Complicating a simple case

Mistakes are costly and somebody must pay. The time to correct a mistake is before it is made. The causes of mistakes are, first, I didin’t know; second, I didin’t think; third, I didn’t care. * * * Complicating a simple case Probably because it is not in the rules of evidence, none of the magistrates in the Supreme Court even wondered why heirs of Homer Barque claimed the 34-hectare property long occupied by the heirs of Severino Manotok only after the records of the register of deeds in Quezon City were burned almost 20 years ago. It is worth repeating that any family which believes that their land was stolen through a “sham and spurious” title would not wait for the original title to be burned before they file a petition for reconstitution. If that land happened to be my family’s, I would not allow any other claimant to occupy and develop it while we practically starved. I would live in comfort by developing the property or selling all or parts of it, knowing that we own it and that nobody would contest our title. How it happened that claimants including the family of the Manahans claimed ownership of that land after the original title on file with the register of deeds was burned to ashes, is circumstantial evidence that they never owned it. More so because my family has the Torrens title to it. More so because we have proof that we paid and continue to pay taxes on the land. Jurisdiction There is no law that prevents anybody from filing a claim against the property of another – proof or no proof. It is the courts that will eventually decide the case with finality. The fundamental mistake in the Manotok vs Barque case is that the law was flagrantly violated by those who are supposed to implement it. There is a presidential decree that provides that judicial reconstitution of title is an original and exclusive jurisdiction of the regional trial court. The facts of the case which the Land Registration Administration claimed shows that the title of the Manotoks was “sham and spurious” has no relevance to the case. Worse, the Court of Appeals and eventually the Supreme Court agreed with the findings of facts and interpretation of the law by both the LRA and the Appellate Court. The division decision of the tribunal was reversed in the en banc. But the mistake of not complying with the law on original and exclusive jurisdiction of judicial reconstitution was repeated by the Court itself. It remanded the case to the Court of Appeals, not to the regional trial court. It is not easy to accept the ruling that the remand was made to the Appellate Court because it was the original venue of the case. It is in the sense that the LRA decision was appealed to it. But it is not because the CA did not have the original jurisdiction. It belongs exclusively to the RTC. The en banc decision penned by retiring Associate Justice Dante Tinga states that the remand is “proc hac vice”. A lawyer told me that this means for this case only. That means that the decision cannot be a precedent. Its application is limited to the remand to the Court of Appeals. In the decision, the appellate court will accept evidence from the claimants principally the Manahans and the heirs of Homer Barque. The Supreme Court in turn will adjudicate the case on findings of the CA. The ponencia of Justice Tinga concurred in by seven of his peers is in a way weird because it makes the Manotoks the defendant in the complaint while they should be the plaintiff. A title held by the Manotoks is a presumption of genuine ownership. They do not have to prove it. The claimants have the burden to prove that the title is “sham and spurious,” a finding of fact the Supreme Court did not touch, its duty being an interpreter of the law and not a trier of facts. The interpretation was to remand the case to the CA which earlier upheld the ruling of the LRA that the Manotok title was “sham and spurious.” Will that appellate court now change that finding as a result of the remand? We do not make guesses on cases pending resolution. We only ask questions. Ignoring the RTC The remand of the case to the Court of Appeals, proc hac vice, is suspicious. The ruling simply means that the law giving the RTC original and exclusive jurisdiction in land disputes may be violated, but only in the Manotok-Barque dispute. Never in other future cases although the facts may be reasonably similar. We thought the Supreme Court would correct the violations of the Land Registration Administration, the Court of Appeals and its own division, by complying with the law that clearly states that the original and exclusive jurisdiction belongs to the RTC. In effect the en banc decision sustained the mistake of the CA assuming jurisdiction and even strengthened it by stating that it is pro hac vice. Only in this case. In other words, the Supreme Court made an exception of this case by not remanding the case to the regional trial court as the law requires. The Supreme Court is right even when it is wrong. That is the only defense of Justice Dante Tinga, ponente of the en banc ruling. The Manahans and the Barques will submit evidence contesting the title of the Manotoks. But the CA has already ruled that the Manotoks title is “sham and spurious.” The proc hac vice allows the CA to revisits its own findings which, if the law must be complied, are actually irrelevant because the findings – right or wrong – properly belong to the regional trial court.

Manotoks fighting two land battles

Manotoks fighting two land battles
By Neal Cruz
Last updated 00:16am (Mla time) 11/16/2007

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    Now I am ready to believe that the Batasan blast was caused by methane gas.

    Why? Because of three things:

    1. Methane is produced by rotting garbage. The Batasan is full of dirt and trash, di ba?

    2. Methane is produced by shit, and members of the Batasan are full of shit.

    3. Methane is produced in a septic tank. The Batasan is one big septic tank.

    * * *

    Congressmen can now say they earned the “cash gifts” (translation: bribes) distributed in Malacañang.

    Malacañang can say the “distribution” was worth it.

    * * *

    The Manotok family is fighting land battles on two fronts: in the case involving the Maysilo Estate in Malabon-Caloocan-Valenzuela-Quezon City; and in the case involving the Manotok-Barque in Matandang Balara, Quezon City. Being prime property, the two land areas are worth billions of pesos. The portion of Maysilo Estate being contested is 300 hectares; the Matandang Balara property, beside the Ayala Heights subdivision and the Capitol Golf Course, is 34 hectares.

    The Supreme Court has already ruled on the two cases — against the Manotoks. But the family has successfully made the tribunal reopen the cases. The final Supreme Court decision will have a big impact on the country’s Torrens titling system.

    The Manotoks have sent me two letters explaining their side on the cases after I devoted two columns on them. This is their version of the cases:

    The Maysilo Estate case — More than 300 hectares of the 1,660-hectare estate are being claimed by Jose B. Dimson, a lawyer who filed his claim several years ago. Dimson says that Original Certificate of Title (OCT) 994, the mother title of 25 percent of the property he is claiming, (the bigger portion is being claimed by the so-called Rivera heirs of Maria de la Concepcion Vidal) was issued on April 19, 1917. On the other hand, the Manotoks and Aranetas have OCT 994 dated May 3, 1917. The Supreme Court has ruled that since the Rivera title antedates that of the Manotok-Araneta title, then the earlier title is superior.

    The Land Registration Authority (LRA), however, has said the Dimson OCT is spurious, that it is non-existent and that it could have been “an elaborate scam perpetrated at the Caloocan City Register of Deeds.” The register of deeds, lawyer Yolanda Alfonso, and her deputy, Norberto Vasquez Jr., admitted during a Senate investigation that they changed the date of the Rivera title to April 19, 1917 for unexplained reasons, for which reason both of them have been charged criminally.

    Testimonies in previous court cases also established that Vidal was only 9 years old when Decree 36455 over the land was issued on Dec. 3, 1912, while her supposed grandson, Bartolome Rivera, was already 65 years old when he testified in a Pasig court in 1963. “This is a fantastic case of the grandson being older than the grandmother,” said a report of the Land Registration Commission (now the LRA) in 1981.

    Bartolome was the only surviving son of Severo Rivera, a son of Vidal who died in 1907. The mother was only 4 years old when she gave birth to Severo!

    * * *

    The other case, Manotok vs Barque, also concerns two conflicting certificates of titles to 34 hectares of prime land in Quezon City, known as the Manotok Compound. The Monotoks, who actually live on the property, claim that they acquired the land from the government in 1920. The other title is held by the heirs of Homer Barque who is said to have bought the land in 1975.

    After the 1988 fire that destroyed the Quezon City Register of Deeds records, the Manotoks applied for reconstitution and obtained the reconstituted title in 1991. The Barques applied for reconstitution of their own title in 1996. This started the case that is now with the Supreme Court en banc.

    The LRA ordered the reconstitution of the Barque title. The Manotoks appealed to the Court of Appeals who sustained the LRA and ordered the cancellation of the Manotok title. The Manotoks went to the Supreme Court, raising a number of issues:

    1. Whether the LRA has jurisdiction to rule on the validity of the Manotok title.

    2. Whether the Court of Appeals may assume jurisdiction over the cases.

    3. Whether the Court of Appeals may order the cancellation of the Manotok title and the reconstitution of the Barque title.

    In a majority decision penned by Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, the Supreme Court’s First Division:

    1. Upheld the LRA decision declaring the Barque title as genuine (based on the owner’s duplicate certificate of title) and the Manotok title as spurious. It added that the LRA has jurisdiction to act on petitions for administrative reconstitution. Logically, the Court said, the LRA can declare a title sham or valid on its face.

    2. Ruled that the Court of Appeals properly exercised its appellate jurisdiction over the judgment of the LRA. “No useful purpose will be served if the determination of an issue is remanded to the trial court only to have its decision raised again to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court,” it said.

    3. Said that the Manotoks were not deprived of “their property” without due process when the Court of Appeals ordered the cancellation of their title even without a direct proceeding in the Regional Trial Court. By opposing the petition for reconstitution and by submitting their reconstituted title, the Manotoks acquiesced to the authority of the reconstituting officer, the LRA, and the Court of Appeals, and recognized their authority to pass judgment on their title.

    Although the Supreme Court decision has become final and executory, the Manotoks were able to have the Court en banc reopen the case. This is now the case that the Supreme Court has to resolve.

    Another Landscam in Quezon City — Fairview?

    There was a “Paid Advertisement” that appeared on Page 5 of the September 5, 2007 issue of the Philippine Star. This is what it states:


    Leaders of the real estate industry expressed alarm over a land row threatening to divest long-time lot owners of North Fairview Park Subdivision in Novaliches of their titles in what appears to be another land grab case.

    The Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations (CREBA), in a statement issued by its founder and chairman Manuel M. Serrano, said: “CREBA’s attention has recently been called to a decision by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City ordering the Register of Deeds to issue a Transfer Certificate of Title over some 12 hectares of land in the North Fairview Park Subdivision, despite the fact that this land is already covered by existing titles in the name of the subdivision lot buyers.”

    “With this information of which they have apparently been heretofore unaware, the subdivision lot owners are strongly advised to immediately take formal action to protect their legitimate interests. For it is only through vigilance that land-grabbing attempts, now reaching epidemic proportions, may be curbed.

    Records of the case reveal that a certain Canillo in 1987 applied with the court of issuance of a Decree of registration, which the Land Registration Authority (LRA) formally resisted as this would result in “duplication of titles over the same property”, considering that the land had already been earlier Decreed and covered by existing valid titles.

    The LRA also called the court’s attention to its lack of jurisdiction over the case, since Canillo’s application for registration was not published at the instance of the LRA as required under the Property Registration Decree, due to Canillo’s non-compliance with the requirements for publication, among which is submission of a survey plan duly approved by the Bureau of Lands.

    A recent news report indicates that a complaint has been filed with the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission for the dismissal of the LRA Administration on account of the LRA’s refusal to heed the court order for issuance of a Decree.

    To our mind, the LRA should instead be commended for exercising that degree of cirumspection essential for the protection of legitimate Torrens title holders in this case.

    We urge the Quezon City Register of Deeds to follow the LRA’s lead, at least until all the relevant facts and issues shall have been fully ventilated and resolved in a court imbued with proper jurisdiction, and all affected parties shall have been heard in accordance with the Constitutional requirement of due process.

    As it is, CREBA’s review of the case records reveal badges of fraud, misrepresentations, irregularities and denial of due process.

    The owners of the properties adjoining Canillo’s claimed land were never notitfied as required by law; the trial in its entirety was conducted ex-parte; The documentary and testimonial evidence submitted by Canillo in support of his claim, and even his application and pleadings, were fraught with inconsistencies and falsities which a court would not have failed to appreciate had affected parties been allowed to controvert and scrutinize the same in a trial conducted with utmost impartiality and transparency.

    It is bad enought that the public’s faith in Torrens titles has been severely eroded by wide-spread suspicion of participation by government personnel in the proliferation of fake titles, it would be infinitely worse if courts of law would, wittingly or unwittingly, allow the proceedings to be used in the perpetration of fraud.”

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