Acquisitive Prescription – the Acquisition of Ownership by Possession Through the Lapse of Time

What is acquisitive prescription?

Acquisitive prescription is a mode of acquiring ownership by a possessor through the requisite lapse of time.[1] The Supreme Court (SC) explained it clearly in Arzadon-Crisologo v. Rañon[2], to wit:

It is concerned with lapse of time in the manner and under conditions laid down by law, namely, that the possession should be in the concept of an owner, public, peaceful, uninterrupted and adverse. Possession is open when it is patent, visible, apparent, notorious and not clandestine. It is continuous when uninterrupted, unbroken and not intermittent or occasional; exclusive when the adverse possessor can show exclusive dominion over the land and an appropriation of it to his own use and benefit; and notorious when it is so conspicuous that it is generally known and talked of by the public or the people in the neighborhood. The party who asserts ownership by adverse possession must prove the presence of the essential elements of acquisitive prescription.

The case of Marcelo v. Honorable Court of Appeals[3] is also enlightening where the SC held that:

In order to ripen into ownership, possession must be in the concept of an owner, public, peaceful and uninterrupted. Thus, mere possession with a juridical title, such as, to exemplify, by a usufructuary, a trustee, a lessee, an agent or a pledgee, not being in the concept of an owner, cannot ripen into ownership by acquisitive prescription, unless the juridical relation is first expressly repudiated and such repudiation has been communicated to the other party. Acts of possessory character executed due to license or by mere tolerance of the owner would likewise be inadequate. Possession, to constitute the foundation of a prescriptive right, must be en concepto de dueno, or, to use the common law equivalent of the term, that possession should be adverse; if not, such possessory acts, no matter how long, do not start the running of the period of prescription.

For how long must possession last for acquisitive prescription to set in?

The duration of possession would depend on the kind of acquisitive prescription which may be either ordinary or extraordinary under Art. 1117 of the Civil Code.

Ordinary acquisitive prescription of real or immovable property requires possession of things in good faith and with just title[4] for a period of 10 years.[5] On the other hand, extraordinary acquisitive prescription of real or immovable property requires possession of 30 years, without need of title or of good faith.[6]

The difference, therefore, is the presence of good faith and just title. If the possession is coupled with good faith and just title, the requirement is only 10 years, in the absence thereof, 30 years.

With respect to ORDINARY acquisitive prescription, what constitutes ‘good faith’ and ‘just title’?

Under Art. 1127 of the Civil Code, the good faith of the possessor consists in the reasonable belief that the person from whom he received the thing was the owner thereof, and could transmit his ownership.

Under Art. 1129, there is just title when the adverse claimant came into possession of the property through one of the modes recognized by law for the acquisition of ownership or other real rights, but the grantor was not the owner or could not transmit any right.

May tax receipts and declarations of ownership for taxation be the basis of a claim of ownership through prescription?

The SC in Cequeña v. Bolante[7] answered in the affirmative but with the condition that it must be coupled with proof of actual possession of the property. The Court elucidated in this wise, to wit:

Tax receipts and declarations are prima facie proofs of ownership or possession of the property for which such taxes have been paid. Coupled with proof of actual possession of the property, they may become the basis of a claim for ownership.

x x x

Tax declarations and receipts are not conclusive evidence of ownership. At most, they constitute mere prima facie proof of ownership or possession of the property for which taxes have been paid. In the absence of actual public and adverse possession, the declaration of the land for tax purposes does not prove ownership.

What are some limitations in the application of acquisitive prescription as a mode of acquiring ownership particularly of land?

The following must be noted:

1. Acquisitive prescription only applies to private (patrimonial) lands, as provided for in Article 1113 of the Civil Code.

Land of the public domain is converted into patrimonial property when there is an express declaration by the State that the public dominion property is no longer intended for public service or the development of the national wealth; such declaration shall be in the form of a law duly enacted by Congress or a Presidential Proclamation in cases where the President is duly authorized by law.[8]

Corollary, under Section 14(2) of Presidential Decree No. 1529 (P.D. No. 1529) as amended, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree, those who have acquired ownership of PRIVATE lands by prescription may file an application for registration of title to land.

2. Registered lands are not subject to prescription as provided for in Sec. 47 of P.D. No. 1529.

In Bishop v. Honorable Court of Appeals[9], the petitioners in the case were contending that they have acquired the subject lots registered in the name of private respondents by acquisitive prescription alleging long and continuous possession of the same. In denying their petition, the SC said that it is an elementary principle that the owner of a land registered under the Torrens system cannot lose it by prescription. The Court explained that the real purpose of the Torrens system of land registration is to quiet title to land; to put a stop forever to any question of the legality of the title, except claims which were noted at the time of registration in the certificate, or which may arise subsequent thereto. That being the purpose of the law, it would seem that once the title was registered, the owner may rest secure, without the necessity of waiting in the portals of the court, or sitting in the "mirador de su casa," to avoid the possibility of losing his land.

[1] Marcelo v. Honorable Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 131803, April 14, 1999.

[2] G.R. No. 171068, September 5, 2007. [3] Supra, note 1. [4] Art. 1117, paragraph 2. [5] Art. 1134. [6] Art. 1137. [7] G.R. No. 137944, April 6, 2000. [8] In Re: Application for Land Registration, Suprema T. Dumo v. Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 218269, June 06, 2018. [9] G.R. No. 86787, May 8, 1992.

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