Mar 30, 2021 @ 19:41

After 35 years in limbo, CA grants gov’t appeal versus claimant’s title to public land

The Court of Appeals (CA) has granted the government’s appeal on a 35-year old decision by an Iloilo trial court to order the issuance of a final decree of registration and title in favor of the spouses who occupied and planted bananas and bamboos on public land totaling 170 square meters.

In an 8-page decision on CA-G.R. CV No. 07017, the CA 18th Division set aside the December 8, 1985 ruling of the Barotac Viejo Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) in favor of spouses Ernesto Arroyo and Judith Baldemor.

The CA was only now able to entertain the case, because the MCTC had failed to forward the records for three decades.

The Republic received a copy of the decision on February 18, 1986 and filed a notice of appeal on February 21, 1986, but the MCTC did not take any action ever since.

The case was brought to the trial court’s attention on March 14, 2016, when Ernesto, then 84 years old, filed an “omnibus motion to disallow appeal and to render the case final and executory.” He argued that the length of time indicated that the government had abandoned its appeal.

This prompted the government to file a comment arguing that it could not be faulted since it was able to file a notice of appeal. On August 6, 2018, the MCTC denied Ernesto’s motion and finally ordered the transmittal of all the records of the case to the CA.

Finally getting to review the merits of the case, the CA held that Ernesto “failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land since June 12, 1945, or earlier.”

The CA said Ernesto only presented oral evidence that his mother owned and possessed the land since 1946 and that he inherited it in 1962 after her death.

It noted that Ernesto “failed to prove by clear, positive and convincing evidence” that he met the requisites of Section 4(1) of Presidential Decree Number 1529 to be deemed to have acquired a right to a government grant without the need for a certificate of title.

The CA added that the earliest tax declaration presented by Ernesto was dated September 25, 1984 and that he failed to explain why he only started to declare the property for purposes of taxation that year when he and his mother had been in possession since 1946.

“Although it is an acknowledged policy of the State to promote the distribution of alienable public lands to spur economic growth, in line with the ideal of social justice, the law imposes stringent safeguards upon the grant of such resources lest they fall into the wrong hands to the prejudice of the national patrimony,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Dorothy Montejo-Gonzaga.

The CA did not mention the issue that Ernesto would stand to lose the land after several decades in limbo because of the lower court’s delay.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has directed that these safeguards are not to be relaxed,” it said.

Associate Justices Gabriel Ingles and Bautista Corpin, Jr. concurred in the decision.

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