These are two petitions for review on certiorari questioning the decision of the CA which declared the disputed property as forest land, not subject to titling in favor of private persons. These petitions have their genesis in an application for confirmation of imperfect title and its registration filed with the Court of First Instance of Capiz. The parcel of land sought to be registered is known as Lot No. 885 of the Cadastral Survey of Pilar, Capiz, and has an area of 645,703 square meters.
Petitioners Roque Borre and Melquiades Borre, filed the application for registration. In due time, the heirs of Jose Amunategui filed an opposition to the application of Roque and Melquiades Borre. At the same time, they prayed that the title to a portion of Lot No. 885 of Pilar Cadastre containing 527,747 square meters be confirmed and registered in the names of said Heirs of Jose Amunategui. The Director of Forestry, through the Prov. Fiscal of Capiz, also filed an opposition to the application for registration of title claiming that the land was mangrove swamp which was still classified as forest land and part of the public domain. Another oppositor, Emeterio Bereber filed his opposition insofar as a portion of Lot No. 885 containing 117,956 square meters was concerned. Applicant-petitioner Roque Borre sold whatever rights and interests he may have on Lot No. 885 to Angel Alpasan. The latter also filed an opposition, claiming that he is entitled to have said lot registered in his name.
After trial, the Court of First Instance of Capiz adjudicated 117,956 square meters to Emeterio Bereber and the rest of the land containing 527,747 square meters was adjudicated in the proportion of 5/6 share to Angel Alpasan and 1/6 share to Melquiades Borre.
A petition for review on certiorari was filed by the Heirs of Jose Amunategui contending that the disputed lot had been in the possession of private persons for over 30 years and therefore in accordance with Republic Act No. 1942, said lot could still be the subject of registration and confirmation of title in the name of a private person in accordance with Act No. 496 known as the Land Registration Act. Another petition for review on certiorari was filed by Roque Borre and Encarnacion Delfin, contending that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing their complaint against the Heirs of Jose Amunategui. The Borre complaint was for the annulment of the deed of absolute sale of Lot No. 885 executed by them in favor of the Heirs of Amunategui. The complaint was dismissed on the basis of the CA’s decision that the disputed lot is part of the public domain. The petitioners also question the jurisdiction of the CA in passing upon the relative rights of the parties over the disputed lot when its final decision after all is to declare said lot a part of the public domain classified as forest land.
The Heirs of Jose Amunategui maintain that Lot No. 885 cannot be classified as forest land because it is not thickly forested but is a “mangrove swamp”.
ISSUE: Whether or not Lot No. 885 is public forest land, not capable of registration in the names of the private applicants.
RULING: A forested area classified as forest land of the public domain does not lose such classification simply because loggers or settlers may have stripped it of its forest cover. Parcels of land classified as forest land may actually be covered with grass or planted to crops by kaingin cultivators or other farmers. “Forest lands” do not have to be on mountains or in out of the way places. Swampy areas covered by mangrove trees, nipa palms, and other trees growing in brackish or sea water may also be classified as forest land. The classification is descriptive of its legal nature or status and does not have to be descriptive of what the land actually looks like. Unless and until the land classified as “forest” is released in an official proclamation to that effect so that it may form part of the disposable agricultural lands of the public domain, the rules on confirmation of imperfect title do not apply. Possession of forest lands, no matter how long, cannot ripen into private ownership. It bears emphasizing that a positive act of Government is needed to declassify land which is classified as forest and to convert it into alienable or disposable land for agricultural or other purposes.
The fact that no trees enumerated in Section 1821 of the Revised Administrative Code are found in Lot No. 885 does not divest such land of its being classified as forest land, much less as land of the public domain. The appellate court found that in 1912, the land must have been a virgin forest as stated by Emeterio Bereber’s witness Deogracias Gavacao, and that as late as 1926, it must have been a thickly forested area as testified by Jaime Bertolde. The opposition of the Director of Forestry was strengthened by the appellate court’s finding that timber licenses had to be issued to certain licensees and even Jose Amunategui himself took the trouble to ask for a license to cut timber within the area. It was only sometime in 1950 that the property was converted into fishpond but only after a previous warning from the District Forester that the same could not be done because it was classified as “public forest.”
The court affirmed the finding that property Lot No. 885 is part of the public domain, classified as public forest land. Petitions were DISMISSED.