TUBA, Benguet – The Office of the President allowed the free patent application of some land claimants over parcels of land in sitio Topinao, barangay población following its outright dismissal of a petition filed against the same by residents in the said area.
In a 5-page decision dated June 22, 2022 signed by former Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in OP Case No. 13-B-036 and DENR Case No. 8510, the petition to revoke 2 approved survey plans covering parcels of land located within sitio Topinao, barangay Poblacion filed by Roberto Pidazo/Loreta Pacsi that questioned the free patent application of Andrea Alicnas, Col-ing Cosil, Agnes Alvaez, Valerio Benito, covering some parcels of land in the said area was dismissed for lack of merit
Earlier, the protestants appealed to the Office of the President a decision of the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which affirmed the order of the regional executive director of the DENR-CAR that also dismissed the free patent applications of the appellees over the subject lands located in the said area and dismissing the petition for cancellation of the survey plans covering the same.
The decision stated that the lands subject of the said case are alienable and disposable lands of the public domain situated in Topinao, Poblacion and covered by survey plans.
The OP found the aforesaid appeal unmeritorious as a case for recovery of possession or action publiciana is an ordinary civil proceeding to determine the better right of possession of realty independently of titles.
Consequently, while the court has sufficient authority to resolve which of the parties is entitled to rightful possession, the issue of who among the parties should be awarded the title to the subject property is determined by the DENR through the Land Management Bureau (LMB), thus, in the said case, while appellants better right of possession over the said lands has been resolved by the court, the DENR still has authority to determine who is entitled to the ownership of the lands in question.
After a careful review of the records of the case, the OP concurred with findings of the DENR-CAR as affirmed by the Secretary.
A review of the survey plan showed that the said parcels of land were covered by survey orders issued by authorized DENR officials; the same was executed by a licensed geodetic engineer; was accompanied by a field investigation report and finally recommended for approval by the Community Environment and Natural Resources officer of La Trinidad and that a more careful review was made by personnel of the surveys division of the LMS before its final approval.
The decision pointed out that the petitioners were not able to prove that the lands were surveyed and approved in violation of the manual on land surveying in the country.
On the issue of possession, the courts promulgated its judgement contained in its decision on June 13, 1995 which stated that in fine, better right of possession being duly established by the plaintiff in the said cases, the clamor for recovery of possession was granted.
However, nothing in the said decision declared who among the contending parties were the owners of the contested land, hence, the petitioners should not claim that they are the rightful owners of the same.
Presently, portions of the 2 aforementioned parcels of land are in the physical possession of the intervenors, thus, possession as claimed by the petitioners are not absolute. Further, the State who has the authority to dispose, survey, lease, classify and sell public lands is still in control of the contested lands.
The decision asserted that the issue on who between the parties has better right to the land, the same is ruled in favor of the actual occupants and the party that has transformed the subject public land to a productive agricultural land, indeed, the investigation officers of the DENR-CAR as well as the court itself found the claimants in actual occupation of the lands in question.
Moreover, such actual occupation is even admitted by the petitioners and that claimants have introduced improvements and are in actual cultivation of the lands, most importantly, they have pending free patent surveys converting the lands while petitioners have none.
The decision explained that in conformity with the rule that factual findings of administrative agencies are generally respected and even accorded finality because of the special knowledge and expertise gained by the said agencies from handling matters falling under their specialized jurisdiction, it holds that the DENR secretary did not err in dismissing the appeals.
The said lands of the claimants was allegedly overlapped by the property of the Tans by approximately 4 hectares where the same was sold to the Baguio city government in the amount of more or less P95 million. Contributed article