After going over the records, the Court agrees with the OSG that the respondents indeed failed to sufficiently prove that they are entitled to the registration of the subject lands.
SEC. 14. Who may apply.—The following persons may file in the proper Court of First Instance [now Regional Trial Court] 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.
X x x
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 [now Regional Trial Court] 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
(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]
Based on these legal parameters, applicants for registration of title under Section 14(1) must sufficiently establish: (1) that the subject land forms part of the disposable and alienable lands of the public domain; (2) that the applicant and his predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the same; and (3) that it is under a bona fide claim of ownership since June 12, 1945, or earlier. These the respondents must prove by no less than clear, positive and convincing evidence.
In the case at bench, the respondents failed to establish that the subject lots were disposable and alienable lands.
Although respondents attached a photocopy of a certification dated August 16, 1988 from the District Land Officer, LMS, DENR, attesting that the subject lots were not covered by any public land applications or patents, and another certification dated August 23, 1988 from the Office of the District Forester, Forest Management Bureau, DENR, attesting that the subject lots have been verified, certified and declared to be within the alienable or disposable land of Tagaytay City on April 5, 1978, they were not able to present the originals of the attached certifications as evidence during the trial. Neither were they able to present the officers who issued the certifications to authenticate them.
A careful scrutiny of the respondents’ Offer of Evidence would show that only the following were offered as evidence:
1) blue print plans of AP-04-006225 and AP-04-006227
2) technical descriptions ofLot3857 and 3858
3) surveyor’s certificates forLot3857 and 3858
4) photo-copy of the deed of sale datedSeptember 17, 1971
5) jurisdictional requirements of posting and publication
6) tax declarations
7) tax receipts
Hence, there is no proof that the subject lots are disposable and alienable lands.
Moreover, the records failed to show that the respondents by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in open, exclusive, continuous, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject lands, under a bona fide claim of ownership sinceJune 12, 1945or earlier.
The respondents presented the testimonies of Juanito Manimtim (Juanito), Edilberto Bañanola, Jacinto Umali, Eliseo Ganuelas, Isabelo Umali, and Engr. Vivencio Valerio and tax declarations to prove possession and occupation over the subject lots. These declarations and documents, however, do not suffice to prove their qualifications and compliance with the requirements.
Juanito testified, among others, that he is a co-owner of the subject lots and that his ownership covers about 11,577.14 square meters of the subject lots; that he acquired his possession through a deed of absolute sale dated September 17, 1971 from Julio Umali (Julio); that the 11,577.14 square meter property has been covered by three (3) tax declarations; and that his great grandparents were in possession of the subject lots for a period of 40 years.
Juanito, however, could not show a duplicate original copy of the deed of sale dated September 17, 1991. Moreover, a closer look at the deed of absolute sale dated September 17, 1991would show that, for and in consideration of the amount of P10,000.00, the sale covered only an area of 6,225 square meters of Lot 1, Plan Psu-176181 (Lot 3858) and not 11,577.44 square meters as claimed. Juanito explained that only the 6,225 square meter portion (Tax Declaration No. 018-0928) was covered by the subject deed of absolute sale while the two (2) other portions (Tax Declaration No. 018-0673 and Tax Declaration No. 018-0748 covering 2,676.40 square meters each) were not covered by any deed of sale because Julio knew that these other portions were already owned by him (Juanito). So, no deed of sale was executed between the two of them after he paid Julio the price for the portions covered by Tax Declaration No. 018-0673 and Tax Declaration No. 018-0748. He was not able to show, however, any other document that would support his claim over the portions beyond 6,225 square meters.
In any event, Juanito failed to substantiate his general statement that his great grandparents were in possession of the subject lots for a period of over 40 years. He failed to give specific details on the actual occupancy by his predecessors-in-interest of the subject lots or mode of acquisition of ownership for the period of possession required by law. It is a rule that general statements that are mere conclusions of law and not factual proof of possession are unavailing and cannot suffice. An applicant in a land registration case cannot just harp on mere conclusions of law to embellish the application but must impress thereto the facts and circumstances evidencing the alleged ownership and possession of the land.
Like Juanito, the testimonies of Edilberto Bañanola, Jacinto Umali, Eliseo Ganuelas, and Isabelo Umali were all unsubstantiated general statements.
Edilberto Bañanola (Edilberto) claims that he owns a portion of Lot 3857 based on Tax Declaration No. GR-018-1058-R covering 5,025 square meters and Tax Declaration No. GR-018-1059-R covering 6,225 square meters. According to him, he bought the subject property from Hilarion Maglabe and Juanito Remulla through a deed of absolute sale dated February 6, 1978. To prove the same, he presented several tax declarations in the names of Hilarion Maglabe and Juanito Remulla. He further asserts that he has been in actual, continuous and uninterrupted possession of the subject property since he purchased it in 1978.
Like Juanito, however, Edilberto failed to present a duplicate original copy of the deed of sale dated February 6, 1978and validate his claim that he himself and his predecessors-in-interest have been in open, exclusive, continuous, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land, under a bona fide claim of ownership sinceJune 12, 1945 or earlier.
As for Jacinto Umali and Eliseo Ganuelas, they likewise failed to authenticate their claim of acquisition through inheritance and acquisition through purchase, respectively.
Apparently, the respondents’ best evidence to prove possession and ownership over the subject property were the tax declarations issued in their names. Unfortunately, these tax declarations together with their unsubstantiated general statements and mere xerox copies of deeds of sale are not enough to prove their rightful claim. Well settled is the rule that tax declarations and receipts are not conclusive evidence of ownership or of the right to possess land when not supported by any other evidence.The fact that the disputed property may have been declared for taxation purposes in the names of the applicants for registration or of their predecessors-in-interest does not necessarily prove ownership. They are merely indicia of a claim of ownership.
Finally, the fact that the public prosecutor of TagaytayCitydid not contest the respondents’ possession of the subject property is of no moment. The absence of opposition from government agencies is of no controlling significance because the State cannot be estopped by the omission, mistake or error of its officials or agents.