MANILA, Philippines --- The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines Retirement and Separation Benefits System (AFPRSBS) to return to the government 1.5 hectares of public land, known as the Magsaysay Park in General Santos City that was illegally titled in its name in 1997.
In a decision written by Justice Mariano C. del Castillo, the SC said that the 16 transfer certificates of titles (TCTs) could not be issued to the AFPRSBS because the 1.5 hectares of land had been classified as inalienable and non-disposable public land in 1963.
“Certificates of title issued covering inalienable and non-disposable public land, even in the hands of an alleged innocent purchaser for value, should be cancelled,” the SC ruled.
With its ruling, the SC granted the petition filed by the government as it reversed the 2007 decision of the Court of Appeals (CA). It reinstated the 2001 decision issued by the regional trial court (RTC) of General Santos City.
The SC ordered the Register of Deeds of General Santos City “to cancel Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. T-81051, T-81052, T-81053, T-81054, T-81055, T-81056, T-81057, T-81058, T-81059, T-81060, T-81061, T-81062, T-81146, T-81147, T-81150, and T-81151 (in the name of AFPRSBS), and issue in lieu thereof, new titles in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Justices Jose Portugal Perez, Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen concurred in the decision.
Through Proclamation No. 168 issued in 1963, Lots X, Y-1, and Y-2 consisting of 5.2 hectares of land in Barrio Dadiangas, General Santos City were reserved for recreation and health purposes.
In 1983, Proclamation 168 was amended by Proclamation No. 2273 that removed Lots Y-1 and Y-2 from the reservation and opening the two parcels of land for disposition to qualified applicants. As a result, only Lot X remained part of the reservation known as the Magsaysay Park.
In 1997, the heirs of Cabalo Kusop and laywer Nilo Flaviano filed applications for the issuance of individual miscellaneous sales patents over the whole of Lot X with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
As a result, 16 Original Certificates of Titles (OCTs) covering Lot X were issued in the names of Kusop and Flaviano and several others.
Sometime in September 1997, the 16 OCTs were simultaneously conveyed to the AFPRSBS which were issued new titles to the property.
On September 11, 1998, the government instituted a civil case before the RTC for the reversion, cancellation, and annulment of the AFPRSBS titles over the property on the basis that the land belonged to the public domain. Kusop’s group intervened in the case.
The trial court, in a decision issued on November 5, 2001, nullified the AFPRSBS titles over the property and directed the issuance of new titles in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.
It ruled that since Kusop and his group had already benefitted through the segregation of Lots Y-1 and Y-2 through Proclamation No. 2273, they could no longer claim Lot X which had been specifically declared as a park reservation under Proclamation 168.
“In other words, their (Kusop and his group) private rights, which were guaranteed under Proclamation 168, have already been recognized and respected through the subsequently issued Proclamation 2273…,” the trial court also said.
Kusop and his group elevated the issue before the CA which reversed the trial court.
According to the CA, since the titles to Lot X were duly obtained by Kusop and his group, “the sale and transfer thereof to respondent AFPRSBS should be accorded the same treatment as a sale or transfer made to a purchaser in good faith.”
The government raised the issue before the SC which granted its petition.
Resolving the issue in favor of the government, the SC said that Kusop and his group “no longer had any right to Lot X – not by acquisitive prescription, and certainly not by sales patent.”
“In fact, their act of applying for the issuance of miscellaneous sales patents operates as an express acknowledgment that the State, and not respondents-intervenors, is the owner of Lot X. It is erroneous to suppose that respondents-intervenors possessed title to Lot X when they applied for miscellaneous sales patents, for the premise of such grant or privilege is precisely that the State is the owner of the land, and that the applicant acknowledges this and surrenders to State ownership,” the SC said.