration is not covered by any kind of public land application filed by third persons, nor by any patent issued by said office (Exh. "U")."[7]

Thereafter, the court a quo, considering the testimonial and documentary evidence on record, ruled that applicant (herein petitioner) possessed an imperfect title to the accretion, which could already be confirmed and registered, and ordered[8] registration and confirmation of title over the claimed accretion in favor of herein petitioner, and issuance of a decree of registration. Pursuant to said order a decree of registration was eventually issued, followed by an original certificate of title.

It was only a matter of time before herein private respondent - son of the late Canuto Ponce - became aware of the situation. He filed a special civil action for certiorari on February 14, 1994 (which this Court referred to the Court of Appeals for appropriate action) seeking to annul the land decree issued in favor of petitioner and the judicial proceedings had in LRC Case No. B-526.

In its assailed Decision of September 6, 1994, the respondent Court upheld herein private respondent’s contention that the judgment in LRC Case No. B-526 approving the application over the accretion was improper since the earlier application in Case No. B-46 had been denied, which denial, as previously affirmed by the respondent Court in CA-G.R. No. 28938-R, constituted res judicata. The respondent Court ratiocinated:

"There is merit in petitioner’s principal submission that res judicata had set in when private respondent applied for registration in 1989 over the same lot because of the previous rejection of the application of private respondent’s parents in 1960.

"All of the requisites of res judicata x x x

xxx              xxx              xxx

are present which prevent private respondent from relitigating the same issue of registration of the identical lot. There is no question that the judgment in Case No. B-46 (p. 27, Rollo) became final after it was affirmed in CA-G.R. No. 28938-R on July 6, 1968 (p. 39, Rollo) which was not appealed. There is equally no doubt that Case No. B-46 was rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the same subject matter and parties. Moreover, there was, between Case No. B-46 and LRC Case No. B-526, identity of parties, of subject matter and parties (should be cause of action). The fact that private respondent was not a party in the first registration case (p. 88, Rollo) is of no moment because private respondent is a successor-in-interest of his parents who acquired the disputed lot by title in 1988 subsequent to the commencement of the first registration case in 1960 (Section 49[b], Rule 39, Revised Rules of Court). In fact, only substantial identity of parties is required (San Diego vs. Cardona, 70 Phil. 281; 2 Martin, Rules of Court, 1982 Ed., p. 425).

Similarly, there is identity of subject matter from a mere perusal of Case No. B-46 (p. 13, Rollo) and Case No. B-526 (p. 48, Rollo) which refer to the same property consisting of 11,311 sq. m. Lastly, there is no dispute that identity of causes of action between Case No. B-46 and Case No. B-526 exist since they both sought registration of the land formed by alluvial deposits." (CA Decision, p. 5; Rollo, p. 36.)

Thus, the respondent Court ruled as follows:

"WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby given DUE COURSE. The Order in LRC Case No. B-526 dated May 13, 1991 and Decree No. N-198605 issued by the LRA pursuant thereto are hereby SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the application (in) LRC Case No. B-526 is hereby ordered DISMISSED."

The Issues

The instant petition for review on certiorari raises two issues:

"I. Respondent Hon. Court of Appeals committed grave error in the interpretation and application of the doctrine of res judicata, more particularly on the issue of ‘public domain’ and

"II. Respondent Hon. Court of Appeals committed grave error when it violated the provisions of Section 38 of Act No. 496, as amended (The Land Registration Act) relative to the doctrine of non-collateral attack of a decree or title."

However, as we shall soon see, the resolution of this case hinges on the first issue, and there is really no need to delve into the second.

The Main Issue: Res Judicata

Petitioner argues that res judicata did not apply in the instant case because of the ruling of this Court in the Case of Director of Lands vs. Court of Appeals,[9] which quoted from the decision in an earlier but similarly titled case, Director of Lands vs. Court of Appeals,[10] as follows:

"But granting for a moment, that the defenses (sic) of res judicata was properly raised by the petitioner herein, We still hold that, factually, there is no prior final judgment at all to speak of. The decision in Cadastral Case No. 41 does not constitute a bar to the application of respondent Manuela Pastor; because a decision in a cadastral proceeding declaring a lot public land is not the final decree contemplated in Sections 38 and 40 of the Land Registration Act.

"A judicial declaration that a parcel of land is public, does not preclude even the same applicant from subsequently seeking a judicial confirmation of his title to the same land, provided he thereafter complies with the provisions of Section 48 of Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, and as long as said public lands remains alienable and disposable (now Sections 3 and 4, P.D. No. 1073)." (italics supplied)[11]

After careful deliberation and consultation, we find ourselves in agreement with petitioner’s contention. Seen from the perspective offered by the aforequoted ruling, it is evident that one of the elements of res judicata is lacking in the case at bar. Respondent Court declared that "identity of causes of action between Case No. B-46 and Case No. B-526 exist since they both sought registration of the land formed by alluvial deposits," but failed to recognize that the basis for claiming such registration was different in each case. In Case No. B-46, applicants-spouses Arcadio Ramirez and Marta Ygonia (herein petitioner’s parents) claimed that their possession of the land, tacked to that of their predecessors Apolonio Diaz, et al. (allegedly from 1943 onwards), was sufficient to vest title in them by acquisitive prescription.[12] On the other hand, in LRC Case No. B-526, petitioner claimed that the duration of possession by his parents (commencing allegedly in 1958), combined with his own possession (counted from 1988 when he purchased the accretion from his parents) gave him sufficient title thereto by acquisitive prescription.[13]

In other words, because of the different relevant periods of possession being referred to, the basis of the application in Case No. B-46 is actually different from that in Case No. B-526. Stated in another way, the right to relief in one case rests upon a set of facts different from that upon which the other case depended. Hence, there was no res judicata to bar the proceedings in LRC Case No. B-526.

Incidentally, the Solicitor General reached essentially the same conclusion in his Comment filed in CA-G.R. SP No. 33735 before the respondent Court.[14]

As to the parties’ pleas[15] before the respondent Court for the issuance of an order to cause the taking of a verification survey to determine whether they are referring to the same parcel of land or to two different properties, suffice it to say that the disposition of this case is not a bar to such a survey.[16]

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby SET ASIDE and the Order dated May 13, 1991 issued by the RTC of Laguna, Br. XXV granting registration and confirmation of title in favor of petitioner is hereby AFFIRMED. No costs.


Narvasa, C.J. (Chairman), Melo, and Francisco, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., J., see separate opinion.

Rollo, pp. 32-37.

[2] Tenth Division, composed of J. Eugenio S. Labitoria ponente and JJ. Emeterio C. Cui, chairman, and Fermin A. Martin Jr., member.

[3] Rollo, p. 42.

[4] 53 Phil. 423 (August 28, 1929).

[5] Decision in CA-G.R. No. 38938-R, p. 8; Rollo, p. 53.

[6] Presided over by then Judge Minita Chico Nazario.

[7] Order in LRC Case No. B-526 dated May 13, 1991, p. 5; Rollo, p. 22.

[8] Ibid.

[9] 209 SCRA 457, 463 (June 1, 1992);J. Romero, ponente.

[10] 106 SCRA 426, 433 (July 31, 1981); J. Makasiar, ponente.

[11] Parenthetically, Sec. 48 (b) of the Public Land Act (C.A. No. 141) allows Filipino citizens who by themselves or through their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation, for at least thirty years, of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition or ownership but those titles have not been perfected or completed, to apply to the Regional Trial Court of the province where the land is located for confirmation of title and the issuance of the certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496); they shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of the Public Land Act.

[12] Cf. Decision in CA-G.R. No. 28938-R, p. 8, Rollo, p. 53.

[13] Cf. Order of May 13, 1991, pp. 3-4; Rollo, pp. 20-21.

[14] Records, pp. 97-114.

[15] Cf. Comment filed by herein petitioner Manuel Ramirez in CA-G.R. SP No. 33735, p. 3; records, p. 90; pls. see also respondent Esmeraldo Ponce’s Reply to Comment, etc., pp. 3-4.

[16] If it be subsequently determined in such survey that they are indeed claiming two different properties after all, then respondent Ponce may proceed to apply for registration and confirmation of title over the parcel of land he is actually occupying, without any disturbance to petitioner’s title to his land. This is not to say that the Court finds merit in Ponce’s claims. It only points out his possible remedies in the premises. On the other hand, if the results of such survey would show that the parties are claiming the exact same property, then the petitioner’s title over subject property should just the same remain undisturbed, he having already sufficiently established his right to the said property in the proceedings had in LRC Case No. B-526 before the trial court (RTC Laguna, Branch XXV). All the more so if we consider the fact that the special civil action for certiorari filed by respondent Ponce (which eventually was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 33735) challenging the Order of the trial court in LRC Case No. B-526 ought to have been dismissed in the first place, for having been filed beyond a reasonable period of time: the petition was filed only on February 14, 1994, but the order sought to be overturned was dated May 13, 1991.

DAVIDE, JR., J., separate opinion:

I concur in the result.

I wish to add, however, that the Court of Appeals should not have given due course the private respondent’s special

civil action for certiorari to annul and set aside the decree issued in favor of the petitioner, which was filed on 14 February 1994 with this Court but referred to the former.

The order of the trial court in LRC Case No. B-526 confirming the petitioner’s imperfect title to the land in question and ordering its registration in his favor was issued on 13 May 1991. Pursuant thereto, as the ponencia states, "a decree of registration was eventually issued, followed by an original certificate of title." Such being the case, the alternative judicial remedies available to the private respondent who, by the way, does not even appear to have filed an opposition to the application for registration, would be (a) a petition to reopen the case, which must be filed within (1) year from the entry of the decree (Section 32, The Property Registration Decree [P.D. No. 1529]); (b) an ordinary action for reconveyance (NARCISO PENA, Registration of Land Titles and Deeds, 1994 Rev. ed., 132-133); or (c) an action for damages against the Assurance Fund (Section 32, in relation to Sections 93-97, Id.). A special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is not the proper remedy, especially in this case where the private respondent was not even an oppositor, and even if he were his remedy would have been an ordinary appeal, which cannot be substituted by a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65.

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