Do You Have a Clean Land Title?
With the proliferation of fake land titles and fraudulent sales of lands in the Philippines, nothing is more important in buying real estate properties there than verifying the authenticity of the title or making sure there are no limitations or legal claims on the land. In short, you want to buy a land with a clean title.

The best way to verify the authenticity of a title is by checking its existence with the Registry of Deeds (RD) where the land is situated. Every city or province in the Philippines has its own RD, which is the repository of original titles to all registered lands within its limits. Owners of registered lands, on the other hand, are given Owner’s Duplicate Certificate which corresponds to the original title on file with the RD. Thus, a buyer can easily verify the title’s authenticity by comparing it with the one original title on file with the RD.

By way of a background, the Owner’s Duplicate Certificate is either an Original Certificate of Title (OCT), if it is the first title issued on the land, or a Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT), if it was issued subsequent to the first title. A TCT is usually issued after the title is transferred to someone from the first registered owner, with the OCT being canceled. All subsequent transfers (whether by sale, donation or any other legal means) will also result in the issuance of a TCT.

Another government office where you can check a title’s authenticity is the Land Registration Authority (LRA). The LRA is a national government agency that issues decrees of registration and certificates of land titles. But most of the work of the LRA, however, is carried out by the 168 RDs located nationwide, so the RD of each province or city would be the best place to determine a title’s authenticity or existence.

According to the LRA, below are some guidelines to spot fake titles:
1.    Check if the initials, signatures, technical description, annotation and other component elements appearing on the front and at the back of the original title are exactly the same as that appearing on the owner’s duplicate certificate of title.  Any variance is a ground for suspicion;
2.    Every title has a serial number assigned to it.  The serial number for the original title is printed in red and the serial number for the owner’s duplicate certificate is in black.  The LRA distributes the title forms with serial number in consecutive order to the various RDs.  Any certificate of title bearing a serial number which is not among the ones delivered to a particular RD is of doubtful authenticity;
3.    The words Judicial Form appear on the upper left-hand corner of each title. If it is an OCT it shows Judicial Form 108-D and if it is a TCT it shows Judicial Form 109-D. Immediately below the Judicial Form number is the year the form was printed or revised.  If, for instance, below the words Judicial Form 109-D, the phrase “(Revised January 1985)” appears, and on the bottom right portion of the title besides the seal it indicates that it was entered on a date in 1980, then this is a ground for suspicion;
4.    The owner’s duplicate copy of the title contains the words “Owner’s Duplicate Certificate” on the left side margin of title.  On the lower left corner of the form is affixed a red seal.  The seal should not blot or stain when wet;
5.    The last two digits of the title number (usually preceded by either the words Original Certificate of Title or Transfer Certificate of Title) should correspond with the page number of the registration book indicated on the upper right-hand corner of the title.  Any variance should be investigated;
6.   The title is printed on security paper which contains security features.  The paper is 50% cotton and 50% chemical wood pulp with artificially colored silk fibers.  It has a NALTDRA or LRA watermark which can be seen if held against the light.  Patently fake titles are usually printed on materials of inferior quality.
7.    Check if the Registrar of Deeds who signed the title was the incumbent Registrar of Deeds at the time the title was issued;
8. If necessary, trace the history of the title to determine the genuineness of its source.  This may entail going back to the mother title, the derivative titles and relevant documents, such as deeds of sale, donation, etc.

Lastly, even if the title is genuine, you would want to make sure that there are no claims on the land by other parties. For example, there may be an existing mortgage on the land or it is the subject of a litigation. To determine this, look at the back or subsequent pages of the title and make sure that there are no entries below the words “Memorandum of Encumbrances” or even if there are, make sure the encumbrances have been canceled already.
To be sure that the land you’re buying is problem-free, the best way is still consulting with a competent attorney and hiring him or her to conduct a due diligence investigation before closing the deal. Buying a land is an expensive investment and you don’t want those money going down the drain by dealing with a fake land title or buying a land that could expose you to a lawsuit.