BINALAY VS. MANALO
A sudden and forceful action like that of flooding is not the alluvial process contemplated in Art. 457. The accumulation of the soil deposits must be slow and hardly imperceptible in order for the riparian owner to acquire ownership thereof. Also, the land where the accretion takes place is adjacent to the banks of the rivers (or the sea coast).
Manalo acquired 2 lots which were originally owned by Judge Taccad from 2 different people (the latter’s daughter and from an earlier purchaser). These lots were later consolidated into Lot 307, a total of 10.45 hectares. The lot was beside the Cagayan River, which, due to flooding, would place a portion of the land underwater during the rainy season (September to December). On sunny days, however, the land would be dried up for the entire dry season (January to August). When a survey of the land was conducted on a rainy month, a portion of the land that Manalo bought was then underwater and was thus left unsurveyed and excluded from Lot 307.
The big picture is this: Cagayan River running from south to north, forks at a certain point to form two braches (western and eastern) and then unites at the other end, further north, to form a narrower strip of land. The eastern branch of the river cuts through Lot 307, and is flooded during the rainy season. The unsurveyed portion, on the other hand, is the bed of the eastern branch. Note that the fork exists only during the rainy season while the “island”/elongated strip of land formed in the middle of the forks becomes dry and perfect for cultivation when the Cagayan river is at its ordinary depth. The strip of land in the middle of the fork totaled 22.7 hectares and was labeled Lot 821-822. Lot 821 is directly opposite Lot 307 and is separated by the eastern branch of the river’s fork.
Manalo claims that Lot 821 belongs to him by way of accretion to the submerged portion of the land to which it is adjacent. Petitioners (Binalay, et al) who possess the Lot 821, on the other hand, insist that they own it. They occupy the other edges of the lot along the river bank (i.e. the fertile portions on which they plant tobacco and other agricultural products) and also cultivate the western strip during the summer.
Manalo filed 2 cases for forcible entry which were both dismissed. Later on, he filed a complaint for quieting of title, possession, and damages against petitioner. The trial court and the CA ruled in favor of Manalo, saying that Lot 821 and Lot 307 cannot be considered separate and distinct from each other. They reasoned that when the land dries up for the most part of the year, the two are connected. [Note: The CA applied the ruling in Gov’t of the Phil Islands vs. Colegio de San Jose, which was actually inappropriate because the subject matter in this case was a lake so that the definition of a “bed” was different.]
Whether or not Manalo owns Lot 821 by way of accretion
The disputed property is not an accretion. It is the action of the heavy rains that cause the highest ordinary level of waters of the Cagayan River during the rainy season. The depressed portion is a river bed and is thus considered property of public domain.
The SC observed the following:
a) The pictures identified by Manalo during his direct examination depict the depressed portion as a river bed. The dried up portion had dike-like slopes (around 8m) on both sides connecting it to Lot 307 and Lot 821 that are vertical and very prominent.
b) The eastern bed already existed even before Manalo bought the land. It was called “Rio Muerte de Cagayan.”
c) Manalo could not have acquire ownership of the land because article 420 of the civil code states that rivers are property of public dominion. The word “river” includes the running waters, the bed, and the banks. [The seller never actually owned that part of the land since it was public property]
d) The submerged area (22.72 ha) is twice the area of the land he actually bought. It is difficult to suppose that such a sizable area could have been brought about by accretion.
More importantly, the requisites of accretion in article 457 were not satisfied. These are: 1) that the deposition of the soil or sediment be gradual and imperceptible; 2) that it be the result of the action of the waters of the river (or sea); and 3) the land where the accretion takes place is adjacent to the banks of the rivers (or the sea coast). The accretion should’ve been attached to Lot 307 for Manalo to acquire its ownership. BUT, the claimed accretion lies on the bank of the river; not adjacent to Lot 307 but directly opposite it – across the river. Aside from that, the dike-like slopes which were very steep may only be formed by a sudden and forceful action like flooding. The steep slopes could not have been formed by the river in a slow and gradual manner.