Land has always been the source of many conflicts over the years. Ever since humanity started settling in communities and engaged in agriculture and other industries that require the use of lands or resources found there, conflicts have become a part of our history and civilisation. Wars have been fought over the control of a territory and our courts are still being flooded by cases pertaining to ownership or possession of lands. When I started practicing law almost ten years ago, one of my first clients came to me to refer a problem with her land. Most, if not all lawyers have clients because of some conflict or issues about real property and some of them have become wealthier for handling these cases. In some cases, people have been issued titles only to learn later that the land is still inalienable and therefore still owned by the Republic of the Philippines.
Title Issued Over Inalienable Land
The mere fact that a homestead patent has been issued in favour of a person does not automatically convert a land into alienable. A certain parcel of land in Palawan has been awarded to a person through a homestead patent issued by the Bureau of Lands. Upon inventory, it was later discovered that the parcel was still classified as inalienable. The Republic then instituted a case of cancellation of the title and reversion of the land. The case was heard by the Regional Trial Court which decided against the Republic and upheld the validity of the title. The trial court said that the issuance of the homestead patent “could only mean that the land at that point in time had already been expressly classified as alienable or disposable land of public domain.” (G.R. No. 193657, September 04, 2018) The case was then elevated by the Republic to the Court of Appeals but the latter upheld the decision of the RTC then the case was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Title Itself Cannot Convert the Land to Alienable
Before a portion may be titled by a private individual, “there must be a positive act from the government declaring them as open for alienation and disposition”. The SC said: “the Court has time and again emphasized that there must be a positive act of the government, such as an official proclamation, declassifying inalienable public land into disposable land for agricultural or other purposes.” It was not shown or proved during trial that there was a proclamation by the government “expressly” classifying the land to be alienable. There being none, “the presumption that it is an inalienable land of the public domain remains”. One of the main arguments raised was whether the issuance of the patent converted the land to alienable but the the SC clarified that “the issuance of Homestead Patent No. V-67820 in favor of Daquer, pursuant to the Public Land Act, did not, by itself, reclassify Lot No. H-19731 into alienable and disposable public agricultural land.” The rule that a “title issued through a judicial proceeding and becomes incontrovertible upon the expiration of one (1) year” cannot be used to deprive the Republic it right to move for the reversion of the subject land. The Highest Tribunal went on to say that: “The rule on the incontrovertibility of a certificate of title upon the expiration of one year, after the entry of the decree, pursuant to the provisions of the Land Registration Act, does not apply where an action for the cancellation of a patent and a certificate of title issued pursuant thereto is instituted on the ground that they are null and void because the Bureau of Lands had no jurisdiction to issue them at all.” The fact that the applicant was not at fault, and the approval of the patent was an act of a government official cannot also prevent the Republic from pursuing the case of reversion. “The State cannot be estopped by the omission, mistake, or error of its officials or agents. It may revert the land at any time, where the concession or disposition is void ab initio.”