573 Phil. 241

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 147359, March 28, 2008 ]

IN RE: APPLICATION FOR LAND REGISTRATION OF TITLE FIELDMAN AGRICULTURAL TRADING CORPORATION, REPRESENTED BY KAM BIAK Y. CHAN, JR., PETITIONER, V.S. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

NACHURA, J.:

Petitioner Fieldman Agricultural Trading Corp. (FATCO), through Kam Biak Y. Chan, Jr., appeals by certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, the October 23, 2000 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 52366, and the March 7, 2001 Resolution[2] denying its reconsideration.

On October 19, 1993, FATCO filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of La Union an application for confirmation of title to parcels of land, described as Lots No. 1505, No. 1234 and No. 47030,[3] with an aggregate area of 8,463 square meters, situated in Barrio Poblacion, Bacnotan, La Union. The application was docketed as LRA REC. No. N-63835.

FATCO alleged, among others, that it is the owner of the subject parcels of land which it openly, exclusively and notoriously possessed and occupied for more than thirty (30) years under a bona fide claim of ownership, tacking its possession with that of its predecessors-in-interest. It allegedly acquired these lots in the following manner:

a) Lot No. 1505 covered by Tax Declaration No. 20304 was acquired by a Deed of Exchange executed by and between the Brgy. Council of Poblacion, Bacnotan, La Union, represented by its Brgy. Capt. Honesto Alcid and Brgy. Sec. Teofilo Descargar, and the applicant, at San Fernando, La Union, on October 19, 1988 appearing as Doc. No. 415, Page No. 84, Book No. I, Series of 1988 in the notarial register of Notary Public Roman R. Villalon, Jr., and registered with the Registry of Deeds for the Province of La Union on November 16, 1988;

b) Lot No. 1234 covered by Tax Declaration No. 20305 was acquired by a Deed of Extrajudicial Partition with the Deed of Absolute Sale executed by and between Ceferino Bucago, Ildefonso Bucago, Victoria Bucago, Felomina B. Higoy, Elizabeth B. Espejo, Ernesto B. Dacanay, Maria Bucago, Reinerio P. Dacanay and the applicant at San Fernando, La Union, on October 19, 1988 appearing as Doc. No. 411, Page No. 84, Book No. I, Series of 1988 in the notarial register of Notary Public Roman R. Villalon, Jr., and registered with the Registry of Deeds for the province of La Union on November 16, 1988;

c) Lot No. 47030 covered by Tax Declaration No. 21971 was acquired by a Deed of Absolute Sale executed by and between Ernesto Adman, Amparo Carino Adman, and the applicant at San Fernando, La Union, on August 27, 1990 appearing as Doc. No. 235, Page No. 47, Book No. II, Series of 1990, in the notarial register of Notary Public Roman R. Villalon, Jr., and registered with the Register of Deeds for the Province of La Union on September 25, 1990.[4]

FATCO, thus, prayed for the registration or confirmation of its title over these parcels of land.

On December 1, 1993, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) entered its appearance, as counsel for the Republic of the Philippines (Republic), and deputized the Provincial Prosecutor of San Fernando, La Union to appear in the case.[5]

On November 11, 1994, the RTC issued an Order setting the application for initial hearing on February 28, 1995. The Order was published in the January 23, 1995 issue of the Official Gazette,[6] and the February 18-24, 1995 issue of the Guardian.[7] The notice of hearing was, likewise, posted in a conspicuous place in each parcel of land included in the application, and on the bulletin board of the municipal building of Bacnotan, La Union.[8] The Provincial Prosecutor of La Union was furnished with a copy of notice of hearing on November 18, 1994.[9]

At the scheduled initial hearing on February 28, 1995, Atty. Marita Balloguing entered her appearance as collaborating counsel for FATCO, and requested the resetting of the marking of exhibits.[10] The RTC granted the request and issued an Order resetting the hearing to April 19, 1995, viz.:

As prayed for by Atty. Balloguing, who entered her appearance in collaboration with Atty. Ungria as counsel for the applicant, this case is reset to April 19, 1995 at 8:30 a.m. for the purpose of establishing jurisdictional facts.

SO ORDERED.[11]

The Republic, through the Provincial Prosecutor, was duly informed of the resetting.[12]

On March 2, 1995, the OSG again entered its appearance as counsel for the Republic and once more deputized the Provincial Fiscal of San Fernando, La Union to appear in the case.[13] On the same date, the Republic filed its Opposition to FATCO's application for registration on the following grounds: (1) neither FATCO nor its predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the land in question since June 12, 1945 or prior thereto; (2) the muniments of title and tax declarations of the applicant (and its predecessors-in-interest) do not constitute competent and sufficient evidence of a bona fide acquisition of the land applied for, and do not appear to be genuine; (3) applicant (and its predecessors-in-interest) can no longer claim ownership in fee simple on the basis of Spanish title or grant, since they failed to file the appropriate application for registration within the period of six months from February 16, 1976, as required by Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 892; (4) the parcels of land applied for forms part of the public domain and are not subject to private appropriation; and (5) the application was belatedly filed as it was filed beyond December 31, 1987, the period set forth under Sec. 2, P.D. No. 1073.[14]

During the hearing on April 19, 1995, Prosecutor Gloria D. Catbagan appeared for the Republic. FATCO, through counsel, offered in evidence the following documents to establish jurisdictional facts:


Exhibit A - Consolidated Plan Ccn-013303-000129 of Lots 1505, 1234 and 47030




Exhibit B - Technical Description




Exhibit B-1 - Certification in lieu of Lost Surveyor's Certificate




Exhibit C - Notice of Initial Hearing from LRA




Exhibit D - Affidavit of Publication by publisher of The Guardian




Exhibit D-1 - Clipping of Publication




Exhibit E - Whole issue of The Guardian for February 18 to 24, 1995;




Exhibit E-1 - Section A of publication of said issue;




Exhibit F - Certificate of Publication from the Official Gazette/ National Printing Office;




Exhibit G - Certificate of Notification sent to Adjoining Owners (Reserved);




Exhibit H - Certificate of Publication from LRA




Exhibit I - Sheriff's Certificate of Posting




Exhibit J - Certificate of Assessment[15]

The RTC then issued an Order[16] setting the case for the reception of evidence on May 25, 1995 at 8:30 in the morning.

In the ensuing trial, FATCO offered other documents and testimonial evidence to prove its title to the parcels of land applied for. The Republic, on the other hand, did not submit evidence to controvert FATCO's assertion.

In a Decision dated February 5, 1996, the RTC, upon a finding that FATCO had sufficiently established its ownership of the lands in question, ordered the registration thereof in its name, thus:

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, this Court hereby approves the application and orders that the parcels of land identified as Lots 1505, 1234 and 47030, Bacnotan Cadastre Pls-1050-D, containing an area of EIGHT THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE (8,463) square meters, more or less, located at Poblacion, Bacnotan, La Union, covered by Consolidated Plan Ccn-013303-000129 (Exh. "A"), and more particularly described in the technical description, Exh. "B" shall be registered in the name of the applicant Fieldman Agricultural Trading Corporation, with address at Poblacion, Bacnotan, La Union, under the provisions of the Property Registration Decree.

The encumbrance/mortgage of the property to the Far East Bank and Trust Company, San Fernando, La Union Branch in the amount of Seventeen Million (P17,000,000.00) Pesos, shall accordingly be annotated at the back of the title to be issued in the name of the applicant.

Once this decision shall become final, let a decree of registration be issued.[17]

From the aforesaid decision, the Republic went to the CA. It faulted the RTC for giving due course to FATCO's application arguing that it did not acquire jurisdiction over the same in view of the non-publication of the notice of actual initial hearing. It also claimed that FATCO failed to prove open, continuous and notorious possession of the subject properties for more than thirty (30) years, as required by law.

On October 23, 2000, the CA reversed the RTC Decision. The CA agreed with the Republic that the RTC did not acquire jurisdiction over FATCO's application because the publication of initial hearing was fatally defective. The notice that was published in the Official Gazette and in the Guardian was the hearing set on February 28, 1995, but no hearing was conducted on the said date. The actual initial hearing was held on April 19, 1995, a date different from what was stated in the notice, thereby defeating the very purpose of the publication requirement.

The CA disposed, thus:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the appeal is hereby GRANTED and the Decision dated February 5, 1996 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the application for registration is DISMISSED

SO ORDERED.[18]

FATCO filed a motion for reconsideration, but the CA denied it on March 7, 2001.

Hence, this petition for certiorari by FATCO theorizing that:

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED WHEN IT HELD THAT THE COURT A QUO DID NOT ACQUIRE JURISDICTION OVER THE PETITIONER'S APPLICATION FOR LAND REGISTRATION.[19]

In its Comment on the petition, the Republic, through the OSG, argues that:

I

No actual hearing was held by the trial court on February 28, 1995 which was THE published date of initial hearing;

II

The trial court did not acquire jurisdiction to hear petitioner's application for registration due to petitioner's failure to publish the notice of actual hearing set on April 19, 1995 and to post said notice in conspicuous places and to serve the same to
adjoining owners.

III

NO TRACING CLOTH PLAN WAS OFFERED IN EVIDENCE IN THE COURT A QUO.

IV

petitioner failed to prove its open, continuous, adverse and notorious possession of the subject properties in the concept of an owner for more than thirty (30) years.[20]

We will deal first with the jurisdictional issue.

Section 23[21] of P.D. No. 1529, or the Property Registration Decree, explicitly provides that before the court can act on the application for land registration, the public shall be given notice of the initial hearing thereof by means of publication, mailing, and posting.

FATCO insists that it complied with all the jurisdictional requirements, specifically the publication of the notice of initial hearing. It, therefore, faulted the CA for reversing the RTC and, accordingly, dismissing its application for registration.

The Republic, on the other hand, asserts that the RTC never acquired jurisdiction over FATCO's application because the publication of initial hearing was fatally defective. It points out that the initial hearing set on February 28, 1995 was reset to April 19, 1995. The actual initial hearing, therefore, took place on a date different from what was stated in the published notice of initial hearing. Hence, re-publication of the new notice of hearing was necessary, but FATCO failed to publish the notice of hearing set on April 19, 1995, thus, preventing the RTC from acquiring jurisdiction over the application.

The Republic is correct that in land registration case, publication of the notice of initial hearing is a jurisdictional requirement and non-compliance therewith affects the jurisdiction of the court. The purpose of publication of the notice is to require all persons concerned, who may have any rights or interests in the property applied for, to appear in court at a certain date and time to show cause why the application should not be granted.[22]

It is not disputed that there was publication, mailing, and posting of the notice of the initial hearing set on February 28, 1995. FATCO, thus, complied with the legal requirement of serving the entire world with sufficient notice of the registration proceedings. Accordingly, as of that date, the RTC acquired jurisdiction over FATCO's application.

Even if, at the February 28, 1995 hearing, FATCO's counsel requested a resetting, and the RTC granted said request, the Republic and all interested parties were already fully apprised of the pendency of the application. When the hearing was reset to April 19, 1995, interested parties, the Republic included, may be deemed to have been given notice thereof.[23] There was, thus, no need for the re-publication of notice of hearing, for clearly, the avowed purpose of Section 23 had already been accomplished. We, therefore, find that the application for registration was rightfully given due course by the RTC. The CA, thus, committed reversible error in holding otherwise.

Be that as it may, we cannot grant FATCO's plea for the reinstatement of the RTC Decision granting its application for registration or confirmation of its imperfect title.

Section 14 of the Property Registration Decree explicitly states:

SEC. 14. Who may apply. - The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to the land, whether personally or through their authorized representatives.

(a) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945.

Before one can register his title over a parcel of land, he must show that: first he, by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest, has been in open, continuous, exclusive possession and occupation thereof under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945 or earlier, and second, the land subject of the application is alienable and disposable land of the public domain.[24]

To prove its length of possession, FATCO offered the testimonies of Antonio Casugay, its division manager, Emilio Paz, owner of the adjacent lot, and of Ernesto Adman and Cifirino Bucago, its predecessors-in-interest. It also presented deeds of conveyance and several tax declarations covering the lands in question.

Unfortunately for FATCO, the testimonies of its witnesses do not serve to prove the validity of its cause. Antonio Casugay and Emilio Paz merely stated that FATCO acquired the subject lots and had taken possession of the same in 1988 or 1989.[25] FATCO's predecessor-in-interest, Ernesto Adman, on the other hand, testified that he acquired ownership and possession of Lot No. 4703, also described as Lot No. 1504-A, from Victor Dacanay only in 1983 or 1984.[26] Similarly, Cifirino Bucago's testimony[27] did not establish the period of possession required by law over Lot No. 1234. His testimony consists merely of general statements with no specifics as to when he began occupying the land. He did not introduce sufficient evidence to substantiate his allegation that he possessed Lot No. 1234 for the length of time prescribed by law.

Neither do the tax declarations prove FATCO's assertion. The earliest tax declarations presented for Lot No. 1505 and Lot No. 47030 were issued only in 1948,[28] while the earliest tax declaration for Lot No. 1234 was issued in 1970.[29] We have ruled that while a tax declaration by itself is not sufficient to prove ownership, it may serve as sufficient basis for inferring possession.[30]

Basic is the rule that an applicant in a land registration case must prove the facts and circumstances evidencing the alleged ownership of the land applied for. General statements which are mere conclusions of law and not factual proof of possession are unavailing and cannot suffice.[31]

In this case, FATCO did not present sufficient proof that its predecessors-in-interest had been in open, continuous and adverse possession of the subject lots since June 12, 1945. At best, FATCO can only prove possession of Lots No. 1505 and No. 47030 since 1948, and of Lot No. 1234 since 1970. But as the law now stands, a mere showing of possession for thirty (30) years or more is not sufficient. It must be shown too that possession and occupation had started on June 12, 1945 or earlier.

It is clear that FATCO failed to comply with the prescribed period and occupation not only as required by Section 14(1) of the Property Registration Decree but also by Commonwealth Act No. 141 or the Public Land Act, which states:

Section 48. The following described citizens of the Philippines, occupying lands of the public domain or claiming to own any such lands or an interest therein, but whose titles have not been perfected or completed, may apply to the Court of First Instance of the province where the land is located for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of a certificate of title therefor, under the Land Registration Act, to wit:

x x x x

(b) Those who by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, since June 12, 1945, or earlier, immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title except when prevented by war or force majeure. These shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title under the provisions of this chapter. (Emphasis supplied.)

Thus, even if FATCO's case is considered as one for confirmation of imperfect title under the Public land Act (CA No. 141), as amended, it would still meet the same fate.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The petition for registration of title filed by Fieldman Agricultural Trading Corporation is DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Austria-Martinez, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Reyes., JJ., concur.



* In lieu of Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago per Special Order No. 497, dated
March 14, 2008.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, with Associate Justices Quirino D. Abad Santos, Jr. (retired) and Salvador J. Valdez, Jr. (deceased), concurring; rollo, pp. 15-24.

[2] Rollo, pp. 26-27.

[3] Also designated as Lot 1504-A; see Exhibit "P," Folder of Exhibits.

[4] Records, pp. 1-2.

[5] Id. at 39.

[6] Id. at 59.

[7]Id. at 82, 83, 84.

[8] Certificate of Posting, id. at 68.

[9]See Return Receipt, id. at 56.

[10] Records, p. 80.

[11] Id. at 81.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 89.

[14] Id. at 85-87.

[15] Id. at 90.

[16] Id. at 91.

[17] Id. at 137-138.

[18] Rollo, p. 24.

[19] Id. at 4.

[20] Id. at 68-69.

[21] Sec. 23. Notice of initial hearing, publication, etc. -- The court shall, within five days from filing of the application, issue an order setting the date and hour of the initial hearing which shall not be earlier than forty-five days nor later than ninety days from the date of the order.

The public shall be given notice of the initial hearing of the application for land registration by means of (1) publication; (2) mailing; and (3) posting.

  1. By publication. --
    Upon receipt of the order of the court setting the time for initial hearing, the Commissioner of Land Registration shall cause a notice of initial hearing to be published once in the Official Gazette and once in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines; Provided, however, that the publication in the Official Gazette shall be sufficient to confer jurisdiction upon the court. Said notice shall be addressed to all persons appearing to have an interest in the land involved including the adjoining owners so far as known, and "to all whom it may concern." Said notice shall also require all persons concerned to appear in court at a certain date and time to show cause why the prayer of said application shall not be granted.

  2. By mailing. -

    (a) Mailing of notice to persons named in the application. - The Commissioner of Land Registration shall also, within seven days after publication of said notice in the Official Gazette, as hereinbefore provided, cause a copy of the notice of initial hearing to be mailed to every person named in the notice whose address is known.

    (b) Mailing of notice to the Secretary of Public Highways, the Provincial Governor and the Mayor. - If the applicant requests to have a line of public way or road determined, the Commissioner of land Registration shall cause a copy of said notice of initial hearing to be mailed to the Minister of Public Highways, to the Provincial Governor and to the Mayor of the municipality or city, as the case may be, in which the land lies.

    (c) Mailing of notice to the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, the Solicitor General, the Director of Lands, the Minister of Public Works, the Director of Forest Development, the Director of Mines and the Director of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. - If the land borders on a river, navigable stream or shore, or on arm of the sea where a river or harbor line has been established, or a lake, or if it otherwise appears from the application, or the proceedings that a tenant-farmer or the national government may have a claim adverse to that of the applicant, notice of initial hearing shall be given in the same manner to the Minister of Agrarian Reform, the Solicitor General, the Director of Lands, the Minister of Public Works, the Director of Forest Development, the Director of Mines and the Director of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, as may be appropriate.

  3. By posting. -
    The Commissioner of Land Registration shall also cause a duly attested copy of the notice of initial hearing to be posted by the sheriff of the province or city, as the case may be, or by his deputy, in a conspicuous place on each parcel of land included in the application and also in a conspicuous place on the bulletin board of the municipal building of the municipality or city in which the land or portion thereof is situated, fourteen days at least before the date of initial hearing.

[22] Republic v. Court of Appeals , G.R. No. 103047, September 14, 1994, 236 SCRA 257.

[23] Records, p. 81.

[24] Republic v. Carrasco, G.R. No. 143491, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 150, 158.

[25] TSN, July 19, 1995, pp. 4-10.

[26] TSN, September 12, 1995, pp. 2-5.

[27] TSN, October 24, 1995, pp. 2-4.

[28] Exhibits O-8 and Q-9, Folder of Exhibits, pp. 23 and 38.

[29] Id. at 50.

[30] Republic v. Carrasco, supra note 24, at 160.

[31] Director of Lands Management Bureau v. Court of Appeals, 381 Phil. 761, 770 (2000).



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