Government failure punishes buyer
By Amado P. Macasaet
IN its ruling promulgated March 15, the Supreme Court effectively made the state – the government – a land grabber of a valuable 34-hectare property bought and paid for and titled to the name of Severino Manotok as early as 80 years ago.
The ruling on a 7-7 vote gives the land back to the government obviously because the Court cannot determine who among several claimants can produce the documents proving ownership.
The records of the Court show that Severino Manotok bought the property, owned by the friars, in 1919 on a 10-year installment agreement. He completed the payment in more than 10 years.
Under the law, the state is required to transmit to the register of deeds the deed of conveyance in favor of Severino Manotok. The deed was transmitted as required by the state.
Forthwith, a title was issued to the buyer.
The ruling, penned by Associate Justice Martin Villarama upholds the recommendation of the Court of Appeals that the property belongs to the state and the title must be cancelled based on the statute that states “no sale shall be valid until approved by the Secretary (of agriculture and natural resources)”
It is plain to us that the state failed Severino Manotok, now represented in Court by his heirs. We agree that there might be such a requirement. But we ask, did Severino Manotok have any kind of control over the duty of the state – the secretary of agriculture and natural resources in this case – to sign the deed of conveyance?
In fact, the buyer of the friar land, Severino Manotok, may not have known whether or not some details were missed in the deed of conveyance since the document was transmitted to the register of deed without him or his representative being notified – least of all given a chance to review it.
Why then should the Manotoks (heirs of Severino) be denied a right to own the land proven by payment, deed of conveyance and a title that was subsequently issued?
The Manotoks cannot be divested of their right to the land on the argument by the Supreme Court that the deed of conveyance did not have the signature of the secretary of agriculture and natural resources. If that were to be so, the Supreme Court is punishing the Manotoks for the failure of the state to do its job.
It is not reasonable either for the Court to argue that the register of deeds can no longer find the transfer documents. The heirs of Severino Manotok never had any role in that negligence.
Therefore, the property must be turned over to the state, absent such evidence that the Manotoks are not required to produce the documents?
When the state fails to do its job – by omission or design – nobody should suffer for it. That is common sense law. After all, there is proof of full payment of the friar land. Taxes have been paid by the Manotoks up to this day from the time they took over possession.
They have been in possession for around 80 years. They will lose the friar land sold to them by the state for failure of the state to perform its duty? That does not sound fair.
It is important to remember that the state sold the friar lands to private persons or corporations after taking them over from the Spaniards. The state did its job of giving the Filipino the right to own land in his country. But the buyer must pay. And pay the Manotoks did. The records prove it.
If the state takes back the land on orders of the Supreme Court, it will undo what it did when it sold the friar lands to the private sector. For what reason? That the deed of conveyance and other transfer documents supposed to be kept by the state cannot now be found?
The precedent is dangerous. There could be hundreds, maybe thousands of buyers of friar lands, similarly situated as the Manotoks. Will their lands be ceded back to the state if the documents are questioned or adverse claims are filed and the documents perfecting the transaction cannot now be produced by the state although it is the keeper?
But the Supreme Court said that is another matter. It is not.
Some powerful people can always file an adverse claim with the Court. Some powerful people may strike a deal to buy the land after the state takes over.
What happens to the buyer who has been presumably cultivating the land he paid for and got a title for it? He will lose it to the state, courtesy of the Supreme Court?
If the Supreme Court can commit this kind of injustice it effectively condones the inefficiency of the state in keeping records as far as friar lands are concerned, or more specifically as far as the Manotoks are concerned.
The Supreme Court makes the state a land grabber. The victim is an innocent buyer who believed – it now turns out wrongly – that if he performs his part of the sale the state will similarly do its job.
The state did not. He must pay for the mistake or negligence of the state.
It must be noted that the Supreme Court based its decision on the recommendations of the Court of Appeals which usurped the powers of the Regional Trial Court which, according to the law, has the original jurisdiction in administrative reconstitution of land titles.
It is not funny at all that the High Court remanded the case to the CA instead of the RTC to comply with law.
There is more than meets the eye in this case. We recall that in a division ruling, the land was awarded the heirs of Homer Barque. It turns out, however, that the documents of the Barques are not genuine as discovered by the appellate court.
The fact finding job belongs to the regional trial court. That is what the law provides.