Private land cannot be the subject of free patent application

Persida Acosta

Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
My parents, who are deceased, owned a two-hectare farmland in Pangasinan that was titled by means of a free patent application. The free patent title covering the land was issued in August 1987. When my siblings and I tried to sell the land in 2007, Jaycon appeared and claimed that he bought the land from Dindo. He presented the free patent title issued in the name of Dindo, and the deed of absolute sale. When we checked the title presented by Jaycon, we discovered that the title in my parent’s name and that of Dindo covered the same land. However, Dindo’s title was issued in December 1987.

We are really confused. How could this have happened? We have already consulted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in our place regarding the matter, and they advised us that they would file the appropriate action against Dindo. Can we file a case against him instead of waiting for the case to be filed by the DENR?

Dear Quintilijos,
You can file a cause of action for the declaration of nullity of patent against Dindo, and you need not wait for the case to be filed by the DENR. You are the real party in interest in the action for the declaration of nullity of free patent. The DENR had no jurisdiction to issue a free patent title to Dindo in December 1987 after the subject land was titled to your parents in August 1987.

In a similar case decided by the Supreme Court in Tancuntian vs Gempesaw, et al. (G.R. No. 149097, October 18, 2004), the late Chief Justice Renato Corona stated:

“On the other hand, a cause of action for declaration of nullity of free patent and certificate of title would require allegations of the plaintiffs ownership of the contested lot prior to the issuance of such free patent and certificate of title as well as the defendant’s fraud or mistake; as the case may be, in successfully obtaining these documents of title over the parcel of land claimed by plaintiff. In such a case, the nullity arises strictly not from the fraud or deceit but from the fact that the land is beyond the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands to bestow and whatever patent or certificate of title obtained therefore is consequently void ab initio (Ramirez vs Court of Appeals, No. L-28591, 31 October 1969, 30 SCRA 297, 301). The real party in interest is not the State but the plaintiff who alleges a pre-existing right of ownership over the parcel of land in question even before the grant of title to the defendant. Xxx xxx”

The court stated further that “[t]he jurisdiction of the Director of Lands is limited to public land and does not extend to land already privately owned. A free patent which purports to convey land to which the Government no longer has title at the time of its issuance does not vest any title in the patentee as against the registered owner.”

Based on the decision cited above, the title issued to Dindo is void considering that the same was given to him by a government agency that had no jurisdiction to issue the title.

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


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