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Land Titles and Forgery

The Torrens System


The simplified system of titling lands was introduced by Sir Richard Robert Torrens in
South Australia in 1857, known as the Torrens system. The system, also known as title
by registration replaced the system of title by deeds (also known as deeds
system), an old, expensive and complicated system of tracing deeds.[1] Stated
differently, the Torrens system involves registration of title while the deeds system
involves registration of instruments. Under the Torrens system, the certificate is
guaranteed by the law, and, with certain exceptions, constitutes indefeasible title to the
land mentioned therein[2]; unlike the deeds system which proof of ownership to the
land is traced through a series of instruments affecting the land (also known as chain
of title), hence, title to the land is often uncertain and unreliable.
The Torrens system therefore does away the need for a chain of title and instead puts a
stop forever to any question of the legality of the title, except claims which were noted
on the certificate itself at the time of registration or those that arose subsequent
thereto. Once the title is registered, the owners can rest secure on their ownership and
possession.[3] This principle of the Torrens system is also known as the curtain principle
one does not need to look behind the certificate of title and that ownership need not
be proved by backtracking a series of documents.
Act No. 496, or the Land Registration Act of 1903 enacted by the Philippine Commission
placed all public and private lands in the Philippines under the Torrens system.[4] The
principles of the Torrens system are recognized to the fullest extent in our registration
law which is now the 1978 Property Registration Decree, which has codified all laws
relative to land registration.[5]
However, the system does not furnish a shield for fraud, nor permit one to enrich
himself at the expense of others. The indefeasibility of a title does not attach to titles
secured by fraud and misrepresentation. While registration operates as a notice of the
deed, contract or instrument to others, it does not add to its validity nor converts an
invalid instrument into a valid one. The registration under the Torrens system is not an
impediment to a declaration by the Courts of its invalidity.[6]
Forgery involving land titles and real properties
The following discussion will tackle on the legal principles governing falsification of land
titles, deeds and other instruments affecting transfers of real property and other
interests thereto.
1. Forged deed
Generally, a forged or fraudulent deed or any instrument effecting transfer of
ownership is a nullity and conveys no title.[7] When the instrument presented to the
Registry of Deeds for registration is forged, even if accompanied by the owners
duplicate certificate of title, the registered owner does not thereby lose his title, and
neither does the assignee or the mortgagee, for that matter, acquire any right or title
to the property.[8] Accordingly, an innocent purchaser for value protected by law is one
who purchases a titled land by virtue of a deed executed by the registered owner
himself, not by a forged deed.[9] This principle is expressed under the third paragraph
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of Section 53 of P.D. 1529, otherwise known as the Property Registration Decree


which reads:
Section 53. x x x.
x x x. After the entry of the decree of registration on the original petition or application,
any subsequent registration procured by the presentation of a forged duplicate
certificate of title, or a forged deed or other instrument, shall be null and void.
Hence, a forged deed conveys no title and any transaction that has transpired by virtue
of the same document is an absolute nullity. Since no ownership was conveyed, the
issued Transfer Certificate of Title by reason of the forged instrument has no basis at
all. Consequently, the person who buys the real property in question cannot take refuge
in the protection accorded by the Torrens system on titled lands.[10]
Furthermore, while one who buys from the registered owner does not need to look
behind the certificate of title, one who buys from one who is not the registered owner is
expected to examine not only the certificate of title but all factual circumstances
necessary for him to determine if there are any flaws in the title of the transferor, or in
his capacity to transfer the land. The Court has consistently applied the stricter rule
when it comes to deciding the issue of good faith of one who buys from one who is not
the registered owner, but one who exhibits a certificate of title.[11]
2. Innocent purchaser (buyer in good faith)
An innocent purchaser for value is one who buys the property of another without notice
that some other person has a right to or interest therein and who then pays a full and
fair price for it at the time of the purchase or before receiving a notice of the claim or
interest of some other persons in the property. Buyers in good faith buy a property with
the belief that the person from whom they receive the thing is the owner who can
convey title to the property. Such buyers do not close their eyes to facts that should put
a reasonable person on guard and still claim that they are acting in good faith.[12]
In order that the holder of a certificate for value issued by virtue of the registration of a
voluntary instrument may be considered a holder in good faith and for value, the
instrument registered should not be forged.[13] As mentioned earlier, an innocent
purchaser for value is one who buys a titled land by virtue of a deed executed by the
registered owner himself and not by a forged deed. It is important to determine
whether a purchaser of the land is an innocent purchaser for value since the law
protects them. The first sentence of the third paragraph of Section 53 of P.D. 1529
provides:
Section 53. x x x.
In all cases of registration procured by fraud, the owner may pursue all his legal and
equitable remedies against the parties to such fraudwithout prejudice, however, to the
rights of any innocent holder for value of a certificate of title. x x x.
(Emphasis supplied)
However, the second sentence of the above-cited provision (earlier quoted provision)
operates as a qualification of the first sentence or rather a limitation to the concept of
innocent purchaser[14] since it provides that if the subsequent registration was
effected by means of forgery, the same shall be null and void. This is the reason why
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there can be no buyer in good faith when the instrument registered is forged. Thus, a
purchaser who acquires a real property by virtue of a falsified deed of sale has no right
whatsoever as against the true owner of the property even if he is a holder for value of
a certificate of title. This usually happens when a person buys a property from a seller
pretending to be the registered owner or an agent of the owner acting on the latters
behalf without corresponding authority.
3. Forged deed conveys no title, exception
In the case of Spouses Peralta v. Heirs of Abalon[15], departing from the rule that a
forged or fraudulent deed is a nullity and conveys no title, the Court applied the
exception. The case involves a parcel of land registered under the name of Bernardina
Abalon and fraudulently transferred to Restituto Rellama and who, in turn, subdivided
the subject property and sold it separately to the Spouses Dominador and Ofelia
Peralta; and Marissa, Leonil and Arnel, all surnamed Andal. Thereafter, Spouses Peralta
and the Andals individually registered the respective portions of the land they had
bought under their names. The heirs of Bernardina were claiming back the land,
alleging that since it was sold under fraudulent circumstances, no valid title passed to
the buyers. On the other hand, the buyers, who were now title holders of the subject
parcel of land, averred that they were buyers in good faith and sought the protection
accorded to them under the law. The Court in affirming the decision of the Court of
Appeals, held that despite the fraud that marred the sale between Bernardina Abalon
and Rellama, a fraudulent or forged document of sale may still give rise to a valid title
if the certificate of title has already been transferred from the name of the true owner
to the name of the forger or to the name indicated by the forger and remained as such,
the land is considered to have been subsequently sold to an innocent purchaser, whose
title is thus considered valid. The Court also said:
The established rule is that a forged deed is generally null and cannot convey title, the
exception thereto, pursuant to Section 55 of the Land Registration Act, denotes the
registration of titles from the forger to the innocent purchaser for value. Thus, the
qualifying point here is thatthere must be a complete chain of registered
titles. This means that all the transfers starting from the original rightful owner to the
innocent holder for value and that includes the transfer to the forger must be duly
registered, and the title must be properly issued to the transferee. x x x.
(Emphasis supplied)
Likewise in an earlier case, the Court ruled in Obsequio v. Court of Appeals[16] that
reconveyance of the property in question in favor of the previous owner by reason of an
alleged forged deed of sale is not proper. It held that the subsequent buyers of the
property are considered purchasers in good faith and there is no showing nor even an
allegation that they had any participation in the alleged forgery. Neither the buyers can
be said negligent since at the time of the sale, the land was already registered in the
name of the seller including the tax declaration. There is no annotation, defect or flaw
in the title that would have aroused any suspicion as to its authenticity and such being
the case, the buyers have the right to rely on what appears on the face of the
certificate of title.
The old case of Fule v. De Legare[17] however, holds a similar ruling but with a slightly
different factual situation. While it appears that at the time the petitioners bought the
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property from John Legare the property is not yet registered under the latters name,
the Court held that this fact alone does not strip the petitioners status as innocent
purchasers for value. Although the title was still under the name of respondent Emilia
De Legare, the transfer certificate was already in the possession of her adopted son,
John Legare. The Court anchored its ruling from Section 55 of Act No. 496 (Section 53 of
P.D. 1529) which provides that such possession and its subsequent production to the
petitioners operated as a conclusive authority from the registered owner to the
Register of Deeds to enter a new certificate. Although the deed of sale in favor of John
Legare was fraudulent, the fact remains that he was able to secure a registered title to
the house and lot. It was this title which he subsequently conveyed to the petitioners.
Simply put, while the forger or the person who acquired the property through forgery
acquires no right or title over the same, if he has successfully registered the property
under his name, his subsequent transfer or encumbrance of the property in favor of an
innocent third person who had relied on the correctness of the issued certificate of title
grants the latter the right over the property and the court cannot disregard the same.
This is a well recognized rule that a forged deed or even a void title may still be a
source of a valid title.
However, this doctrine has no application where the owner still holds a valid and
existing certificate of title covering the same interest in a realty; i.e., when the original
owner retained possession of the title, but through fraud, another person secured a
court order for the issuance of a copy thereof. The proper application of the exception is
where the forger, thru insidious means, obtains the owners duplicate certificate of title,
converts it in his name, and subsequently sells or otherwise encumbers it to an
innocent holder for value, for in such a case the new certificate is binding upon the
owner (Sec.55, Act 496; Sec. 53, P.D. No. 1529). So if the owner holds a valid and
existing certificate of title, his would be indefeasible as against the whole world, and
not that of the innocent holders prior tempore potior jure (earlier in time, priority in
right).[18]
4. Who is NOT an innocent purchaser; Exception to exception
A person dealing with registered land has a right to rely on the Torrens certificate of
title itself and to dispense with the need of inquiring further EXCEPT: (1) when the party
has actual knowledge of facts and circumstances that would impel a reasonably
cautious man to make such inquiry; or (2) when the purchaser has knowledge of a
defect or the lack of title in his vendor or of sufficient facts to induce a reasonably
prudent man to inquire into the status of the title of the property in litigation. The
presence of anything which excites or arouses suspicion should then prompt the
vendee to look beyond the certificate and investigate the title of the vendor appearing
on the face of said certificate. One who falls within the exception can neither be
denominated an innocent purchaser for value nor a purchaser in good faith; and hence
does not merit the protection of the law.[19]
A certificate of title issued to an innocent purchaser for value cannot be revoked on the
ground that the deed of sale was falsified, if he had no knowledge of the fraud
committed.[20] Otherwise, the purchaser cannot be deemed as a purchaser in good
faith.

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In the Peralta case, while the Court upheld the Andals as buyers in good faith, the other
buyers, Spouses Peralta, were not. In upholding also the appellate courts decision, the
Court held that there is a factual finding that in purchasing the subject property, the
spouses merely relied on the photocopy of the title provided by Rellama. A mere
photocopy of the title should have made Spouses Peralta suspicious that there was
some flaw in the title of Rellama, because he was not in possession of the original copy.
Thus, the exception to the general rule that a forged deed conveys no right or title as
discussed above have no application when there is a showing that the purchaser (or
even a mortgagee) of the property in question has actual knowledge of the fraud or
forgery, or was placed under the circumstances that would impel him to make further
inquiries about the property and its vendor (or mortgagor) but otherwise failed to do so.
A purchaser in bad faith or a negligent purchaser is considered an exception to the
exception.
5. Rule on Special Power of Attorney (SPA)
Section 64 of P.D. 1529 provides that any person may, by power of attorney, convey or
otherwise deal with registered land and the same shall be registered with the Register
of Deeds of the province or city where the land lies; and any instrument revoking the
same shall be registered in like manner. In relation to this, Article 1874 of the Civil Code
provides that when a sale of piece of land or any interest therein is through an agent,
the authority of the latter shall be in writing; otherwise, the sale shall be void.
A special power of attorney is a continuing one and absent a valid revocation duly
furnished to a third person, the same continues to have force and effect as against third
persons who had no knowledge of such lack of authority.[21]
While the general rule is that every person dealing with registered land may safely rely
on the correctness of the certificate of title, a higher degree of prudence is required
from one who buys from a person who is not the registered owner, although the land
object of the transaction is registered. In such a case, the buyer is expected to examine
not only the certificate of title but all factual circumstances necessary for him to
determine if there are any flaws in the title of the transferor. The buyer also has the
duty to ascertain the identity of the person with whom he is dealing with and the
latters legal authority to convey the property.[22]
Settled is the rule that every person dealing with an agent or any person other than the
registered owner of the property is put upon inquiry and must discover upon his peril
the authority of the agent, and this is especially true where the act of the agent is of
unusual nature. If a person makes no inquiry, he is chargeable with knowledge of the
agents authority, and his ignorance of that authority will not be any excuse.[23]
In the issue of whether or not the buyer of the property under a deed of sale executed
in the name of the registered owner by a fake agent or attorney-in-fact is deemed a
purchaser in good faith, the Court in Solivel v. Francisco[24] laid down the ruling based
on two different scenarios.[25] In this case, the lower court upheld that the vendee is
an innocent purchaser for value despite the fact that the power-of-attorney is forged. It
applied the case of Blondeau v. Nano[26] which sustained foreclosure of a real estate
mortgage under a deed which, though allegedly forged, had nonetheless been duly
registered because one of the two co-owners had given the alleged forger not only his
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power-of-attorney but also possession of the title papers. However, the Supreme Court
reversed the trial courts decision applying instead the case of De Lara v.
Ayroso[27]where it annulled a mortgage executed by an impostor who had, without
authority, gained possession of the certificate of title thru the owners daughter and
simulated the owners name to the deed of mortgage. The Court explained that
in Blondeau, the owners negligence or acquiescence, if not actual connivance, had
made possible the commission of the fraud, while in De Lara, the title was still in the
name of the real owner when the land was mortgaged by the impostor. The mortgagee
was defrauded not because they relied upon what appeared in a Torrens certificate of
title there was nothing wrong with the certificate but because they believed the
words of the impostor when he told them that he was the person named as owner in
the certificate. Simply stated, a person cannot be regarded as a purchaser/mortgagee
in good faith if he himself was negligent in the real estate transaction he entered into
and failed to exercise the degree of prudence required from one who buys from a
person who is not the registered owner.
6. The rule on mortgagees
Section 32 of P.D. 1529 extends the protection given to an innocent purchaser for value
to an innocent mortgagee. The term innocent purchaser for value also includes an
innocent lessee.[28] The said provision provides:
Section 32. x x x. Whenever the phrase innocent purchaser for value or an
equivalent phrase occurs in this Decree, it shall be deemed to include an innocent
lessee, mortgagee, or other encumbrancer for value.
The rule on good faith equally applies to mortgagees and even in lessees and other
encumbrancers for value of the real property. So while a purchaser need not look
behind the certificate of title and has the right to rely solely on what appears on its
face, the same rule applies to lessees and mortgagees.
Thus, despite the fact that the mortgagor is not the owner of the mortgaged property,
his title being fraudulent, the mortgage contract and any foreclosure sale arising
therefrom are given effect by reason of public policy. This is the doctrine of the
mortgagee in good faith based on the rule that all persons dealing with property
covered by a Torrens Certificate of Title, as buyers or mortgagees, are not required to
go beyond what appears on the face of the title. The public interest in upholding the
indefeasibility of a certificate of title, as evidence of the lawful ownership of the land or
of any encumbrance thereon, protects a buyer or mortgagee who, in good faith, relied
upon what appears on the face of the certificate of title.[29]
Where the certificate of title is in the name of the mortgagor when the land is
mortgaged, the innocent mortgagee for value has the right to rely on what appears on
the certificate of title. In the absence of anything to excite suspicion, said mortgagee is
under no obligation to look beyond the certificate and investigate the title of the
mortgagor appearing on the face of said certificate. Although Article 2085 of the Civil
Code provides that absolute ownership of the mortgaged property by the mortgagor is
essential, the subsequent declaration of a title as null and void is not a ground for
nullifying the mortgage right of a mortgagee in good faith.[30]
Likewise, the fact that the foreclosure of the mortgage and the subsequent auction sale
were effected after the annotation of the adverse claim is of no moment. The
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foreclosure sale retroacts to the date of registration of the mortgage. The lien of the
innocent mortgagee for value must be respected and protected.[31] As to third persons
therefore, a prior registration of a lien creates a preference and even a subsequent
registration of a much earlier claim will not diminish this preference.[32]
The mortgagees in the case of Llanto v. Alzona[33] entered into a contract of mortgage
with the mortgagors pretending to be the owners of the property. In this case, the
mortgagees first conducted a credit investigation, inspected the property and met the
persons who represented themselves to be the owners of the property before they
entered into the transaction. The Court, in upholding the validity of the contract, said
that the doctrine of mortgagee in good faith is an exception to the rule enunciated
under Article 2085 of the Civil Code which provides that one of the essential requisites
of the contract of mortgage is that the mortgagor should be the absolute owner of the
property to be mortgaged; otherwise, the mortgage is considered null and void.
However, this doctrine presupposes that the mortgagor, who is not the rightful owner of
the property, has already succeeded in obtaining Torrens title over the property in his
name and that, after obtaining the said title, he succeeds in mortgaging the property to
another who relies on what appears on the title.[34] Hence, the doctrine of mortgagee
in good faith does not apply to a situation where the title is still in the name of the
rightful owner and the mortgagor is a different person pretending to be the owner. In
such a case, the mortgagee is not an innocent mortgagee for value and the registered
owner will generally not lose his title.[35] In the same vein, the doctrine has no
application where the owner could not be charged with negligence in the keeping of its
duplicate certificates of title or with any act which could have brought about the
issuance of another title relied upon by the purchaser or mortgagee for value, as the
innocent registered owner has a better right over the mortgagee in good faith. For the
law protects and prefers the lawful holder of registered title over the transferee of a
vendor bereft of any transmissible rights.[36] These situations are also the known
exceptions to innocent purchasers in good faith as discussed above.
7. Banks as mortgagee
The rule is different however, with respect to banks and other financial institutions. The
rule that persons dealing with registered lands can rely solely on the certificate of
title does not apply to banks.[37] Banks are enjoined to exercise a higher degree of
diligence, care, and prudence in handling real estate transactions, especially those
involving registered lands. Thus, a banking institution is expected to exercise due
diligence before entering into a mortgage contract.[38]
Unlike private individuals, banks cannot rely merely on the certificate of title offered by
the mortgagor in ascertaining the status of mortgaged properties. Since its business is
impressed with public interest, the mortgagee-bank is duty-bound to be more cautious
even in dealing with registered lands. Thus, before approving a loan application, it is a
standard operating practice for these institutions to conduct an ocular inspection of the
property offered for mortgage and to verify the genuineness of the title to determine
the real owners thereof. The apparent purpose of an ocular inspection is to protect the
true owner of the property as well as innocent third parties with a right, interest or
claim thereon from a usurper who may have acquired a fraudulent certificate of title
thereto.[39] If it did not conduct such examination and investigation, it must be held

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guilty of gross negligence in granting the loans secured by the real property in question
and the bank cannot be considered as a mortgagee in good faith.[40]
The Court in Rural Bank of Compostela v. Court of Appeals[41] has once again stated
the
rule
on
mortgagee
in
good
faith
with
respect
to
banks,viz:
Banks, indeed, should exercise more care and prudence in dealing even with
registered lands, than private individuals, for their business is one affected with public
interest, keeping in trust money belonging to their depositors, which they should guard
against loss by not committing any act of negligence which amounts to lack of good
faith by which they would be denied the protective mantle of the land registration
statute, Act [No.] 496, extended only to purchasers for value and in good faith, as well
as to mortgagees of the same character and description.
Likewise, the due diligence required of banks extends even to persons regularly
engaged in the business of lending money secured by real estate mortgages.[42] Same
degree of diligence is also required with respect to investment, financing and realty
corporations which because of the nature of their business, are expected to exercise a
higher standard of diligence in ascertaining the status of the property, not merely
relying on what appears on the face of the title.[43]
8. Double sale and forgery cannot co-exist
When a real property was sold to two different persons or more at the same time, the
ownership of such immovable property is governed by Article 1544 of the Civil Code,
otherwise known as the rule on double sale (or which is more appropriate as
multiple sale). Said provision provides:
Art. 1544. If the same thing should have been sold to different vendees, x x x.
Should it be immovable property, the ownership shall belong to the person acquiring it
who in good faith first recorded it in the Registry of Property.
Should there be no inscription, the ownership shall pertain to the person who in good
faith was first in possession; and, in the absence thereof, to the person who presents
the oldest title, provided there is good faith.
One example of a situation where the provision of the law could be properly applied is
where the owner sold his property to a person while at the same time, his agent or any
person acting on the owners behalf sold the same to another, the two sellers as well as
the two different buyers being fully unaware of each others transaction, and all are
acting in good faith. Simply speaking, there are two valid sales and the question of who
among the two buyers has the right of ownership arises. In such a case, the law
provides that the hierarchy of preference as to whom ownership shall belong is as
follows:
1. first registrant in good faith;
2. first possessor in good faith;
3. the person who in good faith presents the oldest title

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It is worth noting that in every case, good faith is an indispensable requirement. The
law does not apply however, if the property is not registered under the Torrens system.
The issue of buyers good faith or bad faith is relevant only where the subject of the
sale is registered land, and the purchaser is buying the same from the registered owner
whose title to the land is clean.[44] Moreover, the registration contemplated under Art.
1544 of the Code refers to registration under P.D. 1529.[45]
Inasmuch as the rule on double sale is premised on the existence of two or more valid
sales of the same property, there is no double sale to speak of when there is fraud or
forgery involved. Hence, Art. 1544 does not apply. In Fudot v. Cattleya Land, Inc.[46],
the Court ruled that Art. 1544 is not applicable in the instant case the second sale in
favor of petitioner is without the consent of the other spouse and the latters signature
in the deed being forged. The Court also cited the case ofRemalante v. Tibe[47] where
it ruled that the Civil Law provision on double sale is not applicable where there is only
one valid sale, the previous sale having been found to be fraudulent. Likewise,
in Espiritu and Apostol v. Valerio[48], where the same parcel of land was purportedly
sold to two different parties, the Court held that despite the fact that one deed of sale
was registered ahead of the other, Art. 1544 of the Civil Code will not apply where said
deed is found to be a forgery, the result of this being that the right of the other vendee
should prevail.
Remedy of the true owner or the aggrieved party
1. Direct attack on title
It is settled in this jurisdiction that the issue of the validity of title can only be assailed
in an action expressly instituted for such purpose. A certificate of title cannot be
attacked collaterally. This rule is provided under Section 48 of PD 1529 which states
that:[49]
Section 48. Certificate not subject to collateral attack. A certificate of title shall not
be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified, or cancelled except in a
direct proceeding in accordance with law.
In Lagrosa v. Court of Appeals[50], it was stated that it is a well-known doctrine that the
issue as to whether title was procured by falsification or fraud as advanced by
petitioner can only be raised in an action expressly instituted for the purpose. A Torrens
title can be attacked only for fraud, within one year after the date of the issuance of
the decree of registration. Such attack must be direct, and not by a collateral
proceeding. The title represented by the certificate cannot be changed, altered,
modified, enlarged, or diminished in a collateral proceeding. In Carvajal v. Court of
Appeals[51], it was ruled that an application for registration of an already titled land
constitutes a collateral attack on the existing title. The title may be challenged only in a
proceeding for that purpose, not in an application for registration of a land already
registered in the name of another person. After one year from its registration, the title
is incontrovertible and is no longer open to review.[52]
2. Action for reconveyance
After the lapse of one year, a decree of registration is no longer open to review or
attack, although its issuance is attended with fraud.[53] This does not mean, however,
that the aggrieved party is without remedy at law. If the property has not as yet passed
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to an innocent purchaser for value, an action for reconveyance is still available. The
sole remedy of the land owner whose property has been wrongfully or erroneously
registered in anothers name is, after one year from the date of the decree, not to set
aside the decree, but, respecting the decree as incontrovertible and no longer open to
review, to bring an ordinary action in the ordinary court of justice for reconveyance or,
if the property has passed into the hands of an innocent purchaser for value, for
damages.[54]
It has been held that an original owner of registered land may seek annulment of the
transfer thereof on the ground of fraud and the proper remedy is reconveyance.[55] An
action for reconveyance is a legal and equitable remedy that seeks to transfer or
reconvey property, wrongfully registered in another persons name, to its rightful
owner. To warrant reconveyance of the land, the plaintiff must allege and prove, among
others, ownership of the land in dispute and the defendants erroneous, fraudulent or
wrongful registration of the property.[56] In the action for reconveyance, the decree of
registration is highly respected as incontrovertible; what is sought instead is the
transfer of the property wrongfully or erroneously registered in anothers name to its
rightful owner or to the one with a better right.[57]
In New Regent Sources, Inc. v. Tanjuatco[58], the Court enumerated the four requisites
that must concur for an action for reconveyance to prosper, to wit:
To warrant a reconveyance of the land, the following requisites must concur: (1) the
action must be brought in the name of a person claiming ownership or dominical right
over the land registered in the name of the defendant; (2) the registration of the land in
the name of the defendant was procured through fraud or other illegal means; (3) the
property has not yet passed to an innocent purchaser for value; and (4) the action is
filed after the certificate of title had already become final and incontrovertible but
within four years from the discovery of the fraud or not later than 10 years in the case
of an implied trust. x x x.
Reconveyance is based on Section 53 of P.D. 1529 which provides that in all cases of
registration procured by fraud, the owner may pursue all his legal and equitable
remedies against the parties to such fraud without prejudice, however, to the rights of
any innocent holder for value of a certificate of title. In civil law, the basis of an action
for reconveyance is the trust created by virtue of Art. 1456 of the Civil Code which
provides that a person acquiring property through fraud becomes by operation of law a
trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the real owner of the property. The
presence of fraud creates an implied trust in favor of the plaintiffs, giving them the
right to seek reconveyance of the property from the private respondents. The
aggrieved party may file an action for reconveyance based on implied or constructive
trust, which prescribes in ten years from the date of the issuance of the Certificate of
Title over the property provided that the property has not been acquired by an innocent
purchaser for value.[59]
While it is true that an action for reconveyance can prescribe or can be barred by
statute of limitations, an action for reconveyance based on a void contract is
imprescriptible.[60] Thus, the action based on a fictitious, fraudulent or forged deed
may be brought by the aggrieved party at any time.[61]
3. Action for damages
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When the property has already passed into the hands of an innocent purchaser for
value, an action for reconveyance is no longer appropriate. This is so because as a rule,
a purchaser in good faith is an exception to the general rule that a forged deed conveys
no title. Nonetheless, the true owner is not without recourse. He can still file an action
for damages against the person/s responsible for his loss of right or interest in his
property.
A certificate of title issued to an innocent purchaser and for value cannot be revoked on
the ground that the deed of sale was falsified, if he had no knowledge of the fraud
committed. The recourse of the person prejudiced is to bring an action for damages
against those who caused or employed the fraud.[62] The Court cannot disregard the
rights of an innocent purchaser for value and order the total cancellation of the
certificate for that would impair public confidence in the certificate of title.[63]
An action for damages should be brought within ten years from the date of issuance of
the questioned certificate of title pursuant to Article 1144 of the Civil Code.[64]
4. Cancellation of title
An action for cancellation of title is applicable where there are two titles issued to
different persons for the same lot. Where the same parcel of land is covered by two
titles, necessarily when one of the two titles is held to be superior over the other, the
latter should be declared null and void and should be cancelled.[65] In case of forgery,
this rule contemplates a situation where the true owner despite retaining possession of
his duplicate certificate, through fraud, another person succeeded in selling the
property in his favor and another certificate of title was issued as a result thereof.[66]
The general rule is that where two certificates of title are issued to different persons
covering the same land in whole or in part, the earlier date must prevail as between the
original parties, and in case of successive registration where more than one certificate
is issued over the land, the person holding under the prior certificate is entitled to the
land as against the person who relies on the second certificate.[67] This principle is
based on the maxim prior est in tempore, potior est in jure(first in time, stronger in
right) which is being followed in our jurisdiction in land registration matters.[68]
It should be noted also that an action for cancellation of title is not an attack on the
title. An action or proceeding is deemed an attack on a title when its objective is to
nullify the title, thereby challenging the judgment pursuant to which the title was
decreed. The attack is direct when the objective is to annul or set aside such judgment,
or enjoin its enforcement. On the other hand, the attack is indirect or collateral when, in
an action to obtain a different relief, an attack on the judgment is nevertheless made as
an incident thereof.[69]
With respect to the aggrieved party however, the Court ruled in Gatioan v.
Gaffud[70] that the purchaser from the owner of the later certificate and his
successors, should resort to his vendor for redress, rather than molest the holder of the
first certificate and his successors, who should be permitted to rest secure their title.
5. Recovery from the Assurance Fund
The Assurance Fund is intended to relieve innocent persons from the harshness of the
doctrine that a certificate of title is conclusive evidence of an indefeasible title to the
land.[71]
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If the property has already passed into the hands of an innocent purchaser for value,
the remedy is to file an action for damages from the person who allegedly registered
the property through fraud, or if he had become insolvent or if the action is barred by
prescription, to file an action for recovery against the Assurance Fund under Section 95
of P.D. 1529 within a period of six years from the time the right to bring such action
accrues.[72]
Section 95 of P.D. 1529 provides:
Section 95. Action for compensation from funds. A person who, without negligence on
his part, sustains loss or damage, or is deprived of land or any estate or interest therein
in consequence of the bringing of the land under the operation of the Torrens system of
arising after original registration of land, through fraud or in consequence of any error,
omission, mistake or misdescription in any certificate of title or in any entry or
memorandum in the registration book, and who by the provisions of this Decree is
barred or otherwise precluded under the provision of any law from bringing an action
for the recovery of such land or the estate or interest therein, may bring an action in
any court of competent jurisdiction for the recovery of damages to be paid out of the
Assurance Fund.
The foregoing provision states all the requisites and conditions necessary before a
person may recover from the Assurance Fund. In one case[73], the Court denied the
petitioners claim against the Assurance Fund. The Court held in this wise:
Petitioners claim against the Assurance Fund must necessarily fail. Its situation does
not come within the ambit of the cases protected by the Assurance Fund. It was not
deprived of land in consequence of bringing it under the operation of the Torrens
system through fraud or in consequence of any error, omission, mistake or
misdescription in the certificate of title. It was simply a victim of unscrupulous
individuals. More importantly, it is a condition sine qua non that the person who brings
the action for damages against the Assurance Fund be the registered owner and, as the
holders of transfer certificates of title, that they be innocent purchasers in good faith
and for value. And we have already established that petitioner does not qualify as
such.
An action for compensation from the Assurance Fund must be filed against the Register
of Deeds of the province or city where the land is situated and the National Treasurer as
defendants when such action is brought to recover for loss or damage or for
deprivation of land or any estate or interest therein arising wholly through fraud,
negligence, omission, mistake or misfeasance of the court personnel, Register of
Deeds, his deputy, or other employees of the registry in the performance of their
respective duties. (Section 96, Presidential Decree No. 1529). If such action is
brought to recover for loss or damage or for deprivation of land or any interest therein
arising through fraud, negligence, mistake or misfeasance of persons other than court
personnel, the Register of Deeds, his deputy or other employees of the registry, the
action must be brought against the Register of Deeds, the National Treasurer, as well as
other persons as co-defendants.[74]
The claim against the Assurance Fund must be brought within a period of six (6) years
from the time the right to bring such action first occurred.[75]
6. Criminal case
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6.1 Falsification
Forgery is a crime defined and penalized under Chapter I, Title IV, Book II of the Revised
Penal Code which is Crimes Against Public Interest. Crimes categorized under this title
are those involving fraud, deceit and falsity against the public at large. Falsification is
the term applied by the Code for forgery of documents, whether it is a public, private or
commercial document, although the Code did not specifically provide the definition of
each.
A deed having been acknowledged before a Notary Public is considered a public
document and an unnotarized deed is considered a private document.
Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code punishes falsification of documents committed by
a public officer taking advantage of his official position while Article 172 of the same
Code punishes falsification committed by a private individual and the use of such
falsified document to the damage of a third party or with the intent to cause such
damage.
Falsification of deeds, power of attorneys or other instruments affecting real properties
is punishable under Art. 171 or Art. 172 of the RPC if committed by a public officer or a
private individual, respectively. It should be noted however, that with respect to private
individuals, based from the reading of the said provisions, damage to third party or
intent to cause such damage is not an element of the crime of falsification of public or
commercial documents, whereas the same is material when it comes to private
documents.
Stated differently, falsification in Article 171 by public officers, whether the document is
private, public or commercial, and falsification in the first paragraph of Article 172 by
private individuals which pertains to public or commercial documents, are committed
by the mere performance of any of the acts specified therein (acts of falsification
enumerated in Article 171); while falsification in the second paragraph of Article 172 by
private individuals which pertains to private documents, is committed by the
performance of the acts of falsification enumerated in Article 171 coupled with the
damage to the third party or with intent to cause such damage even without actual
damage. The element of damage therefore is not necessary when the document
involved is a public or commercial document.
The rationale for the distinction is provided by the Court in the case ofPeople v.
Pacana[76], citing the December 23, 1885 decision of the Supreme Court of Spain, to
wit:
x x x[I]n the falsification of public or official documents, whether by public officials or
by private persons, it is unnecessary that there be present the idea of gain or the intent
to injure a third person, for the reason that, in contradiction to private documents, the
principal thing punished is the violation of the public faith and the destruction of the
truth as therein solemnly proclaimed.

Page | 13

Aside from actions to redeem the property, the true owner of the property or any
person aggrieved by reason of the alleged forgery may pursue a criminal action against
the wrongdoer and may file an information for Falsification of Public Document under
the RPC.
In Recebido v. People[77], while the petitioner admits that the deed of sale that was in
his possession is a forged document, he nonetheless, argues that the fact remains that
there is no proof that he authored such falsification or that the forgery was done under
his direction. In rejecting this claim and affirming his conviction for Falsification of Public
Document, the Court held that the petitioner was in possession of the forged deed of
sale which purports to sell the subject land from the private complainant to him and
given this factual backdrop, the petitioner is presumed to be the author of the forged
deed of sale, despite the absence of any direct evidence of his authorship of the
forgery. Since the petitioner is the only person who stood to benefit by the falsification
of the document found in his possession, it is presumed that he is the material author
of the falsification.
6.2 Estafa through falsification
When the offender commits on a public, official or commercial document any of the
acts of falsification enumerated in Article 171 of the RPC as a necessary means to
commit another crime like estafa, theft or malversation, the two crimes form a complex
crime. Under Article 48 of the Code, there are two classes of a complex crime. A
complex crime may refer to a single act which constitutes two or more grave or less
grave felonies, or to an offense as a necessary means for committing another.[78]
The falsification of a public, official, or commercial document may be a means of
committing estafa, because before the falsified document is actually utilized to defraud
another, the crime of falsification has already been consummated, damage or intent to
cause damage not being an element of the crime of falsification of public, official or
commercial document. In other words, the crime of falsification has already existed.
Actually utilizing that falsified public, official or commercial document to defraud
another is estafa. But the damage is caused by the commission of estafa, not by the
falsification of the document. Therefore, the falsification of the public, official or
commercial document is only a necessary means to commit estafa.[79]
In Milla v. People[80], the petitioner was held guilty of estafa through falsification of
public documents because he misrepresented himself to have the authority to sell the
subject property, and it was precisely this misrepresentation that prompted private
respondent MPI to purchase it. Because of its reliance on his authority and on the
falsified Deed of Absolute Sale and TCT No. 218777, MPI parted with its money.
To be convicted of the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document,
all the elements of the two crimes of estafa and falsification of public document must
exist. To secure a conviction for estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) (by means of false
pretenses or fraudulent acts) of the Revised Penal Code, the following requisites must
concur:
1. The accused made false pretenses or fraudulent representations as to his power,
influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions;
Page | 14

2. The false pretenses or fraudulent representations were made prior to or simultaneous


with the commission of the fraud;
3. The false pretenses or fraudulent representations constitute the very cause which
induced the offended party to part with his money or property;
4. That as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.[81]

On the other hand, in order to sustain conviction for the crime of falsification of a public
document under Articles 171 and 172 of the RPC, the following requisites must concur:
1. That the offender is a private individual or a public officer or employee who took
advantage of his official position;
2. That he committed any of the acts of falsification enumerated in article 171 of the
Revised Penal Code;
3. That the falsification was committed in a public or official or commercial document.[82]
Thus, in Ansaldo v. People[83] where the petitioner was charged with estafa through
falsification of public document, the Court held that not all the elements of the crime of
falsification of a public document are present and consequently, petitioner can only be
found guilty of estafa. While it is undisputed that petitioner committed estafa by falsely
representing to the land owner that he (petitioner) and his wife had the influence and
capability to cause the subdivision of the lot which induced the land owner to part with
the owners copy of her title, there is no evidence showing that petitioner had any
participation in the execution of the mortgage involving the subject title.
In another case, in Gonzaludo v. People[84], the petitioner was acquitted of the
complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document but held guilty of the
crime of falsification of public document. In this case, petitioner was convicted by the
trial court of the said complex crime for allegedly having conspired with Rosemarie
Gelogo, who used the fictitious surname Villaflor for the purpose of giving her a
semblance of authority to sell the house purportedly owned by her paramour, Ulysses
Villaflor, who was legally married to private complainant, Anita Villaflor. In exonerating
the petitioner of the crime of estafa as one of the component of the complex crime
charged, the Court agreed with the contention of the petitioner that the third element
of the said offense is absent that such false pretenses or fraudulent representations
constitute the very cause which induced the offended party to part with his money or
property. While it may be said that there was fraud or deceit committed by Rosemarie
in this case, when she used the surname Villaflor to give her semblance of authority
to sell the subject 2-storey house, such fraud or deceit was employed upon the Canlas
spouses who were the ones who parted with their money when they bought the house.
However, the Information charging Rosemarie of estafa in the present case, alleged
damage or injury not upon the Canlas spouses, but upon private complainant, Anita
Manlangit. Since the deceit or fraud was not the efficient cause and did not induce
Anita Manlangit to part with her property in this case, Rosemarie cannot be held liable
for estafa. With all the more reason must this be for the petitioner. Nonetheless, he was
convicted of falsification of public document because of his conspiracy with Rosemarie
in falsifying the deed of sale as sufficiently established by evidence during the trial.

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It bears stressing however, that there is no complex crime of estafa through falsification
of private document because of their common element of deceit or damage. If the
falsification of a private document is committed as a means to commit estafa, the
proper crime to be charged is falsification. If the estafa can be committed without the
necessity of falsifying a document, the proper crime to be charged is estafa.[85]
6.3 Good faith defense in falsification
Settled is the rule that there is no crime absent criminal intent. In other words, the
unlawful act must be coupled with an evil desire for a crime to exist, save of course in
cases of criminal negligence where the negligence itself is the crime. Hence, it is
settled in our jurisdiction that since falsification of document is not in itself evil by its
nature, absence of any malice or criminal intent on the part of the accused might
absolve him of criminal liability. Good faith therefore might be a good defense.
In Lecaroz v. Sandiganbayan[86], the Court acquitted the accused father and son, a
Mayor and an outgoing chairman of Kabataang Barangay (KB), respectively, of the
charge of estafa through falsification. The Sandiganbayan convicted both the accused
of the said charge when the Mayor entered the name of his son in the payroll of the
municipality during the period when his son is on a hold-over capacity as a KB
representative despite a new one has already been elected, the private complainant.
Likewise, the son signed the payroll and authorized another to sign all the payrolls for
the succeeding pay periods and claim the corresponding salaries in his behalf.
Persuaded that both accused acted in good faith and committed a mere error of
judgment without evil intent, the Court held:
On the issue of criminal liability of petitioners, clearly the offenses of which petitioners
were convicted, i.e., estafa through falsification of public documents under Art. 171,
par. 4, of The Revised Penal Code, are intentional felonies for which liability attaches
only when it is shown that the malefactors acted with criminal intent or malice. If what
is proven is mere judgmental error on the part of the person committing the act, no
malice or criminal intent can be rightfully imputed to him. x x x. Ordinarily, evil intent
must unite with an unlawful act for a crime to exist. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit
rea. There can be no crime when the criminal mind is wanting. As a general rule,
ignorance or mistake as to particular facts, honest and real, will exempt the doer from
felonious responsibility. The exception of course is neglect in the discharge of a duty or
indifference to consequences, which is equivalent to a criminal intent, for in this
instance, the element of malicious intent is supplied by the element of negligence and
imprudence. In the instant case, there are clear manifestations of good faith and lack of
criminal intent on the part of petitioners.
However, in Office of the Ombudsman v. Torres[87], where the respondents who were
working college students were charged, among others, by Falsification of Official
Document by making false entries in their Daily Time Records (DTR), the Court reversed
the decision of the Court of Appeals exonerating the respondents based on good faith
and affirmed the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman finding the respondents
administratively guilty of the said charge.
The Court of Appeals in its decision, held that the false entries the respondents made in
their DTRs have been made with no malice or intent as to constitute falsification, as
entries in the DTR is only a matter of administrative procedural convenience or as a
Page | 16

matter of practice but not for reason of strict legal obligation. Furthermore, they have
not caused any damage to the government or third person because under the facts
obtaining, respondents may be said to have rendered service in the interest of the
public, with proper permission from their superior. The integrity of the daily time record
as an official document remains untarnished if the damage sought to be prevented has
not been produced.
The Supreme Court on the other hand is not persuaded. In striking the respondents
claim of good faith, the Court held that falsification of DTRs amounts to dishonesty. The
evident purpose of requiring government employees to keep a time record is to show
their attendance in office to work and to be paid accordingly. Closely adhering to the
policy of no work-no pay, a DTR is primarily, if not solely, intended to prevent damage
or loss to the government as would result in instances where it pays an employee for
no work done. Explaining good faith, the Court stated:
Good faith, here understood, is an intangible and abstract quality with no technical
meaning or statutory definition, and it encompasses, among other things, an honest
belief, the absence of malice and the absence of design to defraud or to seek
an unconscionable advantage. An individuals personal good faith is a
concept of his own mind and, therefore, may not conclusively be determined
by his protestations alone. It implies honesty of intention, and freedom from
knowledge of circumstances which ought to put the holder upon inquiry. The essence of
good faith lies in an honest belief in the validity of ones right, ignorance of a superior
claim, and absence of intention to overreach another.
(Emphasis in the original)
The Court further said that the Court of Appeals gravely erred when it exonerated
respondents from administrative guilt. The Lecaroz case adopted by the appellate court
in laying the legal basis for its ruling does not apply to the instant case because said
cases pertain to criminal liability for Falsification of Public Document under the Revised
Penal Code. The element of damage need not be proved to hold respondents
administratively liable.
With respect to disputes involving conveyance of real property, the case of Spouses
Villamar v. People[88] is one example where the defense of good faith was invoked by
the spouses accused, the alleged forgers of the Deed of Sale in question. In this case, a
parcel of land was sold by Elena Manantan to her nine children. Six of them later sold
their respective shares to one of their brother Simplicio who eventually sold his total
share to his daughter, the one of the spouses herein accused. The spouses registered
with the Office of the Provincial Assessor of Lingayen, Pangasinan a signed and
notarized Deed of Sale. However, it was made to appear in the said deed that all of
Elenitas children sold the property. While the spouses admit that not all of Elenitas
children were vendors in the said document, they insist that they could not be held
guilty of falsification but rather the Office of the Provincial Assessor who prepared the
document without their knowledge. The trial courts and the Court of Appeals convicted
the accused of falsification of public document and disregarded the defense of good
faith. It was held that while the fact of forgery came to the knowledge of the accused
Page | 17

and it was not disputed, their inaction to inform the private complainant about the
inclusion of her name in the said deed negates their claim of innocence. It is wellsettled that the person who stood to benefit by the forged document or was in
possession of it or makes use of the same is presumed to be the material author of the
falsification.[89] Since the Deed of Sale was executed in their favor, clearly, they are
the ones who benefited from the falsified document.
It should be noted however, that the Supreme Court affirmed their conviction merely
because petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court covers only
questions of law. Questions of fact are not reviewable and factual findings of the lower
courts are binding on the Court. According to the Court, whether the spouses accused
are innocent of the existence of the falsified document is a question of fact which is
not reviewable. Furthermore, they failed to show that their case falls within the
recognized exceptions to the rule.
Similarly, the good faith defense was not appreciated in the case of Del Prado v.
People[90] which involves a Deed of Succession, the alleged falsified document. By
virtue of the said document, an Original Certificate of Title was cancelled and several
titles were issued in lieu thereof in favor of the several heirs. However, the heirs who
executed and signed the document inserted a clause which states: the parties
hereto are the only heirs of the decedent which in effect, excluded one co-heir, the
private complainant. The accused heirs insist that they were innocent of and did not
really intend the exclusion of the complainant heir. They also anchored their defense on
the several documents they previously executed recognizing the complainants
heirship. However, the Court rejected the absence of malice on the part of the several
accused in this wise:
There can be no good faith on the part of the petitioners since they knew of the
untruthful character of statements contained in their deed of succession.
xxx
The obligation of the petitioners to speak only the truth in their deed of succession is
clear, taking into account the very nature of the document falsified. The deed, which
was transformed into a public document upon acknowledgement before a notary
public, required only truthful statements from the petitioners. It was a legal
requirement to effect the cancellation of the original certificate of title and the issuance
of new titles by the Register of Deeds. The false statement made in the deed
greatly affected the indefeasibility normally accorded to titles over properties
brought under the coverage of land registration, to the injury of Corazon who
was deprived of her right as a landowner, and the clear prejudice of third persons who
would rely on the land titles issued on the basis of the deed.
We cannot subscribe to the petitioners claim of good faith because several documents
prove that they knew of the untruthful character of their statement in the deed of
succession. The petitioners alleged good faith is disputed by their prior confirmation
and recognition of Corazons right as an heir, because despite knowledge of said fact,
they included in the deed a statement to the contrary. The wrongful intent to injure
Corazon is clear from their execution of the deed, showing a desire to appropriate only
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unto themselves the subject parcel of land. Corazon was unduly deprived of what was
due her not only under the provisions of the law on succession, but also under
contracts that she had previously executed with the petitioners.
(Emphasis supplied)
Likewise, the Court rejected the claim of good faith by the petitioner in Lastrilla v.
Granda[91]. Petitioner contends that assuming he knew or had a hand in the
falsification of the three (3) deeds of absolute sale and used the same to process the
issuance of the new TCTs, said act is not a punishable act of falsification as the same
was authorized by the heirs of Aurora (the land owner) including respondent. The Court
held that such contention was belatedly raised on appeal and as logically pointed out
by respondent, he is an heir of Aurora and definitely, he did not authorize petitioner to
falsify the subject deeds and use the same to effect the transfer of the TCTs.
Furthermore, the finding that there is probable cause to believe that the signatures of
both Aurora and Rafael were falsified and the dates of the instruments were antedated
lay serious doubt on the claim that the conveyance was indeed authorized by Aurora
herself. To further sow doubt on the claim of authority, respondents claim that in 1999,
his grandmother Aurora was already too sickly and frail to execute said documents,
finds support in the evidence on record. A househelp in the residence of Aurora
attested that in 1999, she was one of those who took care of Aurora who was then very
sickly, could hardly recognize faces, remember names and events and very rarely
talked and whose condition worsened starting January 1999. Also bolstering
respondents claim is the noticeable fact that Aurora signed the GPOA dated February
14, 1999 in favor of Silvina by affixing her thumbmark instead of her customary
signature.
Proving forgery
Section 1, Rule 131 of the Rules of Court provides that the burden of proof is the duty of
a party to prove the truth of his claim or defense, or any fact in issue by the amount of
evidence required by law.[92] As a rule, forgery cannot be presumed and must be
proved by clear, positive and convincing evidence and the burden of proof lies on the
party alleging forgery. The best evidence of a forged signature in the instrument is the
instrument itself reflecting the alleged forged signature. The fact of forgery can only be
established by comparison between the alleged forged signature and the authentic and
genuine signature of the person whose signature is theorized upon to have been
forged.[93]
In proving the genuineness of a handwriting, Section 22, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court
provides:
Section 22. How genuineness of handwriting proved. The handwriting of a person
may be proved by any witness who believes it to be the handwriting of such person
because he has seen the person write, or has seen writing purporting to be his upon
which the witness has acted or been charged, or has thus acquired knowledge of the
handwriting of such person. Evidence respecting the handwriting may also be given by
a comparison, made by the witness or the court, with writings admitted or treated as

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genuine by the party against whom the evidence is offered, or proved to be genuine to
the satisfaction of the judge.
In Jimenez v. Commission on Ecumenical Mission, United Presbyterian Church, USA, the
Court identified and explained the factors involved in the examination and comparison
of handwritings:
x x x [T]he authenticity of a questioned signature cannot be determined solely upon its
general characteristics, similarities or dissimilarities with the genuine signature.
Dissimilarities as regards spontaneity, rhythm, pressure of the pen, loops in the strokes,
signs of stops, shades, etc., that may be found between the questioned signature and
the genuine one are not decisive on the question of the formers authenticity. The result
of examinations of questioned handwriting, even with the benefit of aid of experts and
scientific instruments, is, at best, inconclusive. There are other factors that must be
taken into consideration. The position of the writer, the condition of the surface on
which the paper where the questioned signature is written is placed, his state of mind,
feelings and nerves, and the kind of pen and/or paper used, play an important role on
the general appearance of the signature. Unless, therefore, there is, in a given case,
absolute absence, or manifest dearth, of direct or circumstantial competent evidence
on the character of a questioned handwriting, much weight should not be given to
characteristic similarities, or dissimilarities, between that questioned handwriting and
an authentic one.[94]
In Bucton v. Go[95], despite the testimony of an expert witness from the National
Bureau of Investigation who testified that there are significant differences between the
signatures on the standard documents from the one found in the SPA, this testimony,
however, was disregarded both by the RTC and the Court of Appeals which upheld the
validity of the same on the ground that it enjoys the presumption of regularity of a
public document. The Court however, is not convinced and held that while it is true that
a notarized document carries the evidentiary weight conferred upon it with respect to
its due execution, and has in its favor the presumption of regularity, this presumption,
however, is not absolute. It may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the
contrary. The testimony of the expert witness and the petitioner, had it been properly
appreciated, is sufficient to overcome the presumption of regularity attached to public
documents and to meet the stringent requirements to prove forgery. In reversing the
decision of the Court of Appeals, the Court said:
In upholding the validity of the SPA, the Court of Appeals brushed aside the foregoing
testimonial evidence of the expert witness and made an independent examination of
the questioned signatures, and based thereon, ruled that there is no forgery. The
appellate court attributed the variations to the passage of time and the persons
increase in age and dismissed the findings of the expert witness because it failed to
comply with the rules set forth in jurisprudence that the standard should embrace the
time of origin of the document, so that one part comes from the time before the origin
and one part from the time after the origin. We are not unmindful of the principle that
in order to bring about an accurate comparison and analysis, the standard of
comparison must be as close as possible in point of time to the suspected
signature. However, when the dissimilarity between the genuine and false specimens of
writing is visible to the naked eye and would not ordinarily escape notice or detection
from an unpracticed observer, resort to technical rules is no longer necessary and the
instrument may be stricken off for being spurious. More so when, as in this case, the
Page | 20

forgery was testified to and thus established by evidence other than the writing itself.
When so established and is conspicuously evident from its appearance, the opinion of
handwriting experts on the forged document is no longer necessary.
It is also worth stressing that a mere denial of a person whose signature was allegedly
forged that he signed the questioned deed of sale will not suffice to overcome the
positive value of the subject deed, a notarized document. Mere comparison of the
alleged forged signature from the presented samples of genuine signatures to show its
variance therefrom cannot be considered as sufficient evidence of forgery. A claim of
forgery cannot also be accepted absent comparison of signatures and witness (save for
the claimant himself) to testify on the same. Otherwise, the public document must be
upheld.[96]
The issue of the genuineness of a signature in a deed is a question of fact
The issue of the genuineness of a deed of sale is essentially a question of fact. It is
settled that the Supreme Court is not duty-bound to analyze and weigh again the
evidence considered in the proceedings in the lower court. This is especially true where
the trial courts factual findings are adopted and affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Factual findings of the trial court, affirmed by the CA, are final and conclusive and may
not be reviewed on appeal. Conclusions and findings of fact of the trial court are
entitled to great weight and should not be disturbed on appeal, unless strong and
cogent reasons dictate otherwise. This is because the trial court is in a better position
to examine the real evidence, as well as to observe the demeanor of the witnesses
while testifying in the case.[97]
Thus, in Gepulle-Garbo v. Garabato[98], when the Court was presented with the
question of whether the signatures appearing on the deed of sale were forged, it held:
The issue raised by petitioner is essentially factual in nature, the determination of
which is best left to the courts below. Well settled is the rule that the Supreme Court is
not a trier of facts. The function of the Court in petitions for review on certiorari is
limited to reviewing errors of law that may have been committed by the lower courts.
As a matter of sound practice and procedure, the Court defers and accords finality to
the factual findings of trial courts, more so, when as here, such findings are undisturbed
by the appellate court. Stated otherwise, the Court refrains from further scrutiny of
factual findings of trial courts, more so when those findings are affirmed by the CA. To
do otherwise would defeat the very essence of Rule 45 and would convert the Court
into a trier of facts, which is not meant to be. Certainly the rule admits
exceptions. None, however, is applicable to the case at bar. Absent any application of
any of the recognized exceptions, this Court is bound by the findings of fact by the
lower courts.
Opinion of the handwriting experts, not binding upon the courts
In the Gepulle-Garbo case, the Court also ruled that courts are not bound by expert
testimonies especially that the examination was upon the initiative of the party who
had complete control on what documents and specimens to be examined by the
National Bureau of Investigation. Such person had the onus of showing that the
signatures were forged. The Court said in this wise:

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The opinion of handwriting experts is not necessarily binding upon the court, the
experts function being to place before the court data upon which the court can form its
own opinion. This principle holds true especially when the question involved is mere
handwriting similarity or dissimilarity, which can be determined by a visual comparison
of specimens of the questioned signatures with those of the currently existing ones. A
finding of forgery does not depend entirely on the testimonies of handwriting experts,
because the judge must conduct an independent examination of the questioned
signature in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to its authenticity.
Certificate of title vs. unregistered deed of sale
It is a fundamental principle in land registration that the certificate of title serves as
evidence of an indefeasible and incontrovertible title to the property in favor of the
person whose name appears therein. It is conclusive evidence with respect to the
ownership of the land described therein. Moreover, the age-old rule is that the person
who has a Torrens title over a land is entitled to possession thereof.[99] Thus, even
assuming that the deed of sale is genuine and valid, as against the registered owners
and the holder of such but unregistered deed of sale, it is the former who has a better
right to possess.[100]
Legal standing of informal settlers
It is settled that absence of title over the disputed property will not divest the courts of
jurisdiction to resolve the issue of possession and it is not a ground for the courts to
withhold relief from the parties in an ejectment case.[101]
Possession in ejectment cases means nothing more than actual physical possession,
not legal possession in the sense contemplated in civil law. In a forcible entry case,
prior physical possession is the primary consideration. A party who can prove prior
possession can recover such possession even against the owner himself. Whatever may
be the character of his possession, if he has in his favor prior possession in time, he has
the security that entitles him to remain on the property until a person with a better
right lawfully ejects him. The party in peaceable, quiet possession shall not be thrown
out by a strong hand, violence, or terror.[102]
In Pajuyo v. Court of Appeals[103] where the sole issue is possession, the Court
brushed aside the ruling of the Court of Appeals that both parties are in pari delicto or
in equal fault being both squatting on the property hence should be left where they are.
The Court held that the principle ofpari delicto was erroneously applied. The application
of this principle is not absolute, as there are exceptions one of which is where its
application would violate well-established public policy. Courts must resolve the issue of
possession even if the parties to the ejectment suit are squatters. The determination of
priority and superiority of possession is a serious and urgent matter that cannot be left
to the squatters to decide. To do so would make squatters receive better treatment
under the law. The law restrains property owners from taking the law into their own
hands. However, the principle of pari delicto as applied by the Court of Appeals would
give squatters free rein to dispossess fellow squatters or violently retake possession of
properties usurped from them. Courts should not leave squatters to their own devices
in cases involving recovery of possession.
In Pitargue v. Sorilla[104], both the plaintiff and the defendant were in effect squatting
on government property. Yet, the court upheld its jurisdiction to resolve the issue of
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possession even if the plaintiff and the defendant in the ejectment case did not have
any title over the contested land.
Proposed amendment of Articles 171 and 172 of the Revised Penal Code
As of this writing, pending in the Senate is the Senate Bill No. 2251 introduced on May
28, 2014 by Senator Joseph Ejercito which seeks to amend Arts. 171 and 172 of the RPC
with respect to falsification involving land titles entitled:
AN ACT IMPOSING STIFFER PENALTIES FOR FALSIFICATION OF CERTIFICATES
OF LAND TITLE OR ANY APPLICATION, DEED, INSTRUMENT OR SUPPORTING
DOCUMENT, REASONABLY CONNECTED WITH AND CALCULATED TO CAUSE THE
ISSUANCE OF A CERTIFICATE OF LAND TITLE, CLASSIFYING THE SAME AS A
HEINOUS OFFENSE INVOLVING ECONOMIC SABOTAGE IF THE VALUE OR
AGGREGATE VALUE OF THE LAND IS AT LEAST TEN MILLION PESOS
(P10,000,000.00), AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE ARTICLES 171 AND 172 OF
ACT NO. 3815, AS AMENDED, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE REVISED PENAL
CODE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
The proposed legislation was prompted by the increasing incidence of fake titles or
issuance of valid titles but as a result of fraudulent transactions which destroy the
integrity of the Torrens system. According to the Senator, our present law on land
registration which is the Presidential Decree No. 1529 or the Property Registration
Decree lacks teeth to accomplish its goals and objectives as it failed to provide penal
sanctions in case of violation thereof. Currently, a person responsible for the issuance of
a fake or falsified title may only be held criminally liable for perjury under Article 183 of
the Revised Penal Code, and/or Falsification of Public Documents under either Article
171 or Article 172 of the same Code. The penalty for perjury is a mere arresto mayor in
its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period. On the other hand,
the maximum penalty imposable for falsification is a mere prision mayor and a fine not
to exceed P 5,000.00.[105]

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