Reversion vs declaration of nullity of free patents
"I bought from Edsel (deceased) a piece of land in Isabela province on March 12, 1988. That year, I declared the land for taxation purposes and sent my cousin Ando to occupy it because I migrated to Bicol. It was later discovered that the heirs of Edsel applied for a free patent covering the land. Their request was eventually granted and they made it appear that they were the occupants of the land. A corresponding Certificate of Title was issued to them. I inquired with the government agency responsible for the issuance of the free patent on what I need to do to recover the land. They told me I can file a case for either reversion or declaration of nullity of free patent. Which of the two is my appropriate legal remedy? What is the difference between the two?
An action for declaration of nullity of free patent, not reversion, is the appropriate legal remedy because of the fact that the land was already considered privately owned when the heirs of Edsel applied for free patent.The difference between the two legal remedies was elaborated in the case of Soquillo vs Tortola (GR 192450, July 23, 2012), where the Supreme Court, through Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes, stated:
“Heirs of Ambrocio Kionisala v Heirs of Honorio Dacut distinguishes an action for reversion from an action for declaration of nullity of free patents and certificates of title as follows:“An ordinary civil action for declaration of nullity of free patents and certificates of title is not the same as an action for reversion. The difference between them lies in the allegations as to the character of ownership of the realty whose title is sought to be nullified. In an action for reversion, the pertinent allegations in the complaint would admit State ownership of the disputed land. Hence in Gabila v Barriga where the plaintiff in his complaint admits that he has no right to demand the cancellation or amendment of the defendant’s title because even if the title were cancelled or amended the ownership of the land embraced therein or of the portion affected by the amendment would revert to the public domain, we ruled that the action was for reversion and that the only person or entity entitled to relief would be the Director of Lands.
On the other hand, a cause of action for declaration of nullity of free patent and certificate of title would require allegations of the plaintiff ’s ownership of the contested lot prior to the issuance of such free patent and certificate of title as well as the defendant’s fraud or mistake, as the case may be, in successfully obtaining these documents of title over the parcel of land claimed by plaintiff. In such a case, the nullity arises strictly not from the fraud or deceit but from the fact that the land is beyond the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Lands to bestow and whatever patent or certificate of title obtained therefor is consequently void ab initio. The real party in interest is not the State but the plaintiff who alleges a pre-existing right of ownership over the parcel of land in question even before the grant of title to the defendant. x x x.” (Citations omitted).”Applying this decision to your situation, it is essential to establish in the action for declaration of nullity of free patent that the subject land was already a private property from the time it was with Edsel, until it was sold to you.Hence, the state has no jurisdiction to issue a free patent covering a private property. Reversion is not appropriate because you have to prove in this remedy that the land is of public domain it will contradict your claim of private ownership.We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to ."
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"Reversion vs declaration of nullity of free patents"
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and updated on 15 September 2021