THE Supreme Court, in an en banc decision which was recently released, held that Certificates of Ancestral Land Titles Nos. 26, 27, 28 and 29 issued in favor of the Heirs of Lauro Carantes represented by Antino Carantes by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples are void.
The decision which was penned by Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, stated that under Section 78 of Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), Baguio City is exempted from the coverage of the law as Baguio City must be governed by its city charter. “It follows that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples has no authority to issue ancestral titles over territories declared part of Baguio City prior to the enactment of IPRA. Only when Congress re-classifies these properties through law will the NCIP have the authority to issue ancestral titles of Baguio City,” the decision further elaborated.
It however clarified that this limitation must be read together with the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in the case of Mateo Carino who earlier sought for registration of his land located in Baguio City. In his case, Carino claims that for more than 50 years before the Treaty of Paris, he and his ancestors had continuously held the land as owners. They lived within the land, fenced it, and cultivated it. In granting the land registration in favor of Carino, the Court held that the land never became public and Carino was able to prove his occupation since time immemorial.
The case of Carino however, the Court said, is often misunderstood to apply only to lands recently considered as part of indigenous cultural communities. The case of Carino instructs that indigenous people may establish their ownership over their lands by proving occupation and possession since time immemorial but this is distinct from the recognition of ancestral rights established under IPRA.
Under this doctrine, even if Baguio City is exempt from IPRA’s operation, claimants may still pursue registration of title and prove their ownership in accordance with the Carino doctrine if they hold ownership over their lands since time immemorial.
The decision however stated that as discovered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the land claimed by the Heirs of Carantes has not been traditionally occupied by them and their ancestors. In fact, the land has been occupied by other individuals with vested property rights such as the Camp John Hay, Baguio Country Club, and Baguio Water District. Moreover, the land has been declared and recognized as a forest park reservation.
The Heirs of Carantes failed to show that they have been possessing and occupying the land since time immemorial, hence there is no presumption that the land is private and no ownership may be recognized in favor of the heirs of Carantes, the decision held.
The full text of the decision of the Supreme Court may be viewed in its website under the case entitled Republic of the Philippines vs National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Register of Deeds of Baguio City, Land Registration Authority, Heirs of Lauro Carantes, Dimson Manila, Inc. Joan L. Gorio and Certain Jane and John Does under G.R. No. 209449.