• Govt can take back land whose title was wrongly issued by its agents

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    Our family was able to secure a homestead patent for a piece of land in a province where our ancestors lived. Twenty years ago, the local Registry of Deeds and the proper bureaus of that province issued the clearances, the patent and consequently the registered title to the property. We were surprised that it is only this time that a case was filed against us by the government for reversion, alleging that there were irregularities in the process and that the land was actually “inalienable and non-disposable.” Is the government still allowed to take back our property despite the considerable lapse of time?
    Sincerely yours,
    Alena

    Dear Alena,
    The case of Republic of the Philippines vs. Amor Hachero, et al. (G.R. No. 200973, May 30, 2016), penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, is strictly applicable to your situation. It was clearly elaborated there:
    “At any rate, it is a time-honored principle that the statute of limitations or the lapse of time does not run against the State. Jurisprudence also recognizes the State’s immunity from estoppel as a result of the mistakes or errors of its officials and agents.” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]

    Also, in the same case, it was clearly acknowledged:

    “It is well-recognized that if a person obtains a title under the Public Land Act which includes, by oversight, lands which cannot be registered under the Torrens system, or when the Director of Lands did not have jurisdiction over the same because it is a public domain, the grantee does not, by virtue of the said certificate of title alone, become the owner of the land or property illegally included. Otherwise stated, property of the public domain is incapable of registration and its inclusion in a title nullifies that title.” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]

    Clearly, the fact that the title of your ancestors to the land was wrongfully obtained because of the land’s classification does not estop or stop the government from advancing its claims via a case for reversion. After all, as clearly stated in the case:

    “It is, after all, hornbook law that the principle of estoppel does not operate against the Government for the act of its agents. And while there may be circumstances when equitable estoppel was applied against public authorities, i.e., when the Government did not undertake any act to contest the title for an unreasonable length of time and the lot was already alienated to innocent buyers for value, such are not present in this case. More importantly, we cannot use the equitable principle of estoppel to defeat the law. Under the Public Land Act and Presidential Proclamation 678 dated February 5, 1941, the subject property is part of the Matchwood Forest Reserve which is inalienable and not subject to disposition.” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.]
    Hence, while you have claims and your own position on the registration of the property of your ancestors, the same cannot negate the right of the government to advance its claims based on law.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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