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513 Phil. 455

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. NOS. 162335 & 162605, December 12, 2005 ]

SEVERINO M. MANOTOK IV, FROILAN M. MANOTOK, FERNANDO M. MANOTOK, FAUSTO MANOTOK III, MA. MAMERTA M. MANOTOK, PATRICIA L. TIONGSON, PACITA L. GO, ROBERTO LAPERAL III, MICHAEL MARSHALL V. MANOTOK, MARY ANN MANOTOK, FELISA MYLENE V. MANOTOK, IGNACIO MANOTOK, JR., MILAGROS V. MANOTOK, SEVERINO MANOTOK III, ROSA R. MANOTOK, MIGUEL A.B. SISON, GEORGE M. BOCANEGRA, MA. CRISTINA E. SISON, PHILIPP L. MANOTOK, JOSE CLEMENTE L. MANOTOK, RAMON SEVERINO L. MANOTOK, THELMA R. MANOTOK, JOSE MARIA MANOTOK, JESUS JUDE MANOTOK, JR. AND MA. THERESA L. MANOTOK, REPRESENTED BY THEIR ATTORNEY-IN-FACT, ROSA R. MANOTOK, PETITIONERS, VS. HEIRS OF HOMER L. BARQUE, REPRESENTED BY TERESITA BARQUE HERNANDEZ, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

These consolidated petitions for review assail, in G.R. No. 162335, the February 24, 2004 Amended Decision[1] of the Third Division of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 and directing the Land Registration Authority (LRA) to reconstitute respondents' TCT No. 210177; and in G.R. No. 162605, the November 7, 2003 Amended Decision[2] of the Special Division of Five of the Former Second Division in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 directing the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481, and the LRA to reconstitute respondents' TCT No. T-210177 and the March 12, 2004 Resolution[3] denying the motion for reconsideration.

The facts as found by the Court of Appeals[4] are as follows:
Petitioners, (respondents herein) as the surviving heirs of the late Homer Barque, filed a petition with the LRA for administrative reconstitution of the original copy of TCT No. 210177 issued in the name of Homer L. Barque, which was destroyed in the fire that gutted the Quezon City Hall, including the Office of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City, sometime in 1988. In support of the petition, petitioners submitted the owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 210177, real estate tax receipts, tax declarations and the Plan FLS 3168 D covering the property.

Upon being notified of the petition for administrative reconstitution, private respondents (petitioners herein) filed their opposition thereto claiming that the lot covered by the title under reconstitution forms part of the land covered by their reconstituted title TCT No. RT-22481, and alleging that TCT No. 210177 in the name of petitioners' predecessors-in-interest is spurious.
On June 30, 1997, Atty. Benjamin M. Bustos, as reconstituting officer, denied the reconstitution of TCT No. 210177[5] on grounds that:
  1. Lots 823-A and 823-B, Fls-3168-D, containing areas of 171,473 Sq. Mtrs. and 171,472 Sq. Mtrs., respectively, covered by TCT No. 210177, appear to duplicate Lot 823 Piedad Estate, containing an area of 342,945 Sq. Mtrs., covered by TCT No. 372302 registered in the name of Severino M. Manotok, et. al., reconstituted under Adm. Reconstitution No. Q-213 dated February 01, 1991;

  2. The submitted plan Fls-3168-D is a spurious document as categorically stated by Engr. Privadi J.G. Dalire, Chief, Geodetic Surveys Division, Land Management Bureau, in his letter dated February 19, 1997.[6]
Respondents' motion for reconsideration was denied in an order[7] dated February 10, 1998 hence they appealed to the LRA.

The LRA ruled that the reconstituting officer should not have required the submission of documents other than the owner's duplicate certificate of title as bases in denying the petition and should have confined himself with the owner's duplicate certificate of title.[8] The LRA further declared:
Based on the documents presented, petitioners have established by clear and convincing evidence that TCT NO. 210177 was, at the time of the destruction thereof, valid, genuine, authentic and effective. Petitioners duly presented the original of the owner's duplicate copy of TCT No. 210177 .... The logbook of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City lists TCT No. 210177 as among the titles lost .... The Register of Deeds of Quezon City himself acknowledged the existence and authenticity of TCT No. 210177 when he issued a certification to the effect that TCT No. 210177 was one of the titles destroyed and not salvaged from the fire that gutted the Quezon City Hall on 11 June 1988 ....

It is likewise noteworthy that the technical description and boundaries of the lot reflected in TCT No. 210177 absolutely conform to the technical description and boundaries of Lot 823 Piedad Estate ... as indicated in the B. L. Form No. 28-37-R dated 11-8-94 and B. L. Form No. 31-10 duly issued by the Bureau of Lands ....

It therefore becomes evident that the existence, validity, authenticity and effectivity of TCT No. 210177 was established indubitably and irrefutably by the petitioners. Under such circumstances, the reconstitution thereof should be given due course and the same is mandatory.[9]

....

It would be necessary to underscore that the certified copy of Plan FLS 3168 D was duly issued by the office of Engr. Ernesto Erive, Chief, Surveys Division LMS-DENR-NCR whose office is the lawful repository of survey plans for lots situated within the National Capital Region including the property in question. Said plan was duly signed by the custodian thereof, Carmelito Soriano, Chief Technical Records and Statistics Section, DENR-NCR. Said plan is likewise duly supported by Republic of the Philippines Official Receipt No. 2513818 Q dated 9-23-96 .... Engr. Erive in his letter dated 28 November 1996 addressed to Atty. Bustos .... confirmed that a microfilm copy of Plan FLS 3168D is on file in the Technical Records and Statistics Section of his office. Engr. Dalire, in his letter dated 2 January 1997 addressed to Atty. Bustos even confirmed the existence and authenticity of said plan. ...

....

The claim of Engr. Dalire in his letter dated 19 February 1997 that his office has no records or information about Plan FLS 3168-D is belied by the certified copy of the computer print-out duly issued by the Bureau of Lands indicating therein that FLS 3168D is duly entered into the microfilm records of the Bureau of Lands and has been assigned Accession Number 410436 appearing on Page 79, Preliminary Report No. 1, List of Locator Cards and Box Number 0400 and said computer print-out is duly supported by an Offical Receipt ....

The said Plan FLS 3168D is indeed authentic and valid coming as it does from the legal repository and duly signed by the custodian thereof. The documentary evidence presented is much too overwhelming to be simply brushed aside and be defeated by the fabricated statements and concoctions made by Engr. Dalire in his 19 February 1997 letter. ...[10]
Nevertheless, notwithstanding its conclusion that petitioners' title was fraudulently reconstituted, the LRA noted that it is only the Regional Trial Court (RTC) which can declare that the same was indeed fraudulently reconstituted. It thus opined that respondents' title may only be reconstituted after a judicial declaration that petitioners' title was void and should therefore be cancelled.[11]

The dispositive portion of the LRA's decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, it is hereby ordered that reconstitution of TCT No. 210177 in the name of Homer L. Barque, Sr. shall be given due course after cancellation of TCT No. RT-22481 (372302) in the name of Manotoks upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

SO ORDERED.[12]
Petitioners' filed a motion for reconsideration which was opposed by respondents with a prayer that reconstitution be ordered immediately.

On June 14, 2001, petitioners' motion for reconsideration and respondents' prayer for immediate reconstitution were denied.[13]

From the foregoing, respondents filed a petition for review[14] with the Court of Appeals docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 and praying that the LRA be directed to immediately reconstitute TCT No. 210177 without being subjected to the condition that petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] should first be cancelled by a court of competent jurisdiction.[15] Petitioners likewise filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66642.

In CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, the Second Division of the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision[16] on September 13, 2002, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered the assailed Resolution of the LRA dated June 24, 1998 is AFFIRMED in toto and the petition for review is ordered DISMISSED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.[17]
Respondents moved for reconsideration.[18] On November 7, 2003, the Special Division of Five of the Former Second Division rendered an Amended Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, our decision dated 13 September 2002 is hereby reconsidered. Accordingly, the Register of Deeds of Quezon City is hereby directed to cancel TCT No. RT-22481 of private respondents and the LRA is hereby directed to reconstitute forthwith petitioners' valid, genuine and existing Certificate of Title No. T-210177.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.[19]
Petitioners' motion for reconsideration of the amended decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 was denied,[20] hence, this petition docketed as G.R. No. 162605.

Meanwhile, in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, the Third Division of the Court of Appeals rendered a Decision[21] on October 29, 2003, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED. The Resolution of the LRA dated 24 June 1998 is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.[22]
In so ruling, the Third Division of the Court of Appeals declared that the LRA correctly deferred in giving due course to the petition for reconstitution since there is yet no final judgment upholding or annulling respondents' title.[23]

Respondents' motion for reconsideration was granted by the Third Division of the Court of Appeals on February 24, 2004, thus:
WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby GRANTED. The Decision of this Court dated 29 October 2003 is RECONSIDERED and a new one is entered ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 and directing the LRA to reconstitute forthwith respondents' TCT No. T-210177.

SO ORDERED.[24]
From the foregoing decisions of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 and CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, petitioners filed separate petitions for review before this Court docketed as G.R. No. 162605 and G.R. No. 162335, respectively.

In G.R. No. 162605, petitioners argue that:

I
THE MAJORITY JUSTICES ACTED WITHOUT JURISDICTION IN ORDERING THE CANCELLATION OF PETITIONERS' EXISTING TITLE, CONSIDERING THAT:
  1. THEY ORDERED THE CANCELLATION OF TITLE DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE SAME IS NOT PART OF THE RELIEF SOUGHT IN A RECONSTITUTION PROCEEDINGS.

  2. THEY ALLOWED A COLLATERAL ATTACK ON A TORRENS CERTIFICATE OF TITLE; and

  3. THE COURT OF APPEALS, IN RESOLVING AN APPEAL OF THE DECISION OF THE LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY, DOES NOT HAVE JURISDICTION TO ORDER THE CANCELLATION OF TITLE, SINCE ONLY A PROPER REGIONAL TRIAL COURT CAN ORDER THE ANNULMENT/CANCELLATION OF A TORRENS TITLE. BY ALLOWING A "SHORT CUT", THE MAJORITY JUSTICES DEPRIVED THE PETITIONERS OF THEIR PROPERTY AND THEIR CONSTITUTIONALLY PROTECTED RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW.
II
THE MAJORITY JUSTICES GRAVELY MISAPPLIED THE RULING OF THIS HONORABLE COURT IN ORTIGAS V. VELASCO, CONSIDERING THAT:
  1. IN THE ORTIGAS CASE, THERE WERE TWO TITLES EXISTING OVER THE SAME PARCEL OF LAND, AS A RESULT OF THE RECONSTITUTED TITLE ISSUED IN THE NAME OF MOLINA. IN THE INSTANT CASE, ONLY PETITIONERS HOLD TITLE TO THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION, AS RESPONDENTS ARE MERELY TRYING TO HAVE TITLE RECONSTITUTED IN THEIR NAMES.

  2. IN ORTIGAS, THERE WERE SEVERAL DECISIONS OF THE SUPREME COURT WHICH PREVIOUSLY RESOLVED THE ISSUE OF OWNERSHIP OF ORTIGAS' PROPERTY. HENCE, THERE WAS SUFFICIENT GROUND TO ANNUL MOLINA'S TITLE OUTRIGHT. IN THE INSTANT CASE, THERE ARE NO SUCH DECISIONS IN FAVOR OF RESPONDENTS WHICH WOULD JUSTIFY THE CANCELLATION OF THE TITLE OF PETITIONERS WITHOUT ANY HEARING.[25]
In G.R. No. 162335, petitioners raise the following issues:
  1. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS (THIRD DIVISION) COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AND GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IN ORDERING THE LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY TO CANCEL TCT NO. RT-22481 OF PETITIONERS MANOTOK NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT THAT SAID COURT WAS FULLY COGNIZANT THAT IT HAS NO JURISDICTION TO EXERCISE SUCH AUTHORITY AND POWER AND THE LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY IS EQUALLY DEVOID OF JURISDICTION ON THE MATTER BECAUSE UNDER THE JUDICIARY REORGANIZATION ACT OF 1980 SPECIFICALLY SECTION 19 (2) THEREOF, ONLY THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURTS HAVE EXCLUSIVE ORIGINAL JURISDICTION OVER CIVIL ACTIONS WHICH INVOLVES TITLE TO, OR POSSESSION OF, REAL PROPERTY, OR ANY INTEREST THEREIN.

  2. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS (THIRD DIVISION) COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AND GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IN INVOKING EQUITABLE CONSIDERATION TO JUSTIFY ITS CHALLENGED AMENDED DECISION DATED FEBRUARY 24, 2004 DIRECTING LRA TO CANCEL PETITIONERS MANOTOK'S TITLE NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT, AS STATED, THE LAW EXPLICITLY VESTS EXCLUSIVE ORIGINAL JURISDICTION TO THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURTS OVER CIVIL ACTIONS WHICH INVOLVES TITLE TO, OR POSSESSION OF, REAL PROPERTY, OR ANY INTEREST THEREIN.

  3. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN FAILING TO ORDER THE SETTING ASIDE OF THE CHALLENGED RESOLUTION DATED JUNE 24, 1998 OF RESPONDENT LAND REGISTRATION AUTHORITY IN LRC ADMIN. CASE NO. Q-547 [97] VIEWED FROM THE FACT THAT SAID RESOLUTION OF LRA IS PATENTLY AT WAR WITH LAW AND CONTROLLING JURISPRUDENCE THAT PROHIBITS RECONSTITUTION OF TITLE BY THIRD PARTY ALLEGED TO HAVE BEEN LOST OR DESTROYED IF ANOTHER VALID TITLE IS EXISTING COVERING THE LAND SUBJECT THEREOF.

  4. THE LRA COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN ORDERING THE RECONSTITUTION OF THE TITLE OF HOMER BARQUE, SR. SUBJECT ONLY TO THE CONDITION THAT THE TITLE OF PETITIONERS MANOTOK SHOULD FIRST BE ORDERED CANCELLED BY COURT OF COMPETENT JURISDICTION IN THE FACE OF THE GLARING FACTS THAT SAID TITLE IS HIGHLY SUSPECT AND BEARS BADGES OF FABRICATION AND FALSIFICATION AND THEREFORE NO OTHER LOGICAL AND CREDIBLE CONCLUSION CAN BE DRAWN EXCEPT THAT IT IS A FAKE AND SPURIOUS TITLE.

  5. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION IN ALLOWING RESPONDENTS' MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION WHICH WAS CLEARLY FILED OUT OF TIME.[26]
On August 2, 2004, the petition in G.R. No. 162605 was consolidated with the petition in G.R. No. 162335.[27]

In sum, petitioners contend that (a) the LRA has no authority to annul their title; (b) the reconstitution of respondents' Torrens title would be a collateral attack on petitioners' existing title; (c) they were not given the opportunity to be heard, specifically the chance to defend the validity of their Torrens title; (d) the Court of Appeals, in resolving the appeal from the LRA, has no jurisdiction to order the cancellation of petitioners' title; and (e) the ruling in Ortigas  was misapplied.

The petitions must be denied.

The LRA properly ruled that the reconstituting officer should have confined himself to the owner's duplicate certificate of title prior to the reconstitution. Section 3 of Republic Act (RA) No. 26[28] clearly provides:
Section 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 title;

....
When respondents filed the petition for reconstitution, they submitted in support thereof the owner's duplicate certificate of title, real estate tax receipts and tax declaration. Plainly, the same should have more than sufficed as sources for the reconstitution pursuant to Section 3 of RA No. 26 which explicitly mandates that the reconstitution shall be made following the hierarchy of sources as enumerated by law. In addition, Section 12 of the same law requires that the petition shall be accompanied with a plan and technical description of the property only if the source of the reconstitution is Section 3(f) of RA No. 26. Thus:
Section 12. ... 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 further be accompanied with a plan and technical description of the property duly approved by the Chief of the General Land Registration Office, or with a certified copy of the description taken from a prior certificate of title covering the same property.[29]
Since respondents' source of reconstitution is the owner's duplicate certificate of title, there is no need for the reconstituting officer to require the submission of the plan, much less deny the petition on the ground that the submitted plan appears to be spurious. By enumerating the hierarchy of sources to be used for the reconstitution, it is the intent of the law to give more weight and preference to the owner's duplicate certificate of title over the other enumerated sources.

The factual finding of the LRA that respondents' title is authentic, genuine, valid, and existing, while petitioners' title is sham and spurious, as affirmed by the two divisions of the Court of Appeals, is conclusive before this Court. It should remain undisturbed since only questions of law may be raised in a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

Findings of fact of administrative bodies are accorded respect, even finality by this Court and, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are no longer reviewable except only for very compelling reasons. Basic is the rule that factual findings of agencies exercising quasi-judicial functions ... are accorded not only respect but even finality, aside from the consideration that this Court is essentially not a trier of facts.[30]

Such questions as whether certain items of evidence should be accorded probative value or weight, or rejected as feeble or spurious, or whether or not the proofs on one side or the other are clear and convincing and adequate to establish a proposition in issue, are without doubt questions of fact. Whether or not the body of proofs presented by a party, weighed and analyzed in relation to contrary evidence submitted by adverse party, may be said to be strong, clear and convincing; whether or not certain documents presented by one side should be accorded full faith and credit in the face of protests as to their spurious character by the other side; whether or not inconsistencies in the body of proofs of a party are of such gravity as to justify refusing to give said proofs weight – all these are issues of fact. Questions like these are not reviewable by this court which, as a rule, confines its review of cases decided by the Court of Appeals only to questions of law raised in the petition and therein distinctly set forth.[31] A petition for review should only cover questions of law. Questions of fact are not reviewable.[32]

In Dolfo v. Register of Deeds for the Province of Cavite,[33] this Court categorically declared:
Second. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals made a factual finding that petitioner's title to the land is of doubtful authenticity.

Having jurisdiction only to resolve questions of law, this Court is bound by the factual findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals....
In view of the foregoing, it is no longer necessary to remand the case to the RTC for the determination of which title, petitioners' or respondents', is valid or spurious. This has been ruled upon by the LRA and duly affirmed by the two divisions of the Court of Appeals.

The LRA has the jurisdiction to act on petitions for administrative reconstitution. It has the authority to review, revise, reverse, modify or affirm on appeal the decision of the reconstituting officer. The function is adjudicatory in nature – it can properly deliberate on the validity of the titles submitted for reconstitution. Logically, it can declare a title as sham or spurious, or valid on its face. Otherwise, if it cannot make such declaration, then there would be no basis for its decision to grant or deny the reconstitution. The findings of fact of the LRA, when supported by substantial evidence, as in this case, shall be binding on the Court of Appeals.[34]

In the reconstitution proceedings, the LRA is bound to determine from the evidence submitted which between or among the titles is genuine and existing to enable it to decide whether to deny or approve the petition. Without such authority, the LRA would be a mere robotic agency clothed only with mechanical powers.

The Court of Appeals also properly exercised its appellate jurisdiction over the judgment of the LRA. Under Sections 1 and 3, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, the appellate court has jurisdiction on appeals from judgments or final orders of the LRA, whether the appeal involves questions of fact, of law, or mixed questions of fact and law.

Indeed, it would be needlessly circuitous to remand the case to the RTC to determine anew which of the two titles is sham or spurious and thereafter appeal the trial court's ruling to the Court of Appeals. After all, the LRA and the two divisions of the appellate court have already declared that petitioners' title is forged. In Mendoza v. Court of Appeals,[35] we ruled that:
Now, technically, the revocation and cancellation of the deed of sale and the title issued in virtue thereof in de los Santos' favor should be had in appropriate proceedings to be initiated at the instance of the Government. However, since all the facts are now before this Court, and it is not within de los Santos' power in any case to alter those facts at any other proceeding, or the verdict made inevitable by said facts, for this Court to direct at this time that cancellation proceedings be yet filed to nullify the sale to de los Santos and his title, would be needlessly circuitous and would unnecessarily delay the termination of the controversy at bar, .... This Court will therefore make the adjudication entailed by the facts here and now, without further proceedings, as it has done in other cases in similar premises.
No useful purpose will be served if a case or the determination of an issue in a case is remanded to the trial court only to have its decision raised again to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. The remand of the case or of an issue to the lower court for further reception of evidence is not necessary where the Court is in position to resolve the dispute based on the records before it and particularly where the ends of justice would not be subserved by the remand thereof.[36]

The Register of Deeds, the LRA and the Court of Appeals have jurisdiction to act on the petition for administrative reconstitution. The doctrine laid down in Alabang Dev. Corp., et al. v. Hon. Valenzuela, etc., et al.[37] does not apply in the instant case. In Alabang, the Court stressed that:
... [L]ands already covered by duly issued existing Torrens Titles ... cannot be the subject of petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles filed by third parties without first securing by final judgment the cancellation of such existing titles. ... The courts simply have no jurisdiction over petitions by such third parties for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles over lands that are already covered by duly issued subsisting titles in the names of their duly registered owners. The very concept of stability and indefeasibility of titles covered under the Torrens System of registration rules out as anathema the issuance of two certificates of title over the same land to two different holders thereof. ...[38]
The Alabang ruling was premised on the fact that the existing Torrens title was duly issued and that there is only one title subsisting at the time the petition for reconstitution was filed. In the instant case, it cannot be said that petitioners' title was duly issued much less could it be presumed valid considering the findings of the LRA and the Court of Appeals that the same is sham and spurious.

The Court of Appeals properly applied the doctrine laid down in Ortigas in refusing to remand the case to the trial court. As expressly declared in Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership v. Velasco:[39]
Ordinarily, the relief indicated by the material facts would be the remand of the reconstitution case (LRC No. Q-5405) to the Court of origin with instructions that Ortigas' and the Solicitor General's appeals from the judgment rendered therein, which were wrongly disallowed, be given due course and the records forthwith transmitted to the appellate tribunal. This, in fact, is a relief alternatively prayed for by petitioner Ortigas. Considering however the fatal infirmities afflicting Molina's theory or cause of action, evident from the records before this Court, such a remand and subsequent appeal proceedings would be pointless and unduly circuitous. Upon the facts, it is not possible for Molina's cause to prosper. To defer adjudication thereon would be unwarranted and unjust.
The same rationale should apply in the instant case. As already discussed, the validity of respondents' and petitioners' title have been squarely passed upon by the LRA and reviewed and affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which factual findings are no longer reviewable by this Court.

A careful examination of the case of Spouses Cayetano, et al. v. CA, et al.,[40] where this Court, as claimed by petitioners, have affirmed their title over the disputed property, would reveal that the sole issue resolved therein is whether or not a tenancy relationship exists between the parties.[41] There was no adjudication on ownership. In fact, it cannot even be discerned if the property subject of the Spouses Cayetano case refers to the property subject of the instant controversy.

There is no basis in the allegation that petitioners were deprived of "their property" without due process of law when the Court of Appeals ordered the cancellation of their Torrens title, even without a direct proceeding in the RTC. As already discussed, there is no need to remand the case to the RTC for a re-determination on the validity of the titles of respondents and petitioners as the same has been squarely passed upon by the LRA and affirmed by the appellate court. By opposing the petition for reconstitution and submitting their administratively reconstituted title, petitioners acquiesced to the authority and jurisdiction of the reconstituting officer, the LRA and the Court of Appeals, and recognized their authority to pass judgment on their title. All the evidence presented was duly considered by these tribunals. There is thus no basis to petitioners' claim that they were deprived of their right to be heard and present evidence, which is the essence of due process.

As held in Yusingco v. Ong Hing Lian:[42]
Therefore, it appearing from the records that in the previous petition for reconstitution of certificates of title, the parties acquiesced in submitting the issue of ownership for determination in the said petition, and they were given the full opportunity to present their respective sides of the issues and evidence in support thereof, and that the evidence presented was sufficient and adequate for rendering a proper decision upon the issue, the adjudication of the issue of ownership was valid and binding.
The reconstitution would not constitute a collateral attack on petitioners' title which was irregularly and illegally issued in the first place.[43] As pertinently held in Dolfo v. Register of Deeds for the Province of Cavite:[44]
The rule that a title issued under the Torrens System is presumed valid and, hence, is the best proof of ownership of a piece of land does not apply where the certificate itself is faulty as to its purported origin.

In this case, petitioner anchors her arguments on the premise that her title to the subject property is indefeasible because of the presumption that her certificate of title is authentic. However, this presumption is overcome by the evidence presented, consisting of the LRA report ... that TCT No. T-320601 was issued without legal basis...

....

Thus, petitioner cannot invoke the indefeasibility of her certificate of title. It bears emphasis that the Torrens system does not create or vest title but only confirms and records one already existing and vested. Thus, while it may be true, as petitioner argues, that a land registration court has no jurisdiction over parcels of land already covered by a certificate of title, it is equally true that this rule applies only where there exists no serious controversy as to the authenticity of the certificate.
Under similar circumstances, this Court has ruled that wrongly reconstituted certificates of title secured through fraud and misrepresentation cannot be the source of legitimate rights and benefits.[45]

WHEREFORE, the petitions are DENIED. In G.R. No. 162335, the February 24, 2004 Amended Decision of the Third Division of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 and directing the Land Registration Authority to reconstitute respondents' TCT No. 210177; and in G.R. No. 162605, the November 7, 2003 Amended Decision of the Special Division of Five of the Former Second Division in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 directing the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481, and the Land Registration Authority to reconstitute respondents' TCT No. T-210177 and the March 12, 2004 Resolution denying the motion for reconsideration, are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., concur.
Quisumbing, J., See Separate Opinion.
Carpio, J., See Dissenting Opinion.
Azcuna, J., I concur in separate opinion.



[1]
Rollo of G.R. No. 162335, pp. 113-118. Penned by Associate Justice Eubulo G. Verzola and concurred in by Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam.

[2] Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, pp. 56-66. Penned by Associate Justice Buenaventura J. Guerrero and concurred in by Associate Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr., Edgardo P. Cruz and Danilo B. Pine. Associate Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr., dissented.

[3] Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, pp. 71-73.

[4] In CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, pp. 56-57.

[5] Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, p. 86.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 87.

[8] Id. at 90.

[9] Id. at 91.

[10] Id. at 92.

[11] Id. at 94.

[12] Id. at 95.

[13] Id. at 97.

[14] Id. at 99-121.

[15] Id. at 119.

[16] Id. at 236-240. Penned by Associate Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Buenaventura J. Guerrero and Eloy R. Bello, Jr.

[17] CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, p. 240.

[18] Id. at 273-293.

[19] Id. at 65.

[20] Id. at 73.

[21] CA-G.R SP No. 66642, Rollo of G.R. No. 162335, pp. 106-111. Penned by Associate Justice Eubulo G. Verzola and concurred in by Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam.

[22] Id. at 110.

[23] Id.

[24] Id. at 117.

[25] Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, pp. 22-23.

[26] Rollo of G.R. No. 162335, pp. 35-37.

[27] Rollo of G.R. No. 162605, p. 386.

[28] AN ACT PROVIDING A SPECIAL PROCEDURE FOR THE RECONSTITUTION OF TORRENS CERTIFICATES OF TITLE LOST OR DESTROYED.

[29] Section 3 of RA No. 26 provides:
Section 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 title;

(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 document, 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 or destroyed certificate of title.
[30] Bataan Shipyard and Engineering Corp. v. NLRC, 336 Phil. 193, 204 [1997].

[31] Paterno v. Paterno, G.R. No. 63680, March 23, 1990, 183 SCRA 630, 636-637.

[32] Villanueva v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 143286, April 14, 2004, 427 SCRA 439, 449.

[33] G.R. No. 133465, September 25, 2000, 341 SCRA 58, 62-63.

[34] Section 10, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court.

[35] G.R. No. L-62089, March 9, 1988, 158 SCRA 508, 514.

[36] Heirs of Crisanta Y. Gabriel-Almoradie v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 91385, January 4, 1994, 229 SCRA 15, 29.

[37] 201 Phil. 727 [1982].

[38] Id. at 744.

[39] G.R. Nos. 109645 & 112564, July 25, 1994, 234 SCRA 455, 500-501.

[40] 215 Phil. 430 [1984].

[41] Id. at 436.

[42] 149 Phil. 688, 709 [1971].

[43] Heirs of Pael v. Court of Appeals, 423 Phil. 67, 69 [2001].

[44] Supra at 63 & 66.

[45] Jose v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 85157, December 26, 1990, 192 SCRA 735, 741.





SEPARATE OPINION


QUISUMBING, J.:

I concur in the result reached by Ynares-Santiago, J., in her opinion and I join Davide, Jr., C.J., and Azcuna, J., in the majority vote to DENY the petitions.

While at the inception of this controversy, a trial by the Regional Trial Court would have been in order, remand of this case for trial at this late stage would only be a time-consuming and pointless exercise. Prompt resolution of the controversy is in order to avoid further delay.



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SEPARATE OPINION


AZCUNA, J.:

From the record it appears undisputed that, as the LRA ruled and the CA affirmed, petitioners Manotoks' TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] is sham and spurious. For one thing, the property is purportedly located in barrio Payong, Quezon City, whereas no such barrio existed or exists therein. It is, therefore, in my view, unnecessary to go though the exercise of proving this matter again in the regular courts, as would ordinarily be required, since the point is indubitable.

I thus find applicable the ruling of this Court in Ortigas and Company Limited Partnership v. Veloso,[1] as it would be unjust in the circumstances to require respondents to undergo a time-consuming and pointless exercise to cancel an evidently sham and spurious title.

I, therefore, concur with Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and vote to DENY the petitions.



[1] G.R. No. 109645, July 25, 1994, 234 SCRA 455.





DISSENTING OPINION


CARPIO, J.:

I dissent because the majority opinion deprives petitioners of their immensely valuable property — worth billions of pesos — without due process of law.

The majority opinion cancels the Torrens title of petitioners in these cases which originated from an administrative reconstitution petition filed by respondents before the Register of Deeds of Quezon City. The majority opinion patently violates Section 48 of the Property Registration Decree[1] which expressly states that a Torrens title "cannot be x x x cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law." Under Section 19 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, "Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction x x x in all civil actions, which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein."[2] Thus, only the proper trial court, in an action directly attacking the validity of a Torrens title, can cancel a Torrens title after trial on the merit. Jurisprudence has aptly termed this hornbook doctrine.[3]

In the present cases, there is no such direct attack on the Torrens title of petitioners. And yet the majority opinion cancels petitioners' Torrens title, covering thirty-four hectares of prime land located in Quezon City conservatively estimated at more than One Billion Seven Hundred Million Pesos.

The Cases

Before the Court are two petitions for review[4] filed by Severino M. Manotok IV, Froilan M. Manotok, Fernando M. Manotok, Fausto M. Manotok III, Ma. Mamerta M. Manotok, Patricia L. Tiongson, Pacita L. Go, Roberto Laperal III, Michael Marshall V. Manotok, Mary Ann V. Manotok, Felisa Mylene V. Manotok, Ignacio V. Manotok, Jr., Milagros V. Manotok, Severino Manotok III, Rosa R. Manotok, Miguel A.B. Sison, George M. Bocanegra, Ma. Cristina E. Sison, Philipp L. Manotok, Jose Clemente L. Manotok, Ramon Severino L. Manotok, Thelma R. Manotok, Jose Maria Manotok, Jesus Jude Manotok, Jr., and Ma. Theresa L. Manotok ("Manotok, et al."), represented by their attorney-in-fact, Rosa R. Manotok, against the Heirs of Homer L. Barque ("Heirs of Barque"), represented by Teresita Barque-Hernandez ("Barque-Hernandez"). The cases were consolidated in the Court's Resolution of 2 August 2004.[5]

In G.R. No. 162335, Manotok, et al. assail the 24 February 2004 Amended Decision[6] of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642. The Court of Appeals ordered the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel the Transfer Certificate of Title ("TCT") of Manotok, et al. and the Land Registration Authority ("LRA") to reconstitute the TCT of the Heirs of Barque.

In G.R. No. 162605, Manotok, et al. assail the 7 November 2003 Amended Decision[7] and the 12 March 2004 Resolution[8] of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700.[9] The Court of Appeals directed the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel the TCT of Manotok, et al. and the LRA to reconstitute the TCT of the Heirs of Barque.

The Antecedent Facts

On 22 October 1996, Homer L. Barque, Sr. ("Barque, Sr.") represented by Barque-Hernandez filed a petition for administrative reconstitution of the original copy of TCT No. 210177 of the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City. TCT No. 210177 was allegedly destroyed when a fire gutted the Quezon City Hall on 11 June 1988. In support of the petition, Barque, Sr. submitted the owner's duplicate certificate of title, Real Estate Tax Receipts and Tax Declaration.

Atty. Benjamin M. Bustos ("Atty. Bustos"), Reconstituting Officer and Chief of the Reconstitution Division, LRA, wrote a letter dated 29 October 1996[10] addressed to Engineer Privadi J. Dalire ("Engr. Dalire"), Chief of the Geodetic Surveys Division of the Lands Management Bureau, Binondo, Manila. In the 29 October 1996 letter, Atty. Bustos requested Engr. Dalire for a certified copy of Subdivision Plan Fls-3168-D ("Fls-3168-D"). Atty. Bustos wrote a similar but undated letter addressed to the Chief of the Surveys Division of the Land Management Services, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, National Capital Region ("LMS-DENR-NCR").[11]

In his reply dated 7 November 1996,[12] Engr. Dalire informed Atty. Bustos that the Land Management Bureau has no record of Fls-3168-D. In a letter dated 28 November 1996,[13] Engineer Ernesto S. Erive ("Engr. Erive"), Chief of the Surveys Division of the LMS-DENR-NCR, informed Atty. Bustos that a microfilm copy of Fls-3168-D is on file in the Technical Records and Statistical Section of their office.

The letter of Engr. Erive confirming the existence of a microfilm copy of Fls-3168-D conflicted with the letter of Engr. Dalire that his office has no record of Fls-3168-D. Thus, Atty. Bustos sent another letter dated 2 December 1996[14] to Engr. Dalire requesting for clarification. In a letter dated 5 December 1996,[15] Engr. Dalire requested the Regional Technical Director of LMS-DENR-NCR for a copy of Fls-3168-D for evaluation. Engr. Dalire wrote:
In connection with the letter of clarification dated December 2, 1996 of the Reconstituting Officer and Chief Reconstitution Division of LRA relative to the certified reproduction plan Fls-3168-D (microfilm) issued by the Chief, Technical Records & Statistical Section on September 23, 1996 and our letter dated November 7, 1996 that we have no record of Fls-3168-D. In this regards (sic), please forward to us the copy on file in that office (DENR-NCR) from where the Chief of Technical Records and Statistics Section reproduced a copy he issued to LRA for our evaluation.

In the machine copy of Fls-3168-D (furnished to us by LRA) from the copy of that office issued to LRA, the said copy on file in your office did not emanate from this Office. The stamp, particularly, bearing the name of this office and the Chief of Geodetic Surveys is not the same stamp we are using.

Please forward to us the said plan for evaluation and comment. (Emphasis supplied)
A letter dated 2 January 1997,[16] purportedly from Engr. Dalire, addressed to the LRA Administrator, was handcarried to, and received by the LRA General Records Section on 7 January 1997. The letter states:
In reply to your letter dated December 2, 1996, please be informed that the copy of the subject plan was forwarded to this office by the Chief, Technical Records and Statistical Section of the National Capital Region Lands Management Sector for our evaluation. As per verification and comparison made in our microfilm records, it was found out that they are identical and bore the same stamps and initials used in this office.

In view hereof, it is further informed that in our reply letter dated Nov. 7, 1996 we indicated the status thereof because we failed to verify from our index cards then for our last result, hence, this case be given due course for Administrative reconstitution (sic). (Emphasis supplied)
Interestingly, barely three days after his purported letter of 2 June 1997, Engr. Dalire wrote a letter dated 5 January 1997[17] addressed to the Regional Technical Director, LMS-DENR-NCR, thus:
This is a follow-up to our previous request dated 05 December 1996 to that Office in connection with the letter of clarification dated December 2, 1996 of the Reconstituting Officer and Chief Reconstitution Division of the Land Registration Authority relative to the certified reproduction of plan Fls-3168-D (microfilm) issued by that office (signed by Carmelita A. Soriano, Chief of Technical Records and Statistics Section) on September 23, 1996 to Teresita Hernandez and our letter dated November 7, 1996 to the LRA that we have no records of Fls-3168-D.

The Land Registration Authority however, furnished us with machine copy of Fls-3168-D reproduced from the copy issued by that Office and we found out that the copy of Fls-3168-D file (sic) in your office did not emanate from this Office. We reiterate that we have no records (sic) of Fls-3168-D.

May we request you again to please forward to us the said copy of plan Fls-3168-D on file in your office for our evaluation and comment. (Emphasis supplied)
Engr. Dalire sent another letter dated 31 January 1997[18] to the LRA Administrator. The letter states:
In your letter dated December 2, 1996 (IN RE: Administrative Reconstitution of the Original Transfer Certificate of Title No. 210177 in the Register of Deeds of Quezon City, Homer L. Barque, Sr., Represented by Teresita Barque-Hernandez, Petitioner) you requested us to clarify the fact that the Regional Office has a microfilm copy of plan Fls-3168-D, while our office does not have a record of the same. In that letter, you attached for our reference the following:
  1. Xerox copy of a certified true copy of plan Fls-3168-D, issued by the TRSS, NCR;
  2. Reply letter of Engr. Ernesto S. Erive, dated Nov. 28, 1996;
  3. Our reply letter dated November 7, 1996 to your letter dated October 29, 1996
In this connection, please be informed that we wrote on December 5, 1996 the DENR-NCR about your letter dated December 2, 1996 informing them that the plan Fls-3168-D filed in that Office from where the reproduced copy furnished to LRA did not emanate from our office.  We requested them to forward to us the said plan for our evaluation and comment. Likewise, on January 5, 1997, we made a follow-up, reiterating that we have no records (sic) of Fls-3168-D and requesting them to forward the plan for our evaluation and comment. It is regretted, they did not respond.

Upon examination of the copy of Fls-3168-D allegedly issued by DENR-NCR, it is certain that the source of the copy is a spurious plan which may have been inserted in the file. We requested for the copy in their file last 05 December 1996 and 05 January 1997 but until this writing, NCR has not sent us the copy for authentication as required by DENR Administrative Order. We are sure that the copy did not come from this Office. The reasons are:
  1. Our inventory of approved plans enrolled in our file, our Microfilm Computer list of plans available for decentralization all show that we do not have this plan Fls-3168-D, logically we cannot issue any copy.

  2. The copy of the plan Fls-3168-D shows visible signs that it is a spurious copy.
                                                                                     
    1)
    The certification (rubber stamp) serves a two piece stamp. The certification and the signing official are separate. Ours is one-piece.
    2)
    The alignment of: Lands, GEODETIC, this, Privadi, and Chief in the syndicates (sic) stamp differ from our stamp. Chief, Geodetic Surveys Division is our stamp, their (sic) is Survey without the "s" plural.
    3)
    We do not stamp the plan twice as the syndicate did on the copy.
    4)
    The size of the lettering in the rubber stamp "Not for Registration/Titling For Reference Only" is smaller than our stamp. It is also incomplete as an (sic) Stamp, in addition to the above is "of _________".
    5)
    The copy bears forged initials of my section officer and myself. I sign completely certification.
    6)
    The name of the claimant is very visible to have been tampered in the master copy.
    7)
    Again, it is certified that this Bureau does not have copy of Fls-3168-D.
In view of the foregoing, the copy of Fls-3168-D furnished your Office as well as the alleged letter authenticating it should be disregarded or rejected as they come from spurious sources. This involves the reconstitution of title allegedly lot 823-A of Fls-3168-D with an area of 171,473 Sq. M. Surely, the use of the spurious copy of Fls-3168-D for the reconstitution of title will create land problem involving prime lots in that area.
Meanwhile, we requested our Records Division to find out to whom lot 823 (or portion thereof) Piedad Estate was conveyed. (Emphasis supplied)
In a letter dated 13 February 1997[19] to the LRA Administrator, Engr. Dalire explained that the 2 January 1997 letter, purportedly written by him, was forged. Thus:
In reply to your letter dated January 28, 1997 which we received today, please be informed that as per the inventory of approved surveys which are officially enrolled in our file, the locator cards, the microfilm, list of plans on file which were decentralized to our regions, that are on file in this Bureau show that plan Fls-3168-D is not among the plans in our file. The non-existence of plan Fls-3168-D in our file, hence there is none to decentralize to our National Capital Region, is the subject of our reply to you dated 07 November 1996 (copy attached).

With respect to the letter dated 02 January 1997, xerox copy attached to your letter, this letter definitely did not come from this office; it is a forged document. The statement that the subject plan was forwarded to us by the Chief, Technical Records Statistics Section of the NCR-LMS is not true. Until now the NCR has not turned over the plan they reproduced in compliance with our urgent requests dated 03 January 1996 and followed up by our letters 03 January 1997 and 06 February 1997 (copies attached).

With respect to the questioned plan of Fls-3168-D, xerox copy attached to your letter of December 2, 1996, our detailed findings tending to prove it is a spurious copy have been discussed in our letter-reply dated 31 January 1997.

Meanwhile, we are retrieving the plan allegedly in the file of NCR for investigation and/or validation under DENR Administrative Order No. 40, s. 1991. (Emphasis supplied)
Finally, in a letter dated 19 February 1997,[20] Engr. Dalire requested Atty. Bustos to disregard Fls-3168-D for being spurious, thus:
In reply to your query whether or not

a) the copy of plan Fls-3168-D submitted to you involving lot 823, Piedad Estate as surveyed for Emiliano Setosta;

b) the letter dated 07 November 1996, and

c) the letter dated 02 January 1997

are authentic and really coming from this office.

The letter dated 07 November 1996 (copy attached) stating that this Bureau has no records of Fls-3168-D is authentic. Our Inventory Record of Approved Surveys, our computerized list of plans officially filed in this Bureau, the Locator Cards, and the microfilm all show that we have no records or information about Plan Fls-3168-D.

The copy of Fls-3168-D attached to your letter dated December 2, 1996 is not issued by this Office. There are many markings on the copy to prove it did not come from LMB. Reasons, among others, are:
                                                                     
1)
We have no copy of Fls-3168-D on file so how can we issue a copy of plan that is non-existing?
2)
The copy of plan bears two "Certifications" at the top and at lower half. This is not our practice;
3)
The rubber-stamp shows there are two pieces; one for the certification and another for the signing official. We use one piece rubber stamp. The alignment of the letters/words of one rubber stamp is different from this marking on this spurious plan;
4)
The plan shows only initial. I sign in full copies of plans with the initials of my action officers and their codings below my signature. These are not present in the spurious copy of plan;
5)
The letter size of the rubber stamp "NOT FOR REGISTRATION/TITLING, FOR REFERENCE ONLY" is smaller than our rubber stamp;
6)
The spurious copy of plan you furnished us does not carry our rubber stamp "GOVERNMENT PROPERTY NOT TO BE SOLD: FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY OF ___________________ "This is stamped on all microfilm copies we issue because all microfilm copies are for official use only of our LMS. We have shown you our rubber stamps to prove that the copy of Fls-3168-D in your possession is a spurious plan.

I firmly deny having prepared and issued the letter dated 02 January 1997 stating that copy of subject plan (Fls-3168-D) was forwarded to us by the Chief Technical Records and Statistics Section of the NCR and that as per verification, the plan is identical to the microfilm and that the case be given due course for administrative reconstitution. Certainly this is not true. This is the handiwork of forgers. How can this be when NCR has never given us the alleged copy in their file for validation. The forwarding of the copy to us is mandatory under DAO No. 49 for our validation. This is the subject of our letters to NCR dated 05 December 1996, 03 January 1997 and 06 February 1997 (copies attached). Definitely this letter was never prepared and issued by this Office. Our record books and file attest to this. We do not use letterheads for letters involving this topic.

Apparently our letter of 31 January 1997 (copy attached) was intercepted and did not reach you.

For all intent and purposes, please disregard the plan Fls-3168-D and the letter dated 02 January 1997 as they are proven to be spurious documents. (Emphasis supplied)
On 14 April 1997, Manotok, et al. filed their formal opposition to the petition for reconstitution upon learning of the petition.

The Ruling of the Reconstituting Officer

In an Order dated 30 June 1997,[21] Atty. Bustos denied the reconstitution of TCT No. 210177 on the following grounds:
  1. Lots 823-A and 823-B, Fls-3168-D, containing areas of 171,473 Sq. Mtrs. and 171,472 Sq. Mtrs., respectively, covered by TCT No. 210177, appear to duplicate Lot 823 Piedad Estate, containing an area of 342,945 Sq. Mtrs., covered by TCT No. 372302 registered in the name of Severino M. Manotok, et al., reconstituted under Adm. Reconstitution No. Q-213 dated February 01, 1991;

  2. The submitted plan Fls-3168-D is a spurious document as categorically stated by Engr. Privadi J.G. Dalire, Chief, Geodetic Surveys Division, Land Management Bureau, in his letter dated February 19, 1997. (Emphasis supplied)
Barque, Sr. moved for reconsideration of the Order. In an Order dated 10 February 1998,[22] Atty. Bustos denied the motion for lack of merit.

The Heirs of Barque filed an appeal with the LRA, docketed as Admin. Recons. No. Q-547-A [97].

The Ruling of the Land Registration Authority

In a Resolution dated 24 June 1998,[23] the LRA gave due course to the appeal. The LRA ruled that under LRA Circular No. 13,[24] only the owner's or co-owner's duplicate of an original or transfer certificate of title could be used as a source of administrative reconstitution. Hence, the LRA ruled that Atty. Bustos erred in requiring the submission of documents other than the owner's duplicate of the TCT. The LRA further ruled that Engr. Dalire failed to deny or question the genuineness of his signature in the letter of  2 January 1997. The LRA held that the 2 January 1997 letter is an official communication from Engr. Dalire. Finally, the LRA ruled that Manotok, et al.'s TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] is sham and spurious, thus:
It is undisputed that Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate, the property in question, is located at Barrio Matandang Balara, Quezon City. Several documents submitted by oppositors particularly the several Deeds of Sale and Unilateral Deed of Conveyance including the real estate tax receipts would show that Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate is located at Barrio Payong, and/or Barrio Culiat [Annexes "2" to "77" inclusive "79", "84" and "85" of Opposition] which is grossly inaccurate. The map of Quezon City [Annex "N" of Petitioners' Position Paper] would show that there is no such barrio as Payong. It must likewise be noted that there is a Barrio Culiat but the same is separate and distinct from Barrio Matandang Balara and they do not adjoin each other. Quite perplexing though is the fact that the real estate tax receipts for payments made after the Quezon City Hall was gutted by fire on 11 June 1988 would show that the property covered thereby is already situated at Barrio Matandang Balara [Annexes "91" to "104" inclusive of Opposition], while in other tax payment receipts [Annexes "103" to "114" inclusive of Opposition], Barrio Capitol is indicated as the location of the property in question. This is highly questionable and likewise highly irregular. The said real estate tax receipts also reflect the tax declarations of the property covered thereby. It is highly irregular that the tax declaration numbers indicated therein would vary and those tax declarations which appear to have been canceled would again be revived.

The claim of the oppositors that the property in question per TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] covers only one [1] lot is also inaccurate and without any basis. Plan FLS 3168D shows that the property in question indeed consists of two [2] lots, Lot 823-A and Lot 823-B. The same is being buttressed and corroborated by the certified copy of the tax map over the property in question issued by the Quezon City Assessor's Office [Annex "H" of Petitioners' Position Paper]. Said tax map shows that similar to TCT No. 210177 and Plan FLS 3168D, the property in question covers two [2] lots, Lot 823-A and Lot 823-B. Granting arguendo that Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate has not yet been subdivided into two [2] lots from the date of original survey in 1907, it is highly irregular that TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] would have Lot 822-A Psd 2498, Lot 818-A and Lot 818-C Psd 2507 as boundaries when at the time of the original survey, there were no such Psd's yet.

Examination of the technical decription and boundaries appearing in TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] would show that the same do not, in all respects, conform to the certified technical description and boundaries of Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate [property in question] which are the B. L. Form No. 28-37-R and B. L. Form No. 31-10 issued by the Bureau of Lands [Annexes "I" and "J" of Petitioners' Position Paper]. There was never any mention of Payatas Estate nor Tuazon Estate as the boundaries of the lot in question. The lot in question does not at all adjoin the Payatas Estate which was surveyed only on January 12, 1923 as per certification issued by the LMS-DENR-NCR [Annex "L" Petitioners' Position Paper]. As correctly pointed out by petitioners, Lot 822 was mentioned as one of the boundaries of TCT No. RT-22481 [372302]. It was not, however, indicated whether or not it was Lot 822 of the Piedad Estate.[25]
However, the LRA ruled that TCT No. 210177 could only be reconstituted after a court of competent jurisdiction has cancelled TCT  No. RT-22481 [372302]. The dispositive portion of the LRA Resolution reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, it is hereby ordered that reconstitution of TCT No. 210177 in the name of Homer L. Barque, Sr. shall be given due course after cancellation of TCT No. RT-22481 (372302) in the name of [the] Manotoks upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

SO ORDERED.[26]
Manotok, et al. filed a motion for reconsideration. In an Order dated 14 June 2001,[27] the LRA denied the motion.

Manotok, et al. filed a petition for review docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66642 before the Court of Appeals challenging the 24 June 1998 Resolution and 14 June 2001 Order of the LRA.

The Heirs of Barque filed a petition for review docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 praying for the modification of the 24 June 1998 Resolution and 14 June 2001 Order of the LRA. The Heirs of Barque prayed for the immediate reconstitution of TCT No. 210177 without prior cancellation of TCT No. RT-22481 [372302] by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

CA-G.R. SP No. 66642

The Court of Appeals initially dismissed CA-G.R. SP No. 66642 in the Resolution of 23 October 2001[28] for failure to show that Rosa R. Manotok had authority to sign the verification and certification against forum shopping in behalf of the other petitioners. Upon motion for reconsideration filed by Manotok, et al., the Court of Appeals reinstated the petition in the Resolution of 27 November 2001.[29]

In its Decision of 29 October 2003,[30] the Court of Appeals denied Manotok, et al.'s petition and affirmed the LRA Resolution of 24 June 1998. However, upon motion for reconsideration of the Heirs of Barque, the Court of Appeals promulgated an Amended Decision on 24 February 2004,[31] the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby GRANTED. The Decision of this Court dated 29 October 2003 is RECONSIDERED and a new one is entered ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel petitioners' TCT No. RT-22481 and directing the LRA to reconstitute forthwith respondents' TCT No. T-210177.

SO ORDERED.[32]
Manotok, et al. appealed to this Court for relief. Their petition was docketed as G.R. No. 162335.

CA-G.R. SP No. 66700

In a Decision promulgated on 13 September 2002,[33] the Court of Appeals dismissed the Heirs of Barque's petition and affirmed the LRA Resolution of 24 June 1998. The Heirs of Barque moved for reconsideration of the Decision.

In an Amended Decision promulgated on 7 November 2003,[34] the Court of Appeals reconsidered its 13 September 2002 Decision, as follows:
WHEREFORE, our decision dated 13 September 2002 is hereby reconsidered. Accordingly, the Register of Deeds of Quezon City is hereby directed to cancel TCT No. RT-22481 of private respondents and the LRA is hereby directed to reconstitute forthwith petitioners' valid, genuine and existing Certificate of Title No. T-210177.

No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.[35]
Manotok, et al. filed a motion for reconsideration of the Amended Decision. In its Resolution of 12 March 2004,[36] the Court of Appeals denied the motion.

Manotok, et al. filed a petition for review with this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 162605.

The Issues
In their Memoranda,[37] Manotok, et al. raise a number of issues which may be summarized as follows:
  1. Whether the Land Registration Authority has jurisdiction to rule on the validity of Manotok, et al.'s title.

  2. Whether the Court of Appeals may assume equity jurisdiction over the cases.

  3. Whether the Court of Appeals, applying Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership v. Velasco,[38] may order the cancellation of Manotok, et al.'s title and the reconstitution of the Heirs of Barque's title.
Administrative Reconstitution under PD 1529

Section 110 of Presidential Decree No. 1529[39] ("PD 1529"), as amended by Republic Act No. 6732,[40] governs the administrative reconstitution of lost or destroyed certificates of titles. Section 110 of PD 1529 provides:
SEC. 110. Reconstitution of Lost or Destroyed Original of Torrens Title. – Original copies of certificate of titles lost or destroyed in the offices of Register of Deeds as well as liens and encumbrances affecting the lands covered by such titles shall be reconstituted judicially in accordance with the procedure prescribed in Republic Act No. 26 insofar as not inconsistent with this Decree. The procedure relative to administrative reconstitution of lost or destroyed certificate prescribed in said Act may be availed of only in case of substantial loss or destruction of land titles due to fire, flood or other force majeure as determined by the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority: Provided, That the number of certificates of titles lost or damaged should be at least ten percent (10%) of the total number in the possession of the Office of the Register of Deeds: Provided, further, That in no case shall the number of certificates of titles lost or damaged be less than five hundred (500).

Notice of all hearings of the petition for judicial reconstitution shall be furnished the Register of Deeds of the place where the land is situated and to the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority. No order or judgment ordering the reconstitution of a certificate of title shall become final until the lapse of fifteen (15) days from receipt by the Register of Deeds and the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority of a notice of such order or judgment without any appeal having [been] filed by any such officials.
The LRA, in reversing Atty. Bustos' Order, ruled that Atty. Bustos blatantly disregarded LRA Circular No. 13[41] when he required the submission of documents other than the owner's duplicate of TCT No. 210177. The LRA ruled that Atty. Bustos should have confined himself to TCT No. 210177. The LRA cited paragraph 4 of LRA Circular No. 13, thus:
4. Sources of Reconstitution. – Only the owner's or co-owner's duplicate of an original or transfer certificate of title may be used as a source of administrative reconstitution.
However, paragraph 4 of LRA Circular No. 13 should be read in conjunction with its paragraph 8, which states:
8. Order of Reconstitution. – If the Reconstituting Officer or the Register of Deeds of another registry, after appropriate verification, is convinced that the certificate of title may be reconstituted, he shall issue an order of reconstitution. Otherwise, he shall deny the petition, stating his reasons therefor. The Register of Deeds concerned and the petitioner shall be furnished with copies of the order. (Emphasis supplied)
When Atty. Bustos requested Engr. Dalire to furnish his office with a copy of Fls-3168-D, it was part of the verification process prior to reconstitution of the title. Considering the numerous petitions for reconstitution due to the destruction of the Quezon City Hall, Atty. Bustos was merely exercising caution to avoid the reconstitution of spurious titles. Atty. Bustos conducted a verification of TCT No. 210177 pursuant to paragraph 8 of LRA Circular No. 13. Hence, the LRA erred in ruling that Atty. Bustos should have confined himself to the owner's duplicate of TCT No. 210177.

Section 3[42] of Republic Act No. 26[43] ("RA 26") enumerates the sources for reconstitution of transfer certificates of title. For administrative reconstitution of title, the only source documents are the owner's duplicate of the certificate of title and the co-owner's, mortgagee's, or lessee's duplicate of the certificate of title. Section 12[44] of RA 26 does not apply in the present cases since Section 12 refers to judicial reconstitution of title.

The reconstitution of a certificate of title is far from being a ministerial act. In an administrative reconstitution, the petitioner must submit the owner's or co-owner's duplicate of the certificate of title as required by Section 3 of RA 26 and paragraph 4 of LRA Circular No. 13.

However, the submission of the source documents does not mean that the reconstituting officer must forthwith grant the petition for reconstitution. It does not also mean that the reconstituting officer must confine himself with the owner's or co-owner's duplicate of the certificate of title. In accordance with paragraph 8 of LRA Circular No. 13, the reconstituting officer or the Register of Deeds shall issue an order of reconstitution only after appropriate verification which means that he must be convinced that the certificate of title is genuine and not spurious. Thus, the reconstituting officer must go beyond the owner's or co-owner's duplicate certificate of title to determine whether the title is genuine. The process of verification allows the reconstituting officer to countercheck with other government agencies to determine the validity of the title to be reconstituted.

When Atty. Bustos requested for a copy of Fls-3168-D, he was not only exercising caution but more importantly, it was part of the verification process under paragraph 8 of LRA Circular No. 13. The Heirs of Barque filed the petition for reconstitution only in 1996, eight years after the alleged destruction of the original TCT in 1988. The reconstituting officer should not be blamed for verifying if he should grant the petition for reconstitution. Paragraph 8 of LRA Circular No. 13 mandates that Atty. Bustos shall issue an order of reconstitution only after appropriate verification.

The Jurisdiction of the Land Registration Authority

Section 6 of PD 1529 enumerates the general functions of the Land Registration Commissioner,[45] as follows:
SEC. 6.  General Functions –           

 (1)
The Commissioner of Land Registration shall have the following functions:
  
  
(a)
Issue decrees of registration pursuant to final judgments of the courts in land registration proceedings and cause the issuance by the Registers of Deeds of the corresponding certificates of title;
  
(b)
Exercise supervision and control over all Registers of Deeds and other personnel of the Commission;
  
(c)
Resolve cases elevated en consulta by, or on appeal from decision of, Registers of Deeds;
  
(d)
Exercise executive supervision over all clerks of court and personnel of the Court of First Instance throughout the Philippines with respect to the discharge of their duties and functions in relation to the registration of lands;
  
(e)
Implement all orders, decisions, and decrees promulgated relative to the registration of lands and issue, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, all needful rules and regulations therefor;
  
(f)
Verify and approve subdivision, consolidation, and consolidation-subdivision survey plans of properties titled under Act No. 496 except those covered by P.D. No. 957. (Emphasis supplied)
The LRA has jurisdiction to review on appeal decisions on petitions for reconstitution. However, it is not within its powers and functions to declare a title void. Under Section 19 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129  ("BP Blg. 129"), "Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction xxx in all civil actions, which involve the title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein."  The LRA, in its 24 June 1998 Resolution, recognized that only the Regional Trial Court ("RTC") could declare a title fraudulently reconstituted. The LRA declared:
Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is noted that although TCT  No. RT-22481 (372302) in the name of the Manotoks is alleged to cover a property with an "expanded area" and that the same was fraudulently reconstituted, the same is existing as a reconstituted title at the Office of the Register of Deeds of Quezon City. It is thus presumed valid until ordered declared null and void by a court of competent jurisdiction. A title issued under the Torrens system enjoys the presumption of validity (Ramos vs. Rodriguez, 244 SCRA 418). Although it is now being claimed that the title of the Manotoks was wrongly reconstituted, it is only the Regional Trial Court which can declare that the same was fraudulently reconstituted. Well-settled is the rule that a certificate of title cannot be altered, modified or cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law (Section 48, P.D. 1529; Calalang vs. Register of Deeds of Quezon City, 231 SCRA 88, 106). xxx

xxx

It must likewise be stressed that questions affecting title to real property fall within the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts as expressly provided for under B.P. Blg. 129, particularly Section 19(2) thereof xxx.[46]
Clearly, LRA's jurisdiction to act on petitions for administrative reconstitution does not include the power to declare a title sham or spurious or to order the cancellation of a certificate of title.

The settled rule is a certificate of title cannot be subject to collateral attack.[47] A certificate of title may only be altered, modified or cancelled in a direct proceeding.[48] Section 48 of PD 1529 provides:
Section 48. Certificate not Subject to Collateral attack. — A certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified, or cancelled except in a direct proceeding in accordance with law. (Emphasis supplied)
To allow the cancellation of Manotok, et al.'s title in an administrative reconstitution proceeding will permit an indirect attack on the certificate of title in violation of Section 48 of PD 1529.

The LRA exceeded its jurisdiction when it declared that Manotok, et al.'s title is sham and spurious. The LRA itself acknowledged that only the RTC could declare a title fraudulently reconstituted. By ruling on the validity of Manotok, et al.'s title, the LRA assumed the function of the RTC. The LRA also preempted whatever decision the RTC may render on the matter.

The Register of Deeds, the LRA and the Court of Appeals have no jurisdiction to act on the petition for reconstitution filed by the Heirs of Barque in view of the existing Torrens title of Manotok, et al. No court, much less an administrative body, can entertain a petition for reconstitution of lost or destroyed title if the land is already covered by a Torrens title in the name of another party, unless there is a final judgment first cancelling such Torrens title. The only exception is when the Torrens title has been issued for less than one year,[49] which is not the situation in the present cases.

To allow such reconstitution is to allow a collateral attack on the existing Torrens title in violation of Section 48 of PD 1529. Such reconstitution will result in an anomalous situation where two Torrens title in the name of two different owners cover one property, a situation anathema to the very concept of stability and indefeasibility of a Torrens title. In Alabang Development Corporation v. Valenzuela[50] the Court ruled:
The Court stresses once more that lands already covered by duly issued existing Torrens Titles (which become incontrovertible upon the expiration of one year from their issuance under Section 38 of the Land Registration Act) cannot be the subject of petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles filed by third parties without first securing by final judgment the cancellation of such existing titles. x x x The courts simply have no jurisdiction over petitions by such third parties for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles over lands that are already covered by duly issued subsisting titles in the names of their duly registered owners. The very concept of stability and indefeasibility of titles covered under the Torrens System of registration rules out as anathema the issuance of two certificates of title over the same land to two different holders thereof. A fortiori, such proceedings for "reconstitution" without actual notice to the duly registered owners and holders of Torrens Titles to the land are null and void. Applicants, land officials and judges who disregard these basic and fundamental principles will be held duly accountable therefor. (Emphasis supplied)
The Court has repeatedly reiterated this ruling in subsequent cases.[51]

By cancelling the TCT of Manotok, et al., and upholding the TCT of the Heirs of Barque, the Court of Appeals resolved in the administrative reconstitution case the issue of ownership over the property in dispute. This is grave error because ownership is never in issue in a petition for reconstitution of title. As this Court ruled in Alonso v. Cebu Country Club, Inc.[52]:
Respondent relies solely on its reconstituted title which, by itself, does not determine or resolve the ownership of the land covered by the lost or destroyed title. The reconstitution of a title is simply the re-issuance of a lost duplicate certificate of title  in its original form and condition. It does not determine or resolve the ownership of the land covered by the lost or destroyed title. A reconstituted title , like the original certificate of title, by itself does not vest ownership of the land or estate covered thereby. (Emphasis in original)
In a petition for reconstitution of title, the only relief sought is the issuance of a reconstituted title because the reconstituting officer's power is limited to granting or denying a reconstituted title. The reconstituting officer has no power to decide questions of ownership. A Torrens title, even a reconstituted title, is "evidence of an indefeasible title to the property in favor of the person whose name appears therein."[53] Certainly, the reconstituting officer in an administrative proceeding has no authority to deprive a third party of his property by cancelling his Torrens title to the property. In a petition for reconstitution, such third party is not even required to be impleaded as a respondent.

Equity Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals

In its original Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, the Court of Appeals held that Manotok, et al.'s title is presumed valid until annulled by a court of competent jurisdiction. In CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, the Court of Appeals originally ruled that the LRA is without jurisdiction and cannot determine which of the two titles is valid.

Yet, in the two Amended Decisions, the Court of Appeals sustained as conclusive the LRA's finding that the title of the Heirs of Barque is the genuine and authentic title. Moreover, in the Amended Decisions, the Court of Appeals ordered the Register of Deeds to cancel Manotok, et al.'s TCT No. RT-22481 even without a direct proceeding before the proper RTC as mandated by Section 48 of PD 1529 and Section 19 of BP Blg. 129. Clearly, the Court of Appeals deprived Manotok, et al. of their property without due process of law.

In reversing itself, the Court of Appeals insists that it may decide the cases on the merits based on the records before it "in the pursuit of expeditious administration of justice." In other words, the Court of Appeals assumed equity jurisdiction over the cases.

Equity jurisdiction aims to attain complete justice in cases where a court of law is unable to render judgment to meet the special circumstances of a case because of the limitations of its statutory jurisdiction.[54] However, equity follows the law, and courts exercising equity jurisdiction must still apply the law and have no discretion to disregard the law.[55] Where the law prescribes a particular remedy with fixed and limited boundaries, the court cannot, by exercising equity jurisdiction, extend the boundaries further than the law allows.[56] Thus, the Court ruled:
As for equity, which has been aptly described as "a justice outside legality," this is applied only in the absence of, and never against, statutory law or, as in this case, judicial rules of procedure. Aequetas nunguam contravenit legis. The pertinent positive rules being present here, they should pre-empt and prevail over all abstract arguments based only on equity.[57] (Emphasis supplied)
Hence, the Court of Appeals may not extend jurisdiction to the LRA where the law has not granted such jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals may not also allow a collateral attack on a Torrens title, either before the LRA or before itself, in gross violation of Section 48 of PD 1529. The present cases involve a vast tract of land in a prime district. The property in question contains an area of 342,945 square meters. At a conservative estimate of P5,000 per square meter, the value of the property amounts to P1,714,725,000. The documents submitted by the parties are conflicting. The parties question the authenticity of each other's documents. Manotok, et al. claim that they and their predecessors-in-interest have been in possession of the property since 1919 while the Heirs of Barque allegedly have never set foot on the property.

The determination of the authenticity of the documents and veracity of the claims of both parties requires a trial on the merits. The LRA exceeded its jurisdiction when it made a conclusive finding on the validity of the titles of the parties. Such function falls under the "exclusive original jurisdiction" of the RTC under Section 19 of BP Blg. 129. The Court of Appeals should not have resolved the factual issues by adopting as its own the LRA's finding. This Court accords respect, if not finality, to factual findings of an administrative body. However, this rule does not apply when the administrative body has no jurisdiction to make a conclusive factual finding particularly when the findings might conflict with findings of the tribunal or agency which has jurisdiction on the matter.

Respondents claim that there is no Barrio Payong in Quezon City. Respondents point to the 24 June 1998 Resolution of the LRA stating that Barrio Payong is non-existent. However, the Decision of the Court of Agrarian Relations, the court of origin in Spouses Tiongson, et al. v. Court Appeals and Macaya,[58] shows that Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate is located at Barrio Payong, Old Balara, Quezon City.[59] Indeed, the Court of Agrarian Relations made an ocular inspection of the property, thus:
On June 20, 1978, the Court issued an Order directing the Clerk of Court to conduct an ocular inspection of the landholding in question, which is as follows:
"Conformably with 'Urgent Motion For An Ocular Inspection' filed with this Court on even date and as stated in paragraph 2 thereof, the Clerk of Court is hereby direct to conduct an ocular inspection of the landholding in question situated at Payong, Quezon City, which as agreed upon between them is set on June 23, 1978 at 8:30 o'clock A.M. (sic), wherein the parties shall meet at the site of said landholding and to determine.

(a) Portions of the property planted to rice (sic) by the plaintiff and/or his children;

(b) Portions of the property where the rice paddies are located;

(c) Portions of the property planted to (sic) corn and vegetables;

(d) Portions of the property where the houses of the plaintiff and/or his children are built and located;

(e) Portion of the property which, according to the defendants, had been, before the filing of the complaint in this case, worked on by Victorino Macaya and returned by him to the defendants, through Atty. Perpetua Bocanegra, with an area of more or less one hectare;

(f) Portions burned by the plaintiff."

Upon accomplishment thereof, said Clerk of Court is hereby directed to submit his report as well as his sketch plan for further disposition of the Court.
On June 27, 1977, the Clerk of Court submitted his "REPORT", which is as follows:
"In compliance with the Order of the Honorable Court dated June 20, 1978, undersigned together with Mr. Victor Flores of this Branch, proceeded to Barrio Payong, Quezon City on June 23, 1978, to conduct an ocular inspection of the landholding involved in this case. xxx"[60] (Emphasis supplied)
The findings of the LRA that Barrio Payong does not exist is based merely on LRA's evaluation of the documents. In contrast, the findings of the Court of Agrarian Relations that the property of the Spouses Tiongson is located in Barrio Payong, Quezon City, is based on ocular inspection. The majority opinion adopts the findings of the LRA. This issue, however, should be threshed out by the proper trial court in an action directly attacking the validity of the Torrens title of Manotok, et al.

The Applicability of Ortigas & Company
Limited Partnership v. Velasco             

In ordering the Register of Deeds to cancel Manotok, et al.'s title and the LRA to reconstitute the title of the Heirs of Barque, the Court of Appeals relied on Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership v. Velasco.[61] The Court of Appeals ruled that it would be unjust to the Heirs of Barque to initiate a new proceeding before the RTC for the sole purpose of seeking the cancellation of Manotok, et al.'s title.

The Heirs of Barque claim that the pendency of the cases for a long period of time justifies the application of the Ortigas case in their favor. On the other hand, Manotok, et al. argue that if ever the Ortigas case is applicable, it will apply in their favor since this Court in a prior decision[62] involving tenancy relationship affirmed their right to the property in question.

The Ortigas case is not authority to deprive Manotok, et al. of their right to a direct proceeding before the proper court concerning the validity of their Torrens title. In Ortigas, the Court ruled that a remand of the case would be pointless and unduly circuitous, and that to defer adjudication on the matter would be unwarranted and unjust. This is because the records showed that Ortigas' titles had already been upheld and affirmed in three other cases, involving either the original registration or direct attacks on the titles, decided in 1906, 1985 and 1987.[63] The Court ruled that Ortigas' documents of ownership have been passed upon, sanctioned and sustained by the Court more than once. This peculiar circumstance is absent in the cases before us.

However, the Ortigas case, which the Heirs of Barque insist applies to the present cases, is authority to hold that the Register of Deeds, the LRA and the Court of Appeals have no jurisdiction to entertain the petition for reconstitution filed by the Heirs of Barque. The Court held in Ortigas:[64]
x x x So, too, this Court has stressed "that lands already covered by duly issued existing Torrens titles (which become incontrovertible upon the expiration of one year from their issuance under section 38 of the Land Registration Act) cannot be the subject of petitions for reconstitution of allegedly lost or destroyed titles filed by third parties without first securing by final judgment the cancellation of such existing titles. x x x." (Emphasis supplied)
This is the specific ruling in Ortigas that applies to the present cases.

In summary, the Heirs of Barque filed before the Register of Deeds an administrative petition to reconstitute their allegedly destroyed TCT. The Register of Deeds, as reconstituting officer, denied the petition of the Heirs of Barque because, based on official records, the property involved is already registered under the Torrens system in the name of Manotok, et al. The LRA affirmed the Register of Deeds, stating that only the proper trial court could cancel the TCT of Manotok, et al. although the LRA believed that the TCT of Manotok, et al. was a sham. The LRA recognized that in an administrative reconstitution, the decision of the reconstituting body is either to deny or approve the reconstitution of the applicant's title, never to cancel the Torrens title of a third party. However, on appeal, the Court of Appeals declared the TCT of Manotok, et al. void and the TCT of the Heirs of Barque valid. Clearly, the Court of Appeals deprived Manotok, et al. of their property without due process of law. The Court of Appeals blatantly disregarded Section 48 of PD 1529 and Section 19 of BP Blg. 129 which confer on the proper trial court exclusive original jurisdiction to cancel a Torrens title in an action directly attacking the validity of the Torrens title. The Court should not countenance this gross injustice and patent violation of the law.

Accordingly, I vote to grant the petitions and set aside the 24 February 2004 Amended Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66642 and the 7 November 2003 Amended Decision and the 12 March 2004 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 66700. The Land Registration Authority must defer its ruling in Admin. Recons. No. Q-547-A [97] until after the proper Regional Trial Court shall have rendered a final judgment on the validity of the titles of the parties.



[1]
Presidential Decree No. 1529.

[2] The Regional Trial Courts have jurisdiction when the assessed value of the property involved exceeds P20,000 or for civil actions in Metro Manila, where the value exceeds P50,000.

[3] Ladignon v. Court of Appeals, 390 Phil. 1161 (2000).

[4] Under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

[5] Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, p. 386.

[6] Penned by Associate Justice Eubulo G. Verzola, with Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam concurring. Rollo, G.R. No. 162335, pp. 113-118.

[7] Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, pp. 56-66.

[8] Ibid., pp. 71-73.

[9] CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 was decided by a Special Division of Five. The amended decision was penned by Associate Justice Buenaventura J. Guerrero, with Associate Justices Eloy R. Bello, Jr., Edgardo P. Cruz, and Danilo B. Pine concurring, and Associate Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. dissenting. CA-G.R. SP No. 66700 should have been consolidated with CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, the latter having the lower number.

[10] Rollo, G.R. No. 162335, p. 131. The letter states:

In connection with the examination/verification of the petition for administrative reconstitution of TCT No. 210177, supposedly registered in the name of Homer L. Barque Sr., please furnish us with a certified copy of subdivision plan Fls-3168-D, for our record and reference.

Attached is a xerox copy of TCT No. 210177 for your reference.

[11] Ibid., p. 133. The letter states:

In connection with the examination/verification of the above-entitled petition, please furnish us a certification as to the existence and authenticity of plan Fls-3168-D, supposedly covered by TCT No. 210177, for our record and reference.

Attached is a xerox copy of TCT No. 210177 for your reference.

[12] Ibid., p. 132. The letter states:

In reply to your letter dated October 29, 1996 requesting for certified copy of plan Fls-3168-D for reference in connection with administrative reconstitution of TCT No. 210177. Relative to the plan Fls-3168-D, please be informed that we have no records (sic) of Fls-3168-D.

[13] Ibid., p. 134. The letter states:

In reply to your undated letter, please be informed that a microfilm copy of Plan FLS-3168-D is on file in the Technical Records and Statistical Section of this Office.

[14] Ibid., p. 135. The letter states:

Relative to the above-entitled petition, we would like to clarify the fact that the Regional Office has a microfilm copy of Plan Fls-3168-D, while your Office does not have a record of the same.
Attached for your reference are the following:
  1. Xerox copy of a certified true copy of plan Fls-3168-D, issued by the TRSS, NCR;
  2. Reply letter of Engr. Ernesto S. Erive, dated Nov. 28, 1996;
  3. Your reply letter dated November 7, 1996.
Your clarification is of utmost importance in the resolution of the instant case.

[15] Ibid., p. 136.

[16] Ibid., p. 137.

[17] Ibid., p. 138.

[18] Ibid., pp. 139-140.

[19] Rollo, G.R. No. 162335, p. 142.

[20] Ibid., pp. 144-145.

[21] Ibid., p. 146.

[22] Ibid., p. 147.

[23] Penned by Administrator Reynaldo Y. Maulit. Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, pp. 88-95.

[24] Re: Administrative Reconstitution of Original Copies of Lost or Destroyed Certificates of Title Pursuant to Republic Act No. 6732.

[25] Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, pp. 93-94.

[26] Ibid., p. 95.

[27] Penned by Administrator Senecio O. Ortile. Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, pp. 96-97.

[28] CA Rollo, CA-G.R. SP No. 66642, pp. 78-79.

[29] Ibid., pp. 90-91.

[30] Rollo, G.R. No. 162335, pp. 106-111. Penned by Associate Justice Eubulo G. Verzola, with Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Edgardo F. Sundiam, concurring.

[31] Supra note 6.

[32] Rollo, G.R. No. 162335, p. 117.

[33] CA Rollo, CA-G.R. SP No. 66700, pp. 244-248. Penned by Associate Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr., with Associate Justices Buenaventura J. Guerrero and Eloy R. Bello, Jr., concurring.

[34] Supra note 7.

[35] Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, p. 65.

[36] Supra note 8.

[37] Their lead counsel Atty. Felix B. Lerio filed a Memorandum. Their collaborating counsel Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz filed another Memorandum.

[38] G.R. No. 109645, 25 July 1994, 234 SCRA 455.

[39]  Property Registration Decree.

[40] An Act Allowing Administrative Reconstitution of Original Copies of Certificates of Titles Lost or Destroyed Due to Fire, Flood and Other Force Majeure, Amending for the Purpose Section One Hundred Ten of Presidential Decree Numbered Fifteen Twenty-Nine and Section Five of Republic Act Numbered Twenty-Six.

[41] Supra note 24.

[42] 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 title;
(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 or destroyed certificate of title.
[43]  An Act Providing A Special Procedure For the Reconstitution Of Torrens Certificates Of Title Lost Or Destroyed.

[44] 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 any interest in the property; (f) a detailed description 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 introduce 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.

[45] Now Land Registration Administrator.

[46]  Rollo, G.R. No. 162605, p. 94.

[47] Heirs of Simplicio Santiago v. Heirs of Mariano E. Santiago, G.R. No. 151440, 17 June 2003, 404 SCRA 193.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Section 32, PD 1529.

[50] 201 Phil. 727 (1982). Reported as Alabang Dev. Corp., et al. v. Hon. Valenzuela, etc., et al.

[51]  MWSS v. Hon. Sison, etc., et al., 209 Phil. 325 (1983); Serra Serra v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 34080, 22 March 1991, 195 SCRA 482; Ortigas & Company Limited Partnership v. Velasco, supra note 38.

[52] Resolution, G.R. No. 130876, 5 December 2003 417 SCRA 115.

[53] Caraan v. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 140752, November 11, 2005.

[54]  Reyes v. Lim, G.R. No. 134241, 11 August 2003, 408 SCRA 560.

[55] Arsenal v. IAC, 227 Phil. 36 (1986).

[56] Alvendia v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 72138, 22 January 1990, 181 SCRA 252.

[57] Imperial Victory Shipping Agency v. NLRC, G.R. No. 84672, 5 August 1991, 200 SCRA 178 citing Zabat, Jr. v. CA, 226 Phil. 489 (1986).

[58] 215 Phil. 430 (1984).

[59] Rollo of G.R. No. 162335, pp. 167-209.

[60] Ibid., pp. 174-175.

[61] Supra note 38.

[62] Spouses Tiongson, et al. v. Court of Appeals and Macaya, supra note 58. The Tiongson case did not involve a direct attack on the Torrens title of the petitioners in that case. In addition, the Tiongson case did not mention the TCT number of the property although petitioners in the present cases are also the petitioners in the Tiongson case. However, the Tiongson case also involves a 34-hectare lot located in Payong, Old Balara, Quezon City which is the same general area involved in the present cases. A reading of the Decision of the Court of Agrarian Relations, the court of origin, shows that the property in the Tiongson case involves Lot 823 of the Piedad Estate, containing an area of 34 hectares, located at Barrio Payong, Old Balara, Quezon City. Rollo of G.R. No 162335, supra note 59.

[63] The Court cited the Resolution in Widows & Orphans Association, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R.   No. 91797, 7 August 1992, 212 SCRA 360.

[64] Supra note 38.

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