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Technical errors in land titles: detection & correction

A technically flawed title can create serious problems – cancelation by the courts, vulnerability to attack by land grabbers, property that cannot be located, overlaps with other titles, erroneously erecting structures on neighboring properties, rejection of collateral by banks, etc.

An enormously large number of land titles in this country contain errors in the technical description of the land.

A faulty description would be like saying Juan de la Cruz is not actually who he says he is, or is more (or less) than he is supposed to be.

The time-honored legal doctrine is that a claimant of land must be able to prove not only the legitimacy of his title, but also the absolute certainty of the identity of that land.

This “land identity” is embodied in the title’s technical description. As the Supreme Court declared: “when the technical description appearing in the title is clearly erroneous, the courts have no other recourse but to order its cancellation”.

The widely publicized case of Manotok vs. Barque – involving a 34-hectare prime, ancestral property in the heart of Quezon City – is just one of many title cases where the presence of serious technical errors was a major ground cited by the court for cancelation of the title.

Causes of technical error

Errors in technical descriptions can arise from any of the following:

  1. Clerical or typographical error. – Technical descriptions are copied from the survey plan of the land. A common occurrence is mistyping the values when copying – particularly when the land has many corners or points.

  2. Survey error. – In this case, the survey itself is erroneous, either due to carelessness of the surveyor or faulty instrument. Thus, the error in the survey plan is inherited or carried over to the certificate of title.

  3. Attempt to commit fraud. – In this case, the technical description is fictitious, or copied from another title but modified such as to mislead.

Components of TD & common errors

Unique Parcel ID

This ID is what legally separates a piece of land from any other land.

It is always expressed as a combination of the following:

  1. Lot Number (e.g. Lot 2, or Lot 2-B-5-D)
  2. Block Number when applicable (e.g. Blk. 4)
  3. Survey Plan Number to which that lot belongs (e.g. Psd-04-222222).
Parcel's Unique ID

Thus: Lot 2 of Psd-04-222222; or Lot 2-B-5-D, Blk 4 of the Subdivision Plan Psd-04-222223.

If the property is a child or derivative lot of a bigger lot, the parcel ID will also include the phrase “being a portion of”, followed by the lot number and plan number of the mother lot.

Common error & possible implications: mistyping the Lot Number, or any character in the Plan Number.

An error in the Lot Number could lead the landowner to mistakenly claim a neighboring lot.

An erroneous Plan Number would point to an entirely different plan with an entirely different set of parcel information than what is given in the title. This could be used as proof to support an allegation that the title is spurious – as in the Manotok vs. Barque case.

Tie point & tie line

Tie points are fixed or absolute points on the surface of the earth, marked by location monuments or mojons. The coordinates of these points are recorded with the Land Management Bureau (LMB).

These geographic points are used as reference or starting points when conducting ground survey. 

Tie point & tie line

 The complete description is a combination of the following:

  1. Type of monument (e.g. BLLM, BBM, MBM, etc.)
  2. Monument number
  3. Name of the locality where the monument is situated.

Thus, for instance: BLLM 1 of Lipa, Batangas.  

The tie line, on the other hand, is a line measured from the tie point to the first corner of the parcel. Its description is a combination of the line’s northing and easting and the distance to Corner 1 of the land – thus: S 37 deg. 55’ W, 500 m.

These two items combined are indispensable because they define the exact location of a piece of land, except only in the cases of very recent surveys wherein the exact geographic position of each lot corner is already given in latitude and longitude values.

Common errors and implications:

  • The title does not at all describe a tie point and/or tie line. This is readily evident in the certificate itself.

    Some refer to this situation as a “floating parcel”. The property cannot be mapped or plotted, nor located on the ground – unless reference is made to the titles or survey records of the indicated bounding properties. This would require research of these records.

If the title does not indicate any bounding property, or the information is insufficient, then the exact location of the property cannot be determined.

This could lead to an allegation that the title covers a property that does not exist at all.

Note, however, that when lot corners are described with their exact coordinates –e.g. Corner 1 at 9° 17’ 49” N, 119° 47’ 42” E – a tie point/tie line may no longer be indicated.

  • Mistyping the tie point identifier as, for instance, BLBM 1 instead of BLLM 1. Unless, as in some cases, the official record indicates that the two are equivalent or coincide, this would result in a completely different tie point in a completely different location – and so would the property.

  • Mistyping a value in the direction or distance of the tie line. The error would become known only when the property is mapped, since the map will show the location as either another locality, on water, in a ravine, within inalienable forest, or generally anywhere else except where the property is supposed to be.

Parcel corners & lines

The corners are called points (pt.), while the lines are described in bearings and distances (e.g. thence S 78 deg. 17’ W, 47.30 m. to point 2).

Some titles for newly surveyed land may provide only the latitude and longitude of each corner; the bearings and distances of the bounding lines are no longer stated.

The corners are enumerated sequentially from point 1, hence one can tell if there is a missing corner or line just by reading the title.

Corners & lines
Parcel Lat/Long
Corners in Lat/Long

Common errors & implications. An error in the bearing and/or distance of a line from one corner to the next will affect the geographic position of succeeding corners, as well as the lot configuration or shape.

Many titles – particularly those covering parcels with many corners – are infested with these errors:

  • Mistyping the direction (or bearing) of a line – e.g. W (west) instead of E (east). This is a very common error, considering that in the keyboard the two characters are beside each other. Obviously, this means that the line will be going in the wrong direction.

  • Mistyping a numerical character in the bearing of a line – e.g. N 20 deg. instead of N 10 deg. This means that while the direction may be right, the angle of the line will be offset.

  • Mistyping a numerical character in the distance of a line – e.g. 150 m. instead of 160 m. Obviously this will make the line shorter (or longer as the case may be).

  • Missing corners. This is very common in titles to large properties, particularly those bounded by water bodies wherein the bounding line is curvy rather than straight. In such cases, the title could be missing several lines of technical description.

When plotted, an error in any corner or line could result  in an unexpectedly weird configuration.

Even if the configuration appears correct, if the error shifts the geographic position of the parcel by even a slight degree, it could result in overlaps which, if undetected or corrected, could lead one to unknowingly erect a building that encroaches on neighboring lots.

Parcel area or size

The Torrens law requires this to be stated in the title. This is determined from the survey of the property.

One should bear in mind that property valuation is applied based on the lot area or size.

To check whether the area given in the title is correct, there are resources in the internet describing how to calculate the area of regular or irregular polygons. A parcel is, after all, a polygon.

Parcel area

However, unless the corners and lines are drawn or plotted, an untrained eye would not know whether the parcel’s geometric configuration is regular or irregular, and therefore would not know which calculation method to apply.

Also, an error in the bearing or distance of a line would result in a computed area that is different from the given area.

Boundaries

These can be either natural features (e.g. river) or adjacent properties.

This information becomes necessary when the title does not contain tie point or tie line information.

It is also essential in determining overlaps, which can be seen only when the property is plotted together with any bounding lot given in the title.

Boundaries

Date of original survey

This is like a person’s date of birth. The original survey is the basis for registration and issuance of an original Certificate of Title (OCT). In title verification, dates are essential for tracing the title back to its origins, or down to its derivative titles.

When the parcel has been subdivided or consolidated after the original survey, this portion also contains the date of the subsequent survey.

Survey dates

Detecting errors – plotting & location verification

If you are sufficiently familiar with Microsoft Excel, you can use it to plot the lot corners. This will definitively show errors in the lot configuration, and enable accurate computation of the area.

This free, easy-to-follow instructional video will show you how.

Note, however, that you will not be able to complete the plotting process if there are missing corners or bearings/distances.

Using this method will also not show you the exact location or vicinity of the property.

Parcel plotting in MS Excel
Parcel plotting in MS Excel
Parcel Plotting in MS Excel
Plotted Parcel Configuration

To verify the location, you can map the parcel using the free, online NAMRIA Lot Plotter. It is user-friendly and has a short, easy-to-follow User Manual. The resulting map will show you the vicinity and geographic features adjacent to or near the property.

Note, however, that if the title does not provide a tie point, or if the given tie point is not in the NAMRIA database, the Lot Plotter application will only be able to generate and show the lot configuration. It will NOT be able to show you the location or vicinity on the map.

NAMRIA Lot Plotter
Parcel plotted with NAMRIA Lot Plotter

How to correct?

1. Compare the title and the certified technical description

Request a Certified Technical Description (TD) from the DENR. You can submit a request via the Land Management Bureau’s online facility, or you can personally go to the DENR Regional Office where the property is situated.

However, if the Plan Number in the title is preceded by the prefix LRC – e.g. (LRC) Psd-127743 – this means that the survey plan was approved by the Land Registration Authority, not the DENR. In which case, you should direct your request to the LRA’s Subdivision and Consolidation Division.

Once you have the document, compare its contents with the technical description in the title.

If there is an inconsistency between the title and the certified TD, plot the certified TD using MS Excel.

If there is an inconsistency in a value of the tie point or tie line, plot the parcel in the NAMRIA Lot Plotterusing the tie point and tie line in the certified TD.

If you are convinced that the certified TD is correct in terms of the configuration, location, area and other parcel information, go to Step 4.

2. Compare the title and the survey plan

If your request for the certified TD yields a “no record found” response from the agency concerned, request instead a certified copy of the survey plan given in the title. Make sure that you provide the exact plan number – e.g. Psd-04-222222, or (LRC) Psd-22345.

If available, proceed with the comparisons as in Step 1. If still no record, go to Step 3.

3. Commission a resurvey or relocation survey

If there is no official record of the technical description or the survey plan, or if there is but plotting reveals that it is also erroneous, then you should commission a licensed geodetic engineer to undertake a resurvey or relocation survey of the property.

Examine in detail the contents of both the plan and certified TD, including the title number, dates, other information and presence of the required signatures. Sadly, not all GEs are as thorough or as quality-conscious as they are required to be.

Make sure that the area stated in the plan is the same as in the title.

If you want to be doubly certain, replot the new TD and verify the location as discussed in Step 1.

4. Have the correct TD annotated on the title

Prepare an Affidavit listing each erroneous item and the correction. This must be notarized.

Proceed to the Register of Deeds office where the property is situated, and submit the Affidavit together with the Certified TD and/or the Resurvey or Relocation Plan.

You should also present the Original Owner’s Duplicate of the title.

When done, after a few days, request a certified copy of the title from the LRA’s eSerbisyo Portal. This is to make sure that the official copy stored in the LRA’s database is already annotated per your Affidavit.

Title Correction
Annotated corrections

Technological improvements

The LRA’s system of electronic titling has done much to avoid clerical errors. With the system, issuance of a TCT for a property as is – i.e. not subdivided or consolidated – no longer calls for Register of Deeds personnel to manually retype the technical description of the previous TCT onto the new one.  The previously encoded technical information is simply extracted from the database and loaded into the new electronic title.

Still, any uncorrected error of the previous TCT will be inherited by the succeeding TCT.

On the other hand, with the LRA’s eTD system of 2020, electronic TCTs for new subdivision lots are now generated using technical descriptions encoded and uploaded by the subdivision developers themselves or their geodetic engineers, subject to accreditation by the LRA.

It is expected that those TCTs will be devoid of the common clerical errors.

Still, it does not necessarily mean that the mother title does not suffer from more fundamental survey errors. This will be discussed in a succeeding article.

The author, Ms. BOOTS AM BRIOLA, is currently CREBA’s Consultant on Advocacy, Land Titles and Geo-IT matters. She is former Managing Director of CREBA Land Services & Title Warranty Corporation (CREBALAND). Among others, she spearheaded the comprehensive verification and analysis of titling and survey records of properties worth billions of pesos, for clients including the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

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