Republic vs Santos (G.R. No. 160453 November 12, 2012)

Republic of the Philippines vs Santos
G.R. No. 160453 November 12, 2012

Facts: Alleging continuous and adverse possession of more than ten years, respondent Arcadio Ivan A. Santos III (Arcadio Ivan) applied on March 7, 1997 for the registration of Lot 4998-B (the property) in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Parafiaque City. The property, which had an area of 1,045 square meters, more or less, was located in Barangay San Dionisio, Paraque City, and was bounded in the Northeast by Lot 4079 belonging to respondent Arcadio C. Santos, Jr. (Arcadio, Jr.), in the Southeast by the Paraque River, in the Southwest by an abandoned road, and in the Northwest by Lot 4998-A also owned by Arcadio Ivan. On May 21, 1998, Arcadio Ivan amended his application for land registration to include Arcadio, Jr. as his co-applicant because of the latters co-ownership of the property. He alleged that the property had been formed through accretion and had been in their joint open, notorious, public, continuous and adverse possession for more than 30 years.

Issue: Whether or not the subject parcel land maybe acquired through the process of accretion.

Held: No. Accretion is the process whereby the soil is deposited along the banks of rivers. The deposit of soil, to be considered accretion, must be: (a) gradual and imperceptible; (b) made through the effects of the current of the water; and (c) taking place on land adjacent to the banks of rivers.

The RTC and the CA grossly erred in treating the dried-up river bed as an accretion that became respondents property pursuant to Article 457 of the Civil Code. That land was definitely not an accretion. The process of drying up of a river to form dry land involved the recession of the water level from the river banks, and the dried-up land did not equate to accretion, which was the gradual and imperceptible deposition of soil on the river banks through the effects of the current. In accretion, the water level did not recede and was more or less maintained. Hence, respondents as the riparian owners had no legal right to claim ownership of Lot 4998-B. Considering that the clear and categorical language of Article 457 of the Civil Code has confined the provision only to accretion, we should apply the provision as its clear and categorical language tells us to. Axiomatic it is, indeed, that where the language of the law is clear and categorical, there is no room for interpretation; there is only room for application. The first and fundamental duty of courts is then to apply the law.

The State exclusively owned Lot 4998-B and may not be divested of its right of ownership. Article 502 of the Civil Code expressly declares that rivers and their natural beds are public dominion of the State. It follows that the river beds that dry up, like Lot 4998-B, continue to belong to the State as its property of public dominion, unless there is an express law that provides that the dried-up river beds should belong to some other person.

The principle that the riparian owner whose land receives the gradual deposits of soil does not need to make an express act of possession, and that no acts of possession are necessary in that instance because it is the law itself that pronounces the alluvium to belong to the riparian owner from the time that the deposit created by the current of the water becomes manifest has no applicability herein. This is simply because Lot 4998-B was not formed through accretion. Hence, the ownership of the land adjacent to the river bank by respondents predecessor-in-interest did not translate to possession of Lot 4998-B that would ripen to acquisitive prescription in relation to Lot 4998-B.

Yet, even conceding, for the sake of argument, that respondents possessed Lot 4998-B for more than thirty years in the character they claimed, they did not thereby acquire the land by prescription or by other means without any competent proof that the land was already declared as alienable and disposable by the Government. Absent that declaration, the land still belonged to the State as part of its public dominion.

Indeed, under the Regalian doctrine, all lands not otherwise appearing to be clearly within private ownership are presumed to belong to the State. No public land can be acquired by private persons without any grant, express or implied, from the Government. It is indispensable, therefore, that there is a showing of a title from the State. Occupation of public land in the concept of owner, no matter how long, cannot ripen into ownership and be registered as a title.

Subject to the exceptions defined in Article 461 of the Civil Code (which declares river beds that are abandoned through the natural change in the course of the waters as ipso facto belonging to the owners of the land occupied by the new course, and which gives to the owners of the adjoining lots the right to acquire only the abandoned river beds not ipso facto belonging to the owners of the land affected by the natural change of course of the waters only after paying their value), all river beds remain property of public dominion and cannot be acquired by acquisitive prescription unless previously declared by the Government to be alienable and disposable. Considering that Lot 4998-B was not shown to be already declared to be alienable and disposable, respondents could not be deemed to have acquired the property through prescription.

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