Dear PAO,

I inherited a piece of land in Pampanga, which was acquired by my husband through a free patent application. From the time we acquired that property up to the present, we have been occupying it. Sometime in 1998, I learned that the title to said property was cancelled by virtue of an Affidavit of Self-Adjudication executed by a certain Gina. To obtain an owner's duplicate copy of the title, Gina filed a petition in court alleging that it was lost, although it was not actually lost. Now, said property was again transferred to her son through a Deed of Donation. Are we barred from recovering said property?

Beth

Dear Beth,

At the outset, it is worthy to remember that a court has no jurisdiction to order the reissuance of a land title, which is not actually lost, but is in possession of another person, like a buyer, or mortgagee. In Camitan vs. Court of Appeals (G.R. 128099, December 20, 2006, ponente Associate Justice Dante Tinga), the court held:

"Thus, before a duplicate certificate of title can be replaced, the petitioner under the foregoing provision must establish that the duplicate certificate was lost or destroyed. This court has consistently held that a trial court does not acquire jurisdiction over a petition for the issuance of a new owner's duplicate certificate of title, if the original is in fact not lost but is in the possession of an alleged buyer. In other words, the fact of loss of the duplicate certificate is jurisdictional."

Similarly, in Philippine National Bank vs. Ciriaco Jumamoy (G. R. 169901, August 3, 2011), penned by former associate justice Mariano del Castillo, the Supreme Court explained how implied trust is created when the property is acquired through fraud or mistake, thus:

"If property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the property comes." An action for reconveyance based on implied trust prescribes in 10 years as it is an obligation created by law, to be counted from the date of issuance of the Torrens title over the property. This rule, however, applies only when the plaintiff or the person enforcing the trust is not in possession of the property.

In Vda. de Cabrera v. Court of Appeals, we said that there is no prescription when in an action for reconveyance, the claimant is in actual possession of the property because this in effect is an action for quieting of title:

[S]ince if a person claiming to be the owner thereof is in actual possession of the property, as the defendants are in the instant case, the right to seek reconveyance, which in effect seeks to quiet title to the property, does not prescribe. The reason for this is that one who is in actual possession of a piece of land claiming to be the owner thereof may wait until his possession is disturbed or his title is attacked before taking steps to vindicate his right, the reason for the rule being, that his undisturbed possession gives him a continuing right to seek the aid of a court of equity to ascertain and determine the nature of the adverse claim of a third party and its effect on his own title, which right can be claimed only by one who is in possession."

Applying the aforementioned decisions in your case, it is clear that your right to seek reconveyance over the subject property is imprescriptible since it is in the nature of quieting of title. Quieting of title is a special civil action where the parties ask the court to determine their respective rights, not only to put things in their proper place but also to make rightful claimant see every cloud of doubt over the property removed so that afterwards, he/she may now introduce improvements therein without fear of being disturbed.

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. 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.