Law and facts on Manotok

Law and facts on Manotok

In his dissent which happens to be longer than the ponencia, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio stressed points of law and fact over the affirmation by the Supreme Court of a Court of Appeals decision ordering the cancellation of the Manotok land title and transferring it to the heirs of Homer Barque.

On the question of law, Carpio pointedly told the majority of the First Division that their opinion was wrong because it “patently violates… the Property Registration Decree which expressly states that a Torrens title ‘cannot be cancelled except in direct proceeding in accordance with law.”

What is in accordance with law in this case is a provision of BP 129 which provides “regional trial courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction…in all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property or any interest therein.”

By ignoring this vital provision, Carpio claims that the heirs of Severino Manotok were denied due process.

The majority opinion penned by Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares, stressed that requiring the court of Appeals to remand the case to the RTC is a waste of time. That is saying that the facts, which should have been established by the regional trial court have already been determined by the Land Registration Commission and the Court of Appeals.

Speaking of dura lex sed lex.

Spurious plan

It has been established beyond doubt that the survey plan – Fls3168 – said to be have been issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and submitted by the heirs of Homer Barque “is a spurious plan which may have been inserted in the file.”

The plan is supposed to be authenticated by the DENR but it was never submitted to the department’s NCR office for that purpose.

Privadi Dalire, chief of the geodetic surveys division of the land management bureau, was asked by Benjamin M. Bustos, chief of the reconstitution division of the LRA for a certified copy of the said subdivision plan.

He replied that his office does not have a record of the Fls-3168-D.

However, presumably without being asked, Ernesto S. Erive, chief of the surveys division, told Bustos that a microfilm copy of the plan “is on file in technical records and statistical section.”

Thus ensued the question of who is telling the truth between Dalire and Erive. The letter told the LRA administrator on Jan. 2 1997, in a hand-carried letter that “the copy of the subject plan was forwarded to this office”, and after verification and comparison “made in our microfilm records, it was found out that they are identical and bore the same stamps and initials used in this office.”

Who is lying?

Dalire stood pat on his report that his office does not have records of the subdivision plan. But he explained that the “LRA, however, furnished us with a machine copy of Fls-3168-D…and we found out that the copy of the plan did not originate from this office. Dalire forthwith requested that copy of Fls-3168-D be forwarded to him for evaluation and comment.”

Dalire wrote two more letters to the LRA on the same question but up to the time the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the heirs of Homer Barque, he never got a reply.

In one of his letters to the LRA, Dalire said “our inventory of approved plans enrolled in our file, our microfilm computer list of plans do not have this plan Fls-3168-D; logically we cannot issue any copy.”

So, there was, in the words of Dalire, a syndicate operating in the LRA. The CA and the Court of Appeals failed to take notice of the import of Dalire’s claim of a syndicate. The SC, in the pen of justice Santiago, merely affirmed the findings of the CA.

Forged letter, spurious plan

It appears that on Feb. 13, 1997, Dalire told the LRA administrator that the letter he purportedly wrote on Jan. 2, 1997 is a forgery. The letter is presumably a testimony to the existence and genuineness of the subdivision plan Fls-3168-D.

He pointed out that “the statement that the subject plan was forwarded to us by the chief, technical records statistics section of the NCR is not true..

He said that as of Feb. 13, 1997, “the NCR has not turned over the plan they reproduced in compliance with your (LRA administrator) urgent letter requests.

Dalire found himself left with no option except to tell the LRA administrator to disregard Fls-3168-D as being spurious. He explained that “there are many markings on the copy to prove it did not come from the LMB (Land Management Bureau).

Dalire said “we have no copy of Fls-3168-D on file so how can we issue a copy of plan that is non-existing?” He went on to say “the plan shows only initials. I sign in full copies of plans with the initials of my action officers and their codings below my signature. These are not present in the spurious copy of plan.”

He also told the LRA administrator that “the letter size of the rubber stamp ‘NOT FOR REGISTRATION/TITLING. FOR REFERENCE ONLY is smaller than our rubber stamp.”


He said “the submitted plan Fls-3168-D is a spurious document as categorically stated by Engr. Privadi J. G. Dalire…”

Expectedly, the heirs of Barque moved for reconsideration of the order after being informed that Bustos denied the request of reconstitution “for lack of merit.”

The Manotoks must have celebrated a well and hard-earned victory. The celebration was too early.

The LRA administrator gave due course to the motion for reconsideration and reversed his first order in favor of Manotoks saying that only the owner’s copy or co-owner’s duplicate of an original or transfer certificate of title could be used as a source of administrative reconstitution.

The reversed order practically suggests that Dalire went beyond his duty in helping insure the genuineness of a title sought to be reconstituted. It was his fault. That fault may have violated simple sense of law and common sense.

Spring can’t rise higher than source

Spring can’t rise higher than source

In pointing out that the First Division of the Supreme Court erred in ordering the cancellation of the land title of the heirs of Severino Manotok and a new one issued in favor of the heirs of Homer Barque, retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino P. Feliciano cited a long string of precedents to prove that the Supreme Court was wrong in affirming the findings of the Court of Appeals.

In Caraan v Court of Appeals, Justice Feliciano declared that the “later reconstitution (would have) no legal effect and validity because (of the) prior reconstitution.”

Citing this particular precedent, Feliciano said in his memorandum to the Court en banc “the fact that there already existed a perfectly valid reconstituted title … will make subsequent petition (by the heirs of Homer Barque) for reconstitution void and without any force and effect.”

He added that “all subsequent certificates of title (derived from the latter reconstituted title) are also void because of the legal truism that the spring cannot rise higher than its source.”

The former justice was trying to clarify to the Court that the Manotoks had a reconstituted title long before the heirs of Barque filed a petition for reconstitution.

He pointed out that granting the heirs of Barque a petition for reconstitution would have the effect of a collateral attack on a valid title.

Wrong doctrine

The heirs of Homer Barque told the Supreme Court it acted correctly in affirming the CA ruling “because a remand to the RTC will be “circuitous and purely dilatory” following the doctrine enunciated in Ortigas v. Velasco. Feliciano declared that the Court applied the wrong doctrine.

He explained in his memorandum that in Ortigas, “the Court nullified (Molina’s) reconstituted title because the Ortigas Torrens title (both titles covering the same property) has been the subject of, and consistently upheld by the Court in several cases for nullification of title that were originally lodged before the appropriate forum which had the jurisdiction to sustain the validity of the Ortigas title.

Pursuing the Ortigas precedent, Justice Feliciano quoted the ruling of the Court:

“There is no debate about the fact that the land being claimed by Molina lies within that titled in the name of Ortigas and its predecessor in interest. Now, the latter’s documents of ownership have been passed upon, and sanctioned and sustained by this Court more than once.

“These dispositions and adjudgments now operate to put its title to the lands thereby covered and embraced beyond the pale of further judiciary inquiry.”

The Manotok case is remarkably dissimilar to Ortigas, according to Justice Feliciano.

Not estopped

Justice Consuelo Y. Santiago sustained the claim of the heirs of Homer Barque that the Manotoks are estopped from assailing the order of the LRA and the CA because they actively participated in the proceedings.

Wrong, says Justice Feliciano, who said in his memorandum that “the estopped argument makes no sense as to the LRA proceedings, because the LRA did not purport to exercise jurisdiction to cancel title. On the contrary, it claimed it had no jurisdiction.”

Neither can estoppel be applied with the Court of Appeals, explains Justice Feliciano. He said that “since the Manotoks have from the outset explicitly questioned the idea of having the validity of their title ruled upon in an administrative reconstitution case and which the CA in fact sustained in its original decision.”

Justice Feliciano, now close to 80 years old, declared that “from the reconstitution officer to the LRA, the Manotoks never conceded that the LRA had authority to adjudge the validity of their title; instead, they insisted that it is the regional trial court in a direct proceeding which had the authority and jurisdiction to rule on the validity of their certificate of title.”

Based on opinion

Justice Feliciano rants at the fact that the judgment of the Court of Appeals is “worse for having relied, not on any LRA finding, but merely on (LRA) administrator Maulit’s personal opinion that the Manotoks’ title was ‘sham and spurious” which he gratuitously based on alleged deficiencies in the information reflected in the Manotok officially-issued title.”

The alleged deficiencies do not, Feliciano said, “prove either that the property … had not been conveyed to them (Manotoks) or that their certificate of title is fake.

The point, the retired jurist said, is that the genuineness of the title of the Manotoks, having been issued by the LRA, is conclusively proved by the LRA records.

How it became sham and spurious based on deficiencies and how the First Division of the Supreme Court bought it hook, line and sinker, has been a constant source of curiosity on how the Court could be so negligent of the background of the case, none of which argues for the heirs of Homer Barque.

This and many other omissions probably convinced the Chief Justice to grant Feliciano’s request for oral arguments.

We can expect Justice Santiago who has more than 35 years experience in the bench, to argue her case with intensity.

We just have to wait and see how the en banc will look at her ponencia.

The anomaly

The decision is blatantly wrong for violating a provision of law that all judicial reconstitution of titles belong exclusively to the regional trial court.

Inferior courts like RTCs try and test facts submitted by the litigants. Because this provision was skipped, in fact ignored and violated, the Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling which was not based on any trial of facts or results of judicial hearings.

We feel we have to repeat that the LRA initially issued a decision favoring the Manotoks. It changed its mind and ruled in favor of the heirs of Homer Barque.

After both parties appealed, the two divisions of the Court of Appeals first ruled again in favor of the Manotoks. Like the LRA, it changed its mind. The Supreme Court approved the turn-around.

Even if the Manotoks had won the case every step of the way that the Barques went through, the decision would still be questionable for one reason.

It failed to comply with the requirement that judicial reconstitution is a sole function and exclusive jurisdiction of the regional trial courts.

It is presumed that the RTC will examine the facts and make a decision. The aggrieved party can appeal to the Court of Appeals.

This case is curious because what was appealed to the CA which is a judicial body was an administrative decision made the LRA.