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“The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts".
-Gerald O'Hara, Gone With The Wind
Lands, as the people say is one if not the best investment in one’s life. History will tell us that people fought for their lands. Also, it has been known that the more landed a person is, the more rich or powerful he is in his community. Economics will tell us that the more demand there is for one product, the higher the price of that specific product. The more supply this product has, the less price there is to pay. This Law of Supply and Demand can easily be applied in owning lands. You see, lands cannot be manufactured, so, the supply will always go down and the demand will always rise. Hence, the price of a land will always increase, holding all other things constant.
In order to protect our lands, we need a land title. So how do we apply for a land title?
“Section 14(1), Presidential Decree No. 1529 or the Property Registration Decree (“P.D. 1529”) provides as follows:
Section 14. Who may apply. The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance an application for registration of title to land, whether personally or through their duly authorized representatives:
(1) 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, or earlier.
(2) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands by prescription under the provision of existing laws.
(3) Those who have acquired ownership of private lands or abandoned river beds by right of accession or accretion under the existing laws.
(4) Those who have acquired ownership of land in any other manner provided for by law.
Where the land is owned in common, all the co-owners shall file the application jointly.
Hard to understand? Let me make it a little more challenging for us.
Matching with P.D. 1529 is the Civil Code requirement on Possession. According to this title in the Civil Code, one way of acquiring ownership over a real property is through prescription. Article 1137 of the Civil Code provides that:
“Art. 1137. Ownership and other real rights over immovables also prescribe through uninterrupted adverse possession thereof for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith.” (1959a)
Now here is the fun part.
Supposing that A is a possessor of an agricultural land on a claim of open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945. However, the land that A possesses has only been declared to be alienable and disposable last February 14, 2015. Can A acquire ownership and apply title over the land or not?
Under P.D. 1529, the possession and occupation of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain under a bona fide claim of ownership must be dated since June 12, 1945, or earlier. However, there is also a Civil Code requirement of possession of thirty (30) years to acquire ownership through prescriptive possession.
The question now is:
Should we count the thirty (30) years prescriptive period of possession from June 12, 1945 or only from February 14, 2015, when the agricultural land was declared alienable and disposable?
The Supreme Court had two conflicting decisions on this matter.
One is in Republic v. Naguit [409 Phil. 405] where the Supreme Court clarified that Section 14(1) of the P.D. 1529 should be interpreted to include possession before the declaration of the land’s alienability as long as at the time of the application for registration, the land has already been declared part of the alienable and disposable agricultural public lands.
And the second one is Republic v. Herbieto [498 Phil. 227] where the Supreme Court ruled that the period of possession before the declaration that land is alienable and disposable cannot be included in the computation of the period of possession. This court said: Section 48(b), as amended, now requires adverse possession of the land since 12 June 1945 or earlier.
NOW HERE IS THE ANSWER.
Finally, the Honorable Supreme Court has clarified the proper interpretation of Sec. 14(1) of P.D. 1529. In the case of Republic vs. Cecilia Grace L. Roasa, [G.R. No. 176022 (February 2, 2015)], the Supreme Court finally settled the conflicting decisions in this issue, to wit:
“The Court declares that the correct interpretation of Section 14(1) is that which was adopted in Naguit. The contrary pronouncement in Herbieto, as pointed out in Naguit, absurdly limits the application of the provision to the point of virtual inutility since it would only cover lands actually declared alienable and disposable prior to 12 June 1945, even if the current possessor is able to establish open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession under a bona fide claim of ownership long before that date.
“Moreover, the Naguit interpretation allows more possessors under a bona fide claim of ownership to avail of judicial confirmation of their imperfect titles than what would be feasible under Herbieto. This balancing fact is significant, especially considering our forthcoming discussion on the scope and reach of Section 14(2) of the Property Registration Decree.
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“Therefore, what is important in computing the period of possession is that the land has already been declared alienable and disposable at the time of the application for registration. Upon satisfaction of this requirement, the computation of the period may include the period of adverse possession prior to the declaration that land is alienable and disposable. (Emphasis supplied)
“Although adverse, open, continuous, and notorious possession in the concept of an owner is a conclusion of law to be determined by courts, it has more to do with a person’s belief in good faith that he or she has just title to the property that he or she is occupying. It is unrelated to the declaration that land is alienable or disposable. A possessor or occupant of property may, therefore, be a possessor in the concept of an owner prior to the determination that the property is alienable and disposable agricultural land.”
And so my friends, my bosses, this is now the prevailing ruling on the application for registration of title to land. I hope you have learned something from this month’s Lawyer’s Corner. See you again on our next issue and may God bless us all!