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G.R. No. 173775; G.R. No. 167707 – 568 SCRA 164 – Civil Law – Land Titles and Deeds – Regalian Doctrine – Land Classifications – Boracay Cases – Positive Act by the Government in Reclassifying Lands – No Acquisitive Prescription in Inalienable Lands
These are two consolidated cases.
G.R. No. 167707
Boracay Mayor Jose Yap et al filed for declaratory relief to have a judicial confirmation of imperfect title or survey of land for titling purposes for the land they’ve been occupying in Boracay. Yap et al alleged that Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 raised doubts on their right to secure titles over their occupied lands. They declared that they themselves, or through their predecessors-in-interest, had been in open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation in Boracay since June 12, 1945, or earlier since time immemorial. They declared their lands for tax purposes and paid realty taxes on them.
The Republic, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), opposed the petition for declaratory relief. The OSG countered that Boracay Island was an unclassified land of the public domain. It formed part of the mass of lands classified as “public forest,” which was not available for disposition pursuant to Section 3(a) of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 705 or the Revised Forestry Code. Since Boracay Island had not been classified as alienable and disposable, whatever possession they had cannot ripen into ownership. RTC Ruled in favor of Yap et al. The OSG appealed.
G.R. No. 173775
During the pendency of G.R. No. 167707, in May 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1064 classifying Boracay Island into four hundred (400) hectares of reserved forest land (protection purposes) and six hundred twenty-eight and 96/100 (628.96) hectares of agricultural land (alienable and disposable). The Proclamation likewise provided for a fifteen-meter buffer zone on each side of the centerline of roads and trails, reserved for right-of-way and which shall form part of the area reserved for forest land protection purposes.
Subsequently, Dr. Orlando Sacay, and other Boracay landowners in Boracay filed with the Supreme Court (SC) an original petition for prohibition, mandamus, and nullification of Proclamation No. 1064. They alleged that the Proclamation infringed on their “prior vested rights” over portions of Boracay. They have been in continued possession of their respective lots in Boracay since time immemorial. They have also invested billions of pesos in developing their lands and building internationally renowned first class resorts on their lots.
The OSG again opposed Sacay’s petition. The OSG argued that Sacay et al do not have a vested right over their occupied portions in the island. Boracay is an unclassified public forest land pursuant to Section 3(a) of PD No. 705. Being public forest, the claimed portions of the island are inalienable and cannot be the subject of judicial confirmation of imperfect title. It is only the executive department, not the courts, which has authority to reclassify lands of the public domain into alienable and disposable lands. There is a need for a positive government act in order to release the lots for disposition.
ISSUES: Whether Proclamation No. 1801 and PTA Circular No. 3-82 pose any legal obstacle for Yap et al and Sacay et al, and all those similarly situated, to acquire title to their occupied lands in Boracay Island.
HELD: Yes. The SC ruled against Yap et al and Sacay et al. The Regalian Doctrine dictates that all lands of the public domain belong to the State, that the State is the source of any asserted right to ownership of land and charged with the conservation of such patrimony. All lands that have not been acquired from the government, either by purchase or by grant, belong to the State as part of the inalienable public domain.
A positive act declaring land as alienable and disposable is required. In keeping with the presumption of State ownership, there must be a positive act of the government, such as an official proclamation, declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes. In the case at bar, no such proclamation, executive order, administrative action, report, statute, or certification was presented. The records are bereft of evidence showing that, prior to 2006, the portions of Boracay occupied by private claimants were subject of a government proclamation that the land is alienable and disposable. Absent such well-nigh incontrovertible evidence, the Court cannot accept the submission that lands occupied by private claimants were already open to disposition before 2006. Matters of land classification or reclassification cannot be assumed.
Also, private claimants also contend that their continued possession of portions of Boracay Island for the requisite period of ten (10) years under Act No. 926 ipso facto converted the island into private ownership. Private claimants’ continued possession under Act No. 926 does not create a presumption that the land is alienable. It is plain error for petitioners to argue that under the Philippine Bill of 1902 and Public Land Act No. 926, mere possession by private individuals of lands creates the legal presumption that the lands are alienable and disposable.
Private claimants are not entitled to apply for judicial confirmation of imperfect title under CA No. 141. Neither do they have vested rights over the occupied lands under the said law. There are two requisites for judicial confirmation of imperfect or incomplete title under CA No. 141, namely:
(1) open, continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of the subject land by himself or through his predecessors-in-interest under a bona fide claim of ownership since time immemorial or from June 12, 1945; and
(2) the classification of the land as alienable and disposable land of the public domain.
The tax declarations in the name of private claimants are insufficient to prove the first element of possession. The SC noted that the earliest of the tax declarations in the name of private claimants were issued in 1993. Being of recent dates, the tax declarations are not sufficient to convince this Court that the period of possession and occupation commenced on June 12, 1945.
Yap et al and Sacay et al insist that they have a vested right in Boracay, having been in possession of the island for a long time. They have invested millions of pesos in developing the island into a tourist spot. They say their continued possession and investments give them a vested right which cannot be unilaterally rescinded by Proclamation No. 1064.
The continued possession and considerable investment of private claimants do not automatically give them a vested right in Boracay. Nor do these give them a right to apply for a title to the land they are presently occupying. The SC is constitutionally bound to decide cases based on the evidence presented and the laws applicable. As the law and jurisprudence stand, private claimants are ineligible to apply for a judicial confirmation of title over their occupied portions in Boracay even with their continued possession and considerable investment in the island.