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G.R. No.

L-13298 November 19, 1918


This is an appeal by the applicant and appellant from a judgment of the Court of First Instance of Nueva Ecija,
denying the registration of the larger portion of parcel No. 1 (Exhibit A of the petitioner), marked by the letters A,
B, and C on the plan, Exhibit 1, of the Government.

One Restituto Romero y Ponce apparently gained possession of a considerable tract of land located in the
municipality of San Jose, Province of Nueva Ecija, in the year 1882. He took advantage of the Royal Decree of
February 13, 1894, to obtain a possessory information title to the land, registered as such on February 8, 1896.
Parcel No. 1, included within the limits of the possessory information title of Restituto Romero, was sold in
February, 1907, to Cornelio Ramos, the instant petitioner, and his wife Ambrosia Salamanca.

Ramos instituted appropriate proceedings to have his title registered. Opposition was entered by the Director of
Lands on the ground that Ramos had not acquired a good title from the Spanish government and by the Director
of Forestry on the ground that the first parcel was forest land. The trial court agreed with the objectors and
excluded parcel No. 1 from registration. So much for the facts.

As to the law, the principal argument of the Solicitor-General is based on the provisions of the Spanish Mortgage
Law and of the Royal Decree of February 13, 1894, commonly known as the Maura Law. The Solicitor-General
would emphasize that for land to come under the protective ægis of the Maura Law, it must have been shown that
the land was cultivated for six years previously, and that it was not land which pertained to the "zonas forestales."
As proof that the land was, even as long ago as the years 1894 to 1896, forestal and not agricultural in nature is
the fact that there are yet found thereon trees from 50 to 80 years of age.

We do not stop to decide this contention, although it might be possible, following the doctrine laid down by the
United States Supreme Court with reference to Mexican and Spanish grantes within the United States, where
some recital is claimed to be false, to say that the possessory information, apparently having taken cognizance of
the requisites for title, should not now be disturbed. (Hancock vs. McKinney [1851], 7 Tex., 192; Hornsby and
Roland vs.United States [1869], 10 Wall., 224.) It is sufficient, as will later appear, merely to notice that the
predecessor in interest to the petitioner at least held this tract of land under color of title.

Subsection 6 of section 54, of Act No. 926, entitled The Public Land Law, as amended by Act No. 1908, reads as

6. All persons who by themselves or their predecessors and interest have been in the open, continuous,
exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of agricultural public lands, as defined by said Act of
Congress of July first, nineteen hundred and two, under a bona fide claim of ownership except as against
the Government, for a period of ten years next preceding the twenty-sixth day of July, nineteen hundred
and four, except when prevented by war or force majeure, shall be conclusively presumed to have
performed all the conditions essential to a government grant and to have received the same, and shall be
entitled to a certificate of title to such land under the provisions of this chapter.

There are two parts to the above quoted subsection which must be discussed. The first relates to the open,
continuous, exclusive, and notorious possession and occupation of what, for present purposes, can be conceded
to be agricultural public land, under a bona fide claim of ownership.

Actual possession of land consists in the manifestation of acts of dominion over it of such a nature as a party
would naturally exercise over his own property. Relative to actuality of possession, it is admitted that the petitioner
has cultivated only about one fourth of the entire tract. This is graphically portrayed by Exhibit 1 of the
Government, following:
The question at once arises: Is that actual occupancy of a part of the land described in the instrument giving color
of title sufficient to give title to the entire tract of land?lawphil.net

The doctrine of constructive possession indicates the answer. The general rule is that the possession and
cultivation of a portion of a tract under claim of ownership of all is a constructive possession of all, if the remainder
is not in the adverse possession of another. (Barr vs. Gratz's Heirs [1819], 4 Wheat., 213; Ellicott vs. Pearl [1836],
10 Pet., 412; Smith vs. Gale [1892], 144 U. S., 509.) Of course, there are a number of qualifications to the rule,
one particularly relating to the size of the tract in controversy with reference to the portion actually in possession
of the claimant. It is here only necessary to apply the general rule.

The claimant has color of title; he acted in good faith; and he has had open, peaceable, and notorious possession
of a portion of the property, sufficient to apprise the community and the world that the land was for his enjoyment.
(See arts. 446, 448, Civil Code.) Possession in the eyes of the law does not mean that a man has to have his feet
on every square meter of ground before it can be said that he is in possession. Ramos and his predecessor in
interest fulfilled the requirements of the law on the supposition that he premises consisted of agricultural public

The second division of the law requires consideration of the term "agricultural public land." The law affirms that
the phrase is denied by the Act of Congress of July 1st, 1902, known as the Philippine bill. Turning to the
Philippine Bill, we find in sections 13 to 18 thereof that three classes of land are mentioned. The first is variously
denominated "public land" or "public domain," the second "mineral land," and the third "timber land." Section 18 of
the Act of Congress comes nearest to a precise definition, when it makes the determination of whether the land is
more valuable for agricultural or for forest uses the test of its character.

Although these sections of the Philippine Bill have come before the courts on numerous occasions, what was said
in the case of Jones vs. Insular Government ([1906], 6 Phil., 122), is still true, namely: "The meaning of these
sections is not clear and it is difficult to give to them a construction that will be entirely free from objection." In the
case which gave most serious consideration to the subject (Mapa vs. Insular Government [1908], 10 Phil., 175), it
was found that there does exist in the Act of Congress a definition of the phrase "agricultural public lands." It was
said that the phrase "agricultural public lands" as used in Act No. 926 means "those public lands acquired from
Spain which are not timber or mineral lands."
The idea would appear to be to determine, by exclusion, if the land is forestal or mineral in nature and, if not so
found, to consider it to be agricultural land. Here, again, Philippine law is not very helpful. For instance, section
1820 of the Administrative Code of 1917 provides: "For the purposes of this chapter, 'public forest' includes,
except as otherwise specially indicated, all unreserved public land, including nipa and mangrove swamps, and all
forest reserves of whatever character." This definition of "public forest," it will be noted, is merely "for the purposes
of this chapter." A little further on, section 1827 provides: "Lands in public forests, not including forest reserves,
upon the certification of the Director of Forestry that said lands are better adapted and more valuable for
agricultural than for forest purposes and not required by the public interests to be kept under forest, shall be
declared by the Department Head to be agricultural lands." With reference to the last section, there is no
certification of the Director of Forestry in the record, as to whether this land is better adapted and more valuable
for agricultural than for forest purposes.

The lexicographers define "forest" as "a large tract of land covered with a natural growth of trees and underbrush;
a large wood." The authorities say that he word "forest" has a significant, not an insignificant meaning, and that it
does not embrace land only partly woodland. It is a tract of land covered with trees, usually of considerable
extent. (Higgins vs. Long Island R. Co. [1908], 114 N. Y. Supp., 262; People vs. Long Island R. Co. [1908], 110 N.
Y. Supp., 512.)

The foresters say that no legal definition of "forest" is practicable or useful. B. H. Baden-Powell, in his work on
Forest Law of India, states as follows:

Every definition of a forest that can be framed for legal purposes will be found either to exclude some
cases to which the law ought to apply, or on the other hand, to include some with which the law ought not
to interfere. It may be necessary, for example, to take under the law a tract of perfectly barren land which
at present has neither trees, brushwood, nor grass on it, but which in the course f time it is hoped will be
"reboise;" but any definition wide enough to take in all such lands, would also take in much that was not
wanted. On the other hand, the definition, if framed with reference to tree-growth, might (and indeed would
be almost sure to) include a garden, shrubbery, orchard, or vineyard, which it was not designed to deal

B. E. Fernow, in his work on the Economics of Forestry, states as follows:

A forest in the sense in which we use the term, as an economic factor, is by no means a mere collection of
trees, but an organic whole in which all parts, although apparently heterogeneous, jumbled together by
accident as it were and apparently unrelated, bear a close relation to each other and are as
interdependent as any other beings and conditions in nature.

The Director of Forestry of the Philippine Islands has said:

During the time of the passage of the Act of Congress of July 1, 1902, this question of forest and
agricultural lands was beginning to receive some attention and it is clearly shown in section 18 of the
above mentioned Act; it leaves to the Bureau of Forestry the certification as to what lands are for
agricultural or forest uses. Although the Act states timber lands, the Bureau has in its administration since
the passage of this act construed this term to mean forest lands in the sense of what was necessary to
protect, for the public good; waste lands without a tree have been declared more suitable for forestry in
many instances in the past. The term 'timber' as used in England and in the United States in the past has
been applied to wood suitable for construction purposes but with the increase in civilization and the
application of new methods every plant producing wood has some useful purpose and the term timber
lands is generally though of as synonymous with forest lands or lands producing wood, or able to produce
wood, if agricultural crops on the same land will not bring the financial return that timber will or if the same
land is needed for protection purposes.

xxx xxx xxx

The laws in the United States recognize the necessity of technical advice of duly appointed boards and
leave it in the hands of these boards to decide what lands are more valuable for forestry purposes or for
agricultural purposes.
In the Philippine Islands this policy is follows to as great an extent as allowable under the law. In many
cases, in the opinion of the Bureau of Forestry, lands without a single tree on them are considered as true
forest land. For instance, mountain sides which are too steep for cultivation under ordinary practice and
which, if cultivated, under ordinary practice would destroy the big natural resource of the soil, by washing,
is considered by this bureau as forest land and in time would be reforested. Of course, examples exist in
the Mountain Province where steep hillsides have been terraced and intensive cultivation practiced but
even then the mountain people are very careful not to destroy forests or other vegetative cover which they
from experience have found protect their water supply. Certain chiefs have lodged protests with the
Government against other tribes on the opposite side of the mountain cultivated by them, in order to
prevent other tribes from cutting timber or destroy cover guarding their source of water for irrigation.

Dr. M. S. Shaler, formerly Dean of the Lawrence Scientific School, remarked that if mankind could not
devise and enforce ways dealing with the earth, which will preserve this source of like "we must look
forward to the time, remote it may be, yet equally discernible, when out kin having wasted its great
inheritance will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished."

The method employed by the bureau of Forestry in making inspection of lands, in order to determine
whether they are more adapted for agricultural or forest purposes by a technical and duly trained
personnel on the different phases of the conservation of natural resources, is based upon a previously
prepared set of questions in which the different characters of the land under inspection are discussed,
Slope of land: Level; moderate; steep; very steep.
Exposure: North; South; East; West.
Soil: Clay; sandy loam; sand; rocky; very rocky.
Character of soil cover: Cultivated, grass land, brush land, brush land and timber mixed, dense forest.
If cultivated, state crops being grown and approximate number of hectares under cultivation. (Indicate on

For growth of what agricultural products is this land suitable?

State what portion of the tract is wooded, name of important timber species and estimate of stand in cubic
meters per hectare, diameter and percentage of each species.

If the land is covered with timber, state whether there is public land suitable for agriculture in vicinity, which
is not covered with timber.

Is this land more valuable for agricultural than for forest purposes? (State reasons in full.)

Is this land included or adjoining any proposed or established forest reserve or communal forest?
Description and ownership of improvements.

If the land is claimed under private ownership, give the name of the claimant, his place of residence, and
state briefly (if necessary on a separate sheet) the grounds upon which he bases his claim.

When the inspection is made on a parcel of public land which has been applied for, the corresponding
certificate is forwarded to the Director of Lands; if it is made on a privately claimed parcel for which the
issuance of a title is requested from the Court of Land Registration, and the inspection shows the land to
be more adapted for forest purposes, then the Director of Forestry requests the Attorney-General to file an
opposition, sending him all data collected during the inspection and offering him the forest officer as a

It should be kept in mind that the lack of personnel of this Bureau, the limited time intervening between the
notice for the trial on an expediente of land and the day of the trial, and the difficulties in communications
as well as the distance of the land in question greatly hinder the handling of this work.

In the case of lands claimed as private property, the Director of Forestry, by means of his delegate the
examining officer, submits before the court all evidence referring to the present forest condition of the land,
so that the court may compare them with the alleged right by the claimant. Undoubtedly, when the
claimant presents a title issued by the proper authority or evidence of his right to the land showing that he
complied with the requirements of the law, the forest certificate does not affect him in the least as such
land should not be considered as a part of the public domain; but when the alleged right is merely that of
possession, then the public or private character of the parcel is open to discussion and this character
should be established not simply on the alleged right of the claimant but on the sylvical condition and soil
characteristics of the land, and by comparison between this area, or different previously occupied areas,
and those areas which still preserve their primitive character.

Either way we look at this question we encounter difficulty. Indubitably, there should be conservation of the
natural resources of the Philippines. The prodigality of the spendthrift who squanders his substance for the
pleasure of the fleeting moment must be restrained for the less spectacular but surer policy which protects
Nature's wealth for future generations. Such is the wise stand of our Government as represented by the Director
of Forestry who, with the Forester for the Government of the United States, believes in "the control of nature's
powers by man for his own good." On the other hand, the presumption should be, in lieu of contrary proof, that
land is agricultural in nature. One very apparent reason is that it is for the good of the Philippine Islands to have
the large public domain come under private ownership. Such is the natural attitude of the sagacious citizen.

If in this instance, we give judicial sanction to a private claim, let it be noted that the Government, in the long run
of cases, has its remedy. Forest reserves of public land can be established as provided by law. When the claim of
the citizen and the claim of the Government as to a particular piece of property collide, if the Government desires
to demonstrate that the land is in reality a forest, the Director of Forestry should submit to the court convincing
proof that the land is not more valuable for agricultural than for forest purposes. Great consideration, it may be
stated, should, and undoubtedly will be, paid by the courts to the opinion of the technical expert who speaks with
authority on forestry matters. But a mere formal opposition on the part of the Attorney-General for the Director of
Forestry, unsupported by satisfactory evidence will not stop the courts from giving title to the claimant.

We hold that the petitioner and appellant has proved a title to the entire tract of land for which he asked
registration, under the provisions of subsection 6, of section 54, of Act No. 926, as amended by Act No. 1908,
with reference to the Philippine Bill and the Royal Decree of February 13, 1894, and his possessory information.

Judgment is reversed and the lower court shall register in the name of the applicant the entire tract in parcel No.
1, as described in plan Exhibit A, without special finding as to costs. So ordered.