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Republic of the Philippines v. Spouses Jovito and Kathleen Bercede, G.R. No. 214223, reminds us that case law instructs that the unavailability or loss of the source documents listed higher in the list than the one being offered as the source for a petition for reconstitution must be proved by dear and convincing evidence.

Sps. Bercede (Jovito and Kathleen) claims that they are the owners of a parcel of land covered by OCT No. 4275. The property was allegedly purchased from Kathleen’s parents, evidenced by a deed of absolute sale. Kathleen’s parents, in turn, bought from Kathleen’s grandmother through an absolute deed of sale. Kathleen’s grandmother acquired the same from the heirs of the original owner, by way of an extrajudicial settlement. Thus, the subject property was still under the name of its original owner.

Sps. Bercede, before the RTC, prayed for the reconstitution of OCT No. 4275. They averred that the original copy of the title (which should have been on file with the Register of Deeds) and the owner’s duplicate have both been lost and destroyed.

The following documents were presented in support of the petition: a photocopy of the OCT, Tax Declaration, Tax Clearance, EJS and all the deeds of absolute sale, a Certification from the LRA-RD stating that the certificate of title covering the subject property was no longer available (either that it was burned or lost during the World War), and a Certification from the DENR which indicated the geographic position and plane coordinates of the cadastral survey covering the subject property.

The Republic sought to dismiss the petition, arguing:

  • That the documents presented are sufficient and proper to warrant the reconstitution of the lost or destroyed certificate of title;
  • That the spouses are the registered owners of the property or have an interest therein;
  • The certificate of title was in force at the time it was lost or destroyed; and
  • The description, area, and boundaries of the property are substantially the same as those contained in the lost or destroyed certificate of title.

The petition was granted by the RTC. LRA Certification confirmed the loss or destruction of the certificate of title. The spouses have shown that they have an interest over the property through the subsequent transfers, which culminated in their ownership.

The Tax Dec, in relation to the photocopy of the OCT, means that the title is still in

force and that the area and boundaries of the property are the same as those

contained in OCT No. 4275.

The republic appealed, interposing, among others the supposed intercalations and erasures on the photocopy of the OCT even if the RA 26 requires that the certificate of title should be free from apparent erasures and alterations. However, their appeal was denied by the CA.

The Republic maintains that the spouses failed to prove that the owner’s duplicate of OCT was also missing, because the certificate by the LRA refers solely to the original supposed to be on its file, and resorting to a mere photocopy is unjustified.

THE PETITION WAS GRANTED. The SC reversed the CA and the RTC, denying the petition for reconstitution.

The purpose of reconstitution is to enable, after observing the procedures prescribed by law, the reproduction of the lost or destroyed Torrens certificate in the same form and in exactly the same way it was at the time of the loss or destruction.

In Denila v. Republic, the SC held that substantial compliance with jurisdictional requirements is not enough, because the acquisition of jurisdiction over a reconstitution case hinged on a strict compliance with the requirements of the law.

Both the RTC and the CA did not make any categorical ruling on whether the spouses have established that they failed to secure or find the documents mentioned paragraphs (a) to (e) of Section 2 to justify their resort to a photocopy of OCT No. 4275.

In fact, when Kathleen testified, it was shown that their only basis for seeking reconstitution of their title is that it was lost and destroyed based on the June 3, 2008 Certification issued by the LRA that the said OCT is not on their file.

Based on this fact alone, the petition for reconstitution should have been dismissed by the RTC and should not have prospered.

On this score, case law instructs that the unavailability or loss of the source documents listed higher in the list than the one being offered as the source for a petition for reconstitution must be proved by credible and convincing evidence.

Therefore, the party praying for the reconstitution of a title must show that he had, in fact, sought to secure such documents and failed to find them before presentation of ‘other documents’ as evidence in substitution is allowed.

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