This case is lengthy and heavily fact-based. The author had a hard time distinguishing which information should be removed as most of them looked very important in the discussion of the factual backdrop in relation to the arguments of the parties. Nonetheless, the case tackles the origin of Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, so he found it to be quite engaging.
G.R. No. 192896 July 24, 2013
DREAM VILLAGE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION, INC., represented by its Incumbent President, GREG SERIEGO, Petitioner,
BASES DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, Respondent.
Dream Village claims to represent more than 2000 families who have been occupying a 78,466-square meter lot in Western Bicutan, Taguig City since 1985 “in the concept of owners continuously, exclusively, and notoriously.”
The lot used to be part of Hacienda de Maricaban, owned by Dolores Casal y Ochoa and registered under OCT 291. Following the purchase of Maricaban by the government of USA, it was converted into the military reservation known as Fort William Mckinley. TCT 192 was issued in the name of USA to cancel OCT 291. USA later transferred 30 has. of Maricaban to Manila Railroad Company, for which TCT 192 was cancelled by TCT 1218 and 1219, the first in the name of Manila Railroad Company, and the second in the name of USA.
TCT 1219 was cancelled and replaced by TCT 1688, and was then replaced by TCT 2288, both in the name of USA. USA formally ceded Fort William Mckinley to the Republic of the Philippines, and it was documented by cancelling TCT 2288 and replacing it with TCT 61524. Pres. Garcia issued Proclamation No. 423, withdrawing from sale or settlement the tracts of land within Fort William Mckinley, now renamed Fort Bonifacio, and reserving them for military purposes.
Pres. Marcos issued Proclamation No. 2476, declaring portions of Fort Bonifacio alienable and disposable, thus allowing the sale to the settlers of home lots in Upper Bicutan, Lower Bicutan, Signal Village, and Western Bicutan.
Pres. C. Aquino issued Proclamation 172, amending Proclamation 2476, by limiting to Lots 1 and 2 in Western Bicutan as open for disposition.
RA 7227 was passed, creating the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) to oversee and accelerate the conversion of Clark and Subic military reservations and their extension camps (John Hay Station, Wallace Air Station, O’Donnell Transmitter Station, San Miguel Naval Communications Station and Capas Relay Station) to productive civilian uses. Section 820 of the said law provides that the capital of the BCDA will be provided from sales proceeds or transfers of lots in nine (9) military camps in Metro Manila, including 723 has. of Fort Bonifacio. The law, thus, expressly authorized the President of the Philippines “to sell the above lands, in whole or in part, which are hereby declared alienable and disposable pursuant to the provisions of existing laws and regulations governing sales of government properties,” specifically to raise capital for the BCDA. Titles to the camps were transferred to the BCDA for this purpose,22 and TCT No. 61524 was cancelled on January 3, 1995 by TCT Nos. 23888, 23887, 23886, 22460, 23889, 23890, and 23891, now in the name of the BCDA.23
Excepted from disposition by the BCDA are: a) approximately 148.80 has. reserved for the National Capital Region (NCR) Security Brigade, Philippine Army officers’ housing area, and Philippine National Police jails and support services (presently known as Camp Bagong Diwa); b) approximately 99.91 has. in Villamor Air Base for the Presidential Airlift Wing, one squadron of helicopters for the NCR and respective security units; c) twenty one (21) areas segregated by various presidential proclamations; and d) a proposed 30.15 has. as relocation site for families to be affected by the construction of Circumferential Road 5 and Radial Road 4, provided that the boundaries and technical description of these exempt areas shall be determined by an actual ground survey.
Now charging the BCDA of wrongfully asserting title to Dream Village and unlawfully subjecting its members to summary demolition, resulting in unrest and tensions among the residents, on November 22, 1999, the latter filed a letter-complaint with the COSLAP to seek its assistance in the verification survey of the subject 78,466-sq m property, which they claimed is within Lot 1 of Swo-13-000298 and thus is covered by Proclamation No. 172. They claim that they have been occupying the area for thirty (30) years “in the concept of owners continuously, exclusively and notoriously for several years,” and have built their houses of sturdy materials thereon and introduced paved roads, drainage and recreational and religious facilities. Dream Village, thus, asserts that the lot is not among those transferred to the BCDA under R.A. No. 7227, and therefore patent applications by the occupants should be processed by the Land Management Bureau (LMB).
On August 15, 2000, Dream Village formalized its complaint by filing an Amended Petition in the COSLAP. Among the reliefs it sought were:
- DECLARING the subject property as alienable and disposable by virtue of applicable laws;
- Declaring the portion of Lot 1 of subdivision Plan SWO-13-000298, situated in the barrio of Western Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila, which is presently being occupied by herein petitioner as within the coverage of Proclamation Nos. 2476 and 172 and outside the claim of AFP-RSBS INDUSTRIAL PARK COMPLEX and/or BASES CONVESION DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY.
- ORDERING the Land Management Bureau to process the application of the ASSOCIATION members for the purchase of their respective lots under the provisions of Acts Nos. 274 and 730.
Respondent BCDA in its Answer dated November 23, 2000 questioned the jurisdiction of the COSLAP to hear Dream Village’s complaint, while asserting its title to the subject property pursuant to R.A. No. 7227. It argued that under Executive Order (E.O.) No. 561 which created the COSLAP, its task is merely to coordinate the various government offices and agencies involved in the settlement of land problems or disputes, adding that BCDA does not fall in the enumeration in Section 3 of E.O. No. 561, it being neither a pastureland-lease holder, a timber concessionaire, or a government reservation grantee, but the holder of patrimonial government property which cannot be the subject of a petition for classification, release or subdivision by the occupants of Dream Village.
In its Resolution dated April 28, 2004, the COSLAP narrated that it called a mediation conference on March 22, 2001, during which the parties agreed to have a relocation/verification survey conducted of the subject lot. On April 4, 2001, the COSLAP wrote to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Community Environment and Natural Resources Office-NCR requesting the survey, which would also include Swo-00-0001302, covering the adjacent AFP-RSBS Industrial Park established by Proclamation No. 1218 on May 8, 1998 as well as the abandoned Circumferential Road 5 (C-5 Road).
On April 1, 2004, the COSLAP received the final report of the verification survey and a blueprint copy of the survey plan from Atty. Rizaldy Barcelo, Regional Technical Director for Lands of DENR. Specifically, Item No. 3 of the DENR report states:
- Lot-1, Swo-000298 is inside Proclamation 172. Dream Village Neighborhood Association, Inc. is outside Lot-1, Swo-13-000298 and inside Lot-10, 11 & Portion of Lot 13, Swo-00-0001302 with an actual area of 78,466 square meters. Likewise, the area actually is outside Swo-00-0001302 of BCDA.
COSLAP (Commission on the Settlement of Land Problems) Ruling: On the basis of the DENR’s verification survey report, the COSLAP resolved that Dream Village lies outside of BCDA, and particularly, outside of Swo-00-0001302, and thus directed the LMB of the DENR to process the applications of Dream Village’s members for sales patent, noting that in view of the length of time that they “have been openly, continuously and notoriously occupying the subject property in the concept of an owner, x x x they are qualified to apply for sales patent on their respective occupied lots pursuant to R.A. Nos. 274 and 730 in relation to the provisions of the Public Land Act.”
In its Motion for Reconsideration filed on May 20, 2004, the BCDA questioned the validity of the survey results since it was conducted without its representatives present, at the same time denying that it received a notification of the DENR verification survey. It maintained that there is no basis for the COSLAP’s finding that the members of Dream Village were in open, continuous, and adverse possession in the concept of owner, because not only is the property not among those declared alienable and disposable, but it is a titled patrimonial property of the State. COSLAP denied BCDA’s motion for reconsideration.
CA Ruling: The BCDA argued that the dispute is outside the jurisdiction of the COSLAP because of the land’s history of private ownership and because it is registered under an indefeasible Torrens title; that Proclamation No. 172 covers only Lots 1 and 2 of Swo-13-000298 in Western Bicutan, whereas Dream Village occupies Lots 10, 11 and part of 13 of Swo-00-0001302, which also belongs to the BCDA; that the COSLAP resolution is based on an erroneous DENR report stating that Dream Village is outside of BCDA, because Lots 10, 11, and portion of Lot 13 of Swo-00-0001302 are within the DA; that the COSLAP was not justified in ignoring BCDA’s request to postpone the survey to the succeeding year because the presence of its representatives in such an important verification survey was indispensable for the impartiality of the survey aimed at resolving a highly volatile situation; that the COSLAP is a mere coordinating administrative agency with limited jurisdiction; and, that the present case is not among those enumerated in Section 3 of E.O. No. 56145.
The COSLAP, on the other hand, maintained that Section 3(2)(e) of E.O. No. 561 provides that it may assume jurisdiction and resolve land problems or disputes in “other similar land problems of grave urgency and magnitude,” and the present case is one such problem.
The CA in its Decision dated September 10, 2009 ruled that the COSLAP has no jurisdiction over the complaint because the question of whether Dream Village is within the areas declared as available for disposition in Proclamation No. 172 is beyond its competence to determine, even as the land in dispute has been under a private title since 1906, and presently its title is held by a government agency, the BCDA, in contrast to the case of Bañaga relied upon by Dream Village, where the disputed land was part of the public domain and the disputants were applicants for sales patent thereto.
Whether or not Dream Village holds title to lots in Fort Bonifacio.
No. SC found no merit in Dream Village’s petition. In fact, it is the BCDA that holds title to Fort Bonifacio.
That the BCDA has title to Fort Bonifacio has long been decided with finality. In Samahan ng Masang Pilipino sa Makati, Inc. v. BCDA, it was categorically ruled as follows: “First, it is unequivocal that the Philippine Government, and now the BCDA, has title and ownership over Fort Bonifacio. xxx”
The facts in Samahan ng Masang Pilipino sa Makati are essentially not much different from the controversy below. There, 20,000 families were long-time residents occupying 98 has. of Fort Bonifacio in Makati City, who vainly sought to avert their eviction and the demolition of their houses by the BCDA upon a claim that the land was owned by the USA under TCT No. 2288. The Supreme Court found that TCT No. 2288 had in fact been cancelled by TCT No. 61524 in the name of the Republic, which title was in turn cancelled on January 3, 1995 by TCT Nos. 23888, 23887, 23886, 22460, 23889, 23890, and 23891, all in the name of the BCDA. The Court ruled that the BCDA’s aforesaid titles over Fort Bonifacio are valid, indefeasible and beyond question, since TCT No. 61524 was cancelled in favor of BCDA pursuant to an explicit authority under R.A. No. 7227, the legal basis for BCDA’s takeover and management of the subject lots.
Dream Village sits on the abandoned C-5 Road, which lies outside the area declared in Proclamation Nos. 2476 and 172 as alienable and disposable. xxx However, the survey plan for Western Bicutan, Swo-13-000298, shows that Lots 3, 4, 5 and 6 thereof are inside the area segregated for the Libingan ng mga Bayani under Proclamation No. 208, which then leaves only Lots 1 and 2 of Swo-13-000298 as available for disposition. For this reason, it was necessary to amend Proclamation No. 2476. Thus, in Proclamation No. 172 only Lots 1 and 2 of Swo-13-000298 are declared alienable and disposable.
The DENR verification survey report states that Dream Village is not situated in Lot 1 of Swo-13-000298 but actually occupies Lots 10, 11 and part of 13 of Swo-00-0001302. xxx The area is actually outside SWO-00-0001302 of BCDA.” Inexplicably and gratuitously, the DENR also states that the area is outside of BCDA, completely oblivious that the BCDA holds title over the entire Fort Bonifacio, even as the BCDA asserts that Lots 10, 11 and 13 of SWO-00-0001302 are part of the abandoned right-of-way of C-5 Road. This area is described as lying north of Lot 1 of Swo-13-000298 and of Lots 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Swo-13-000298 (Western Bicutan) inside the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and the boundary line of Lot 1 mentioned as C-5 Road is really the proposed alignment of C-5 Road, which was abandoned when, as constructed, it was made to traverse northward into the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Dream Village has not disputed this assertion.
The mere fact that the original plan for C-5 Road to cross Swo-00-0001302 was abandoned by deviating it northward to traverse the southern part of Libingan ng mga Bayani does not signify abandonment by the government of the bypassed lots, nor that these lots would then become alienable and disposable. They remain under the title of the BCDA, even as it is significant that under Section 8(d) of R.A. No. 7227, a relocation site of 30.5 has. was to be reserved for families affected by the construction of C-5 Road. It is nowhere claimed that Lots 10, 11 and 13 of Swo-00-0001302 are part of the said relocation site. These lots border C-5 Road in the south, making them commercially valuable to BCDA, a farther argument against a claim that the government has abandoned them to Dream Village.
While property of the State or any of its subdivisions patrimonial in character may be the object of prescription, those “intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth” are considered property of public dominion and therefore not susceptible to acquisition by prescription.
Article 1113 of the Civil Code provides that “property of the State or any of its subdivisions not patrimonial in character shall not be the object of prescription.” Articles 420 and 421 identify what is property of public dominion and what is patrimonial property:
Art. 420. The following things are property of public dominion:
(1) Those intended for public use, such as roads, canals, rivers, torrents, ports and bridges constructed by the State, banks, shores, roadsteads, and others of similar character;
(2) Those which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.
Art. 421. All other property of the State, which is not of the character stated in the preceding article, is patrimonial property.
Whether the area occupied by Dream Village is susceptible of acquisition by prescription.
No. The area is not susceptible of acquisition by prescription.
In Heirs of Mario Malabanan v. Republic, it was pointed out that from the moment R.A. No. 7227 was enacted, the subject military lands in Metro Manila became alienable and disposable. However, it was also clarified that the said lands did not thereby become patrimonial, since the BCDA law makes the express reservation that they are to be sold in order to raise funds for the conversion of the former American bases in Clark and Subic. The Court noted that the purpose of the law can be tied to either “public service” or “the development of national wealth” under Article 420(2) of the Civil Code, such that the lands remain property of the public dominion, albeit their status is now alienable and disposable. The Court then explained that it is only upon their sale to a private person or entity as authorized by the BCDA law that they become private property and cease to be property of the public dominion:
For as long as the property belongs to the State, although already classified as alienable or disposable, it remains property of the public dominion if when it is “intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.”
Thus, under Article 422 of the Civil Code, public domain lands become patrimonial property only if there is a declaration that these are alienable or disposable, together with an express government manifestation that the property is already patrimonial or no longer retained for public service or the development of national wealth. Only when the property has become patrimonial can the prescriptive period for the acquisition of property of the public dominion begin to run. Also under Section 14(2) of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529, it is provided that before acquisitive prescription can commence, the property sought to be registered must not only be classified as alienable and disposable, it must also be expressly declared by the State that it is no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth, or that the property has been converted into patrimonial. Absent such an express declaration by the State, the land remains to be property of public dominion.
Since the issuance of Proclamation No. 423 in 1957, vast portions of the former Maricaban have been legally disposed to settlers, besides those segregated for public or government use. Proclamation No. 1217 (1973) established the Maharlika Village in Bicutan, Taguig to serve the needs of resident Muslims of Metro Manila; Proclamation No. 2476 (1986), as amended by Proclamation No. 172 (1987), declared more than 400 has. of Maricaban in Upper and Lower Bicutan, Signal Village, and Western Bicutan as alienable and disposable; Proclamation No. 518 (1990) formally exempted from Proclamation No. 423 the Barangays of Cembo, South Cembo, West Rembo, East Rembo, Comembo, Pembo and Pitogo, comprising 314 has., and declared them open for disposition.
The above proclamations notwithstanding, Fort Bonifacio remains property of public dominion of the State, because although declared alienable and disposable, it is reserved for some public service or for the development of the national wealth, in this case, for the conversion of military reservations in the country to productive civilian uses. Needless to say, the acquisitive prescription asserted by Dream Village has not even begun to run.
Ownership of a land registered under a Torrens title cannot be lost by prescription or adverse possession. It is a settled rule that lands under a Torrens title cannot be acquired by prescription or adverse possession. Section 47 of P.D. No. 1529, the Property Registration Decree, expressly provides that no title to registered land in derogation of the title of the registered owner shall be acquired by prescription or adverse possession. And, although the registered landowner may still lose his right to recover the possession of his registered property by reason of laches, nowhere has Dream Village alleged or proved laches, which has been defined as such neglect or omission to assert a right, taken in conjunction with lapse of time and other circumstances causing prejudice to an adverse party, as will operate as a bar in equity. Put any way, it is a delay in the assertion of a right which works disadvantage to another because of the inequity founded on some change in the condition or relations of the property or parties. It is based on public policy which, for the peace of society, ordains that relief will be denied to a stale demand which otherwise could be a valid claim.
Whether or not COSLAP has jurisdiction over the case.
No. The subject property having been expressly reserved for a specific public purpose, the COSLAP cannot exercise jurisdiction over the complaint of the Dream Village settlers.
In fine, it is apparent that the COSLAP acted outside its jurisdiction in taking cognizance of the case. It would have been more prudent if the COSLAP has [sic] just referred the controversy to the proper forum in order to fully thresh out the ramifications of the dispute at bar. As it is, the impugned Resolution is a patent nullity since the tribunal which rendered it lacks jurisdiction. Thus, the pronouncements contained therein are void.
SC added that Fort Bonifacio has been reserved for a declared specific public purpose under R.A. No. 7227, which unfortunately for Dream Village does not encompass the present demands of its members. Indeed, this purpose was the very reason why title to Fort Bonifacio has been transferred to the BCDA, and it is this very purpose which takes the dispute out of the direct jurisdiction of the COSLAP. A review of the history of the COSLAP will readily clarify that its jurisdiction is limited to disputes over public lands not reserved or declared for a public use or purpose.
Administrative agencies, like the COSLAP, are tribunals of limited jurisdiction and, as such, could wield only such as are specifically granted to them by the enabling statutes.
Under the law, E.O. No. 561, the COSLAP has two options in acting on a land dispute or problem lodged before it, namely, (a) refer the matter to the agency having appropriate jurisdiction for settlement/resolution; or (b) assume jurisdiction if the matter is one of those enumerated in paragraph 2(a) to (e) of the law, if such case is critical and explosive in nature, taking into account the large number of the parties involved, the presence or emergence of social tension or unrest, or other similar critical situations requiring immediate action. In resolving whether to assume jurisdiction over a case or to refer the same to the particular agency concerned, the COSLAP has to consider the nature or classification of the land involved, the parties to the case, the nature of the questions raised, and the need for immediate and urgent action thereon to prevent injuries to persons and damage or destruction to property. The law does not vest jurisdiction on the COSLAP over any land dispute or problem.