July 23, 2024

The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that recognized an ancestral land claim covering 77,585 square meters of land at Barangay Pinsao, Baguio City.

In a decision, the High Court recognized the claim of Maximo Bugnay, Sr. over the property, which he claimed was in his family’s possession for a long-time. Bugnay is the father of Baguio City’s Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative to the city council, Maximo Hilario Edwin Bugnay, Jr.

The property has been the subject of a long-time battle between Bugnay and the other claimants, Gabriel Diclas; Antonia Dianson; Carlos Ansis; Joseph Soypaan; Corazon Soypaan; Rita Biador; Merto Saldet; Imelda Ingosan; Myrna Basanes; Grace Solano; Marcelo Catanes; Valentino Sec-open; Dixson Anches; Carlos Anches, Jr.; and Francis Que, Jr.

The SC ruling stemmed from the petition filed by claimants Diclas et al. that asked the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to cancel the certificate of ancestral land title (CALT) it awarded to Bugnay.

Diclas et al. said they were the actual possessors of the parcels of land covered by the CALT and submitted to the NCIP proofs of their possession of the lot, such as photos of the improvement they have constructed, their residential houses, tombs of their predecessors-in-interest, tax declarations, Townsite Sales Application (TSA), an original certificate of title of one of the claimants, and affidavits of various individuals.

The NCIP however denied the petition on grounds the claimants failed to prove they have acquired vested rights over the land.

The NCIP added there were no records to show that Diclas et al. complied with the requirements for the approval of the TSA and that their long-time possession was insufficient to vest them with ownership and establish in their favor a paramount right to the contested property.

Claimants Diclas elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision of the NCIP, saying it accorded great weight to the factual findings of the NCIP being an administrative body that possesses expertise over issues falling within its jurisdiction.

The CA said the petitioners failed to prove their vested rights over the parcels of land, which was further demonstrated by their failure to comply with the requirements for a TSA, which they were advised to process for them to acquire rights over property.

In upholding the CA decision, the SC said Diclas and the other adverse claimants did not submit evidence to prove their claim of long-time possession and occupation of the land.

“The supporting documents they allegedly submitted before the NCIP to prove their claims were not attached to their petition for review,” the SC ruling stated.

On the allegations of Diclas et al. that Bugnay did not comply with the requirements needed for the issuance of a CALT, the Supreme Court added they also did not submit evidence to prove that Bugnay indeed failed to comply with the requirements for his CALT.

“Such being the case, this Court has no means to ascertain the truthfulness of their claims. We are constrained to rely on the factual findings of the Court of Appeals that (Bugnay) had substantially complied with the requirements of the IPRA, negating any violation of (Diclas et al.’s) right to due process,” the SC decision stated. – Jane B. Cadalig