Government failure punishes buyer

Government failure punishes buyer

By Amado P. Macasaet

http://www.malaya.com.ph/03192012/edmacasaet.html

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.

Twice to vote

Twice to vote
By: Conrado R. Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer

http://business.inquirer.net/51537/twice-to-vote

Disturbing issues hound Chief Justice Renato Corona regarding his actions in the Supreme Court even while he is standing trial at the Senate that may cost him his powerful position.

According to reports, in a landmark case involving a 30-year dispute over some 34 hectares of prime property in Quezon City, the Chief Justice in effect voted not just once but twice.

The SC early this month issued a ruling en banc that the so-called Piedad Estate, which is close to the Ayala Heights project of premier developer Ayala Land, should belong to the government.

The en banc voting was close at 8 versus 7, meaning it could have gone either way. It seems the Chief Justice himself broke the deadlock, but not with his own vote.

Together with his own vote, he supposedly also used the vote of a justice on leave for more than a month—Justice Mariano del Castillo. The ailing Del Castillo reportedly was not even able to take part in the deliberation.

In fact, all other SC documents would show that Del Castillo was on leave. In this particular case, the Chief Justice simply used the vote of the absent justice. It was the tie-breaking vote, at that.

Disturbing questions thus arise. For one, can an absent justice, who could not be present in the discussion of the issues in a case, vote on en banc decision? May the Chief Justice really take the place of an absent justice?

Is it legal, and if it is, is it the proper thing to do, particularly for a man who is supposed to be the paragon of fairness and morality in this country?

* * *

We have been following this interesting case since the 1990s and have written a number of pieces on it. It started way back when, in 1988, a mysterious fire broke out at the office of the Registry of Deeds at the Quezon City hall. The result was a flood of apparently spurious titles over pieces of property in the city.

The longtime owner of the Piedad Estate was the Manotok family, whose ancestor bought the land from the government in the 1930s. For the past 80 years or so, the family has been paying for the real estate tax on the property.

All of a sudden after the fire at city hall, two other titles appeared, purportedly as evidence of the real ownership of the property. Two other names surfaced in the land title mess, Manahan and Barque, both claiming ownership of the property.

Thus the Manotok family went to court to challenge the alleged “reconstituted” titles. The case dragged on for over two decades, going back and forth between the Court of Appeals and the SC.

This is important: The ownership of the Manotok family, who had control over the property for the longest time by sheer of possession, was never in question in the original case.

In an earlier decision, the SC negated the claims of the two groups—the Manahans and Barques. Thus, you would think that the Manotok family has won in the long-running land dispute.

For whatever mysterious reason, the SC also decided that the CA should answer a question that came from nowhere. And that was, “Did the Manotok family own the land or not?”

The CA eventually ruled that the property should go back to the government because of one reason: Some bureaucrat’s signature was missing in the documents presented by the Manotok family.

Look at that: it was the government that failed to do its job. The court in effect said that, because of such a government failure, the poor individual must be punished.

The SC in 2010 upheld the CA decision. The SC early this month ruled with finality on the case. That was the ruling in which the Chief Justice voted twice, if only to beat the dissenting opinion, penned by Senior Justice Antonio Carpio.

* * *

Horror stories are flying on the possible reason for the daring role that the impeached Renato Corona played in this landmark decision.

One story points at the group of lawyers specializing in land disputes in Quezon City. It is said that the Chief Justice could possibly owe the group favors in connection with the ongoing trial at the Senate.

Those stories are rather difficult to substantiate. The fact is they are going around business and legal circles. They are not doing the impeachment process any good.

But more than the reputation of the embattled Chief Justice, the land title system in this country can be in danger of collapse.

Thousands—if not millions—of individuals already have titles on their properties in former friar lands, seized by the Americans during their occupation of the Philippines, and then sold to various individuals.

More than half of Metro Manila used to be friar lands. The question is this: What will happen to the titles covering all those properties?

The recent SC ruling takes the force of law, and it could therefore encourage other crooks to lay claim on thousands upon thousands of hectares of property all over the country.

The decision may even open up an entire new racket in the property sector: Some syndicates would be selling land titles over certain property owned by millions of Filipinos for the past several years.

Officials of the Land Registration Authority have long admitted such a problem. It seems that, for some time now, the LRA has been trying to settle land disputes—all in Quezon City.

The cases were all handled by a certain group of lawyers associated with an organization.