Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,

Dan is claiming the land which my family and ancestors have been occupying since time immemorial. According to Dan, my family has encroached on his land and the portion we are occupying is part of his two hectares of land. He presented a tax declaration issued in 1970, and the deed of donation signed by his parents in his favor to prove that he inherited the land from his parents. In order to dispute his claim, we presented also before the barangay (village) conciliation the tax declaration issued in 1956 in the name of our grandfather and sworn testimonies of elders living in the same community to prove our ownership over the land and the improvements we have introduced for the past years. Who has a better right over the land?

Cancio

Dear Cancio,

The Supreme Court gave an enlightening explanation in the case of Cequeṅa and Lirio vs. Bolante (GR 137944, April 6, 2000), regarding possession. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban stated:

“Tax receipts and declarations are prima facie proofs of ownership or possession of the property for which such taxes have been paid. Coupled with proof of actual possession of the property, they may become the basis of a claim for ownership. By acquisitive prescription, possession in the concept of owner — public, adverse, peaceful and uninterrupted — may be converted to ownership. On the other hand, mere possession and occupation of land cannot ripen into ownership.”

Your family has a better right over the land which is being claimed by Dan. Please be guided by the decision in the case of Palali vs. Awisan (GR 158385, Feb. 12, 2010), where the Supreme Court, through Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, stated:

“Thus, respondent having failed to prove possession, her claim rests solely on her tax declaration. But tax declarations, by themselves, are not conclusive evidence of ownership of real property. In the absence of actual, public, and adverse possession, the declaration of the land for tax purposes does not prove ownership. Respondent’s tax declaration, therefore, cannot serve as basis to oust petitioner who has been in possession (by himself and his predecessors) of the subject property since before the war.

“Neither can respondent rely on the public instruments dealing with the 6.6698-hectare property covered by her tax declaration. Such public documents merely show the successive transfers of the property covered by said documents. They do not conclusively prove that the transferor actually owns the property purportedly being transferred, especially as far as third parties are concerned. For it may very well be that the transferor does not actually own the property he has transferred, in which case he transfers no better right to his transferee. No one can give what he does not have — nemo dat quod non habet. Thus, since respondent’s predecessor-in-interest Cadwising appeared not to have any right to the subject property, he transferred no better right to his transferees, including respondent.

“All told, we hold that as between the petitioner and the respondent, it is the petitioner who has the better claim or title to the subject property. While the respondent merely relied on her tax declaration, petitioner was able to prove actual possession of the subject property coupled with his tax declaration. We have ruled in several cases that possession, when coupled with a tax declaration, is a weighty evidence of ownership. It certainly is more weighty and preponderant than a tax declaration alone.”

Applying the above quoted decision in your situation, Dan’s proof of ownership is a tax declaration which is not a conclusive proof of ownership, whereas, your family presented a tax declaration which was issued earlier than the tax receipt presented by Dan. The deed of donation in favor of Dan is not also a conclusive proof that his parents owned the land they donated. Your family’s actual possession of the land since time immemorial, coupled with a tax declaration, is the more weighty evidence of ownership. Hence, your family has a better right over the land.

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to [email protected]