SC can quiet titles or make a mess

October 15, 2009

AMADO P. MACASAET

http://www.malaya.com.ph/09012010/columnbusi1.html

‘What the decision – my guess, not the Court’s – will create is utter confusion and leave useless and meaningless all titles to those lands. Torrens titles from which transfer certificates of titles were drawn and have been quieted by operation of law and for lack of any adverse claims will be questionable as a result of the possible ruling.’

WE have no information on how the Supreme Court will decide the long-drawn land dispute among the Manotoks, the Manahans and the heirs of Homer Barque.

We can make two guesses. One, the Court may award the 34-hectare property to the Manotoks who have proven they have all it takes to own the land or to either the Barques or the Manahans.

The other possibility, remote as I see it, is the return of the land to the state. Which means that in the judgment of the Court the documents that justified the issuance of the titles of the three claimants are all forgeries.

I am personally scared of the third possibility in the sense that it creates a jurisprudence over all friar lands sold by the state.

More than 145,000 hectares of such land were former friar lands. They are scattered in at least eight provinces.

I am not saying that Court will rule that way. I am merely making a guess.

The effects can paralyze the economy. Business operates through borrowings from banks. In most cases, the collateral offered is real property.

Because of the decision – if that indeed will be the decision as I guess – the lending bank will have to first determine whether or not the offered collateral was formerly friar land.

If it happens to be, the bank will not give the loan for a very simple sensible reason. The land might be seized by the state.

Nearly all of the lands in Laguna and Cavite were former friar lands. They could be subject to forfeiture by the state if the Supreme Court rules that the Manotok property, originally part of the Piedad Estate which was friar land, must revert back to the government.

Having said that, I believe that the Supreme Court will look deeply and dispassionately into the documents presented to the Court of Appeals by the contending parties.

I said earlier that the Barques admitted that they submitted fake documents. The Manahans, on the other hand, presented documents that cannot be verified and, logically, must be presumed spurious. They do not exist.

At this point, it may be helpful to the Court and to all owners of former friar lands to know that the Manotoks, maybe like other owners of former friar lands, have in their possession documents which have never been doubted although a division decision in the same Court awarded the Manotok property to the heirs of Homer Barque.

The first step in acquiring friar lands bought or ceded to the state is to have a certificate of sale. This cannot be issued without proof of payment although such payment may be made in installments.

The certificate of sale may be assigned to just about anybody the holder wants to assign it to.

The next step is the issuance of a deed of conveyance by the director of the bureau of lands, now the Land Management Bureau under the Land Registration Administration.

The deed shall be issued only upon full payment of the value of the land. The document must be notarized.

From what I can figure out the documents are transmitted to the register of deeds in the locality where the land is located. The register of deeds issues a Torrens title.

That makes the title unassailable. So are the original certificates of title or transfer certificates of title drawn from the Torrens title. They are unassailable only if the documents that led to the issuance of the Torrens title are beyond question. Such is the case of the Manotoks as proven by official records.

In the dispute now under deliberation by the Supreme Court, it appears that only the Manotoks have proofs that their documents are genuine as proven by the existence of copies in the files of the National Archive.

I heard that there is this argument that the deed of conveyance issued to Severino Manotok is void because it does not have the signature of the secretary of agriculture and natural resources.

If that is the case, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of deeds of conveyance that do not have the signature of the secretary of agriculture and natural resources.

They are as void as the deed of conveyance issued to Severino Manotok. Therefore, these lands must likewise revert to the state. Their owners will not surrender their land without a separate order from the Supreme Court.

Or is the jurisprudence that the Court could establish equivalent to an order to surrender the land?

Is Manahan dead? Wife remarried

October 15, 2009

AMADO P. MACASAET

http://www.malaya.com.ph/08312010/columnbusi1.html

‘There is a proof that Rosendo is dead but the Manahans claim it was Clodualdo who died. Where is the death certificate of Clodualdo Manahan? The lawyer of the Manahans never bothered to produce it to disprove the genuineness of the death of Rosendo.’

THE Manotoks produced a document that Rosendo Manahan died on July 30, 1963.

But he and his wife Felicitas appeared in Court for the Manahans.

The Manahans claimed that it was Clodualdo, a younger brother of Rosendo, who actually died. How can the person who reported a death to the municipality mistake the identity of the deceased?

It now appears that the name Clodualdo Manahan is one among five in a tombstone.

Milagros Manahan asked a tombstone maker whether he asks for a death certificate before doing one. She was told that he does not do that. All he does is get the name. It is not his duty to verify.

Who will now verify that the bones of Clodualdo supposedly mixed with those of four others in a common tomb are his or those of Rosendo of Clodualdo? The Court of Appeals never asked. The Manahan lawyer never volunteered.

Did the Court of Appeals try to verify the genuineness of a document that after the death of Rosendo, his widow, Felicitas married again, in fact twice? One of the Manotoks told me she is of the impression that the CA did not.

Worse, the Manahan never presented to the CA a document or marriage certificate that Rosendo is married to Felicitas.

The CA may not have entertained any doubt that Rosendo is flesh and blood although there is a document showing his death. There are documents showing that his widow Felicitas married Librado Calunia.

How did it happen that Rosendo presents himself as husband of Felicitas when there is a certificate that he died of pulmonary tuberculosis?

What does Felicitas’ marriage to Librado Calunia prove? That she has two husbands?

Or is somebody standing for Rosendo who is dead as proven by his own death certificate belied by the claim that the person who died was his younger brother Clodualdo?

There is a proof that Rosendo is dead but the Manahans claim it was Clodualdo who died. Where is the death certificate of Clodualdo Manahan? The lawyer of the Manahans never bothered to produce it to disprove the genuineness of the death of Rosendo.

There is no document civil registry, in the Church or in the National Statistics Office, that Clodualdo is dead.

Neither did the lawyer of the Manahans produce the marriage certificate of Rosendo to Felicitas.

And now Rosendo is with his wife Felicitas claiming they are the real owners of a 34-hectare property long awarded to Severino Manotok whose heirs introduced improvement on the land having been in possession for longer than 70 years.

The Manotoks have contract for sale, a deed of conveyance certified as in existence by the National Archives.

They also have a Torrens title.

Given the fact that the heirs of Homer Barque, the original adverse claimants to the property, have reportedly admitted that they submitted fake documents to prove their claim and given the fact that the documents presented by the Manahans cannot be verified, it may be proper for the Supreme Court to ask the Court of Appeals to make a review of the genuine and fake documents.

It is also of extreme value to the decision-making process of the Supreme Court to ask the Court of Appeals to verify whether Rosendo Manahan is really dead as proven by a death certificate.

It is also of extreme value in the decision making process of the Supreme Court to verify whether or not Felicitas is married to Librado Calunia as proven by a marriage certificate.

Verifying the genuineness of these documents is important for the Court so that it will not to be misled into believing that Rosendo Manahan is flesh and blood but there is a certified document proving his death.

None of this, it must be stressed, is relevant to the fact that the Manahans submitted to the Court documents they cannot prove exist. But the Court must have the certainty that it is not deciding a case where a litigant does not exist because he died a long time ago.

It is worth reiterating that this case started as administrative in the Land Registration Administration. In its first decision the LRA certified or ruled that the land indeed belongs to the Manotoks as proven by the uncontested documents in their possession.

The LRA later reversed its decision saying that the title of the Manotoks is “sham and spurious.”

The Manotoks appealed to the Court of Appeals. The CA’s first decision was also in favor of the Manotoks. But a later consolidated decision by two divisions threw out the first ruling.

In word, the Manotoks initially won twice but lost twice. The third “loss” was the decision of the Supreme Court awarding the property to the heirs of Homer Barque.

The Supreme Court is now deliberating on the report of the CA to which the case was remanded after former SC Associate Justice Florentino Feleciano was granted oral arguments by the Highest Tribunal.

Hundreds of thousands of landowners who bought friar lands are now eagerly awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court that finally might put all questions on friar lands on ice.

In the end, it becomes the clear duty of the Aquino administration to clean up the Augean stables in the Land Registration Commission.

I remember the World Bank made a grant to the government precisely for this purpose. I have no knowledge how the money was spent.

I am reasonably certain, however, that disputes over land ownership continue to pile up in Court.

The Supreme Court may find wisdom in coming up with a ruling that will end all disputes. But, unfortunately, it may also have the capability to encourage more disputes.

Let us wait for the ruling.

Colonial official Sir Robert Torrens devised the land titling system in Australia in 1858 to resolve disputes arising from speculation.

Taken from the August 30, 2010 article written by Jarius Bondoc with the Title “Does P-Noy have to do everything?”

Does P-Noy have to do everything?
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) Updated August 30, 2010 12:00 AM

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=607425&publicationSubCategoryId=64

Colonial official Sir Robert Torrens devised the land titling system in Australia in 1858 to resolve disputes arising from speculation. The method suited property ownership in the Philippines when the Americans applied it to friar lands in the early 1900s. Still scholars and jurists deem Torrens’ system imperfect. More so since it is open to fraud, in original registration or later transactions. Trouble sparks when land registries, consisting of bound volumes kept by municipios, are lost during wars or, more often, fires. In such cases property owners’ need to have titles reconstituted. The way to do it is via the court or the Land Registration Authority. Judicial or administrative re-titling suffices in uncontroversial losses. But some cases challenge the supposedly “indefeasible” Torrens titles.

Strife followed the 1988 fire at the Quezon City Hall that gutted the Register of Deeds. Great grief befell families that have owned land in the area even before Quezon City was born. Land-grabbers saw a chance to become overnight billionaires. Hucksters brandishing titles purportedly dating to the Spanish era laid claim to land that Malacañang had bestowed to the University of the Philippines. It was only settled since records existed that the property was part of friar lands seized during the American rule and sold to citizens before World War II.

One of the titles burned in the 1988 fire was to a 34-hectare segment of a friar land called Piedad Estate. It had been in uncontested possession of the family of Severino Manotok since the 1920s. The property is located in Old Balara, behind what is now Ayala Heights. The Manotoks were able to reconstitute the title three years after the blaze. Seven years later realtor Teresita Barque asked the LRA to reissue the title to a piece of land allegedly owned by her father Homer. Aside from a copy of a supposed title, she presented real estate tax receipts, tax declarations dated in the 1990s, and a subdivision plan. The LRA rejected the re-titling because the property covered by Barque’s claim was already in the Manotoks’ name. The LRA ruled that Barque’s Plan FLS 3168-D was spurious.

Barque appealed the LRA ruling, starting a string of lawsuits about the power of the LRA and the Court of Appeals to cancel land titles. The Barques admitted in CA hearings that the deed of sale that transferred the land from the government to their family was bogus. A third family intervened, claiming that papers dated 2000 made them the owners.

There was no attempt to have the Manotok title cancelled in the regional trial court. A court proceeding would have involved presenting papers, such as the chain of titles, the very thing that the Torrens system aims to replace. Averting disturbance of RP property law, the Supreme Court set aside previous rulings in 2008. It said that neither the LRA nor CA had jurisdiction to annul titles. Yet it also remanded the case to the CA instead of the RTC, thus confusing lawyers, academics and judges.

Two years after the SC returned the case to the CA and 22 years after the fire that caused it, the matter remains unsettled. Meanwhile, the LRA is struggling to computerize land registries for stability.

Suppression of Evidence

http://www.malaya.com.ph/11242009/busicircuit.html

Suppression of evidence

We claimed in an earlier item that there are curious circumstances attending the land dispute among the heirs of Severino Manotok, Homer Barque and Vicente Manahan.

We will now prove our claim. It is on record that the Manotoks continue to be given the run-around in the Land Registration Administration. In fact, the LRA openly and flagrantly violates an order of the Court of Appeals, made in open court requiring the Land Management Bureau to provide the Manotoks with copies of documents pertaining to the property in question, the LMB refused to budge.

This refusal is a direct indication of bias against the Manotoks.

However, the Manotoks were able to secure a copy of their deed of conveyance in favor of Severino Manotok from the National Archives.

Thus, the Manotoks were able to give the lie to the claim of the Manahans that they have no right to own the property in spite of 90 years of continued possession.

There are no records that either the Barques or the Manahans ever set foot on what is now a multi-billion asset consisting of 34 hectares of prime land in Quezon City.

The submission to the CA of the deed of conveyance left the claim of the Manahans worthless. Moot and academic, as lawyers love to say.

I find it funny that the CA did not make sure that the LMB comply with its own open court order. If it did, the Manotoks would not have had to go to the trouble of getting the document from the National Archives.

What does one make out of that? Just asking.

The Supreme Court erred

The lawyer of the Manotoks, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, acknowledged legal scholar and a man who commands the respect of friends and enemies, filed a partial motion for reconsideration assailing the remand of the case to the Court of Appeals.

The CA was told that the remand to the CA violates the Supreme Court’s own findings that the regional trial court has the exclusive and original jurisdiction to resolve questions related to land titles.

More important, Justice Feliciano alleged that the SC decision contradicts a provision in the Civil Code which he said states that “a possessor in the concept of an owner (as is the case of the Manotoks) has in its favor the legal presumption that he possesses legal title over the property.”

If this law had been complied with by the SC, the Manotoks cannot be required to prove their ownership of the property.

My way of saying it is the burden of proof of ownership belongs to the adverse claimant, not to the presumed owner or a possessor in the concept of an owner.

The burden of proof, in ordinary cases, is always on the complainant. Never on the respondent.

The motion for partial reconsideration was denied.

Not a vital document

The other reason Justice Feliciano filed a partial motion for reconsideration was to remind the Supreme Court that it knows only too well, or should know it that well, that the only basis for the claim of the Manahans is the Deed of Conveyance which they claimed the Manotoks did not have, but turned out it had.

The document was simply denied to the Manotoks by the LRA.

According to Justice Feliciano, the High Court has previously and repeatedly ruled that “the absence of a deed of conveyance does not render the title of purchases of friar land void.”

“In short,” he said, “the SC only needs to be guided by its previous decisions.”

Just the same the High Court denied the partial motion for reconsideration.

Under the remand ruling, the CA shall hear and receive evidence on the “Manotoks’ chain of title and ownership claim over the property.

After that is done, the CA proceeds to report its findings and recommended conclusions to the Supreme Court.

But how can they proceed to present evidence when the LRA flagrantly violates the open court order of the CA to provide the Manotoks with copies of the documents related to their alleged title?

It appears that many hurdles have been thrown in the way of the Manotoks.

Confusing, maybe wrong

What is seen as another mistake in the remand of the case to the Court of Appeals is that the Supreme Court may have assigned or proposed to itself “adjudicate final relief” on “who the proper claimant of the property is.”

Presumably the Supreme Court is to be guided by the findings and recommendations of the Court of Appeals. The CA is an inferior court. It can be reversed by the SC. In fact, whenever it feels necessary, the High Tribunal reverses itself.

In the event that the SC makes a ruling that does not sit with the findings and recommendations of the CA, what should be the High Court’s source of facts?

It should have been the regional trial court from the very start because there is a law that states that judicial reconstitution of land titles is an original and exclusive function of the RTC.

Since the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts and may, theoretically, not abide by the findings of the CA, will the facts of the case be determined by the regional trial court as required by law?

After all, the RTC’s decision can be appealed to the CA and the CA’s ruling may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Pressure?

I have long heard that a powerful man is interested in the Manotok land dispute. In fact, he is rumored to have started exerting pressure on the Land Registration Administration.

The circumstances attending the case, principally the refusal of the LMB to provide copies of documents to the Manotoks may be interpreted as an indication of the existence of the alleged pressure.

I have also been told that the wife of a powerful official in the Arroyo regime is brokering the sale of the land, assuming it will be taken away by the Supreme Court from the Manotoks, to another influential person who presents himself as a savior of sinners.

We have to rely on the integrity of the Supreme Court. However, it can make a fatal mistake. The mistake becomes part of the law of the land.

The mistake is always claimed to have been made in the best lights of the majority of the magistrates.

That is why the Court is right even when it is wrong. There are no two ways of looking at it.

For as long as the mistake is not deliberately made in consideration of some pieces of silver, I continue to feel at ease with the Court. But such may not always be the case.

Torrens title vs. deed of conveyance

The government agency that deals with land, land-management, land-titles and everything else land-related should be investigated. Someone or some people within that agency is doing dishonest, anomalous, destructive forgeries and certifications without thinking of the consequences of their actions. Again, we can see the outrageous and unbelievable claims being made by Rosendo Manahan & Felicitas Manahan. They should really be investigated and all those involved in this land-grabbing scam should be exposed and put to justice. This is not good for the honest investing public and honest landowners.

http://www.malaya.com.ph/11202009/busicircuit.html

Torrens title vs. deed of conveyance

The Court of Appeals is faced with a choice between a Torrens title of the heirs of Severino Manotok over a 34-hectare prime land they have been in possession of since 1919 and a deed of conveyance claimed to have been issued to the heirs of Vicente Manahan on April 17, 2000.

The Manahans are now saying that their deed was issued by the Land Management Bureau over lot No. 823 of the vast Piedad Estate.

How the LMB issued the deed in spite of the existence of a Torrens title in the name of Severino Manotok is another question that the Court should find an answer to after examining the evidence presented by the contending parties.

The Manahans filed an intervention in September 2006 claiming that on the basis of a deed of conveyance Vicente Manahan allegedly purchased the property from the Republic of the Philippines which issued sales certificate No. 511.

I failed to notice the dates of the purchase of the property by Vicente Manahan and the dates of issuance of the certificate of sale which was the basis of the deed of conveyance.

I also failed to see the date of the issuance of deed of conveyance.

Background

The land dispute was originally and still is between the heirs of Severino Manotok and the heirs of Homer Barque.

The dispute started with the Land Registration Commission, on to the Court of Appeals and finally to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld the claim of the heirs of Homer Barque. Two motions for reconsideration were denied leaving the Barques with what they thought was their right to file a petition for the cancellation of the title of the Manotoks and for the issuance of a new title in favor of the Barques.

In fairness to the Court, it granted a petition for en banc orals by the Manotoks.

The Court finally decided to remand the case to the Court of Appeals where it originated although there is a law that states that judicial reconstitution is an original and exclusive function of the Regional Trial Court.

From what I can understand from this decision, the Manotoks have to prove the genuineness of their title.

The appellate court has the duty to submit to the Supreme Court its finding of facts and the applicable laws.

The establishment of the facts is a function of the Regional Trial Court but the Court of Appeals can also review finding of facts which it already did when, after initially denying the petitions for review of the heirs of Homer Barque, two of its divisions made an identical ruling upholding the claim of the Barques.

Unusual behavior

It is on record that Severino Manotok and later his successors in interest or heirs have been occupying the property and paying taxes on it since he was granted the Torrens title to the land in 1919.

The Manotok family has introduced improvements on the land. On the other hand, neither the Manahans nor the Barques and their heirs ever questioned the possession of the land by the Manotoks. Not until the records of the register of deeds of Quezon City went up in smoke sometime in 1988. It took the Barques several years until 1996 after the fire to file a petition for reconstitution with the Land Registration Administration.

Again at the risk of being cited for contempt, I dare say it is beyond me and many others to understand why the heirs of Barque and Manahan allowed the Manotoks to be in continued possession of the property from the time Severino Manotok was issued a Torrens title in 1919.

Didn’t either the Barques or the Manahans know that they in effect allowed the Manotoks to possess their property for almost a hundred years and benefiting immensely from it?

Realtors estimate that the 34-hectare prime property in Quezon City now commands a price of at least P5 billion.

Torrens title vs. deed of conveyance

The land dispute among the Manotoks, Barques and Manahans is clearly a question of which documents the Court of Appeals shall consider authentic and superior over the others.

The Manotoks maintain that they have Torrens title issued to Severino Manotok as early as 1919 and have been in possession of and paying taxes on the land since then.

On the other hand, the Manahans are basically relying on the Deed of Conveyance which they said is derived from a Certificate of Sale. The Certificate is made to appear that Vicente Manahan bought the 34-hectare property, known as lot No. 823 from the Republic of the Philippines.

On the other hand, the Barques who never set foot on the land occupied and improved by the Manotoks since 1919 and paying taxes on it, suddenly came from nowhere in the 1990s and filed a petition for the reconstitution of their alleged title which they claimed was lost to a fire in 1988.

Initially, the LRA denied the Barques petition but later turned around and approved it. The same turning around happened in the Court of Appeals acting on the separate petitions for review of the Manotoks and the Barques. These acts, initially administrative since these originated from IRA and later judicial when the CA took over acting on petitions for review, directly assaulted the Torrens title of the Manotoks without giving weighty evidence except some tax payments which were made only in the 1990’s.

Reconstituted title

It must be explained very clearly that the Manotoks knew that their original title of the 34-hectare property was lost in a 1988 fire that gutted the office of the register of deeds of Quezon City.

They acted more quickly than the heirs of Home Bargue in the sense that three years after the fire they were issued a reconstituted title in 1991 without the Barques and the Manahans raising a question.

On the other hand, the Barques who, it must be repeatedly said, never knew the terrain of the land because they had never set foot on it, filed a petition for reconstitution on what they claimed was their original title lost to the same fire, only in 1996.

The petition of the Barques was filed with the Land Registration Commission five years after the Manahans secured a similar reconstituted title over the same property.

How the LRA first denied the petition of the Barques and later approved it after the Manotoks were issued a similar reconstituted title five years before is another question that the Court of Appeals must answer.

There are curious matters that continue to attend this case such that back in the LRA, there were suggestions that powerful people were interceding for the Manahans.

Dispute over Piedad estate continues

Again, the scammer Teresita Barque-Hernandez is still trying to get away with land-grabbing and not even paying the court for any filing-fees. Only stupid people would believe her outrageous lies that she only knew about a multi-billion peso property when her father died and therefore she has never ever set foot on the property which she claims she owns. Again, it is outrageous that Teresita Barque-Hernandez’s sister burned the tax-receipts which are the only proof that they are paying taxes on the property. What a scam! What is the connection of businessman Cedric Lee to this land scam?

http://www.malaya.com.ph/11162009/metro4.html

Dispute over Piedad estate continues

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By Peter J.G. Tabingo

–>A DAUGHTER of the late businessman Homer Barque testified over the weekend at the Court of Appeals that the disputed 34-hectare parcel of land in Rizal, known as the Piedad estate, has been with their family since 1975.

Lot 823, nestled in Culiat, Capitol Hills, Old Balara and the posh Ayala Heights in Quezon City, is covered by TCT No. 210177 issued to Barque. The lot’s value is now pegged at P3.4-billion.

Aside from the Barques, the heirs of Severino Manotok are also claiming the land.

The dispute between the two claimants was spawned by a fire in June 1988 that gutted the office of the Register of Deeds in Quezon City, which prompted the Manotoks to apply for the administrative reconstitution of the titles. The heirs of Barque did not oppose the application for administrative reconstitution and a reconstituted title was issued in 1991.

During cross examination last Friday, Teresita Barque-Hernandez told justices that the subject property was purchased by her father from a business associate named Emiliano Setosta out of his retirement funds and proceeds from their bus line business.

Hernandez admitted to Manotok counsel Roberto San Juan that she had no personal knowledge about the details of the property or its existence until 1991 when the Barque patriarch requested her shortly before he died to redeem the title from her grandmother Felicia Ventura.

San Juan who alleged that the certificate of title in Hernandez’s possession was spurious questioned why the Barque children never learned of or cared about the property until that time. He pointed out that Hernandez never visited the place even after her father’s death in 1991.

He also got Hernandez to admit that the Barques had no copies of any tax declaration receipts for the property. Hernandez said her younger sister Estrellita “who is already at the age of reason,” had burned the tax receipts.

The Manotoks, on the other hand, claimed that they have been religiously paying real estate taxes on the property from 1933 until the present.

The Manotoks’ lawyer claimed Hernandez’s failure to provide copies of the tax payments only proved that the Barques’ title is a forgery and that their proof of ownership is a sham.

The CA’s Special 15th Division is hearing the case after the Supreme Court issued a ruling on Dec. 18, 2008 restoring ownership of the parcel of land to the Manotoks.

In its December 2008 ruling, the SC remanded the 20-year-old land cases to the CA for further proceedings and reception of evidence, and turned down the arguments of the Barque heirs that raised factual issues in determining whether the Land Registration Administration had the authority to conduct administrative reconstitution proceedings.

The controversy in the Manotok-Barque land dispute is whether judicial reconstitution of title may be made administratively that ignores, if not violates, the law giving the RTC exclusive jurisdiction.

With this new ruling, the SC abandoned its First Division’s own Dec. 12, 2005 decision affirming the two rulings of the CA directing the Quezon City Register of Deeds to cancel the Manotok title, and ordering LRA to reconstitute the Barque title.–Evangeline C. de Vera

Twice reversed

http://www.malaya.com.ph/feb26/busi8.htm

‘No cause is hopeless if it is just. Errors, no matter how popular, carry the seeds of their own destruction.’ – John W. Scoville

*  *  *

Twice reversed

Maybe it is a not-too-sudden twist of fate. Maybe, it is the law taking its course.

Whatever it is, the records show that Supreme Court Associate Justice Consuelo Y. Santiago of the Fifth Division had three of her peers agreeing with her earlier ponencia that heirs of Homer Barque are the real owners of a 34-hectare property occupied for many decades by the heirs of Severino Manotok. The reverse is now true.

The learned lady justice stood pat on her interpretation of the law. She denied two motions for reconsideration filed by the Manotoks. The ruling was about to become final. In fact there was an entry of judgment.

In her ruling Justice Santiago ordered the register of deeds of Quezon City to transfer the title of the multi-billion property in the name of the heirs of Homer Barque. The heirs of Severino Manotok were to lose the property said to be covered by a Torrens title.

But like they say, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Up to the time, the second motion for reconsideration was denied by the 5th Division, the fat lady had not sung.

In time, rather unexpectedly, she finally sang. In the end, it was over and the heirs of Homer Barque were not to set foot on the property. It did not belong to them, after all.

The fat lady sings

The “fat lady” in this case came in the person of respected and retired Associate Justice Florentino P. Feliciano, who at this time, must be in his eighties, if not older.

It was he who sought an en banc hearing about the decision of Justice Consuelo Santiago.

There was an open debate, exchange of interpretation of what law is applicable on the case and how the facts were to be appreciated.

Procedurally, the court en banc had Justice Santiago defending her ruling. She would have been the ponente if majority of the en banc agreed with her. But the court overruled her ponencia, voting 8-6.

The ponente became the dissenter. She could have been two-time ponente in the same case had she been supported by her peers in her original ponencia in the Fifth Division.

In my interpretation, it was a simple case of illustrating the old Latin legal maxim “dura lex, sed lex.” The law is hard but it is the law.

Majority of the justices in the fifth division ruled in favor of the heirs of Homer Barque. The lone dissenter was Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

But in he en banc, eight minds are better than six.

Final ponencia

After the Court en banc voted against the original ponencia of Justice Santiago, Justice Dante Tinga was assigned to pen the decision of the majority in the en banc vote.

That left Justice Santiago a dissenter. A ponente in a division decision becoming a dissenter in the en banc ruling does not happen that often in the Supreme Court.

When it does, we get the feeling that the law, wrongly interpreted in the division decision, is set aright in the en banc.

The law takes its course in the right direction. The division ponencia was wrong. The denial by the First Division of two motions for reconsideration did not bring the ruling of Justice Santiago remotely close to what the majority believed was right.

One way of looking or interpreting this situation is that the en banc or collective minds of majority of the 15 magistrates are more correct than the mind of one justice in a division supported by three peers.

The rule of the majority becomes more significant and credible when the number increases from five to 15. In the en banc vote, it is not incorrect to say that eight minds against six including the four in the First Division, are better.

Denied with finality

The law allows the losing litigant to file a motion for reconsideration. The lawyers of the heirs of Homer Barque did just that.

But again, the Barques could not change the ruling of the eight magistrates in the en banc. To write finis to the case, the en banc denied the motion for reconsideration with finality. The ruling is now part of the law of the land after some procedural matters are complied with.

The decision is to remand the case to the Court of Appeals.

It might be said that Justice Santiago lost again. My presumption is that, being a dissenter in the en banc, she had wished to grant the motion for reconsideration. The minority she led was out-voted.

Maybe there is a lesson to learn from this case. Maybe the Court should draw up guidelines on what to accept for orals by the en banc or what to support at the division level.

The grant of en banc orals depend on the weakness or errors of the questioned decision and the strength of the new arguments.

En banc orals are on exclusive authority of the Chief Justice but the final decision belongs to the majority in the Court.

In other words, a ponencia made at the division level, can be reversed by the en banc if the division refused, as in the case of Manotok vs Barque, to reverse itself.

Third case

A lawyer friend told me that a division ruling as in case of Manotok being reversed by the en banc is only the third such case in the history of the Supreme Court.

The ultimate meaning and interpretation of the final ruling by the en banc is that justice prevailed in the end.

Let it not be said that the en banc shamed Justice Santiago. Let it be said that her peers by a vote of 8-6 loudly told her that she was wrong although she insisted four times that she was right.

The first was her ponencia.

Then Justice Santiago and her division denied two motions for reconsideration by the heirs of Severino Manotok. That was the second.

The third was the reversal by the en banc of her ponencia.

The final blow or we might say death knell was the resolution denying the Barque motion for reconsideration with finality.

It is said that the Court is powerful because it is right even when it is wrong. In the Manotok case, the Court set aright what the en banc had seen was wrong.

The final decision is a triumph of justice. Justice Santiago herself should be happy about it.