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Opinion

Unproven loss

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

This case is about the reconstitution of a lost or destroyed Torrens Title. One of the issues raised and answered here is the existence of the title itself, or whether it is necessary to prove the existence of the title before the petition for reconstitution can be granted. This is the case of the spouses Fulgencio and Adela.

Fulgencio and Adela acquired a parcel of land containing an area of 2,628 square meters by virtue of a Deed of Extrajudicial Settlement with Deed of Absolute Sale executed by the grandchildren and successors-in-interest of the late Zeny Abelardo, who died about 86 years ago. Said land is supposedly covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 1929 (263) based on the decree of registration issued by then Court of First Instance (CFI) of the province. The original owner’s copy of said OCT was allegedly kept by Pablo the eldest child of Zeny and her husband Benny. But when Pablo died, his daughter Tina could not find said OCT. So she executed an Affidavit of Loss stating that said OCT along with other documents kept in a cabinet in their residence could no longer be found, although it has never been sold, mortgaged or encumbered or reconstituted as certified by the Registry of Deeds of the city.

Based on the foregoing supposed facts, Fulgencio and Adela filed before the Regional Trial Court of the city where the land is situated, a Petition for Reconstitution of the said OCT which was on file with Register of Deeds of said city and was among those presumed burned during the fire that razed the City Hall building about 40 years ago.

In support of their petition, Fulgencio and Adela presented certifications issued by the various offices in the city about the foregoing allegations, including the report of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) on the issuance of said OCT based on the decree of the CFI and the technical description of the property verified as correct.

After considering the evidence presented by Fulgencio and Adela, the RTC granted the Petition and ordered the Register of Deeds to reconstitute the original copy of said OCT. The Republic of the Philippines, however, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appealed said ruling to the Court of Appeals (CA), contending that the RTC erred in granting the Petition despite the failure of Fulgencio and Adela to establish the existence of OCT No. 1929 (263).

But the RTC ruling was affirmed by the CA. The CA said that per records, there is ground to presume that the original copy of OCT 1929 (263) registered in the name Zeny Abelardo is one among those burned in the fire that razed the City Hall of the city some 39 years ago. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court said no. The CA erred in affirming the RTC order considering that the evidence on record failed to sufficiently support the legal conclusion that OCT 1929 (263) existed or was actually issued and that it was subsequently lost or destroyed. The Petition for Reconstitution in this case is based on Section 2 (d) of Republic Act (RA) 26, which requires the submission of an authenticated copy of the decree of registration pursuant to which the original certificate of title was issued.

In this case, the decree issued by the CFI merely ordered the registration of the lot in the name of Zeny Abelardo. That means there is still an act of registration to follow or to be complied with to bring the subject lot under the provisions of the Torrens System and, consequently, the issuance of an OCT. Also the decree does not mention that it was issued to support the issuance of an existing OCT, in particular OCT 1929(263) in the name of Abelardo. There is need therefore for Fulgencio and Adela to submit supporting evidence to prove that said lot was subsequently registered and covered by an OCT in the name of Zeny in compliance with and pursuant to said decree.

Even the LRA report also merely admitted to the existence of said Decree of Registration in favor of Zeny. It did not indicate that an OCT was subsequently issued pursuant thereto as well as the number of the OCT and the date it was issued. Such absence does not warrant the granting of the Petition.

The CA also erred in relying on the Certification of the Register of Deeds of the city that there is ground to presume that the OCT covering the lot registered in the name of Zeny is one among those burned in the fire that razed the City Hall. Such certification does not necessarily mean that said OCT once formed part of its record. The RD only presumed that said OCT is among those burned during the fire. It did not state and confirm that OCT existed and formed part of its record.

Consequently, the CA also erred in affirming the RTC order since the fact of the existence of said OCT has not been established. An inventory of the original certificates issued by the Register of Deeds which proved that the OCT existed and formed part of the records that was burned should have been submitted.

Even the tax declaration is not a reliable source of reconstitution of a Certificate of Title. Such tax declaration can only be prima facie evidence of the claim of ownership, which is not an issue in a reconstitution proceeding. A reconstitution of title does not pass upon the ownership of the land covered by a lost or destroyed title but merely determines whether a reissuance of such title is proper.

So the ruling of the CA should be reversed and set aside and the petition of Fulgencio and Adela should be dismissed (Republic vs. Juan and Delia Fule, G.R. 239273, March 2, 2020).

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Email: js0711192@gmail.com

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