Issue of June 10, 2018
Mt. Province

70th Courier Anniversary Issue
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CA acts on disputed forestland in Puguis
by Ofelia C. Empian with reports from Harley F. Palangchao

FOREST WOES -- Government personnel and the heirs of Evaristo Tiotioen together with the sheriff of the Benguet Regional Trial Court inspect the disputed portion of a forested area in La Trinidad, Benguet to determine the existing structures in the area, in relation to the status quo court order to the injunction case filed by the heirs against the municipality. -- Ofelia Empian

The municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet is the rightful owner of a portion of the disputed Puguis Communal Forest, according to the Court of Appeals.

The CA granted the appeal of the municipality of La Trinidad on the earlier decision made by the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet Branch 63 granting the application for registration of land title filed by the late Evaristo Tiotioen.

The CA decision released on April 30 denied the application of the heirs of Tiotioen for the application for registration of their land title. The disputed area involves two parcels of land located at Pico, La Trinidad within Lot 1 PSU-230646 containing 123,935 square meters and Lot 2 PSU-230646 with 56,553 square meters or totaling to 18 hectares.

“Wherefore, premises considered, the appeal is granted. The decision dated Aug. 30, 2001 of Branch 63, Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet in Civil Case No. 93-LRC-0008 is reversed and set aside. Applicants-appellees heirs of Tiotioen’s application for land registration is hereby denied for lack of merit,” the CA decision stated.

The decision noted that the appeal of the municipal government is meritorious. It stated that the application by Evaristo Tiotioen before the RTC “reveals that he failed to indicate the exact legal basis of his request.”

The decision stated that the CA finds no sufficient basis to grant the registration of the properties in favor of the heirs of Tiotioen “for their failure to prove that their possession of the properties in the concept of an owner dated back to 12 June 1945 or earlier, and that the properties are alienable and disposable,” it stated. 

Also, it stated that the properties cannot be acquired by prescription under Section 14 (2) of PD 1529 as claimed by the heirs of Tiotioen.

Section 14 (2) provides that only private properties may be acquired through prescription and the following must be proven: the property has been classified as agricultural land, has been declared alienable and disposable and there is an express government manifestation that the property is already patrimonial, or is no longer retained for public service or the development of national wealth.

“It bears stressing that without the concurrence of these three conditions the land remains part of public dominion, thus incapable of acquisition by prescription,” the decision stated.

Tiotioen has claimed that he inherited the said parcels of land.

He claimed that he has been in actual, open, continuous, exclusive and notorious possession and occupation in the concept of an owner for the last 50 years when he filed for application for judicial confirmation and registration of the land title on Oct. 13, 1973.

From then on it was a long battle between Tiotioen, who was subsequently represented by his heirs when he died on June 21, 1997, and the government involving the La Trinidad local government unit, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Office of the Solicitor General regarding the legality of Tiotioen’s ownership over a portion of the communal forest.

Replying to the CA decision, heirs of Tiotioen claimed the April 30 CA decision is “erroneous” as a result of the erroneous pleading filed by the alleged counsel of the heirs of Tiotioen without authority to do so.

To recall, the registered counsel for the heirs of Tiotioen in Civil Case 93-LRC-0008 was Atty. Vicente Milloria, wherein the heirs of Tiotioen won the case while their application for judicial confirmation of their title was granted on Aug. 30, 2011.

On the other hand, the oppositors, the La Trinidad LGU, and the DENR appealed said decision to the CA and was docketed as CA-GR-SP No. 71358 and CA-GR-SP No. 71577, wherein the CA decided the case on Feb. 15, 2005 giving due course to the petition filed by the municipality of La Trinidad while the petition filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of the DENR was denied for lack of merit, according to the heirs of Tiotioen.

They added that the municipality of La Trinidad failed to file their petition for certiorari and instead, the DENR appealed the said decision to the Supreme Court and was docketed as G.R. No. 167215 wherein the SC, on Oct. 8, 2008, dismissed the case in favor of the heirs of Tiotioen. Then on Feb 5, 2009, said decision was entered into the entry of judgment.

The claimants further explained that from Feb. 15 to Oct. 8, 2008, the La Trinidad LGU failed to file its petition for certiorari until the records of the case was returned to the CA, which later transmitted the same record to the Benguet RTC Branch 63 in 2009.

The claimants also said the DENR filed a second motion for reconsideration to the SC but the same was dismissed on June 9, 2009 in favor of the heirs of Tiotioen.

A dispositive portion of the SC order in G.R. No. 167215 reads “The court resolved to deny for lack of merit petitioner’s second motion for reconsideration of the decision dated Oct. 8, 2008  (with motion for leave of court and motion to recall entry of judgment) considering that a second motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading under Section 2, Rule 52 in relation to Sec. 4, Rule 56 of the 1997 rules of civil procedure, as amended. “Note” no further pleadings will be entertained, let entry of judgment be made in due course.”

The claimants also asserted that the CA decision dated April 30, 2018 is “moot and academic” as the Land Registration Authority on Feb. 9, 2015 ordered the issuance of title to Evaristo Tiotioen.

“The decision of the Court of Appeals dated April 30, 2018 is not final and not an outright revocation of the title and decree issued to the heirs of Tiotioen, as the La Trinidad LGU must still file another petition for nullification to the said title and decree if they can prove that said title is really within the Puguis communal forest,” the heirs of Tiotioen said.

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