POSTSCRIPT / January 28, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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JBC junks Malacanang bet for Supreme Court

PRESSURE FAILED: In choosing the five nominees for the vacant seat in the Supreme Court, the Judicial and Bar Council chaired by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno rose above itself, and dispelled for the moment the impression that it is a Malacanang rubber stamp.

Nominated by the JBC were Solicitor General Eduardo Nachura and Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro who got seven votes each; and Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes, CA Justices Roberto Barrios and Portia Hormachuelos, five votes each.

Government Corporate Counsel Agnes Devanadera got only the votes of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and Rep. Simeon Datumanong out of eight council members. Talk that she is the Palace bet was confirmed not only by the votes of Gonzalez and Datumanong, but more vividly by the insistence of the justice secretary to have her nominated.

The public is hoping that the JBC will continue to show its independence with the two coming SC vacancies this year upon the retirement of Justice Romeo Callejo on April 28 and Justice Cancio Garcia on Oct. 20.

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STRICT CRITERIA: Given the practical reality of public governance, it is not really a “sin” for any president to express preference for an aspirant for a seat in the Supreme Court.

What is unacceptable is for the president or some Palace functionaries to insist on their favorites even if they do not measure up to even the minimal standards of integrity, competence, independence and probity required by the Constitution.

Though President Marcos packed the Supreme Court with his UP law school Class ’39 classmates — namely Ramon Fernandez, Felix Makasiar, Ramon Aquino, Juvenal Guerrero, Vicente Evita and Lino Patajo — they all had impressive academic and professional credentials.

Marcos had a standard criterion for determining fitness for SC appointment — legal scholarship. Majority of his appointees were legal scholars and career jurists. (Two of them, however, were involved in a bar scam that led to their separation from the Court.)

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BAD EGGS: But some of the most impressive additions to the Supreme Court in recent years were not even career jurists.

Appointed by President Cory Aquino, these intellectual heavyweights gave luster to the High Court: Pedro Yap, Andres Narvasa, Isagani Cruz, Florentino Feliciano, Teodoro Padilla, Florenz Regalado and Irene Cortez.

Aside from rejecting legal pygmies lobbying for nomination, the Judicial and Bar Council should really improve the quality of its nominees to the judiciary, especially to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan.

Practicing lawyers will tell you that a number of justices in the SC, CA and Sandiganbayan do not deserve to be there, especially from the standpoint of integrity. Stories in the business and legal communities are so widespread that some Arroyo appointees to the higher courts, especially the CA, should not have been nominated.

Imagine, a respected CA member confides that he is not proud when introduced in social functions that he is a Court of Appeals justice!

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DISINFORMATION: Proponents of the abolition of the 103-year-old Land Registration Administration and the creation of a new office directly under the President to take over the LRA’s functions and earnings (P2.4 billion a year!) must be desperate.

To discredit the LRA and thus justify its abolition, they have collaborated with some writers in reporting that it takes only two and a half hours to register a title of land transfer in Thailand, while it takes almost two years with the LRA-Registries of Deeds.

There is an interesting basic difference in the Thai and the Philippine systems that explains why the Thais seem to work faster.

In deeds of transfer — as when there is a change of ownership — Thailand does not issue new Certificates of Title to the new owner. The reason is that Thailand uses a single title system.

Under this Thai system, all transfer deeds (donation, extrajudicial settlement waiver, sales) are registered by merely annotating them at the back of the original title.

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NO COMPARISON: To give you an idea of how fast the process is, in the Philippines it only takes 30 minutes to one hour — not two years! — to annotate or record a memorandum of such transaction.

The system in the Philippines as provided by law is more complicated and requires more time. It is not an administrative invention of the LRA under the justice department.

After all the documentary requirements are complied with, deeds of transfer are finally registered not by merely recording the change of ownership at the back of the original title but with the issuance of a new Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) in the name of the new owner and canceling the title from where it was derived.

Many people are also unaware that acquisition of ownership, titling and disposition of lands are not functions of the LRA, but of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through its Land Management Bureaus PENRO or CENRO, if the land titling process used is administrative.

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PATENT OR DECREE: There are two ways by which land can be titled to a qualified person. Aside from the administrative process at the DENR as mentioned above, the other way is judicial, or by order of the courts.

What comes out of the administrative process is a patent. In the judicial process it is a decree. The patent or the decree serves as basis for the issuance of the land title.

All lands brought under the Torrens system of land registration, whether administrative or judicial, are first surveyed.

The disinformation squad does not say that only the DENR is allowed by law to undertake, execute and approve original surveys. They never mention that the LRA does not approve original surveys.

Applications for titling administratively are processed at the DENR. After approval of application and order for issuance of patents, patents are issued by the DENR. This procedure of adjudication of land and preparation of patents takes months or even years.

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COURTS CLOGGED: On the other hand, applications for titling by court order or decree are delayed not because of the LRA’s inefficiency but mainly because court dockets are clogged with other cases.

Secretary Gonzalez, under whose department is the LRA, has proposed the designation or creation of specialized courts exclusively to hear all petitions for land registration and other land related cases, as a remedy to the delay.

Once an Original Certificate of Title (either from the DENR as patent or from LRA as decree) is brought to the Register of Deeds and registered, the OCT shall be for all intents and purposes a title issued under the Torrens system.

Prior to the LRA registration, there is also the time-consuming process of paying taxes, such as real estate and transfer taxes to the local treasurer, and capital gains and documentary stamp taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 28, 2007)

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