The Cordilleras being largely forest area and declared either as watershed or reservation, only has a few pockets of alienable and disposable land. It is as if the people here are supposed to live on air because of the restrictions on the issuance of titles and activities. Most residents have only their tax declarations as the only “proof” of ownership of their lands. The problem is a tax declarations are not the same with a title. Many cases on land hinge upon this document and in fact many of these cases arise from the document itself. It contains approximate boundaries and area and the note which says: “does not and cannot by itself alone confer any ownership or legal title to the property”. In the past, the issuance of tax declarations have not been very strict and they more often than not, overlap each other.

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What is the function of a tax dec?

A tax dec is not the same as a title, but what then is its value? The Supreme Court in several decisions pronounced that: “although tax declarations or realty tax payment of property are not conclusive evidence of ownership, nevertheless, they are good indicia of possession in the concept of owner for no one in his right mind would be paying taxes for a property that is not in his actual or at least constructive possession. They constitute at least proof that the holder has a claim of title over the property.”
(Ganila vs. CA, G.R. No. 150755, 28 June 2005) A tax declaration therefore tells people that the declarant is the presumed possessor in the concept of an owner of the property. Being a possessor he is protected by our laws and in case ousted from the property by another, he can go to court to have his possession of the land restored to him. No person can take away by means of force, intimidation, threat, stealth, or strategy the possession of real property from another. The law says that possession cannot be acquired through force or intimidation (Art. 536, Civil Code) and the same can then be restored through an action for ejectment.

The Civil Code (Art. 540) also says that possession in the concept of an owner can ripen into ownership. This is one the benefits of tax declarations. In some cases of land registration particularly for confirmation of imperfect title, the Court gave credence to tax declarations as proof that the petitioners through themselves and their predecessors in interest have been in open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession of alienable and disposable lands of the public domain since June 12, 1945 (Republic vs. Heirs of Montoya, G.R. No. 195137)

Transfer of Tax Dec

Tax declarations can be transferred from one person to another by means of donation, sale, or succession much like a Title, however what is only being transferred is the right to possess the property declared. Ownership over the land is not transferred, since in the first place, the document is only an evidence of possession. Possession and ownership are two different matters. A person who owns a real property might not be the same person who possesses it. Although possession in the concept of an owner may ripen into ownership, this principle cannot apply on public lands which are inalienable because prescription cannot run against the government. Therefore, people buying lands covered only by a tax dec should be sufficiently warned by the note on the document itself and that what is being transferred only is possession and not ownership. It will then be wise to verify first the status of the land one is buying before parting with hard earned money. Consult your lawyer before deciding to buy, and not after.

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