Bacaquio was an owner of a parcel of land and subsequently sold it to Catalino Agyapao, father of defendant Florendo Catalino for for P300.00 in 1928 which of the purchase price P100.00 was paid and receipted for when the land was surveyed, but the receipt was lost; the balance was paid after the certificate of title was issued. Bacaquio. No formal deed of sale was executed, but since the sale in 1928, or for more than 30 years, vendee Catalino Agyapao and his son, defendant-appellee Florendo Catalino, had been in possession of the land, in the concept of owner, paying the taxes thereon and introducing improvements. Grace Ventura, by herself alone, “sold” as per her Transferor’s Affidavit presented, anew the same land for P300.00 to defendant Florendo Catalino. Catalino Agyapao in turn sold the land to his son, the defendant Florendo Catalino. It is worth noting that in the Original Certificate Title of the subject land, no encumbrance or sale has ever been annotated in the certificate of title. Simeon, Emilia and Marcelina Miguel, and appellant Grace Ventura brought suit against Florendo Catalino for the recovery of the land, plaintiffs claiming to be the children and heirs of the original registered owner, and averred that defendant, without their knowledge or consent, had unlawfully taken possession of the land, gathered its produce and unlawfully excluded plaintiffs therefrom. Defendant answered pleading ownership and adverse possession for 30 years. After trial the Court dismissed the complaint, declared defendant to be the rightful owner, and ordered the Register of Deeds to issue a transfer certificate in lieu of the original.
Who is the rightful owner of the land? Does the principle of estoppel apply?
The sale of the land by Bacaquio to Catalino Agyapao, defendant’s father, is null and void ab initio, for lack of executive approval. Section 145(b) of the Administrative Code of Mindanao and Sulu, providing that no conveyance or encumbrance of real property shall be made in that department by any non-christian inhabitant of the same, unless, among other requirements, the deed shall bear indorsed upon it the approval of the provincial governor or his representative duly authorized in writing for the purpose and Section 146 of the same Code, declaring that every contract or agreement made in violation of Section 145 “shall be null and void”.Since the sale is technically invalid, Bacaquio remained, in law, the owner of the land until his death in 1943, when his title passed on, by the law on succession, to his heirs, the plaintiffs-appellants.
Notwithstanding, the Court is of the opinion that the judgment in favor of defendant-appellee Florendo Catalino must be sustained. For despite the invalidity of his sale to Catalino Agyapao, father of defendant-appellee, the vendor Bacaquio suffered the latter to enter, possess and enjoy the land in question without protest, from 1928 to 1943, when the seller died; and the appellants, in turn, while succeeding the deceased, also remained inactive, without taking any step to reivindicate the lot from 1944 to 1962, when the present suit was commenced in court. Even granting appellants’ proposition that no prescription lies against their father’s recorded title, their passivity and inaction for more than 34 years (1928-1962) justifies the defendant-appellee in setting up the equitable defense of laches in his own behalf. As a result, the action of plaintiffs-appellants must be considered barred and the Court below correctly so held. Courts cannot look with favor at parties who, by their silence, delay and inaction, knowingly induce another to spend time, effort and expense in cultivating the land, paying taxes and making improvements thereon for 30 long years, only to spring from ambush and claim title when the possessor’s efforts and the rise of land values offer an opportunity to make easy profit at his expense.
The four elements of laches are present in the case at bar, namely: (a) conduct on the part of the defendant, or of one under whom he claims, giving rise to the situation of which complaint is made and for which the complaint seeks a remedy; (b) delay in asserting the complainant’s rights, the complainant having had knowledge or notice, of the defendant’s conduct and having been afforded an opportunity to institute a suit; (c) 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 (d) injury or prejudice to the defendant in the event relief is accorded to the complainant or the suit is not held to be barred. In the case at bar, Bacaquio sold the land in 1928 but the sale is void for lack of the governor’s approval. The vendor, and also his heirs after him, could have instituted an action to annul the sale from that time, since they knew of the invalidity of the sale, which is a matter of law; they did not have to wait for 34 years to institute suit. The defendant was made to feel secure in the belief that no action would be filed against him by such passivity, and also because he “bought” again the land in 1949 from Grace Ventura who alone tried to question his ownership; so that the defendant will be plainly prejudiced in the event the present action is not held to be barred.
The defense of laches applies independently of prescription. Laches is different from the statute of limitations. Prescription is concerned with the fact of delay, whereas laches is concerned with the effect of delay. Prescription is a matter of time; laches is principally a question of the inequity of permitting a claim to be enforced, this inequity being founded on some change in the condition of the property or the relation of the parties. The prescription is statutory; laches is not. Laches applies in equity, whereas prescription applies at law. Prescription is based on fixed time laches is not.
Since the plaintiffs-appellants are barred from recovery, their divestiture of all the elements of ownership in the land is complete; and the Court a quo was justified in ordering that Bacaquio’s original certificate be cancelled, and a new transfer certificate in the name of Florendo Catalino be issued in lieu thereof by the Register of Deeds.
* Case digest by Paula Bianca B. Eguia, LLB-1, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2017-2018