Without a color of right
Three lots were owned by CE Inc. as evidenced by an Original Certificate Title issued in 1956.
In the early ’90s, DL Realty and Development Corp. (DLRDC) purchased two of the lots, and the remaining lot was acquired by a rich family.
Accordingly, in 1992, new transfer certificate titles were issued to DLRDC and the rich family. The company later bought the lot owned by the Regalado family.
DLRDC caused a relocation survey to be conducted. The survey showed there were about 34 houses sporadically erected on the lots. The individuals surreptitiously entered the properties and introduced improvements thereon.
All demands to vacate went unheeded. DLRDC was thus constrained to file an action for recovery of possession and damages against the occupants.
The occupants claimed, among others, that they entered the lots between the years 1970 and 1982; that their occupation of the lots has been continuous, undisturbed, public and adverse and has therefore ripened into ownership; and that whatever rights DLRDC had over the lots were barred by laches.
They even presented a 1984 Certification approved by District Forester showing that the lots were alienable and disposable land of the State.
Q: What is laches?
A: Laches has been defined as the failure or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence could or should have been done earlier. It should be stressed that laches is not concerned only with the mere lapse of time.
The elements of laches are:
conduct on the part of the defendant, or one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation that led to the complaint and for which the complaint seeks a remedy;
delay in asserting the complainant’s rights, having had knowledge or notice of the defendant’s conduct and having been afforded an opportunity to institute a suit;
lack of knowledge or notice on the part of the defendant that the complainant would assert the right on which he bases his suit; and
injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant, or the suit is not held barred.
Q: Can the principle of laches bar the recovery of registered lands?
A: As a general rule, an action to recover registered land covered by the Torrens System may not be barred by laches. Neither can laches be set up to resist the enforcement of an imprescriptible legal right.
Q: In the above discussed problem, will the principle of laches bar the recovery of the lands registered under the name of DLRDC?
A: No. The third and fourth elements of laches are not present in the above recited facts.
The defendant occupants lacked notice that the registered owner would assert its right over the lots considering that they knew from the beginning that they have no right to the same. Neither can defendant occupants claim any injury or prejudice that would result by restoring possession of the lots to registered owner.
Moreover, the defendant occupants have no valid claim of title whatsoever to the disputed lots. The defendant occupants entered the lots and built their dwellings thereon without any colorable title.
Believing that the lots were alienable and disposable property of the State, they occupied the same in the hope that they would not be disturbed in their possession. They knew that they did not own the lots and concluded, on the basis of a certification issued by the Bureau of Forest Development, that the lots were government-owned.
Regardless of the nature of the lots’ ownership, however, the fact remains that respondents entered the properties without permission from the owner.
Q: What are the rights of the defendant occupants, if any?
A: None. The defendant occupants are mere squatters on the properties. They are trespassers who, under the law, enjoy no possessory rights.
This is notwithstanding the length of time that they may have physically occupied the lots; they are deemed to have entered the same in bad faith, such that the nature of their possession is presumed to have retained the same character throughout their occupancy.
Hence, a squatter can have no possessory rights whatsoever, and his occupancy of the land is only at the owner’s sufferance, his acts are merely tolerated and cannot affect the owner’s possession.
The squatter is necessarily bound to an implied promise, that he will vacate upon demand.
[Sources: D’Oro Land Realty and Development Corporation vs. Claunan, et al., G.R. No. 169447, February 26, 2007; Akang vs. Municipality of Isulan, et al., G.R. No. 186014, June 26, 2013); Bañez vs. CA, 158 Phil. 17 (1974)]
Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is currently the Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University; president of Philippine Association of Law Schools; and Senior Partner at Gatchalian Castro & Mawis Law Office
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