AS I SEE IT
‘Mother of all land titling scandals’
THE SUPREME COURT EN BANC HEARD oral arguments for and against claimants to large tracts of prime land spanning four Metro Manila cities: Quezon, Caloocan, Malabon and Valenzuela. The Court will have to decide which of two original certificates of titles (OCTs) dating back to 1917, both numbered 994, and from which hundreds of transfer certificates of titles have emanated is authentic. The decision will finally settle what the late Chief Justice and Senate President Marcelo Fernan described as “the mother of all land title scandals in the country.” With Fernan as chair, the Senate justice and human rights committee, together with the committee on urban planning and housing resettlement, investigated this Maysilo Estate case.
The scandal started in 1962 when Caloocan City registrar of deeds Yolanda Alfonso, together with assistant registrar of deeds Norberto Vazquez Jr., allowed the change of registration date of an original certificate of title (OCT) of Maysilo Estate, making it appear that there were two such titles to the same huge track of land spanning portions of the four cities and affecting hundreds of thousands of residents and businessmen from Sangandaan all the way to Monumento in Caloocan, up to Balintawak in Quezon City, including portions of the North Luzon Expressway and Araneta Subdivision in Malabon. Now, two OCTs— OCT 994 issued on April 19, 1917 and OCT 994 issued on May 3, 1917—cover the same parcel of land. Ironically, it was the Supreme Court itself that made the confusion worse by accepting, in a 1992 decision, the existence of two OCTs and ruling that the OCT dated April 19, 1917, being issued earlier than the OCT dated May 3, 1917 was the superior and valid title. Thus, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) lost its huge compound in Caloocan under a three-decade-old TCT originating from OCT 994 of May 3, 1917, to a claimant whose title originated from OCT 994 dated April 1917. But a technical plotting by the Land Registration Authority (LRA) showed that the claimant’s “lot” was located more than 12,000 meters away from the MWSS property. This decision wreaked havoc on the country’s land titling system.
Then Justice Secretary Teofisto Guingona formed a fact-finding inter-agency committee chaired by Undersecretary Ricardo Nepomuceno Jr. The investigation found that OCT 994 dated April 19, 1917 was non-existent for being “a fabrication” by Alfonso and Vazquez who “acted maliciously, fraudulently and in bad faith” when they signed a TCT in the name of a person bearing a wrong date of registration.
The investigation report said Alfonso’s “acquiescence in the alteration of the date of registration of OCT 994 in the titles” of a person as well as her act of deliberately ignoring the legal safeguards, especially her failure to require the presentation of a subdivision plan duly approved by the LRA or by the Land Management Bureau, for the titles of the applicant, are sufficient basis to find her guilty of grave misconduct. President Joseph Estrada dismissed Alfonso and Vazquez for grave misconduct and dishonesty.
The dismissals were affirmed by the Supreme Court. Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, who wrote the decision for the second division, stressed: “By failing to prevent the irregularity that she (Alfonso) had reason to suspect all along or to take immediate steps to rectify it, petitioner had tolerated the same and allowed it to wreak havoc on our land titling system. Sadly that condition continues to rear its ugly head today.”
This fabrication of OCT 994 dated April 19, 1917 has a bearing on the awarding by the Court of the vast Maysilo Estate to its rightful owners. The estate is being contested by claimants using the two OCTs: Manotok Realty and Real Estate Corp. and Araneta Institute of Agriculture Inc., which use OCT 994 dated May 3, 1917 as basis for their claim of ownership, and the heirs of Jose Dimson and his assignee, CLT Development Corp., who use OCT 994 dated April 19, 1917 as their legal basis.
An adverse decision based on the fake OCT would set a precedent that would endanger the rights of the rest of the country’s legitimate land title holders and the integrity of the country’s land titles.
The Manotoks and AIA have been in peaceful, continuous and legal possession of the Maysilo Estate since the 1940s. But some time in the 1960s, Dimson filed a case to claim ownership of the vast estate, using as basis the spurious OCT 994 dated April 19, 1917. Dimson was said to be a lawyer of Ma. Conception Vidal’s grandchild, Bernardino Rivera, and as payment for legal services rendered, the latter gave him a deed of conveyance of 25 percent of his share of the Maysilo Estate.
Then Pasig Judge Cecilia Muñoz Palma confirmed the conveyance but disallowed the actual awarding of property and title to Dimson in 1966 because his 25 percent share had already been properly adjudicated by Bernardino Rivera to his heirs and assignees. This meant there was no more available land to be given to Dimson.
In 1977, or 11 years later, Dimson moved to execute the deed of conveyance issued by the Pasig judge before a Caloocan court. Despite the irregularity and without the presentation of the original of OCT 994 and the subdivision plan approved by the LRA or the Bureau of Lands, Caloocan Judge Marcelino Sayo granted Dimson’s motion and issued in his favor TCT 15169 covering 500,000 sq m of Lot 25-A-2 of the Maysilo Estate. This lot is the property covered by the TCT of the AIA.