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Property rules

Don’t you dare take away my land!

Connie and Frank are really at odds against each other. Both of them claimed ownership over a piece of land in bucolic Samar.

Frank’s hatred against Connie reached fever pitch when Connie, together with several of her relatives, went to the land in controversy and while there, with the use of force, violence and intimidation, usurped and took possession of the land, claiming that the same is their inheritance from their ascendants. While there, Connie and her relatives immediately gathered coconuts, made them into copra, and profited therefrom. Frank was then threatened that if he will try to return to the land in question, something will happen to him.

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Frank insists that he is the owner of the property by virtue of Tax Declaration No. 121. He said that he purchased the land from a certain Angel, but the land was purchased by his grandfather, Petre. The land actually was once involved in litigation and was awarded to Frank’s predecessor-in-interest in a civil case docketed as Civil Case No. 356. The decision in that civil case shows that the land was judicially awarded to Petre.

Connie, on the other hand, relies on a Tax Declaration No. 1195 in the name of a certain Lorenz. She alleged that the land being claimed by Frank is different from the land litigated in Civil Case No. 356 and that the land subject of Civil Case No. 356 is actually in the possession of Frank.

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Acting on the criminal complaint of Frank, a criminal information for the crime of Usurpation of Real Rights in Property was filed against Connie. Connie was thereafter convicted by the trial court. Her conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Q: What is the crime of usurpation of real property?

A: The crime is defined in Art. 312 of the Revised Penal Code. Art. 312 provides: “Occupation of real property or usurpation of real rights in property. —Any person who, by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, shall take possession of any real property or shall usurp any real rights in property belonging to another, in addition to the penalty incurred for the acts of violence executed by him shall be punished by a fine from P50 to P100 per centum of the gain which he shall have obtained, but not less than P75.

If the value of the gain cannot be ascertained, a fine of P200 to P500 shall be imposed.

Q: What are the elements of the crime that must be proven in order for a person to be held criminally liable?

A: The elements of the offense are occupation of another’s real property or usurpation of a real right belonging to another person; violence or intimidation should be employed in possessing the real property or in usurping the real right; and the accused should be animated by the intent to gain.

In order to sustain a conviction for “usurpacion de derecho reales,” the proof must show that the real property occupied or usurped belongs, not to the occupant or usurper, but to some third person, and that the possession of the usurper was obtained by means of intimidation or violence done to the person ousted of possession of the property.

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Q: Who is the owner of the subject property?

A: Frank is the owner of the property. The matter on the ownership of the lot in question, however, had long been settled in Civil Case No. 356 (ownership of the real property) involving the predecessors-in-interest of Frank. It is clear from the documents that Connie and her relatives encroached the land of Frank.

Q: Are the two other requisites of the usurpation of real property likewise present?

A: The two other requisites of the employment of violence in acquiring possession over the real property or in usurping the real right and intent to gain are present. Bien, Frank’s witness, categorically said that on Feb. 2, at around 9:00 in the morning, while he was busy working in the agricultural land which he owns in common with complainant Frank, Connie and her relatives suddenly appeared and while there, with the use of force, violence and intimidation, usurped and took possession of their landholding, claiming that the same is their inheritance from their ascendants and while there, Connie immediately gathered coconuts and made them into copra. Frank was then forcibly driven out by Connie from their landholding and was threatened that if he will try to return to the land in question, something will happen to him.

Q: Can Connie, on appeal to the Supreme Court, assail the factual findings of the Court of Appeals?

A: No. It is well settled that factual findings of the CA are conclusive on the parties and carry even more weight when the said court affirms the factual findings of the trial court.

Q: Can Connie validly question the findings of the lower court on the ground that the the judge who tried the case was different from the judge who penned the decision does not in any way taint the same?

A: No. The efficacy of a decision is not necessarily impaired by the fact that its writer only took over from a colleague who had earlier presided at the trial, unless there is showing of grave abuse of discretion in the factual findings reached by him. There is no such showing in this case.

(Source: Quinao vs. The People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 139603, July 14, 2000)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is Dean, Lyceum of the Philippines University; Chairman, Philippine Association of Law Schools; founder, Mawis Law Office

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