Imagine yourself confined at a Quezon City hospital with inadequate means to bankroll the surgery that is urgently needed to be performed upon you. Although there is a property in Quezon province that you may use as collateral for a loan with which to pay the required expenses, it is nonetheless one that you co-own with 3 other siblings. Thus, they separately executed 3 sets of Special Power of Attorney (SPA) in favor of your wife (since the 1st is already an American resident, the 2nd has a service contract in Singapore, and the 3rd is stationed in Cebu, being the branch manager of Jollibee in said city) authorizing the latter to constitute a Real Estate Mortgage (REM) over the said Quezon province property. You also executed a similar SPA in your wife’s favor.
However, when Mr. Ravi Singh and your wife presented the REM, the 4 SPAs, and other necessary documents for the registration of the REM so he (Mr. Singh) may release the amount of the loan to your wife, the Register of Deeds (RD) refused to act on the same unless the 4 principals who executed the 4 sets of SPAs appear before him and acknowledge that the same are indeed their voluntary acts & deeds or in the alternative, he (RD) demanded that the Philippine Consular officers in America and Singapore as well as the Notaries Public in Quezon City & Cebu to appear before him and certify that the principals in the 4 SPAs indeed appeared before them and executed said documents in their presence.
If the RD in the above illustration is performing a judicial or quasi-judicial function, you may no longer see the light of day by the time he resolves to register the subject REM for he is entirely acting within his jurisdiction when he proceeded to inquire into the validity and genuineness of the 4 subject SPAs. Fortunately, RDs in this jurisdiction have been ruled to be performing ministerial functions so much so that he must forthwith register the REM & the 4 SPAs (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529) with no necessity of inquiring into their intrinsic validity (Gonzales v. Basa, 73 Phil. 704) so long as they are complete and executed in due form (Sec. 112 in relation to Sec. 55, PD No. 1529).
Nature of Function of Registers of Deeds to Register Documents
If there is one principle of law where the Supreme Court has been consistent, it is the High Tribunal’s ruling that Registers of Deeds (RDs) perform purely ministerial functions. The Supreme Court never deviated from its finding that the duties imposed upon RDs by the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496) and PD No. 1529 are clearly ministerial and mandatory in character ever since the issue first reached its attention for disposition (In re Consulta of Atty. Vicente Francisco on behalf of Domingo Cabantog, 67 Phil. 222; Seton v. Rodriguez, 110 Phil. 548; Sanchez v. Rosauro, 40 Phil. 231; Smith, Bell & Co. v. Register of Deeds, 48 Phil. 656; Standard Oil Co. v. Jaramillo, 44 Phil. 630).
Thus, the Court ruled, and so holds to this very moment, that when the document sought to be registered is complete and in due form, it is presumed to be valid and acceptable for registration in its entirety (Gonzales v. Basa, supra). Needless to say, the RD is without any authority to inquire into the intrinsic validity of the deed sought to be registered such as whether the signature of any of the parties therein is genuine or falsified since that function peculiarly lies within the province of the courts of justice (Tinatan v. Serilla, 54 O.G. 23, Sept. 16, 1968, CA).
The foregoing jurisprudence on the ministerial character of the duty imposed by our land registration laws on RDs to effect the immediate registration of deeds, documents and similar transactions involving real and personal property (Sec, 10, PD No. 1529) proceeds from the fact that the only purpose of registration is to give notice thereof to all persons (Sec. 51, Act No. 496). Contrary to common and popular belief, registration does not declare that the recorded deed, contract or transaction is a valid and subsisting interest in the land subject matter thereof (Seton v. Rodriguez, 110 Phil. 548). If the function of registration is merely to give notice, then questions regarding the validity or invalidity of instruments must be decided after, not before, registration (Gurbax Singh Pabla & Co. v. Reyes and Tantoco, 92 Phil. 177). Consequently, registration must first be allowed by the RDs concerned and validity or effect litigated afterwards before courts of competent jurisdiction (Samanilla v. Cajucom, 107 Phil. 432).
Ministerial Duty as Tool for Economic Development
Obviously, the foregoing rulings are anchored not only on statutes declaring the duty imposed on RDs to be ministerial in character (Sec. 57, Act No. 496; Sec. 193, Administrative Code) but more so on legal practicality and common sense that bear far reaching consequences upon the country’s economy.
If RDs all over the country are under constant threat of being sued for falsification every time a deed, contract or instrument involving real and personal property is presented to them for registration, they will no longer discharge their duty to immediately register the same as required by Sec. 10, PD No. 1529. To insulate themselves from possible criminal and administrative action for falsification of public documents, RDs will be forced to inquire into the intrinsic validity of every such deed, contract or instrument. This entails the cumbersome process of requiring all parties to said deeds, their witnesses, and notaries public to appear before them and asking them if they indeed executed the subject instruments. This process could become more tedious and burdensome in the event a party, witness or notary public can no longer attend the hearing for one reason or another; hence, the necessity for expert witnesses and/or the introduction of secondary evidence such as copies of the deeds at the notarial sections of every court in the country and requiring representatives from said courts to testify on the same.
Thus, to forestall the disastrous effect of such an abhorrent possibility on the economy (for definitely every delay in land and chattel transactions at the registry offices will exact heavy tolls on the banking, property development, housing, construction, car manufacturing/dealership, employment and related sectors), our land registration laws and jurisprudence mandate in no uncertain terms that RDs need no longer inquire into the intrinsic validity of the documents presented to them for registration upon proofs aliunde (Tinatan v. Serilla; Seton v. Rodriguez; Samanilla v. Cajucom; supra.) because the same are already accorded the presumption of validity provided that they are complete and in due form at the time they were entered (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.).
These rulings find legal support from the provisions of Sec. 53, PD No. 1529 which prescribes that “The production of the owner’s duplicate certificate, whenever any voluntary instrument is presented for registration, shall be conclusive authority from the registered owner to the Register of Deeds to enter a new certificate or to make a memorandum of registration in accordance with such instrument, and the new certificate or memorandum shall be binding upon the registered owner and upon all persons claiming under him, in favor of any purchaser for value and in good faith.”
Ministerial Duty as Tool for Speedy Delivery of Services to the Public
Please take note that the doctrine of ministerial duty has for its purpose the speedy registration of transactions since RDs need not hold hearings and require the parties to the deeds sought to be registered to present evidence allunde as well as offer ordinary and/or expert witnesses to prove the intrinsic validity or the genuineness of their documents before the same could be registered. The law (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529) and jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.), provide the necessary presumption of validity and conclusive authority to register as substitutes for such tedious hearings and inquiries. Expeditious registration of transactions therefore is a natural consequence of the ministerial function of RDs for settled is the rule that registration must first be allowed, and validity, effect or genuineness to be litigated afterwards (Gurbax Singh Pablo & Co. v. Reyes; Samanilla v. Cajucom, supra.).
Imagine the inconvenience that the wife of the registered owner who is scheduled to undergo surgery has to go through if she will be required by the RD to bring said owner (her husband who is presently hospitalized) before him to prove that he indeed executed a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) in favor of his wife to mortgage his property. It is not an uncommon practice in the money lending industry especially among individual money lenders to withhold the amount of the loan until after the registration of the SPA and the Real Estate Mortgage (REM) with the Office of the Registry of Deeds (ROD).
The ministerial nature of RDs’ function is precisely designed to address dire situations such as the immediately described illustration. Dire necessities require immediate actions. This cannot be achieved if RDs perform their functions not as ministerial but quasi-judicial officers.
Ministerial Function: Valid Defense Against Prosecution for Falsification
The law (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529) and jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.) undoubtedly secure RDs from criminal prosecution for falsification of public documents should they register voluntary transactions with dispatch (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529) which later on turn out to have been actually falsified by certain interested parties (normally the transferees – buyers or heirs to the exclusion of other heirs). If this is not the necessary consequence of the presumption of validity of instruments (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.) and conclusive authority to register (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529), no RD in his right mind will ever comply with the provisions of Sec. 10, PD No. 1529 to immediately register documents “dealing with real or personal property which (comply) with all the requisites for registration.”
The doctrine on the presumption of validity of the instrument sought to be registered and the law on the conclusive authority to register the same on the part of the RDs are the State’s assurance to the latter that no automatic presumption of liability and/or complicity shall arise from their act alone of immediately registering documents that deal with real and personal property simply on basis of a subsequent finding that the documents previously registered by them were actually manufactured in a felonious manner.
Of course, the foregoing doctrine and law on the presumption of validity of instruments and conclusive authority to register are not absolute guarantees against possible prosecution for falsification. If relevant and competent evidence establish the complicity of the RD concerned, the protective mantle of the presumption of validity and conclusive authority will be unavailing to him/her.
Liabilities that may arise from the Registers of Deeds’ Performance of their Ministerial Duties
Our land registration laws charge RDs with the exclusive authority to register immediately deeds, documents and other transactions involving rights and interests over real and personal property after their determination that the same are complete and in due form (Secs. 10, 55, 112, PD No. 1529). There is no other officer in the entire officialdom of the State who may exercise such function.
Theoretically, RDs cannot delegate their ministerial functions even to their subalterns (the laws are consistent to the effect that the function of registration shall be performed by RDs without any mention that the same may also be performed by their DRDs or Deputy Registers of Deeds except in the instances cited in Sec. 11, PD No. 1529, viz., vacancy, absence, illness, suspension, and inability of the RD to discharge his duty) although in the higher interest of service to the public and in compliance with mandates of the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA), they can and must resort to such delegation of power.
In reality therefore, the RDs and their respective DRDs (where there is proper delegation of functions) are the only officers charged with the exclusive duty to register instruments involving rights and interests over real and personal property. Both officers cannot delegate their ministerial duty to register or not to register to their rank and file employees since there is no provision both in Act No. 496 and PD No. 1529 that authorizes them to make such further delegation.
What then will be the liability of said officers for their erroneous discharge of their exclusive function to register? Both could be held administratively and criminally responsible for their erroneous actions.
It must be stressed that the ministerial function of RDs (& DRDs) is not limited to the registration or denial of transactions alone (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529). It transcends both actions (registration and denial) since they are likewise charged with the duty to require the surrender of owner’s duplicate certificates of title before they could proceed with the registration of voluntary transactions (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529), to carry over subsisting liens in the new titles that they issue (Sec. 59, PD No. 1529), among other collateral duties related to their registration function.
Thus, if in discharging their duty to register a Deed of Absolute Sale (DOS), they failed to carry over existing liens of which they are aware such as Lis Pendens into the new titles that they issue, they could be held criminally liable for Falsification of Public Document through Reckless Imprudence (People v. Leopando, CA 36 O.G. 2937). Similarly, if RDs introduce corrections on titles issued by them sans prior court approval, they could be dismissed from the service and criminally charged with violating the provisions of Sec. 3 (a) & (e) of R.A. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Ampil v. Office of the Ombudsman, G.R. Nos. 192685 & 199115, July 31, 2013).
Arias Doctrine Not Valid Defense Against Liabilities Arising from Performance of Exclusive Duty to Register
It is opined that the invocation of the doctrine laid down in the case of Arias v. Sandiganbayan (G.R. No. 81563, Dec. 19, 1989) may not excuse RDs from prosecution for liabilities arising from the performance of their exclusive authority to register transactions dealing with real and personal property for the simple reason that they alone are charged with the duty to determine the registrability or non-registrability of transactions sought to be registered in their respective offices (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529). In fine, they cannot set up the defense that, as heads of their respective offices, they have the right to rely on the recommendations of their subordinates since the law does not at all authorize the latter to make any such recommendations nor the RDs to act on said recommendations.
Thus, when an RD registers a voluntary transaction such as a Deed of Sale (DOS) without requiring the surrender of the owner’s duplicate copy of the registered owner of the property subject matter of the DOS, he could be held liable for giving undue advantage to the transferee at the expense of the registered owner which is a violation of R.A. No. 3019, a crime made possible thru the RD’s disregard of Sec. 53, PD No. 1529. The Arias doctrine cannot save the RD in this particular example even if he alleges that he merely relied upon the recommendation of his deeds examiner that the same is registrable since the duty to require the surrender of the owner’s duplicate copy in the registration of voluntary transactions (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529) is imposed upon him alone.
By the same token, an RD who fails to carry over a Lis Pendens on the new title that he issues which appears on the title from which the new certificate emanated could be held liable for falsification thru reckless imprudence (People v. Leopando, supra.) and his plea for exoneration based on the failure of his encoder to carry over the same and the recommendation of the deeds examiner to proceed with the registration of the transfer transaction despite the non-carry over of the Lis Pendens will fall on deaf ears. This is so since the duty to carry over subsisting encumbrances on the new certificate of title is imposed on the RD alone (Sec. 59, PD No. 1529) and no one else.
Not even the ridiculous innovation (Arias-RD Ops variation) which members of the Registry of Deeds Operations (RD Ops) introduced/inserted in the electronic system that governs the present registration process could exonerate the RD from liability in the illustrations cited above. No amount of certifications from the rank & file registry employees (in reality, admissions against their interests craftily inserted by RD Ops members in the respective modules of said employees) could exculpate/excuse the RD from the exclusive obligations (to require the surrender of owner’s copy, carry over of existing liens, etc.) imposed upon him by our land registration laws in relation to the performance of his exclusive registration duty! This insertion is not only ridiculous but highly irregular as well since it is akin to allowing a crook with criminal proclivities to lay down the foundation for his exoneration in the event he decides to implement his criminal/nefarious enterprise in the future!
It is the humble submission of the author that the Arias doctrine applies only in instances where the RD is made to affix his signature in respect to activities that are alien to his exclusive registration duties. Thus, when the RD signs the Report prepared by the cashier relative to the monthly income of the registry office generated from entry, registration & other fees that the latter collected from registrants (an activity over which the RD has no actual participation since the law does not oblige him to intervene in the collection of fees nor issuance of receipts for said fees) and the facts entered therein were inaccurate or, worse, could have been feloniously manufactured by the cashier following audits made by the Resident Auditor of the Commission on Audit (COA), no presumption of conspiracy could be attributed to the RD simply because he affixed his signature on said document. As head of office, the RD has every right to presume that the cashier regularly performed her exclusive duties (to collect fees, issue receipts therefor, and prepare the corresponding Report thereon) and to rely on the report that the latter presented to him for his concurrence/approval (Arias v. Sandiganbayan, supra.).
Consulta; A Pro-Active Defense
RDs may secure themselves from liabilities that may arise from the performance of their ministerial duty to register by resorting to the remedy provided for in Sec. 117, PD No. 1529. By elevating an issue relative to the registrability of an instrument sought to be registered, RDs are in effect praying for an administrative ruling from the Land Registration Authority (LRA) Administrator. Any Consulta Resolution issued by the LRA Administrator in the exercise of his quasi-judicial function under Sec. 117, PD No. 1529 on the issue enjoys the presumption of validity and legality until declared otherwise by the courts for being contrary to law or the constitution (Art. 7, New Civil Code).
Being in the form of an administrative ruling, the Consulta Resolution is binding not only on the RD who availed of said remedy but upon RDs all over the country (4th par., Sec. 117, PD No. 1529). Accordingly, it maybe validly annotated by the RD concerned on the title subject matter of the Consulta Resolution.
However, the defense provided by Consulta Resolution is not available in cases where the RD merely wrote a letter to the LRA Administrator in which he seeks the latter’s advice or guidance on a particular issue concerning the registrability of an instrument pending before his office. This is so since our land registration laws does not at all provide for such remedy. EXPRESSIO UNIOS EST EXCLUSIO ALTERIUS! Any reply that the Administrator may issue on the matter partakes only the nature of an opinion which is far from being an administrative ruling contemplated by Sec. 117, PD No. 1529 and Art. 7, New Civil Code. That being the case, it has no binding effect not even on the RD concerned, who may or may not act on the basis of the opinion given.
Consequently, any injury that the RD concerned may cause upon any interested party by reason of his having acted on the opinion expressed by the LRA Administrator may warrant the filing of criminal as well as administrative actions against the former. The RD in this illustration cannot use the opinion given by the LRA Administrator as defense since it does not at all enjoy the presumption of validity or legality (Art. 7, New Civil Code). In fact, he cannot even annotate the opinion on the subject title, the same not being in the form of an administrative ruling that can be raised on appeal to the Court of Appeals (4th par., Sec. 117, PD No. 1529). And if he made such annotation, he could be charged with falsification for having made an untruthful statement in a narration of fact, in addition to having made an alteration in the title which changed the tenor thereof sans judicial approval (Art. 171, Revised Penal Code, 4th & 7th par., in relation to Sec. 108, PD No. 1529).
Of course, the LRA Administrator cannot be held liable for issuing the questioned opinion since the act of expressing one’s opinion, as a general rule, is never a crime in this jurisdiction.
Sec. 108, PD No. 1529 (Sec. 112, Act No. 496): Reactive Defense Against Liabilities Arising from Mistakes Committed in the Performance of Ministerial Duty to Register
Committing mistakes per se in the performance of one’s official duty (with no attendant factor of negligence) is, as a rule, no invitation to criminal and administrative actions (Art. 11, par. 5, Revised Penal Code; People v. Ah Chong, 15 Phil 488). It is what the RD does or neglects to do after learning about his mistake that spells the difference between conviction and exoneration (or lessening of liability depending on the nature of mistake or degree of negligence).
The land registration laws are cognizant of the universal truth that no person is perfect. Stated otherwise, all persons commit mistakes. The framers of the land registration laws anticipated this eventuality such that they provided the necessary course of action to correct mistakes in the event they are committed by the RDs in the performance of their mandatory function to register transactions dealing with real and personal property (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529). Thus, the inclusion of Sec. 108 in the Property Registration Decree (PD No. 1529) and Sec. 112 in the Land Registration Act (Act No. 496).
In the illustration where the RD failed to carry over an existing LIs Pendens on the new certificate of title that he issued, he could have avoided conviction for falsification thru reckless imprudence (People v. Leopando, supra.), had he acknowledged his mistake early on and tried to correct the same by seeking judicial approval to carry over the omitted encumbrance into the new certificate.
COURT ORDER: DEFENSE IN ACTIONS FOR INJURIES ARISING FROM PERFORMANCE OF MINISTERIAL DUTY
The rule is settled that RDs should not be held liable for injuries suffered by parties claiming interests on registered land if said injuries were occasioned by their (RDs) compliance with orders issued by courts of competent jurisdiction. Act No. 496 and PD No. 1529 are awash with provisions to this effect especially those that govern involuntary dealings on registered lands.
However, not all court orders are subject to mandatory compliance by RDs since the foregoing rule admits of certain limitations as well. Thus, an order from the court directing the RD to transfer the property of a deceased registered owner to his heirs, being a transfer transaction and therefore taxable, should not be registered by the RD unless the taxes due on the subject estate had been previously settled with the BIR (LRC Circular No. 238; Consulta No. 1356).
Let us go back to the 1st illustration where a hospitalized person was awaiting the release by Mr. Singh of the amount of the loan that was secured by a REM over the Quezon province property which said patient co-owns with 3 other siblings. The surgery went well due to the timely release of the sum borrowed. Of course, this was made possible because of the ministerial function of RDs to immediately register transactions dealing with real & personal property (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529) provided they are complete and in due form (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.).
However, a few months after the registration of the REM, the heirs of one of the brothers who is stationed in Cebu City filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) against the former patient, his wife, Mr. Singh, the Notary Public & the RD concerned for falsification of public document on the ground that their father (brother in Cebu) could not have executed any kind of SPA in favor of the former patient-brother’s wife, having died 3 years earlier or before the execution of the alleged SPA. Thus, their father’s purported signature therein was feloniously and criminally falsified by the respondents.
The case against the RD should be dismissed on the ground that when he performed his ministerial function (registration of the REM on the basis of the 4 SPAs, one of which turned out to be falsified), he did so on the basis of his mandatory duty to immediately register the same (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529), guided only by the legal presumption that the questioned SPA was valid and registrable in its entirety (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.) and the rule that the surrender of the owner’s duplicate copy of the title covering the Quezon province property provided a conclusive authority on the part of the RD to register the REM, together with the 4 SPAs, the questioned SPA included (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529).
The presumption of validity (Gonzales V. Basa, supra.) and conclusive authority to register (Sec. 53, PD No. 1529) are the State’s assurance to RDs that no presumption of criminal complicity on their part shall arise simply because they chose to perform their ministerial duty to immediately register transactions that deal with real and personal property (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529).
Requiring RDs to immediately register documents dealing with real and personal property (Sec. 10, PD No. 1529) while prohibiting them at the same time from conducting any hearing to inquire into the intrinsic validity and genuineness of said documents (Gonzales v. Basa, supra.) and thereafter, leaving them to their own devices in the event they are sued for falsification is unfair, unjust, and inhuman! No, this was not the intention of our land registration laws and existing jurisprudence when they provided the presumption of validity of documents & conclusive authority to register as substitutes for hearings on the authenticity and genuineness of documents sought to be registered! These principles of law were instituted precisely to protect RDs from falsification suits that may arise from the performance of their ministerial duty to register.
Supposed no document was falsified in the above illustration. But 3 months after the RD registered the REM, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed before the OMB criminal as well as administrative actions for tax evasion against the RD and the parties to the REM on the ground that the requisite documentary stamp tax (DST) due on the REM was not settled before the same was registered.
The RD in this situation is in for big trouble for allowing the registration of the REM without requiring the surrender of the requisite proof of prior payment of the DST that the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) as amended, prescribes. He cannot pass on the blame to his low ranking employees (particularly, the examiner) and invoke the defense recognized in the case of Arias v. Sandiganbayan (supra.) that he merely relied on the recommendation of said employees. The reason for this is simple - the duty to make sure that the transaction sought to be registered is in due form and complete (which includes the determination that all supporting documents required by special laws such as DST in REMs & leases, DAR Clearance in case of transfers of agricultural lands, and acts incident to his duty to register such as requiring the surrender of owner’s copy in voluntary transactions, to carry over subsisting liens and not to carry over cancelled ones, among other duties) is imposed by law on RDs alone and upon no one else!
Neither the recent insertion by members of the RD Ops of the questionable certifications by low ranking registry employees to the effect that they have read and examined the documents that they are about to endorse to the RDs for their approval (apparently designed to reinforce the Arias doctrine which as above explained is not applicable to the exclusive registration duty of RDs) will save the RD in our illustration from charges of tax evasion.