Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 129682      March 21, 2002

NESTOR PAGKATIPUNAN and ROSALINA MAÑAGAS-PAGKATIPUNAN, petitioners,
vs.
THE COURT OF APPEALS and REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

This is a petition for review of the decision1 of the Court of Appeals nullifying the decision of the Court of First Instance of Gumaca, Quezon2 which confirmed petitionersí title over the lots subject of the instant petition. Petitioners further seek to annul and set aside the resolutions3 of the Court of Appeals denying their urgent motion to recall the judgment entered4 in the land registration case.

The antecedent facts are as follows:

Sometime in November 1960, petitionersí predecessors-in-interest, spouses Getulio Pagkatipunan and Lucrecia Esquires, filed with the Court of First Instance of Gumaca, Quezon an application for judicial confirmation and registration of their title to Lots 1 and 2 of Plan Psu-174406 and Lots 1 and 2 of Plan Psu-112066, all located in San Narciso, Quezon.5

On May 4, 1961, the Court of First Instance entered an order of default against the whole world, except spouses Felicisimo Almace and Teodulo Medenilla who were given ten (10) days to file their written opposition as regards Lot No. 2 of Plan Psu-174406. Upon motion of petitionerís predecessors, Lot No. 2 of Plan Psu-174406 was removed from the coverage of the application. The remaining parcel of land covered by Lot No. 1 has an area of 3,804.261 square meters.

On June 15, 1967, the Court of First Instance promulgated a decision confirming petitionersí title to the property. On October 23, 1967, OCT No. O-12665 was issued in the name of petitioners.1‚wphi1.nÍt

Almost eighteen (18) years later, or on September 12, 1985, the Republic of the Philippines filed with the Intermediate Appellate Court an action to declare the proceedings in LRC Case No. 91-G, LRC Record No. N-19930 before the Court of First Instance of Gumaca, Quezon null and void, and to cancel Original Certificate of Title No. 0-12665 and titles derived therefrom as null and void, to direct the register of deeds to annul said certificates of title, and to confirm the subject land as part of the public domain.6

The Republic claimed that at the time of filing of the land registration case and of rendition of the decision on June 15, 1967, the subject land was classified as timberland under LC Project No. 15-B of San Narciso, Quezon, as shown in BF Map No. LC-1180; hence inalienable and not subject to registration. Moreover, petitionersí title thereto can not be confirmed for lack of showing of possession and occupation of the land in the manner and for the length of time required by Section 48(b), Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended. Neither did petitioners have any fee simple title which may be registered under Act No. 496, as amended. Consequently, the Court of First Instance did not acquire jurisdiction over the res and any proceedings had therein were null and void.7

On the other hand, petitioners raised the special defenses of indefeasibility of title and res judicata. They argued that due to the lapse of a considerable length of time, the judgment of the Court of First Instance of Quezon in the land registration case has become final and conclusive against the Republic. Moreover, the action for reversion of the land to the public domain is barred by prior judgment.8

In a decision promulgated on June 27, 1986, the Intermediate Appellate Court held that the land in question was forestral land; hence not registrable. There was no evidence on record to show that the land was actually and officially delimited and classified as alienable or disposable land of the public domain. Therefore, the Court of First Instance did not acquire jurisdiction to take cognizance of the application for registration and to decide the same. Consequently, the action to declare null and void the June 15, 1967 decision for lack of jurisdiction did not prescribe. The dispositive portion of the appellate courtís decision reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered in favor of petitioner and against respondents, and as prayed for:

(a) The Decision dated June 15, 1967 in LRC Case No. 91-G, LRC Record No. N-19930 is hereby declared null and void, and accordingly set aside;

(b) Original Certificate of Title No. O-12665, and Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. T-84439, T-93857 and T-117618 deriving therefrom, as well as any other derivative titles, are declared null and void;

(c) The respondent Register of Deeds for Quezon Province is ordered to cancel said titles; and

(d) The parcels of land covered thereby are ordered reverted to the State.

Without pronouncement as to costs."9

On July 16, 1986, petitioners moved for the reconsideration of the afore-cited decision10 reiterating that the land in question was agricultural because it was possessed and cultivated as such long before its classification as timberland by the Bureau of Forestry in 1955. Petitioners and their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive, notorious possession and occupation of said land for agricultural and cattle raising purposes as far back as the Spanish regime. Following the doctrine in Oracoy v. Director of Lands,11 private interest had intervened and petitioners acquired vested rights which can no longer be impaired by the subsequent classification of the land as timberland by the Director of Forestry.

On August 20, 1986, the appellate court denied the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit.12 On December 12, 1986, the decision of June 27, 1986 attained finality and judgment was entered in the book of entries of judgments.13

On April 2, 1987, petitioners filed an urgent motion to set aside entry of judgment on the ground that Atty. Cirilo E. Doronila, petitionersí counsel of record, was not furnished a copy of the resolution denying the motion for reconsideration.14 In the absence of such notice, the decision of the appellate court did not become final and executory.

On October 22, 1987, the Court of Appeals set aside and lifted the entry of judgment in CA-G. R. SP No. 07115 and directed the clerk of court to furnish petitionersí counsel a copy of the August 20, 1986 resolution.15

For petitionersí inaction despite service of the August 20, 1986 resolution, the June 27, 1986 decision became final and executory. On March 2, 1988, entry of judgment was again made in the land registration case.

On September 4, 1995, Atty. Doronila withdrew his appearance as counsel for petitioners.16

On April 1, 1996, petitioners, through their new counsel, Atty. George I. Howard, filed with the Court of Appeals an urgent motion to recall the entry of judgment,17 which was denied by the appellate court on December 16, 1996.18

The motion for reconsideration was likewise denied on the ground that it raised arguments already discussed and resolved in the urgent motion to recall entry of judgment.19

Hence, the instant petition for review.20

Petitioners claim that their title to the land became incontrovertible and indefeasible one (1) year after issuance of the decree of registration. Hence, the Republicís cause of action was barred by prescription and res judicata, proceedings having been initiated only after about 18 years from the time the decree of registration was made. Contrary to the appellate courtís findings, the land is agricultural and the inclusion and classification thereof by the Bureau of Forestry in 1955 as timberland can not impair the vested rights acquired by petitionersí predecessors-in-interest who have been in open, continuous, adverse and public possession of the land in question since time immemorial and for more than thirty (30) years prior to the filing of the application for registration in 1960. Hence, the Court of Appeals committed grave error when it denied their motion to set aside entry of judgment in the land registration case.

The petition lacks merit.

Unless public land is shown to have been reclassified or alienated to a private person by the State, it remains part of the inalienable public domain. Occupation thereof in the concept of owner, no matter how long, cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title.21

Evidence extant on record showed that at the time of filing of the application for land registration and issuance of the certificate of title over the disputed land in the name of petitioners, the same was timberland and formed part of the public domain, as per certification issued by the Bureau of Forest Development on April 1, 1985, thus:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

This is to certify that the tract of land situated in Vigo Cantidang, San Narciso, Quezon, containing an area of 3,804.261 square meters as described in Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-117618 x x x registered in the name of Spouses Nestor E. Pagkatipunan and Rosalina Mañgas is verified to be within the Timberland Block -B, Project No. 15-B of San Narciso, Quezon, certified and declared as such on August 25, 1955 per BFD Map LC-1880. The land is, therefore, within the administrative jurisdiction and control of the Bureau of Forest Development, and not subject to disposition under the Public Land Law.

[Sgd.]ARMANDO CRUZ
Supervising Cartographer22

This fact was even admitted by petitioners during the proceedings before the court a quo on March 10, 1986, when they confirmed that the land has been classified as forming part of forest land, albeit only on August 25, 1955.23 Since no imperfect title can be confirmed over lands not yet classified as disposable or alienable, the title issued to herein petitioners is considered void ab initio.24

Under the Regalian doctrine, all lands of the public domain belong to the State, and the State is the source of any asserted right to ownership in land and charged with the conservation of such patrimony. This same doctrine also states that all lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State.25 To overcome such presumption, incontrovertible evidence must be shown by the applicant that the land subject of the application is alienable or disposable.26

In the case at bar, there was no evidence showing that the land has been reclassified as disposable or alienable. Before any land may be declassified from the forest group and converted into alienable or disposable land for agricultural or other purposes, there must be a positive act from the government. Even rules on the confirmation of imperfect titles do not apply unless and until the land classified as forest land is released in an official proclamation to that effect so that it may form part of the disposable agricultural lands of the public domain.27 Declassification of forest land is an express and positive act of Government.28 It cannot be presumed. Neither should it be ignored nor deemed waived.29 It calls for proof.30

The court a quo found registrable title in favor of petitioners based on the Republicís failure to show that the land is more valuable as forest land than for agricultural purposes, a finding which is based on a wrong concept of what is forest land.

There is a big difference between "forest" as defined in the dictionary and "forest or timber land" as a classification of land of the public domain in the Constitution. One is descriptive of what appears on the land while the other is a legal status, a classification for legal purposes. The "forest land" started out as a "forest" or vast tracts of wooded land with dense growths of trees and underbrush. However, the cutting down of trees and the disappearance of virgin forest do not automatically convert the land of the public domain from forest or timber land to alienable agricultural land.31

The classification of forest land, or any land for that matter, is descriptive of its legal nature or status, and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like.32 A person cannot enter into forest land and by the simple act of cultivating a portion of that land, earn credits towards an eventual confirmation of imperfect title. The Government must first declare the forest land to be alienable and disposable agricultural land before the year of entry, cultivation, and exclusive and adverse possession can be counted for purposes of an imperfect title.33

As ruled in the case of Heirs of Jose Amunategui v. Director of Forestry:34

A forested area classified as forest land of the public domain does not lose such classification simply because loggers or settlers may have stripped it of its forest cover. Parcels of land classified as forest land may actually be covered with grass or planted to crops by kaingin cultivators or other farmers. "Forest lands" do not have to be on mountains or in out of the way places. Swampy areas covered by mangrove trees, nipa palms, and other trees growing in brackish or sea water may also be classified as forest land. The classification is descriptive of its legal nature or status and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like. Unless and until the land classified as "forest" is released in an official proclamation to that effect so that it may form part of the disposable agricultural lands of the public domain, the rules on confirmation of imperfect title do not apply.

Moreover, the original text of Section 48 (b), Chapter VIII of the Public Land Act, which took effect on December 1, 1936, expressly provided that only agricultural land of the public domain are subject to acquisitive prescription, to wit:

Section 48. x x x

(a) 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, except as against the Government, since July twenty-six, eighteen hundred and ninety-four, 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, it is clear that the applicant must prove not only his open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the land either since time immemorial or for the period prescribed therein, but most importantly, he must prove that the land is alienable public land.35 In the case at bar, petitioners failed to do so.

Petitionersí contention that the Republic is now barred from questioning the validity of the certificate of title issued to them considering that it took the government almost eighteen (18) years to assail the same is erroneous. It is a basic precept that prescription does not run against the State.36 The lengthy occupation of the disputed land by petitioners cannot be counted in their favor, as it remained part of the patrimonial property of the State, which property, as stated earlier, is inalienable and indisposable.37

In light of the foregoing, the Court of Appeals did not err when it set aside the June 15, 1967 decision of the court a quo and ordered that the subject lot be reverted back to the public domain. Since the land in question is unregistrable, the land registration court did not acquire jurisdiction over the same. Any proceedings had or judgment rendered therein is void and is not entitled to the respect accorded to a valid judgment.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals rightfully denied petitionersí motion to set aside the judgment rendered on December 12, 1986, in the land registration case.1‚wphi1.nÍt

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the decision of the Court of Appeals dated June 27, 1986 in AC-G.R. SP No. 07115, is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.

Without pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., and Kapunan, J., concur.
Puno, J., on official leave.


Footnote

1 Promulgated on June 27, 1986; Justice Tensuan, ponente, Justices Zosa, Mendoza and Javellana, concurring. Court of Appeals Records, pp. 116-121.

2 In LRC Case No. 91-G, LRC Rec. Case No. N-19930.

3 Dated December 16, 1996 and July 2, 1997 in AC-G.R. No. SP-07115, entitled Republic of the Philippines, et al. v. Getulio Pagkatipunan, et al.

4 Dated March 2, 1988.

5 Docketed as LRC No. 91-G.

6 Docketed as AC-G.R. SP No. 07115, Court of Appeals Records, pp. 1-7.

7 Court of Appeals Records, p. 4.

8 Ibid., pp. 33-38.

9 Court of Appeals Records, pp. 116-121, at pp. 120-121.

10 Ibid., pp. 124-155.

11 48 O.G. 3967; CA-G.R. No. 5430-R, June 13, 1962.

12 Court of Appeals Records, p. 157.

13 Ibid., pp. 158-159.

14 On July 16, 1986, Atty. Cirilo E. Doronila of the Quasha law firm entered his appearance as lead counsel for petitioners, in collaboration with the previous counsel, Atty. Milberto B. Zurbano. Atty. Doronila informed the court that henceforth, all copies of motions, orders, judgments and papers relative to the land registration case should be addressed to him.

15 Court of Appeals Records, p. 210.

16 Ibid., p. 215.

17 Ibid., pp. 218-221.

18 Ibid., pp. 226-228.

19 Court of Appeals Records, p. 254.

20 Rollo, pp. 8-34.

21 Menguito v. Republic, 348 SCRA 128, 139 [2000], citing De Ocampo v. Arlos, 343 SCRA 716, 724 [2000].

22 Certification, Court of Appeals Records, p. 69.

23 Court of Appealsí Decision of June 27, 1986, citing TSN, March 10, 1986, p. 11.

24 Reyes v. Court of Appeals, 295 SCRA 296, 310 [1998].

25 Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 219 SCRA 339, 346 [1993].

26 Santiago v. De Los Santos, 61 SCRA 146, 152 [1974].

27 Ituralde v. Falcasantos, 301 SCRA 293, 296 [1999], citing Sunbeam Convenience Foods, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 181 SCRA 443, 448 [1990].

28 Director of Lands v. Intermediate Appellate Court, supra, Note 24, at p. 347.

29 Director of Land Management v. Court of Appeals, 172 SCRA 455, 461 [1989].

30 Republic v. Court of Appeals, 154 SCRA 476, 481 [1987].

31 Ibid., at pp. 482-483.

32 Dela Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 286 SCRA 230, 236 [1998].

33 Republic v. Court of Appeals, supra, Note 29, at p. 482.

34 126 SCRA 69, 75 [1983].

35 Republic v. Doldol, 295 SCRA 359, 364 [1998].

36 Republic v. Court of Appeals, 171 SCRA 721,734 [1989].

37 De la Cruz v. Court of Appeals, supra, Note 31, at p. 236.


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