Official admits issuing spurious title to 'landgrabber'

by RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2011 02:45 AM | Updated as of Sep 22 2011 10:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Quezon City’s Register of Deeds (RD) admitted before the House Justice Committee on Wednesday that he knowingly issued a reconstituted spurious title to a suspected land grabber because of a court order.

RD Elbert Quilala was responding to a query by Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas who asked him pointblank why he issued suspected land grabber Wilfredo Torres a title to a 23-hectare property in Quezon City that spans 5 villages.

Tupas was asking if the titles issued to the occupants of the existing properties were valid.

“Kung valid iyan, bakit ka nag issue kay Torres?” Tupas said to the cheers and applause of the residents who were present during the hearing.

Quilala replied, “Yes. I admit I issued it and I regret very much it happened under my watch. We were complying with orders of court.”

Quilala was also quizzed by Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon similarly, “Bakit ka nag issue ng title kay Torres?”

Torres said, “because of a court order,” but clarified he knew it was wrong.

Quilala in a subsequent ambush interview said he was already arrested back in April for failing to comply with the court order.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court ordered the reconstitution of the title based on a claim by Torres.

Torres and his alleged accomplice, Samuel Rodriguez, have been subpoenaed by the committee.

Vice Chairman Elpidio Barzaga moved that the NBI be the one to serve the subpoena for Torres to appear in the next hearing on Wednesday.

Torres fails to show up

Torres was invited to today’s hearing, but his lawyer Felix Carao said he hasn’t communicated with his principal.

The committee investigation was conducted motu proprio or on its own initiative.

Rep. Winston Castelo, however, manifested during the hearing that he and Rep. Sonny Escudero authored a resolution asking for the probe.

Escudero is an affected resident while the disputed property is in Castelo’s congressional district.

Carao clarified before the committee that he was hired only for the enforcement of the court order reconstituting the title. He also said he filed a motion seeking to declare the RD in contempt of court over the issuance of the title.

Tupas said the issuance of a title to Torres makes a mockery of the land registration system in the country.

Sumulong got a title

Land Registration Authority (LRA) Administrator Eulalio Diaz said the controversy began when Torres’ mother, Dominga Sumulong, claimed the property in 1966.

Sumulong, he said, was able to reconstitute a title of the property using a certified true photocopy of the title she claims was lost.

However, Diaz pointed out that in a subsequent study of his agency, it was found out that the reconstituted title was irregularly issued, so all titles issued from it are considered spurious.

Tupas pointed out that the same study concluded there were erasures on the documents, and there were other details that put the authenticity of the title under question.

Later on Tupas said that based on the study, Torres is apparently a landgrabber.

Tupas said the court was not informed of these details.

Tupas said the study was only brought to the court’s attention in 1995, 29 years after it was concluded. ”Bakit 2005 lang kayo nagsubmit sa court. The judge doesn’t have technical knowledge, you attack it directly. You’re talking of a 24-year-old property may report na kayo 1976 pa lang. “

Diaz said he only assumed office in 2010, and that when there is a pending case, the LRA can’t do anything.

Tupas countered that “What you could have done is directly attack the title and file a cancellation based on fraud. “

Affected residents raised their hands when Tupas asked them to identify themselves in the room.

Tupas eventually noted that the judge which ordered the reconstituted the title may have been misled.

Tupas also felt the Office of the Solicitor General had its own share of negligence.

Another spurious title

Also during the hearing, former Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) deputy secretary general Pamela Felizarta told the committee that aside from the Torres case, there's another case here involving property whose title was also reconstituted based on a spurious title.

The property in question is also in Quezon City and part of the national government center.

Felizarta said Quilala also issued a title for this property despite the best efforts of the Office of the Solicitor General. “What im trying to say is these are syndicated.”

This property is being claimed by a certain Pedro Casimiro.

Felizarta also said there have been numerous complaints against Torres.

Barzaga asked the HUDCC to submit a report on land properties similarly covered by spurious titles.

The committee was informed that titles were issued under pain of a contempt charge, prompting Tupas to tell Quilala, “Magpakulong ka na lang RD.”

The committee also urged the Office of the Court Administrator to investigate the judge in the case.

The committee also subpoenaed all the records pertaining to the case.

Quezon City Assessor Jose Castro confirmed the properties had no tax declaration and made no payment of real estate taxes.

Vice Chairman Rey Umali noted Torres has not been hailed to court despite the complaints.