Court upholds Araneta, Manotok claims

Court upholds Araneta, Manotok claims

By Rey E. Requejo

THE Supreme Court ended more than 30 years of litigation as it declared valid the land titles held by the Araneta and Manotok clans over 70 percent of the 1,342-hectare Maysilo Estate.

The high court upheld the findings of the Court of Appeals’ Special Division in an en banc resolution written by Associate Justice Dante Tinga.

The appellate court had established the rights of ownership of the Araneta Institute of Agriculture Inc., Manotok Realty Inc., and Manotok Estate Corp. over the pieces of property that were registered on May 3, 1917.

Eight justices concurred with the ruling, while Chief Justice Renato Puno, Associate Justices Consuelo Ynarez-Santiago, Antonio Carpio and Eduardo Nachura did not participate in the deliberations. Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez was on leave.

The Court rejected the titles to the pieces of property held by the deceased Jose Dimson, his successors, and CLT Realty Development Corp.

“In view of the established rights of ownership of both the Manotoks and Araneta over the contested properties, we find that the imputed flaws on their titles cannot defeat the valid claims of the Manotoks and Araneta over the disputed portions of the Maysilo Estate,” the high court said as it quoted the appellate court’s report on Nov. 26, 2008.

The appellate court had said that the titles being held by Dimson had all been derived from the May 3, 1917 registered title.

It said that the Aranetas’ claim had been “well substantiated and proven to be superior to that of Dimson’s

One transfer certificate on the property covers a parcel of land measuring 581,872 square meters, while another covers four parcels of land with a total land area of 390,383 square meters.

The appellate court also noted that portions of the lot being disputed by the Manotoks and CLT Realty were expropriated in 1947. And because those were for resale to tenants, the Manotoks were able to establish some of their titles derived from those that had been expropriated.

“The Court has verified that the titles [of the Manotoks], as stated by the Special Division, sufficiently indicate that they could be traced back to the titles acquired by the Republic when it expropriated portions of the Maysilo Estate in the 1940s,” the Court said.

‘‘On the other hand, the Manotok titles that were affirmed by the Special Division are traceable to the titles of the Republic and thus have benefited, as they should, from the cleansing effect the expropriation had on whatever flaws that attached to the previous titles.”

On Dec. 14, 2007, the high court affirmed the validity of the May 3, 1917 registered title as the only genuine title of the disputed property stretching over the cities of Malabon, Caloocan and Quezon.

That decision set aside the Nov. 29, 2005 decision of the Court’s Third Division upholding the Court of Appeals, which in turn affirmed the ruling of the Regional Trial Court that declared as valid the title 994 issued on April 19, 1917.

The high court ruled that “there is only one title No. 994: the mother title that was received for transcription by the Register of Deeds on May 3, 1917, and that should be the date that should be reckoned as the date of registration of the title.”

The Court of Appeals had been mandated to determine, among other things, which of the contending parties were able to trace back their claims of title to title 994 dated May 3, 1917, and whether the imputed flaws in the titles of Manotok Realty Inc. and Manotok Estate Corp., and the Araneta Institute of Agriculture Inc. were borne by the evidence.

The Manotoks and Aranetas had sought a reversal of the Nov. 29, 2005 high court decision that effectively nullified the land titles in their names.

The questioned appelate court rulings affirmed the lower court’s decisions awarding to CLT Realty and the late Jose Dimson the properties being claimed by the Manotoks and Aranetas.

Dimson had claimed that he was the absolute owner of 50-hectares of land at the Maysilo Estate in Potrero, Malabon. The lower court then ruled in his favor, prompting the Aranetas to appeal to the appelate court, which in turn affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Aranetas appealed to the high court when the appelate court also denied its motion for reconsideration.

On Aug. 10, 1992, CLT sought to recover from Manotok Realty Inc. and Manotok Estate Corp. Lot 26 of the Maysilo Estate in an action filed before the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court, Branch 129. The court granted its petition, prompting the Manotoks to appeal to the Court of Appeals, which turned them down.

The Manotoks then elevated the case to the high court, which then consolidated the two cases.

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.