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
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.