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decided: November 1, 1909.



Author: Holmes

[ 215 U.S. Page 21]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a bill in equity brought by the appellees to restrain the appellant from setting up title to certain gold mines in the Province of Benguet, or interfering with the same, and to obtain an account of the gold heretofore taken from the mines. The trial court rendered a judgment or decree granting an injunction as prayed. Exceptions were taken on the grounds that the findings of fact were against the weight of evidence and that the judgment was against the law. The Supreme Court reexamined the evidence and affirmed the decree below. Then the case was brought here by appeal.

The appellees make a preliminary argument against the jurisdiction of this court, while the appellant asks us to re-examine the evidence and to reverse the decree on the facts as well as the law. We cannot accede to either of these contentions. We are of opinion that this court has jurisdiction. For if the affidavits of value should be held to apply to the whole of Reavis's claims and not to only that part of them that are in controversy here, still a statute of the United States,

[ 215 U.S. Page 22]

     namely, a section of the organic act (§ 45, concerning mining titles in the Philippines), is "involved," within the meaning of § 10 of the same act, which determines the jurisdiction of this court. Act of July 1, 1902, c. 1369, 32 Stats. 691. The meaning and effect of that section are in question, and our construction even has some bearing upon our opinion that the findings of the two courts below should not be reopened. For apart from the general rule prevailing in such cases, De la Rama v. De la Rama, 201 U.S. 303, 309, we shall refer to the law for special reasons why those findings should not be disturbed in a case like this.

The appellees are Iggorrots, and it is found that for fifty years, and probably for many more, Fianza and his ancestors have held possession of these mines. He now claims title under the Philippine Act of July 1, 1902, c. 1369, § 45, 32 Stat. 691. This section reads as follows: "That where such person or association, they and their grantors have held and worked their claims for a period equal to the time prescribed by the statute of limitations of the Philippine Islands, evidence of such possession and working of the claims for such period shall be sufficient to establish a right to a patent thereto under this Act, in the absence of any adverse claim; but nothing in this Act shall be deemed to impair any lien which may have attached in any way whatever prior to the issuance of a patent."

It is not disputed that this section applies to possession maintained for a sufficient time before and until the statute went into effect. See Soper v. Lawrence Brother Co., 201 U.S. 359. The period of prescription at that time was ten years. Code of Procedure in Civil Actions, August 7, 1901, No. 190, § 40; 1 Pub. Laws of Phil. Comm. 378, 384. Therefore, as the United States had not had the sovereignty of the Philippines for ten years, the section, notwithstanding its similarity to Rev. Stats., § 2332, must be taken to refer to the conditions as they were before the United States had come into power. Especially must it be supposed to have had in view the natives of

[ 215 U.S. Page 23]

     the islands, and to have intended to do liberal justice to them. By § 16 their occupancy of public lands is respected and made to confer rights. In dealing with an Iggorrot of the Province of Benguet it would be absurd to expect technical niceties, and the courts below were quite justified in their liberal mode of dealing with the evidence of possession and the possibly rather gradual settling of the precise boundaries of the appellees' claim. See Carino v. Insular Government, 212 U.S. 449. At all events, they found that the appellees and their ancestors had held the claim and worked it to the exclusion of all others down to the bringing of this suit, and that the boundaries were as shown in a plan that was filed and seems to have been put in evidence before the trial came to an end.

It cannot be said that there was no evidence of the facts found, for the plaintiff Fianza testified, in terms, that his grandfather and father had owned the mines in question, and that he and the other appellees owned them in their turn, that they had all worked the mines, that no one else had claimed them, and that the appellant had interfered with his possession, and when he put up a sign had torn it down. No doubt his working of the mines was slight and superficial according to our notions, and the possession may not have been sharply asserted as it would have been with us, whether from Iggorrot habits or from the absence of legal title under Spanish law. But it sufficiently appears that the appellees' family had held the place in Iggorrot fashion, and to deny them possession in favor of Western intruders probably would be to say that the natives had no rights under the section that an American was bound to respect. Whatever vagueness there may have been in the boundaries, it is plain that the appellant attempted to locate a claim within them, and Fianza testified that the plan to which we have referred followed the boundaries that his father showed to him. It is said that the claim is larger than is allowed by § 22. But the limitation of that section applies only to claims "located after the passage of this act."

It is to be assumed then that the appellees and ...

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