Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. L-55289 June 29, 1982

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the Director of Lands, petitioner-appellant,
vs.
JUDGE CANDIDO P. VILLANUEVA, of the Court of First Instance of Bulacan, Malolos Branch VII, and IGLESIA NI CRISTO, as a corporation sole, represented by ERAÑO G. MANALO, as Executive Minister, respondents-appellees.


AQUINO, J.:

Like L-49623, Manila Electric Company vs. Judge Castro-Bartolome, this case involves the prohibition in section 11, Article XIV of the Constitution that "no private corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares in area".

Lots Nos. 568 and 569, located at Barrio Dampol, Plaridel, Bulacan, with an area of 313 square meters and an assessed value of P1,350 were acquired by the Iglesia Ni Cristo on January 9, 1953 from Andres Perez in exchange for a lot with an area of 247 square meters owned by the said church (Exh. D).

The said lots were already possessed by Perez in 1933. They are not included in any military reservation. They are inside an area which was certified as alienable or disposable by the Bureau of Forestry in 1927. The lots are planted to santol and mango trees and banana plants. A chapel exists on the said land. The land had been declared for realty tax purposes. Realty taxes had been paid therefor (Exh. N).

On September 13, 1977, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, a corporation sole, duly existing under Philippine laws, filed with the Court of First Instance of Bulacan an application for the registration of the two lots. It alleged that it and its predecessors-in-interest had possessed the land for more than thirty years. It invoked section 48(b) of the Public Land Law, which provides:

Chapter VIII.Judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete titles.

xxx xxx xxx

SEC. 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 therefore, under the Land Register Act, to wit:

xxx xxx xxx

(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, for at least thirty years 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." (As amended by Republic Act No. 1942, approved on June 22, 1957.)

The Republic of the Philippines, through the Direct/r of Lands, opposed the application on the grounds that applicant, as a private corporation, is disqualified to hold alienable lands of the public domain, that the land applied for is public land not susceptible of private appropriation and that the applicant and its predecessors-in-interest have not been in the open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of the land since June 12, 1945.

After hearing, the trial court ordered the registration of the two lots, as described in Plan Ap-04-001344 (Exh. E), in the name of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, a corporation sole, represented by Executive Minister Eraño G. Manalo, with office at the corner of Central and Don Mariano Marcos Avenues, Quezon City, From that decision, the Republic of the Philippines appealed to this Court under Republic Act No. 5440. The appeal should be sustained.

As correctly contended by the Solicitor General, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, as a corporation sole or a juridical person, is disqualified to acquire or hold alienable lands of the public domain, like the two lots in question, because of the constitutional prohibition already mentioned and because the said church is not entitled to avail itself of the benefits of section 48(b) which applies only to Filipino citizens or natural persons. A corporation sole (an "unhappy freak of English law") has no nationality (Roman Catholic Apostolic Adm. of Davao, Inc. vs. Land Registration Commission, 102 Phil. 596. See Register of Deeds vs. Ung Siu Si Temple, 97 Phil. 58 and sec. 49 of the Public Land Law).

The contention in the comments of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (its lawyer did not file any brief) that the two lots are private lands, following the rule laid down in Susi vs. Razon and Director of Lands, 48 Phil. 424, is not correct. What was considered private land in the Susi case was a parcel of land possessed by a Filipino citizen since time immemorial, as in Cariño vs. Insular Government, 212 U.S. 449, 53 L. ed. 594, 41 Phil. 935 and 7 Phil. 132. The lots sought to be registered in this case do not fall within that category. They are still public lands. A land registration proceeding under section 48(b) "presupposes that the land is public" (Mindanao vs. Director of Lands, L-19535, July 10, 1967, 20 SCRA 641, 644).

As held in Oh Cho vs. Director of Lands, 75 Phil. 890, "all lands that were not acquired from the Government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the public domain. An exception to the rule would be any land that should have been in the possession of an occupant and of his predecessors-in-interest since time immemorial, for such possession would justify the presumption that the land had never been part of the public domain or that it had been a private property even before the Spanish conquest. "

In Uy Un vs. Perez, 71 Phil. 508, it was noted that the right of an occupant of public agricultural land to obtain a confirmation of his title under section 48(b) of the Public Land Law is a "derecho dominical incoativo"and that before the issuance of the certificate of title the occupant is not in the juridical sense the true owner of the land since it still pertains to the State.

The lower court's judgment is reversed and set aside. The application for registration of the Iglesia Ni Cristo is dismissed with costs against said applicant.

SO ORDERED.

Barredo, Makasiar, Guerrero, Melencio-Herrera, Escolin, Vasquez, Relova and Gutierrez, Jr., JJ., concur.

Concepcion, Jr., J., is on leave.

Plana, J., took no part.

 

 

Separate Opinions

 

ABAD SANTOS, J., concurring:

In the result for the same reasons I have already given in Manila Electric Co. vs. Judge Floreliana Castro-Bartolome, G.R. No. L-49623.

DE CASTRO, J., dissenting:

Justice Teehankee cites in his dissenting opinion the case of Herico vs. Dar, 1 the decision in which I am the ponente, as reiterating a supposedly well-established doctrine that lands of the public domain which, by reason of possession and cultivation for such a length of time, a grant by the State to the occupant is presumed, and the land thereby ceases to form part of the public domain, but is segregated therefrom as to be no longer subject to the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose under the public land laws or statutes. He would thus consider said land as no longer public land but "private" lands and therefore, not within the prohibition of the New Constitution against corporations from acquiring public lands which provides that "no private corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares." 2

I cannot subscribe to the view that the land as above described has become private land, even before title thereto, which is, as of this stage, said to be still "an incomplete or imperfect title," has been fully vested on the occupant, through the prescribed procedure known as judicial confirmation of incomplete or imperfect title. 3 This is the only legal method by which full and absolute title to the land may be granted, to convert the land into a truly private land. To secure such judicial title, only the courts can be resorted to. The Director of Lands has lost authority over the land, insofar as its disposition is concerned. His authority is limited to another form of disposition of public land, referred to as administrative legalization, resulting in the issuance of free patents, also based on possession, in which case, as in the issuance of homestead and sales patents, the land involved in undoubtedly public land. The possessor of a piece of public land would have the option to acquire title thereto through judicial confirmation or administrative legalization. The difference is that in the latter case, the area disposable to a citizen-applicant by the Director of Lands is limited to 24 hectares. There is no limit to the area subject to judicial confirmation of incomplete or imperfect title, except possibly the limit fixed for a State grant under old Spanish laws and decrees, which certainly is much larger than that set for free patents.

It is because of the divestiture of authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of the land subject to judicial confirmation of incomplete and imperfect title that some statements are found in many cases, such as those cited by Justice Teehankee, to the effect that such land has ceased to be public land. What these statements, however, really mean is that the land referred to no longer forms part of the mass of public domain still disposable by the Director of Lands, under the authority granted him by the public land statutes. It, however, would not follow that the land covered by Section 48 of the Public Land Act has itself become private land. The fact that its disposition is provided for in the aforecited Act which deals with "public land" gives rise to the very strong implication, if not a positive conclusion, that the land referred to is still public land. Only when the court adjudicates the land to the applicant for confirmation of title would the land become privately owned land, for in the same proceeding, the court may declare it public land, depending on the evidence.

The discussion of the question of whether the land involved is still public or already private land is, however, entirely pointless, or an Idle exercise, if We consider the provision of Section 14, Article XIV of the Constitution which appears to have been lost sight of, which provides that "save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain. " As previously stated, by express provision of the Constitution, no corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain, except by lease, not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area. 4 Hence, even if the land involved in the present case is considered private land, the cited section prohibits its acquisition by the Meralco or Iglesia which admittedly are "corporations or association" within the meaning of the aforecited provision of the New Constitution. This observation should end all arguments on the issue of whether the land in question is public or private land. Although it may further be observed that supposing a corporation has been in possession of a piece of public land from the very beginning, may it apply for judicial confirmation of the land in question to acquire title to it as owner after possessing the land for the requisite length of time? The answer is believed obvious-it may not. If its possession is not from the beginning but has commenced only upon the transfer to it by the prior possessor, may the corporation apply? The answer is just as obvious with more reason, it may not.

This separate opinion should have had no need to be written because the majority opinion written by Justice Aquino is already well-reasoned out and supported by applicable authorities. I as impelled to write it only because in the dissenting opinion of Justice Teehankee, the case of Herico vs. Dar (supra) which is my ponencia was cited in support of his position. This separate opinion then is more to show and explain that whatever has been stated by me in the Dar case should be interpreted in the light of what I have said in his separate opinion, which I believe, does not strengthen Justice Teehankee's position a bit.

FERNANDO, C.J., dissenting:

It is with regret that unlike in the case of Meralco v. Judge Castro-Bartolome, 1 where I had a brief concurrence and dissent, I am constrained to dissent in the ably-written opinion of Justice Aquino. I join him in according the utmost respect and deference to this provision in the Constitution: "No private corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares in area; ... ." 2 If the matter before us be viewed solely from the standpoint of respondent appellee Iglesia ni Cristo being a corporation sole, then I would have no hesitancy in sustaining the conclusion that if the land be considered public, its registration would have to be denied. For me, that is not the decisive consideration. It is my view that the Bill of Rights provision on religious freedom which bans the enactment of any law prohibiting its free exercise, the "enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, [being] forever ... allowed." 3 This is not the first time the Court has occasion to recognize the high estate that freedom of religion occupies in our hierarchy of values. Even as against the fundamental objectives, constitutionally enshrined, of social justice and protection to labor, the claim of such free exercise and enjoyment was recognized in the leading case of Victoriano v. Elizalde Rope Workers' Union. 4 Here the Iglesia ni Cristo, as a corporation sole, seeks the registration. The area involved in the two parcels of land in question is 313 square meters. As admitted in the opinion of the Court, a chapel is therein located. It is that basic consideration that leads me to conclude that the balancing process, which finds application in constitutional law adjudication, equally requires that when two provisions in the Constitution may be relevant to a certain factual situation calls for the affirmance of the decision of respondent Judge allowing the registration. 5 There is for me another obstacle to a partial concurrence. The right of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Administrator of Davao to register land purchased from a Filipino citizen was recognized in The Roman Catholic Apostolic Administrator of Davao v. Land Registration. 6As I view it, therefore, the decision of respondent Judge is equally entitled to affirmance on equal protection grounds. 7 Hence this brief dissent.

TEEHANKEE, C.J., dissenting:

Involved in these two cases are the applications of petitioner Meralco, a nationalized domestic corporation, in the first case and respondent Iglesia ni Cristo, a religious corporation sole, in the second case (both admittedly Filipino corporations qualified to hold and own private lands), for judicial confirmation of their titles to small parcels of land, residential in character as distinguished from strictly agricultural land, acquired by them by purchase or exchange from private persons publicly recognized as the private owners (who have been in the open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the lands under a bona fide claim of ownership for at least thirty [30] years immediately preceding the filing of the applications).

This dissent is based on the failure of the majority to adhere to established doctrine since the 1909 case of Cariño and the 1925 case of Susi down to the 1980 case of Herico, infra, pursuant to the Public Land Act, as amended, that where a possessor has held the open, exclusive and unchallenged possession of alienable public land for the statutory period provided by law (30 years now under amendatory Rep. Act No. 1942 approved on June 22, 1957), the law itself mandates that the possessor "shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title" and" by legal fiction [the land] has already ceased to be of the public domain and has become private property." Accordingly, the prohibition of the 1973 Constitution and of the Public Land Act against private corporations holding lands of the public domain has no applicability in the present cases. What Meralco and Iglesia have acquired from their predecessors-in-interest had already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property at the time of the sale to them and therefore their applications for confirmation of title by virtue of their predecessors-in-interest' vested right and title may be duly granted.

The land covered by the Meralco application of November 26, 1976 consists of two (2) small lots with a total area of 165 square meters located at Tanay, Rizal with an assessed value of P3,270.00. This land was possessed by Olimpia Ramos before World War II which broke out in the Pacific in 1941. Olimpia Ramos sold the land on July 3, 1947 to the spouses Rafael Piguing and Minerva Inocencio who constructed a house thereon. But because the Meralco had installed the "anchor guy" of its steel posts on the land, the Piguing spouses sold the land to the Meralco on August 13, 1976. The land had been declared for realty tax purposes since 1945 and realty taxes were regularly paid thereon. It is residential in character as distinguished from strictly agricultural land. It is likewise established that it is not included in any military reservation and that since 1927 it had been certified as part of the alienable or disposable portion of the public domain.

The Land covered by the Iglesia application of September 3, 1977 likewise consists of two (2) small lots located in Barrio Dampol, Plaridel, Bulacan with a total area of 313 square meters and with an assessed value of P1,350.00. The land was acquired by the Iglesia on January 9, 1953 from Andres Perez in exchange for a lot owned by the Iglesia with an area of 247 square meters. The land was already possessed by Perez in 1933. Admittedly also it is not included in any military reservation and is inside an area which was certified since 1927 as part of the alienable or disposable portion of the public domain. A chapel of the Iglesia stands on the said land. It had been duly declared for realty tax purposes in the name of the Iglesia and realty taxes were regularly paid thereon.

Respondent judge in the Meralco case sustained the Republic's opposition and dismissed the application, holding that under both the provisions of the new Constitution and the Public Land Act, Meralco, being a corporation and not a natural person, is not qualified to apply for the registration of title over the public land.

On the other hand, in the Iglesia case, the Republic presented no evidence in support of its opposition but expressly "submitted the case for decision on the basis of the evidence submitted by the applicant." Respondent judge in the case accordingly granted the application for registration of the land in the name of the Iglesia, holding that it had been "satisfactorily established that applicant [Iglesia] and its predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, public and adverse possession of the land ... under a bona fide claim of ownership for more than thirty (30) years prior to the filing of the application" and is therefore entitled to the registration applied for under the Public Land Act, as amended.

Both decisions are now with the Court for review. I hold that both applications for registration should be granted by virtue of the prevailing principle as enunciated since the 1925 case of Susi vs. Razon and Director of Lands 1 and reaffirmed in a long line of cases down to the 1980 case of Herico vs. Dar 2 that the lands in question ceased, ipso jure, or by operation of law, to be lands of the public domain upon completion of the statutory period of open, continuous, exclusive, notorious and unchallenged possession thereof by the applicants' predecessors-in-interest who were qualified natural persons and entitled to registration by right of acquisitive prescription under the provisions of the Public Land Act, and that accordingly the judgment in the Meralco case should be reversed and a new judgment entered granting Meralco's application, while the judgment in the Iglesia case should stand affirmed. The principal issue at bar may thus be stated:

It is expressly provided in section 48, par. (b) of the Public Land Act (Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, approved on June 22, 1957) that citizens of the Philippines who are natural persons who have occupied lands of the public domain but whose titles have not been perfected or completed may apply to the corresponding court of first instance for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of the certificate of title therefor under the Land Registration Act in cases where they "by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in the open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, for at least thirty years 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." 3 In such cases, is the land ipso jure or by operation of law converted into private land upon completion of the 30th year of continuous and unchallenged occupation of the land such that thereafter as such private land, it may be duly transferred to and owned by private corporations or does such land, as held by respondent judge in the Meralco case, remain part of the public domain and does not become private land until after actual judicial confirmation proceedings and the formal court order for the issuance of the certificate of title?

1. This issue has been squarely resolved by this Court since the 1925 case of Susi vs. Razon (and a long line of cases, infra). It is established doctrine as first held therein that an open, continuous, adverse and public possession of a land of the public domain for the period provided in the Public Land Act provision in force at the time (from July 26, 1894 in Susi under the old law) by a private individual personally and through his predecessors confers an effective title on said possessor, whereby the land ceases to be land of the public domain and becomes private property.

(At that time in 1925 in the Susi case, such possession was required "from July 26, 1894" as then provided for in section 45 (b) of the old Public Land Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926; whereas at present as provided for in the corresponding section 48, par. (b) of the later and subsisting Public Land Act, Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942 approved on June 22, 1957, in force since 1957, the period of open and unchallenged possession was reduced to "at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title, equivalent to the period of acquisitive prescription. This is admitted in the main opinion of Mr. Justice Aquino, wherein it is stated that "(I)n the Susi case, this Court applied section 45 (b) of Act No. 2874 which corresponds to what is now section 48(b). It was held that the long possession of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership since July 26, 1894 gave rise to the conclusive presumption that the occupant had complied with all the conditions essential to a Government grant and was thus entitled to a certificate of title." 4 The text of the corresponding section 48(b), as amended by Rep. Act 1942 referred to is reproduced verbatim in Mr. Justice Aquino's opinion 5 and quotes the reduced statutory period of open and unchallenged possession of "at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application. ")

Accordingly, the Court held that Susi, as the rightful possessor of the public land for the statutory period, acquired the same by operation of law as a grant from the Government, "not only a right to a grant," and the land thereby "already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property at least by presumption" as expressly provided in the Act. Therefore, any supposed sale by the Director of Lands of the same land to another person was void and of no effect and Susi as the rightful possessor could recover the land as his private property from the supposed vendee who did not acquire any right thereto since it had ceased to be land of the public domain. The Court thus specifically held therein, as applied to the specific facts of the case, that:

... In favor of Valentin Susi, there is, moreover, the presumption juris et de jure, established in paragraph (b) of section 45 of Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926, that all the necessary requirements for a grant by the Government were complied with, for he has been in actual and physical possession, personally and through his predecessors, of an agricultural land of the public domain, openly, continuously, exclusively and publicly since July 26, 1894, with a right to a certificate of title to said land under the provisions of Chapter VIII of said Act. So that when Angela Razon applied for the grant in her favor, Valentin Susi had already acquired, by operation of law not only a right to a grant, but a grant of the Government, for it is not necessary that certificate of title should be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the courts, an application therefor is sufficient, under the provisions of section 47 of Act No. 2874. If by a legal fiction, Valentin Susi had acquired the land in question by a grant of the State, it had already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property, at least by presumption, of Valentin Susi, beyond the control of the Director of Lands. Consequently, in selling the land in question to Angela Razon, the Director of Lands disposed of a land over which he had no longer any title or control, and the sale thus made was void and of no effect, and Angela Razon did not thereby acquire any right. 6

2. The above-quoted ruling in Susi has been affirmed and reaffirmed by this Court in a long unbroken line of cases, as follows:

In Mesina vs. Vda. de Sonza, 7 the Court held that "(I)n the case of Susi vs. Razon, et al., 48 Phil. 424, it was observed that where all the necessary requirements for a grant by the Government are complied with through actual physical possession openly, continuously, and publicly, with a right to a certificate of title to said land under the provisions of Chapter VIII of Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926 (carried over as Chapter VIII of Commonwealth Act No. 141), the possessor is deemed to have already acquired by operation of law not only a right to a grant, but a grant of the Government, for it is not necessary that a certificate of title be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the courts an application therefor being sufficient under the provisions of Section 47 of Act No. 2874 (reproduced as Section 50, Commonwealth Act No. 141)," and "(C)onsidering that this case was dismissed by the trial court merely on a motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff's action is already barred by the statute of limitations, which apparently is predicated on the theory that a decree of registration can no longer be impugned on the ground of fraud one year after the issuance and entry of the decree, which theory does not apply here because the property involved is allegedly private in nature and has ceased to be part of the public domain, we are of the opinion that the trial court erred in dismissing the case outright without giving plaintiff a chance to prove his claim."

In Lacaste vs. Director of Lands, 8 the Court stressed that by force of possession, the land in question became private property on the strength of the Susi doctrine.

In Manarpaac us. Cabanatan, 9 the Court quoted with favor the text of the above-quoted ruling of Susi, and its ratio decidendi thus:

The Director of Lands contends that the land in question being of the public domain, the plaintiff-appellee cannot maintain an action to recover possession thereof.

If, as above stated, that land, the possession of which is in dispute, had already become, by operation of law, private property, there is lacking only the judicial sanction of his title Valentin Susi has the right to bring an action to recover the possession thereof and hold it.

In Miguel us. Court of Appeals, 10 the Court again held that where possession has been continuous, uninterrupted, open, adverse and in the concept of an owner, there is a presumption juris et de jure that all necessary condition for a grant by the State have been complied with and he would have been by force of law entitled to the registration of his title to the land (citing Pamintuan vs. Insular Government, 8 Phil. 485 and Susi vs. Razon, 48 Phil. 424).

In the latest 1980 case of Herico vs. Dar, 11 " the Court once more reiterated the Susi doctrine that "(A)nother obvious error of the respondent Court is in holding that after one year from the issuance of the Torrens Title, the same can no longer be reopened to be declared null and void, and has become absolute and indefeasible. ... Secondly, under the provisions of Republic Act No. 1942, which the respondent court held to be inapplicable to the petitioner's case, with the latter's proven occupation and cultivation for more than 30 years since 1914, by himself and by his predecessors-in-interest, title over the land has vested on petitioner as to segregate the land from the mass of public land. Thereafter, it is no longer disposable under the Public Land Act as by free patent. This is as provided in Republic Act No. 1942, which took effect on June 22, 1957, amending Section 48-b of Commonwealth Act No. 141 which provides: ... As interpreted in several cases when the conditions as specified in the foregoing provision are complied with, the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of said patent."

3. In fine, since under the Court's settled doctrine, the acquisitive prescription of alienable or disposable public lands provided for now in section 48, par. (b) of the Public Land Act takes place by operation of law and the public land is converted to and becomes private property upon as showing of open and unchallenged possession under bona fide claim of ownership by the applicants' predecessors-in-interest for the statutory period of thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application and "it is not necessary that a certificate of title should be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the court" which right is expressly backed up by the conclusive presumption or presumption juris et de jure of the statute that the possessor has "performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant," the applicant Meralco cannot be said to be barred as a corporation from filing the application for registration of the private property duly acquired by it.

4. It should be noted that respondent judge's decision in the Meralco case expressly finds as established facts that the Meralco's predecessors-in- interest had possessed and occupied as owners the land in question for at least over 35 years; Olimpia Ramos having possessed the same since the last world war in 1941 and then having sold the same on July 3, 1947 to the Piguing spouses who built a house thereon and continuously possessed the same until they sold the same in turn to the Meralco on August 13, 1976, 12 Meralco's predecessors-in-interest had therefore acquired by operation of the Public Land Act a Government grant to the property, as well as acquired ownership thereof by right of acquisitive prescription over the land which thereby became private property. The very definition of prescription as a mode of acquiring ownership as set forth in Art. 1106 of the Civil Code provides that "By prescription one acquires ownership and other real rights through lapse of time in the manner and under the conditions laid down by law." The law does I not provide that one acquires ownership of a land by prescription only after his title thereto is judicially confirmed. To this same effect is the ruling in Cariño vs. Insular Government, 13 wherein the U.S. Supreme Court speaking through Justice Holmes held that:

 

It is true that the language of articles 4 and 5 attributes title to those 'who may prove' possession for the necessary time and we do not overlook the argument that this means may prove in registration proceedings. It may be that an English conveyancer would have recommended an application under the foregoing decree, but certainly it was not calculated to convey to the mind of an Igorot chief the notion that ancient family possessions were in danger, if he had read every word of it. The words 'may prove' (acrediten), as well, or better, in view of the other provisions, might be taken to mean when called upon to do so in any litigation. There are indications that registration was expected from all, but none sufficient to show that, for want of it, ownership actually gained would be lost. The effect of the proof, wherever made, was not to confer title, but simply to establish it, as already conferred by the decree, if not by earlier law.

To the same effect is the Court's ruling in Legarda and Prieto vs. Saleeby, 31 Phil. 590, that "an owner does not obtain title by virtue of certificate but rather obtains his certificate by virtue of the fact that he has a fee simple title."

5. Since the public land became private property upon completion of the 30th year of continuous, exclusive, and unchallenged possession of the applicant Meralco's predecessors-in-interest, particularly the Piguing spouses who sold the private land to the Meralco, there is no justification for denying the Meralco's application for registration of its duly acquired title to the land. Meralco's predecessors-in-interest had acquired ownership of the land by acquisitive prescription as provided by the Public Land Act and by the Civil Code. The land became private property and Meralco duly acquired it by right of purchase. To deny Meralco's application to register the property because it is not a natural person is unjustified because neither the new constitutional ban under the 1973 Constitution against private corporations owning lands of the public domain or the Public Land Act's limitation on the right of application for confirmation of imperfect title to lands of the public domain can be invoked any longer as the land had long ceased to be public land but had become private property. Meralco's application in effect seeks confirmation of the acquisition of ownership of the land which had become private property of its predecessors-in-interest, the Piguing spouses who thru their open and unchallenged possession of the land for over thirty years acquired title thereto by acquisitive prescription and by conclusive presumption of the Public Land Act itself. There is no legal nor constitutional obstacle to such title being transferred to the Meralco by right of purchase and traditio for it is not claimed that there is any legal prohibition against the Piguing spouses transferring the ownership of the land to others (whether natural persons or corporations) such as the applicant Meralco, even before the formal issuance of the certificate of title to them.

6. To uphold respondent judge's denial of Meralco's application on the technicality that the Public Land Act allows only citizens of the Philippines who are natural persons to apply for confirmation of their title would be impractical and would just give rise to multiplicity of court actions. Assuming that there was a technical error in not having filed the application for registration in the name of the Piguing spouses as the original owners and vendors, still it is conceded that there is no prohibition against their sale of the land to the applicant Meralco and neither is there any prohibition against the application being refiled with retroactive effect in the name of the original owners and vendors (as such natural persons) with the end result of their application being granted, because of their indisputable acquisition of ownership by operation of law and the conclusive presumption therein provided in their favor. It should not be necessary to go through all the rituals at the great cost of refiling of all such applications in their names and adding to the overcrowded court dockets when the Court can after all these years dispose of it here and now. (See Francisco vs. City of Davao 14 )

The ends of justice would best be served, therefore, by considering the applications for confirmation as amended to conform to the evidence, i.e. as filed in the names of the original persons who as natural persons are duly qualified to apply for formal confirmation of the title that they had acquired by conclusive presumption and mandate of the Public Land Act and who thereafter duly sold to the herein corporations (both admittedly Filipino corporations duly qualified to hold and own private lands) and granting the applications for confirmation of title to the private lands so acquired and sold or exchanged.

7. All that has been said here applies of course with equal force to the Iglesia case, save that as already stated at the beginning hereof, the Iglesia application was granted because the Republic presented no evidence in support of its opposition and respondent judge held in effect that the property had ceased to be land of the public domain and had become private property, the title to which could be duly issued in the name of the Iglesia as the transferee of its predecessors-in-interest.

8. It should bear emphasis that what are involved here are small parcels of land, of 165 square meters in the Meralco case used for installation of an "anchor guy" for its steel posts in connection with its tasks as a nationalized domestic corporation to furnish electrical service to the consumer public, and of 313 square meters in the Iglesia case used as the site of its church built thereon to minister to the religious needs of its members. In no way, may the letter, intent and spirit of the prohibition of the 1973 Constitution against corporations "holding alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares in area" (which is beamed against the undue control and exploitation of our public lands and natural resources by corporations, Filipino and foreign-controlled) be deemed violated or disregarded by the granting of the applications at bar. The two corporations in truth and in fact do not hold the small parcels of land at bar for their own use or benefit but for the sole use and benefit of the public.

9. With reference to the separate concurring opinion of Mr. Justice De Castro wherein he would blunt the "supposedly (sic) well-established doctrine" (at page 1) from the 1909 case of Cariño and the 1925 case of Susi down to the 1980 case of Herico (supra, at pages 5 to 11) and support the contrary pronouncement in Mr. Justice Aquino's main opinion that "as between the State and the Meralco, the said land is still public land. It would cease to be public land only upon the issuance of the certificate of title to any Filipino citizen claiming it under section 48(b) [of the Public Land Act]" (at page 5), suffice it to cite his own pronouncement in Herico (reiterating the well-established and prevailing doctrine which this Court has not overturned, as it cannot overturn the mandate of the statute that the unchallenged possessor for at least 30 years is "conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a government grant") wherein Mr. Justice De Castro categorically reiterated for the Court that "As interpreted in several cases .....the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of said patent. "

It only remains to point out, in order to avoid misapprehension or confusion, that Mr. Justice De Castro's seemingly querulous statement that "the discussion of the question of whether the land involved is still public or already private land, is however, entirely pointless or an Idle exercise, if We consider the provision of Section 14, Article XIV of the Constitution which appears to have been lost sight of, which provides that 'save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the domain'" (at page 2) that "hence, even if the land involved in the present case is considered private land, the cited section prohibits its acquisition by the Meralco or Iglesia which admittedly are 'corporations' or associations within the meaning of the aforecited provision of the New Constitution. The observation should end all arguments on the issue of whether the land in question is public or private land" (idem) might mislead one to the wrong conclusion that corporations with 60% Filipino ownership may not own private lands when the express provisions of Art. XIV, section 9 15 and section 14 as quoted by himself as well as the counterpart provisions of the 1935 Constitution have always expressly permitted Filipino-owned corporations to own private lands, and the only change effected in the 1973 Constitution is section 11 which now prohibits even such Filipino corporations to own or hold lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area.

ACCORDINGLY, I vote for reversal of respondent court's judgment in the Meralco case and for the entry of a new judgment granting Meralco's application and for affirmance of judgment in the second case granting the Iglesia application.

 

 

Separate Opinions

ABAD SANTOS, J., concurring:

In the result for the same reasons I have already given in Manila Electric Co. vs. Judge Floreliana Castro-Bartolome, G.R. No. L-49623.

DE CASTRO, J., dissenting:

Justice Teehankee cites in his dissenting opinion the case of Herico vs. Dar, 1 the decision in which I am the ponente, as reiterating a supposedly well-established doctrine that lands of the public domain which, by reason of possession and cultivation for such a length of time, a grant by the State to the occupant is presumed, and the land thereby ceases to form part of the public domain, but is segregated therefrom as to be no longer subject to the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose under the public land laws or statutes. He would thus consider said land as no longer public land but "private" lands and therefore, not within the prohibition of the New Constitution against corporations from acquiring public lands which provides that "no private corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares." 2

I cannot subscribe to the view that the land as above described has become private land, even before title thereto, which is, as of this stage, said to be still "an incomplete or imperfect title," has been fully vested on the occupant, through the prescribed procedure known as judicial confirmation of incomplete or imperfect title. 3 This is the only legal method by which full and absolute title to the land may be granted, to convert the land into a truly private land. To secure such judicial title, only the courts can be resorted to. The Director of Lands has lost authority over the land, insofar as its disposition is concerned. His authority is limited to another form of disposition of public land, referred to as administrative legalization, resulting in the issuance of free patents, also based on possession, in which case, as in the issuance of homestead and sales patents, the land involved in undoubtedly public land. The possessor of a piece of public land would have the option to acquire title thereto through judicial confirmation or administrative legalization. The difference is that in the latter case, the area disposable to a citizen-applicant by the Director of Lands is limited to 24 hectares. There is no limit to the area subject to judicial confirmation of incomplete or imperfect title, except possibly the limit fixed for a State grant under old Spanish laws and decrees, which certainly is much larger than that set for free patents.

It is because of the divestiture of authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of the land subject to judicial confirmation of incomplete and imperfect title that some statements are found in many cases, such as those cited by Justice Teehankee, to the effect that such land has ceased to be public land. What these statements, however, really mean is that the land referred to no longer forms part of the mass of public domain still disposable by the Director of Lands, under the authority granted him by the public land statutes. It, however, would not follow that the land covered by Section 48 of the Public Land Act has itself become private land. The fact that its disposition is provided for in the aforecited Act which deals with "public land" gives rise to the very strong implication, if not a positive conclusion, that the land referred to is still public land. Only when the court adjudicates the land to the applicant for confirmation of title would the land become privately owned land, for in the same proceeding, the court may declare it public land, depending on the evidence.

The discussion of the question of whether the land involved is still public or already private land is, however, entirely pointless, or an Idle exercise, if We consider the provision of Section 14, Article XIV of the Constitution which appears to have been lost sight of, which provides that "save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain. " As previously stated, by express provision of the Constitution, no corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain, except by lease, not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area. 4 Hence, even if the land involved in the present case is considered private land, the cited section prohibits its acquisition by the Meralco or Iglesia which admittedly are "corporations or association" within the meaning of the aforecited provision of the New Constitution. This observation should end all arguments on the issue of whether the land in question is public or private land. Although it may further be observed that supposing a corporation has been in possession of a piece of public land from the very beginning, may it apply for judicial confirmation of the land in question to acquire title to it as owner after possessing the land for the requisite length of time? The answer is believed obvious-it may not. If its possession is not from the beginning but has commenced only upon the transfer to it by the prior possessor, may the corporation apply? The answer is just as obvious with more reason, it may not.

This separate opinion should have had no need to be written because the majority opinion written by Justice Aquino is already well-reasoned out and supported by applicable authorities. I was impelled to write it only because in the dissenting opinion of Justice Teehankee, the case of Herico vs. Dar (supra) which is my ponencia was cited in support of his position. This separate opinion then is more to show and explain that whatever has been stated by me in the Dar case should be interpreted in the light of what I have said in his separate opinion, which I believe, does not strengthen Justice Teehankee's position a bit.

FERNANDO, C.J., dissenting:

It is with regret that unlike in the case of Meralco v. Judge Castro-Bartolome, 1 where I had a brief concurrence and dissent, I am constrained to dissent in the ably-written opinion of Justice Aquino. I join him in according the utmost respect and deference to this provision in the Constitution: "No private corporation or association may hold alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares in area; ... ." 2 If the matter before us be viewed solely from the standpoint of respondent appellee Iglesia ni Cristo being a corporation sole, then I would have no hesitancy in sustaining the conclusion that if the land be considered public, its registration would have to be denied. For me, that is not the decisive consideration. It is my view that the Bill of Rights provision on religious freedom which bans the enactment of any law prohibiting its free exercise, the "enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, [being] forever ... allowed." 3 This is not the first time the Court has occasion to recognize the high estate that freedom of religion occupies in our hierarchy of values. Even as against the fundamental objectives, constitutionally enshrined, of social justice and protection to labor, the claim of such free exercise and enjoyment was recognized in the leading case of Victoriano v. Elizalde Rope Workers' Union. 4 Here the Iglesia ni Cristo, as a corporation sole, seeks the registration. The area involved in the two parcels of land in question is 313 square meters. As admitted in the opinion of the Court, a chapel is therein located. It is that basic consideration that leads me to conclude that the balancing process, which finds application in constitutional law adjudication, equally requires that when two provisions in the Constitution may be relevant to a certain factual situation calls for the affirmance of the decision of respondent Judge allowing the registration. 5 There is for me another obstacle to a partial concurrence. The right of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Administrator of Davao to register land purchased from a Filipino citizen was recognized in The Roman Catholic Apostolic Administrator of Davao v. Land Registration. 6As I view it, therefore, the decision of respondent Judge is equally entitled to affirmance on equal protection grounds. 7 Hence this brief dissent.

TEEHANKEE, C.J., dissenting:

Involved in these two cases are the applications of petitioner Meralco, a nationalized domestic corporation, in the first case and respondent Iglesia ni Cristo, a religious corporation sole, in the second case (both admittedly Filipino corporations qualified to hold and own private lands), for judicial confirmation of their titles to small parcels of land, residential in character as distinguished from strictly agricultural land, acquired by them by purchase or exchange from private persons publicly recognized as the private owners (who have been in the open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the lands under a bona fide claim of ownership for at least thirty [30] years immediately preceding the filing of the applications).

This dissent is based on the failure of the majority to adhere to established doctrine since the 1909 case of Cariño and the 1925 case of Susi down to the 1980 case of Herico, infra, pursuant to the Public Land Act, as amended, that where a possessor has held the open, exclusive and unchallenged possession of alienable public land for the statutory period provided by law (30 years now under amendatory Rep. Act No. 1942 approved on June 22, 1957), the law itself mandates that the possessor "shall be conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant and shall be entitled to a certificate of title" and" by legal fiction [the land] has already ceased to be of the public domain and has become private property." Accordingly, the prohibition of the 1973 Constitution and of the Public Land Act against private corporations holding lands of the public domain has no applicability in the present cases. What Meralco and Iglesia have acquired from their predecessors-in-interest had already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property at the time of the sale to them and therefore their applications for confirmation of title by virtue of their predecessors-in-interest' vested right and title may be duly granted.

The land covered by the Meralco application of November 26, 1976 consists of two (2) small lots with a total area of 165 square meters located at Tanay, Rizal with an assessed value of P3,270.00. This land was possessed by Olimpia Ramos before World War II which broke out in the Pacific in 1941. Olimpia Ramos sold the land on July 3, 1947 to the spouses Rafael Piguing and Minerva Inocencio who constructed a house thereon. But because the Meralco had installed the "anchor guy" of its steel posts on the land, the Piguing spouses sold the land to the Meralco on August 13, 1976. The land had been declared for realty tax purposes since 1945 and realty taxes were regularly paid thereon. It is residential in character as distinguished from strictly agricultural land. It is likewise established that it is not included in any military reservation and that since 1927 it had been certified as part of the alienable or disposable portion of the public domain.

The Land covered by the Iglesia application of September 3, 1977 likewise consists of two (2) small lots located in Barrio Dampol, Plaridel, Bulacan with a total area of 313 square meters and with an assessed value of P1,350.00. The land was acquired by the Iglesia on January 9, 1953 from Andres Perez in exchange for a lot owned by the Iglesia with an area of 247 square meters. The land was already possessed by Perez in 1933. Admittedly also it is not included in any military reservation and is inside an area which was certified since 1927 as part of the alienable or disposable portion of the public domain. A chapel of the Iglesia stands on the said land. It had been duly declared for realty tax purposes in the name of the Iglesia and realty taxes were regularly paid thereon.

Respondent judge in the Meralco case sustained the Republic's opposition and dismissed the application, holding that under both the provisions of the new Constitution and the Public Land Act, Meralco, being a corporation and not a natural person, is not qualified to apply for the registration of title over the public land.

On the other hand, in the Iglesia case, the Republic presented no evidence in support of its opposition but expressly "submitted the case for decision on the basis of the evidence submitted by the applicant." Respondent judge in the case accordingly granted the application for registration of the land in the name of the Iglesia, holding that it had been "satisfactorily established that applicant [Iglesia] and its predecessors-in-interest have been in open, continuous, public and adverse possession of the land ... under a bona fide claim of ownership for more than thirty (30) years prior to the filing of the application" and is therefore entitled to the registration applied for under the Public Land Act, as amended.

Both decisions are now with the Court for review. I hold that both applications for registration should be granted by virtue of the prevailing principle as enunciated since the 1925 case of Susi vs. Razon and Director of Lands 1 and reaffirmed in a long line of cases down to the 1980 case of Herico vs. Dar 2 that the lands in question ceased, ipso jure, or by operation of law, to be lands of the public domain upon completion of the statutory period of open, continuous, exclusive, notorious and unchallenged possession thereof by the applicants' predecessors-in-interest who were qualified natural persons and entitled to registration by right of acquisitive prescription under the provisions of the Public Land Act, and that accordingly the judgment in the Meralco case should be reversed and a new judgment entered granting Meralco's application, while the judgment in the Iglesia case should stand affirmed. The principal issue at bar may thus be stated:

It is expressly provided in section 48, par. (b) of the Public Land Act (Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942, approved on June 22, 1957) that citizens of the Philippines who are natural persons who have occupied lands of the public domain but whose titles have not been perfected or completed may apply to the corresponding court of first instance for confirmation of their claims and the issuance of the certificate of title therefor under the Land Registration Act in cases where they "by themselves or through their predecessors-in-interest have been in the open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural lands of the public domain, under a bona fide claim of acquisition of ownership, for at least thirty years 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." 3 In such cases, is the land ipso jure or by operation of law converted into private land upon completion of the 30th year of continuous and unchallenged occupation of the land such that thereafter as such private land, it may be duly transferred to and owned by private corporations or does such land, as held by respondent judge in the Meralco case, remain part of the public domain and does not become private land until after actual judicial confirmation proceedings and the formal court order for the issuance of the certificate of title?

1. This issue has been squarely resolved by this Court since the 1925 case of Susi vs. Razon (and a long line of cases, infra). It is established doctrine as first held therein that an open, continuous, adverse and public possession of a land of the public domain for the period provided in the Public Land Act provision in force at the time (from July 26, 1894 in Susi under the old law) by a private individual personally and through his predecessors confers an effective title on said possessor, whereby the land ceases to be land of the public domain and becomes private property.

(At that time in 1925 in the Susi case, such possession was required "from July 26, 1894" as then provided for in section 45 (b) of the old Public Land Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926; whereas at present as provided for in the corresponding section 48, par. (b) of the later and subsisting Public Land Act, Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1942 approved on June 22, 1957, in force since 1957, the period of open and unchallenged possession was reduced to "at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application for confirmation of title, equivalent to the period of acquisitive prescription. This is admitted in the main opinion of Mr. Justice Aquino, wherein it is stated that "(I)n the Susi case, this Court applied section 45 (b) of Act No. 2874 which corresponds to what is now section 48(b). It was held that the long possession of the land under a bona fide claim of ownership since July 26, 1894 gave rise to the conclusive presumption that the occupant had complied with all the conditions essential to a Government grant and was thus entitled to a certificate of title." 4 The text of the corresponding section 48(b), as amended by Rep. Act 1942 referred to is reproduced verbatim in Mr. Justice Aquino's opinion 5 and quotes the reduced statutory period of open and unchallenged possession of "at least thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application. ")

Accordingly, the Court held that Susi, as the rightful possessor of the public land for the statutory period, acquired the same by operation of law as a grant from the Government, "not only a right to a grant," and the land thereby "already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property at least by presumption" as expressly provided in the Act. Therefore, any supposed sale by the Director of Lands of the same land to another person was void and of no effect and Susi as the rightful possessor could recover the land as his private property from the supposed vendee who did not acquire any right thereto since it had ceased to be land of the public domain. The Court thus specifically held therein, as applied to the specific facts of the case, that:

... In favor of Valentin Susi, there is, moreover, the presumption juris et de jure, established in paragraph (b) of section 45 of Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926, that all the necessary requirements for a grant by the Government were complied with, for he has been in actual and physical possession, personally and through his predecessors, of an agricultural land of the public domain, openly, continuously, exclusively and publicly since July 26, 1894, with a right to a certificate of title to said land under the provisions of Chapter VIII of said Act. So that when Angela Razon applied for the grant in her favor, Valentin Susi had already acquired, by operation of law not only a right to a grant, but a grant of the Government, for it is not necessary that certificate of title should be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the courts, an application therefor is sufficient, under the provisions of section 47 of Act No. 2874. If by a legal fiction, Valentin Susi had acquired the land in question by a grant of the State, it had already ceased to be of the public domain and had become private property, at least by presumption, of Valentin Susi, beyond the control of the Director of Lands. Consequently, in selling the land in question to Angela Razon, the Director of Lands disposed of a land over which he had no longer any title or control, and the sale thus made was void and of no effect, and Angela Razon did not thereby acquire any right. 6

2. The above-quoted ruling in Susi has been affirmed and reaffirmed by this Court in a long unbroken line of cases, as follows:

In Mesina vs. Vda. de Sonza, 7 the Court held that "(I)n the case of Susi vs. Razon, et al., 48 Phil. 424, it was observed that where all the necessary requirements for a grant by the Government are complied with through actual physical possession openly, continuously, and publicly, with a right to a certificate of title to said land under the provisions of Chapter VIII of Act No. 2874, amending Act No. 926 (carried over as Chapter VIII of Commonwealth Act No. 141), the possessor is deemed to have already acquired by operation of law not only a right to a grant, but a grant of the Government, for it is not necessary that a certificate of title be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the courts an application therefor being sufficient under the provisions of Section 47 of Act No. 2874 (reproduced as Section 50, Commonwealth Act No. 141)," and "(C)onsidering that this case was dismissed by the trial court merely on a motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff's action is already barred by the statute of limitations, which apparently is predicated on the theory that a decree of registration can no longer be impugned on the ground of fraud one year after the issuance and entry of the decree, which theory does not apply here because the property involved is allegedly private in nature and has ceased to be part of the public domain, we are of the opinion that the trial court erred in dismissing the case outright without giving plaintiff a chance to prove his claim."

In Lacaste vs. Director of Lands, 8 the Court stressed that by force of possession, the land in question became private property on the strength of the Susi doctrine.

In Manarpaac us. Cabanatan, 9 the Court quoted with favor the text of the above-quoted ruling of Susi, and its ratio decidendi thus:

The Director of Lands contends that the land in question being of the public domain, the plaintiff-appellee cannot maintain an action to recover possession thereof.

If, as above stated, that land, the possession of which is in dispute, had already become, by operation of law, private property, there is lacking only the judicial sanction of his title Valentin Susi has the right to bring an action to recover the possession thereof and hold it.

In Miguel us. Court of Appeals, 10 the Court again held that where possession has been continuous, uninterrupted, open, adverse and in the concept of an owner, there is a presumption juris et de jure that all necessary condition for a grant by the State have been complied with and he would have been by force of law entitled to the registration of his title to the land (citing Pamintuan vs. Insular Government, 8 Phil. 485 and Susi vs. Razon, 48 Phil. 424).

In the latest 1980 case of Herico vs. Dar, 11 " the Court once more reiterated the Susi doctrine that "(A)nother obvious error of the respondent Court is in holding that after one year from the issuance of the Torrens Title, the same can no longer be reopened to be declared null and void, and has become absolute and indefeasible. ... Secondly, under the provisions of Republic Act No. 1942, which the respondent court held to be inapplicable to the petitioner's case, with the latter's proven occupation and cultivation for more than 30 years since 1914, by himself and by his predecessors-in-interest, title over the land has vested on petitioner as to segregate the land from the mass of public land. Thereafter, it is no longer disposable under the Public Land Act as by free patent. This is as provided in Republic Act No. 1942, which took effect on June 22, 1957, amending Section 48-b of Commonwealth Act No. 141 which provides: ... As interpreted in several cases when the conditions as specified in the foregoing provision are complied with, the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of said patent."

3. In fine, since under the Court's settled doctrine, the acquisitive prescription of alienable or disposable public lands provided for now in section 48, par. (b) of the Public Land Act takes place by operation of law and the public land is converted to and becomes private property upon as showing of open and unchallenged possession under bona fide claim of ownership by the applicants' predecessors-in-interest for the statutory period of thirty years immediately preceding the filing of the application and "it is not necessary that a certificate of title should be issued in order that said grant may be sanctioned by the court" which right is expressly backed up by the conclusive presumption or presumption juris et de jure of the statute that the possessor has "performed all the conditions essential to a Government grant," the applicant Meralco cannot be said to be barred as a corporation from filing the application for registration of the private property duly acquired by it.

4. It should be noted that respondent judge's decision in the Meralco case expressly finds as established facts that the Meralco's predecessors-in- interest had possessed and occupied as owners the land in question for at least over 35 years; Olimpia Ramos having possessed the same since the last world war in 1941 and then having sold the same on July 3, 1947 to the Piguing spouses who built a house thereon and continuously possessed the same until they sold the same in turn to the Meralco on August 13, 1976, 12 Meralco's predecessors-in-interest had therefore acquired by operation of the Public Land Act a Government grant to the property, as well as acquired ownership thereof by right of acquisitive prescription over the land which thereby became private property. The very definition of prescription as a mode of acquiring ownership as set forth in Art. 1106 of the Civil Code provides that "By prescription one acquires ownership and other real rights through lapse of time in the manner and under the conditions laid down by law." The law does I not provide that one acquires ownership of a land by prescription only after his title thereto is judicially confirmed. To this same effect is the ruling in Cariño vs. Insular Government, 13 wherein the U.S. Supreme Court speaking through Justice Holmes held that:

It is true that the language of articles 4 and 5 attributes title to those 'who may prove' possession for the necessary time and we do not overlook the argument that this means may prove in registration proceedings. It may be that an English conveyancer would have recommended an application under the foregoing decree, but certainly it was not calculated to convey to the mind of an Igorot chief the notion that ancient family possessions were in danger, if he had read every word of it. The words 'may prove' (acrediten), as well, or better, in view of the other provisions, might be taken to mean when called upon to do so in any litigation. There are indications that registration was expected from all, but none sufficient to show that, for want of it, ownership actually gained would be lost. The effect of the proof, wherever made, was not to confer title, but simply to establish it, as already conferred by the decree, if not by earlier law.

To the same effect is the Court's ruling in Legarda and Prieto vs. Saleeby, 31 Phil. 590, that "an owner does not obtain title by virtue of certificate but rather obtains his certificate by virtue of the fact that he has a fee simple title."

5. Since the public land became private property upon completion of the 30th year of continuous, exclusive, and unchallenged possession of the applicant Meralco's predecessors-in-interest, particularly the Piguing spouses who sold the private land to the Meralco, there is no justification for denying the Meralco's application for registration of its duly acquired title to the land. Meralco's predecessors-in-interest had acquired ownership of the land by acquisitive prescription as provided by the Public Land Act and by the Civil Code. The land became private property and Meralco duly acquired it by right of purchase. To deny Meralco's application to register the property because it is not a natural person is unjustified because neither the new constitutional ban under the 1973 Constitution against private corporations owning lands of the public domain or the Public Land Act's limitation on the right of application for confirmation of imperfect title to lands of the public domain can be invoked any longer as the land had long ceased to be public land but had become private property. Meralco's application in effect seeks confirmation of the acquisition of ownership of the land which had become private property of its predecessors-in-interest, the Piguing spouses who thru their open and unchallenged possession of the land for over thirty years acquired title thereto by acquisitive prescription and by conclusive presumption of the Public Land Act itself. There is no legal nor constitutional obstacle to such title being transferred to the Meralco by right of purchase and traditio for it is not claimed that there is any legal prohibition against the Piguing spouses transferring the ownership of the land to others (whether natural persons or corporations) such as the applicant Meralco, even before the formal issuance of the certificate of title to them.

6. To uphold respondent judge's denial of Meralco's application on the technicality that the Public Land Act allows only citizens of the Philippines who are natural persons to apply for confirmation of their title would be impractical and would just give rise to multiplicity of court actions. Assuming that there was a technical error in not having filed the application for registration in the name of the Piguing spouses as the original owners and vendors, still it is conceded that there is no prohibition against their sale of the land to the applicant Meralco and neither is there any prohibition against the application being refiled with retroactive effect in the name of the original owners and vendors (as such natural persons) with the end result of their application being granted, because of their indisputable acquisition of ownership by operation of law and the conclusive presumption therein provided in their favor. It should not be necessary to go through all the rituals at the great cost of refiling of all such applications in their names and adding to the overcrowded court dockets when the Court can after all these years dispose of it here and now. (See Francisco vs. City of Davao 14 )

The ends of justice would best be served, therefore, by considering the applications for confirmation as amended to conform to the evidence, i.e. as filed in the names of the original persons who as natural persons are duly qualified to apply for formal confirmation of the title that they had acquired by conclusive presumption and mandate of the Public Land Act and who thereafter duly sold to the herein corporations (both admittedly Filipino corporations duly qualified to hold and own private lands) and granting the applications for confirmation of title to the private lands so acquired and sold or exchanged.

7. All that has been said here applies of course with equal force to the Iglesia case, save that as already stated at the beginning hereof, the Iglesia application was granted because the Republic presented no evidence in support of its opposition and respondent judge held in effect that the property had ceased to be land of the public domain and had become private property, the title to which could be duly issued in the name of the Iglesia as the transferee of its predecessors-in-interest.

8. It should bear emphasis that what are involved here are small parcels of land, of 165 square meters in the Meralco case used for installation of an "anchor guy" for its steel posts in connection with its tasks as a nationalized domestic corporation to furnish electrical service to the consumer public, and of 313 square meters in the Iglesia case used as the site of its church built thereon to minister to the religious needs of its members. In no way, may the letter, intent and spirit of the prohibition of the 1973 Constitution against corporations "holding alienable lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed one thousand hectares in area" (which is beamed against the undue control and exploitation of our public lands and natural resources by corporations, Filipino and foreign-controlled) be deemed violated or disregarded by the granting of the applications at bar. The two corporations in truth and in fact do not hold the small parcels of land at bar for their own use or benefit but for the sole use and benefit of the public.

9. With reference to the separate concurring opinion of Mr. Justice De Castro wherein he would blunt the "supposedly (sic) well-established doctrine" (at page 1) from the 1909 case of Cariño and the 1925 case of Susi down to the 1980 case of Herico (supra, at pages 5 to 11) and support the contrary pronouncement in Mr. Justice Aquino's main opinion that "as between the State and the Meralco, the said land is still public land. It would cease to be public land only upon the issuance of the certificate of title to any Filipino citizen claiming it under section 48(b) [of the Public Land Act]" (at page 5), suffice it to cite his own pronouncement in Herico (reiterating the well-established and prevailing doctrine which this Court has not overturned, as it cannot overturn the mandate of the statute that the unchallenged possessor for at least 30 years is "conclusively presumed to have performed all the conditions essential to a government grant") wherein Mr. Justice De Castro categorically reiterated for the Court that "As interpreted in several cases .....the possessor is deemed to have acquired, by operation of law, a right to a grant, a government grant, without the necessity of a certificate of title being issued. The land, therefore, ceases to be of the public domain, and beyond the authority of the Director of Lands to dispose of. The application for confirmation is a mere formality, the lack of which does not affect the legal sufficiency of the title as would be evidenced by the patent and the Torrens title to be issued upon the strength of said patent. "

It only remains to point out, in order to avoid misapprehension or confusion, that Mr. Justice De Castro's seemingly querulous statement that "the discussion of the question of whether the land involved is still public or already private land, is however, entirely pointless or an Idle exercise, if We consider the provision of Section 14, Article XIV of the Constitution which appears to have been lost sight of, which provides that 'save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the domain'" (at page 2) that "hence, even if the land involved in the present case is considered private land, the cited section prohibits its acquisition by the Meralco or Iglesia which admittedly are 'corporations' or associations within the meaning of the aforecited provision of the New Constitution. The observation should end all arguments on the issue of whether the land in question is public or private land" (idem) might mislead one to the wrong conclusion that corporations with 60% Filipino ownership may not own private lands when the express provisions of Art. XIV, section 9 15 and section 14 as quoted by himself as well as the counterpart provisions of the 1935 Constitution have always expressly permitted Filipino-owned corporations to own private lands, and the only change effected in the 1973 Constitution is section 11 which now prohibits even such Filipino corporations to own or hold lands of the public domain except by lease not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area.

ACCORDINGLY, I vote for reversal of respondent court's judgment in the Meralco case and for the entry of a new judgment granting Meralco's application and for affirmance of judgment in the second case granting the Iglesia application.

Footnotes

1 45 SCRA 437.

2 Section 11, Article XIV, Constitution.

3 See Section 48 of the Public Land Act.

4 Section 1 1, Article XIV, Constitution.

FERNANDO, C.J., dissenting Footnotes:

1 G.R. No. L-49623.

2 Article XIV, Section 11 of the Constitution.

3 According to Article IV, Section 8 of the Constitution: "No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."

4 L-25246, September 12, 1974, 59 SCRA 54.

5 Cf. De la Llana v. Alba, G. R. No. 57883, March 12,1982.

6 102 PhiL 596 (1957).

7 According to Article IV, Section I of the Constitution: "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws. "

TEEHANKEE, C.J., dissenting Footnotes:

1 48 Phil. 424.

2 95 SCRA 437 (Jan. 22, 1980), citing Susi vs. Razon, 48 Phil. 424; Mesina vs. Vda. de Sonza, 108 Phil. 251 (1960).

3 Emphasis supplied.

4 At page 6; emphasis supplied.

5 At pages 4 and 5 thereof.

6 Emphasis supplied.

7 108 Phil. 251, 253 & 255 (1960).

8 63 Phil. 654, 655 (1936), citing Delos Reyes us. Razon 38 Phil. 480: Susi vs. Razon, supra, and PNB vs. Luis, 53 Phil. 649. See also Balboa vs. Farrales, 51 Phil. 498, 503 (928).

9 21 SCRA 743, 747-748 (1967).

10 29 SCRA 760, 779 (1969).

11 95 SCRA 437, 443-444, per De Castro, J.

12 Record p. 22.

13 41 Phil. 935 (1909), 212 U.S. 449, 53 Lawyer's Ed. 594; emphasis supplied.

14 12 SCRA 628,634. Page 898

15 "Sec. 9. The disposition, exploration, development, exploitation, or utilization of any of the natural resources of the Philippines shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of the capital of which is owned by such citizens." (Art. XIV, 1973 Constitution).


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