Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 146082             July 30, 2004

MELCHOR CUSTODIO, petitioner, appellee,
vs.
ROSENDO F. CORRADO, respondent.


D E C I S I O N


QUISUMBING, J.:

For review on certiorari is the Decision1 dated July 28, 2000 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 45764, and its Resolution2 dated November 13, 2000 denying the motion for reconsideration. The CA affirmed the Decision3 dated September 9, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Balayan, Batangas, Branch 9, in RTC Appeal Case No. 3301, which reversed the Decision4 dated August 19, 1996 of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Calatagan, Batangas, dismissing respondent Rosendo F. Corradoís Complaint for Recovery of Possession and Ownership with Injunction and Damages, in Civil Case No. 120.

The facts and antecedent proceedings, as culled from records, are as follows:

On July 12, 1993, respondent Rosendo F. Corrado filed an ejectment5 case against petitioner Melchor Custodio with the MTC of Calatagan, Batangas, docketed as Civil Case No. 116. It was dismissed by the MTC on March 15, 1994 on the grounds that (1) it had no jurisdiction as the complaint is a possessory suit, (2) there was no barangay conciliation, and (3) the plaintiff failed to prove his case by preponderance of evidence. Upon appeal, the RTC of Balayan, Batangas affirmed the appealed decision docketed as RTC Appealed Case No. 3099.6

On January 2, 1995, respondent filed with the same MTC another complaint for recovery of possession and damages against petitioner, docketed as Civil Case No. 120,7 and which is the core case subject of the present petition.

The Complaint avers that respondent Rosendo F. Corrado (then plaintiff) is the registered owner of a residential lot in Barangay Balitoc, Calatagan, Batangas covered by TCT No. T-21342. He claims that more than a year prior to the institution of the complaint, petitioner Melchor Custodio (then defendant), under a dubious claim of tenancy relationship with respondentís father, Crisanto Corrado and without his knowledge and consent, demolished his old residential house on the said lot and constructed a two-bedroom bungalow where petitioner and his family now reside.

In his Answer,8 petitioner Melchor Custodio alleged that he is a legitimate leasehold tenant of Crisanto Corrado since 1961 up to the present. He further claimed that respondentís father consented to the construction of the bungalow thirty (30) years ago when the subject lot was still owned by respondentís father and before it was transferred to respondent. As affirmative defenses, he alleged inter alia that: (a) the complaint states no cause of action; (b) the required barangay conciliation under P.D. 15089 was not complied with; and (c) the present complaint is now barred on the ground of res judicata and is violative of the rule on forum shopping.

The parties agreed on the following stipulation of facts during the pre-trial conference:

1. That Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-21342 covering the lot in question is in the name of plaintiff Rosendo Corrado;

2. That the defendant has never been a tenant of the plaintiff;

3. That the construction of the two-bedroom bungalow structure on the subject premises was without the consent of the plaintiff;

4. That the dismissal of Civil Case No. 116 which involved the same parties was by reason of alleged non-compliance with Presidential Decree No. 1508;

5. That subject property is located in Barangay Balitoc, Calatagan, and not in Barangay Gulod, Calatagan;

6. That no Barangay Certification is attached to the instant complaint pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 1508;

7. That the Decision of the Municipal Trial Court was appealed before the Regional Trial Court which was docketed as RTC Appealed Case No. 3099.10

After trial, the MTC rendered judgment dismissing the Complaint, the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered DISMISSING the complaint without pronouncement as to cost.

SO ORDERED.11

The MTC initially resolved several issues and ruled inter alia that: (a) It has jurisdiction over the complaint which is an accion publiciana case although denominated as recovery of possession and ownership; (b) Prior compliance with barangay conciliation is not required because the parties reside in non-adjoining barangays of different municipalities with respondent residing in Barangay Binubusan, Municipality of Lian, Batangas, and petitioner residing in Barangay Balitoc, Calatagan and the complaint included a prayer for preliminary injunction and TRO; and (c) The filing of the present Civil Case No. 120 does not constitute forum shopping and the judgment in the previous ejectment case in Civil Case No. 116 will not amount to res judicata in the present case because there was no judgment on the merits in Civil Case No. 116. The MTC noted that there was no adjudication as to the rights of the parties, particularly the determination of their possessory rights in Civil Case No. 116 as its dismissal was anchored on respondentís non-compliance with the required barangay conciliation under P.D. No. 1508 and on respondentís failure to allege the particular date of deprivation of possession required for the court to determine whether the case was filed within the one (1) year period.

However, the MTC finds that the petitionerís continued stay on respondentís property has factual and legal basis since evidence on record, such as milling tickets, convincingly show that petitioner has been a tenant of respondentís father, Crisanto Corrado, cultivating the latterís three (3)-hectare sugarcane land, including the subject lot, since 1961. It did not give credence to respondentís claim of ignorance to the tenancy relationship between petitioner and his father since the latest milling tickets showed that petitioner continued working on the subject lot even after it was transferred to respondentís name.

Respondent appealed the MTC decision to the RTC, which set aside and reversed the MTC decision, the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered REVERSING and SETTING ASIDE the decision of the lower court dated August 12, 1996 and a new one entered declaring the plaintiff as the true and absolute owner of the residential lot in question; ordering the defendant to deliver the possession thereof to the plaintiff and to vacate the same, with costs against the defendant-appellee.

SO ORDERED.12

In reversing the MTC, the RTC found merit in respondentís allegation that petitioner cannot claim any right to possess respondentís lot on the premise that he is an alleged tenant of respondentís father. The RTC found it unacceptable for the MTC to rule that respondent is bound by the action of his father in allowing petitioner to construct a house on the subject lot and occupy the same. The RTC stressed that the parties had stipulated during the pre-trial that the subject lot is registered under the name of respondent and that petitioner is not a tenant of respondent. Further, respondent acquired the said lot in 1970 not from his father but from the government, which was the registered owner since 1909. Thus, respondentís father never acquired any right over the said land, hence, he has no right to transmit or alienate the land to anyone. The RTC further stated that petitionerís alleged possession, if any, would have been only by tolerance by the government and he would have acted promptly at the time respondent purchased the lot if he truly believed that he had the legal right over the lot. Finally, the RTC clarified that contrary to the MTCís ruling, the case is not merely an accion publiciana, where only physical possession is involved, but one of accion reinvindicatoria because respondent claimed recovery of full possession as an absolute owner. The RTC concluded that since respondent is the absolute owner of the property, the MTC cannot bar him from recovering possession based on spurious authority granted by a third party who is not an owner.

Petitioner filed a petition for review in the Court of Appeals which affirmed the RTC decision. The dispositive portion of the decision reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM the RTC decision dated September 9, 1997 in RTC Appeal Case No. 3301.

SO ORDERED.13

The CA ruled that the principle of res judicata is inapplicable because there is no identity of causes of action between Civil Case Nos. 116 and 120. It stressed that the former is an ejectment suit which was dismissed for failure of respondent to state the date of deprivation of possession while the latter is for recovery of possession, and not ejectment. It also brushed aside the alleged tenancy relationship between petitioner and respondent, noting that the milling tickets were issued for respondentís father as the planter and petitioner as the tenant, but without any evidence showing that they referred to the subject lot and without any indication that petitioner was getting his share from the subject lot.

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was denied by the Court of Appeals.

Hence, this petition submitting the following issues for our resolution:

I

WHETHER OR NOT THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT CIVIL CASE NO. 116 AND CIVIL CASE NO. 120 HAVE TWO (2) SEPARATE CAUSES OF ACTION DESPITE THE FACT THAT WHAT DETERMINES THE NATURE OR CAUSE OF THE ACTION IS NOT THE CAPTION OF THE COMPLAINT BUT THE MATERIAL ALLEGATIONS CONTAINED THEREIN.

II

WHETHER OR NOT THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ALSO ERRED IN NOT TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION THE FACT THAT FOR RES JUDICATA TO APPLY, "SUBSTANTIAL" AND NOT ABSOLUTE IDENTITY OF CAUSES OF ACTION WILL SUFFICE.

III

WHETHER OR NOT THE PETITIONER HAS AMPLY ESTABLISHED BY A PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE A TENANCY RELATIONSHIP WITH RESPONDENT AND HIS FATHER, CRISANTO CORRADO.14

In our view, the relevant issues for our resolution are: (a) whether or not the principle of res judicata is applicable in this case; and (b) whether the alleged tenancy relationship between petitioner with respondent and the latterís father was established by preponderance of evidence.

On the first issue, petitioner insists that the principle of res judicata is applicable in this case since the material allegations in the complaints of Civil Case Nos. 116 and 120 would clearly reveal an identity of cause of action. Citing jurisprudence, it argued that what should control in determining the cause of action are the averments in both complaints seeking recovery of possession of the subject lot with the ultimate goal of dispossessing and ejecting petitioner from the property and restoring it to respondent and not the different captions of the two complaints. He argued further that the application of the principle of res judicata only requires substantial and not absolute identity of causes of action. For his part, respondent countered that while there may be identity of parties and subject matter, the causes of action are not identical in Civil Case Nos. 116 and 120 as the former is one for ejectment to recover material possession while the latter is one for recovery of possession and ownership of the subject land.

We find petitionerís contentions bereft of merit. The principle of res judicata is inapplicable because Civil Case No. 116 for ejectment was not decided on the merits and its cause of action is different from Civil Case No. 120 for recovery of possession and ownership.

For res judicata to bar the institution of a subsequent action, the following requisites must concur: (1) the former judgment must be final; (2) it must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties; (3) it must be a judgment on the merits; and (4) there must be, between the first and second actions, (a) identity of parties, (b) identity of subject matter, and (c) identity of cause of action.15

In the present case, the judgment in Civil Case No. 116 was not on the merits. A judgment on the merits is one rendered after argument and investigation, and when there is determination which party is right, as distinguished from a judgment rendered upon some preliminary or formal or merely technical point, or by default and without trial.16 Thus, a judgment on the merits is one wherein there is an unequivocal determination of the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to the causes of action and the subject matter of the case.17 In this case, the MTCís dismissal of Civil Case No. 116 was anchored on its lack of jurisdiction and lack of proof of the date of demand without determining and resolving who has the right of possession between petitioner and respondent. Verily, the case was not resolved on the merits but was dismissed on technical points. A judgment dismissing an action for want of jurisdiction cannot operate as res judicata on the merits.18

There is also no identity of causes of action between Civil Case Nos. 116 and 120. We agree with the findings of the CA which we find no reason to set aside, to wit:

ÖIn Civil Case No. 116, the case as found by the MTC is an ejectment suit and for failure of plaintiff-private respondent to state the date when he was deprived of his possession, the court held that it did not entitle him to file an ejectment suit against herein defendant-petitioner. In Civil Case No. 120, the cause of action is for recovery of possession and not ejectment. These are two separate causes of action and therefore the principle of res judicata does not apply to the present case.19

Indeed, an ejectment case such as Civil Case No. 116, involves a different cause of action from an accion publiciana or accion reinvindicatoria, such as Civil Case No. 120, and the judgment of the former shall not bar the filing of another case for recovery of possession as an element of ownership. A judgment in a forcible entry or detainer case disposes of no other issue than possession and establishes only who has the right of possession, but by no means constitutes a bar to an action for determination of who has the right or title of ownership.20 Incidentally, we agree with the findings of the RTC that Civil Case No. 120 is not an accion publiciana but more of an accion reinvindicatoria as shown by the respondentís allegation in the complaint that he is the registered owner of the subject lot and that the petitioner had constructed a bungalow thereon and had been continuously occupying the same since then.

The distinction between a summary action of ejectment and a plenary action for recovery of possession and/or ownership of the land is well-settled in our jurisprudence. What really distinguishes an action for unlawful detainer from a possessory action (accion publiciana) and from a reinvindicatory action (accion reinvindicatoria) is that the first is limited to the question of possession de facto. An unlawful detainer suit (accion interdictal) together with forcible entry are the two forms of an ejectment suit that may be filed to recover possession of real property. Aside from the summary action of ejectment, accion publiciana or the plenary action to recover the right of possession and accion reinvindicatoria or the action to recover ownership which includes recovery of possession, make up the three kinds of actions to judicially recover possession.21

Further, it bears stressing that the issue on the applicability of res judicata to the circumstance obtaining in this case is far from novel and not without precedence. In Vda. de Villanueva v. Court of Appeals,22 we held that a judgment in a case for forcible entry which involved only the issue of physical possession (possession de facto) and not ownership will not bar an action between the same parties respecting title or ownership, such as an accion reinvindicatoria or a suit to recover possession of a parcel of land as an element of ownership, because there is no identity of causes of action between the two.

Anent the second issue, petitioner contends that tenancy relationship between him and respondentís father was amply supported by evidence. It must be stressed that this is a factual issue requiring re-evaluation and examination of the probative value of evidences presented which is not proper in a petition for review on certiorari. Besides, this issue had already been squarely resolved by the Court of Appeals and we find no impelling reason to set it aside. According to the Court of Appeals, the milling tickets only showed that they were issued to Crisanto Corrado but did not show whether such tickets referred to the same lot in question. In petitions for review on certiorari, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in cases brought before it from the Court of Appeals is limited to reviewing questions of law. For a question to be one of law, it must involve no examination of the probative value of the evidence presented by the litigants. The findings of fact of the appellate court are generally conclusive on this Court, which is not a trier of facts.23

At any rate, the issue of tenancy relationship had already been settled during the pre-trial stage where the parties stipulated that the subject lot is registered in the name of respondent and that petitioner was never a tenant of respondent. Petitioner and respondent are bound by such stipulations which are deemed settled and need not be proven during the trial. Pre-trial is a procedural device intended to clarify and limit the basic issues between the parties. It thus paves the way for a less cluttered trial and resolution of the case. Its main objective is to simplify, abbreviate and expedite the trial, or totally dispense with it. Prescinding therefrom, it is a basic legal precept that the parties are bound to honor the stipulations they made during the pre-trial.24

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit, and the assailed Decision dated July 28, 2000 and Resolution dated November 13, 2000 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 45764 are AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 90-98. Penned by Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, with Associate Justices Candido V. Rivera, and Renato C. Dacudao concurring.

2 Id. at 106.

3 Id. at 62-70.

4 Id. at 34-43.

5 CA Rollo, pp. 63-72.

6 Rollo, pp. 81-88.

7 CA Rollo, pp. 16-19.

8 Id. at 20-25.

9 Katarungang Pambarangay Law.

10 Rollo, pp. 35-36.

11 Id. at 43.

12 Id. at 70.

13 Id. at 97.

14 Id. at 15.

15 Serdoncillo v. Spouses Benolirao, G.R. No. 118328, 8 October 1998, 358 Phil. 83, 102.

16 Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. v. Cabrigas, G.R. No. 134895, 19 June 2001, 358 SCRA 715, 733 citing Diwa v. Donato, G.R. No. 97547, 29 July 1994, 234 SCRA 608, 615.

17 Sta. Lucia Realty and Development, Inc. v. Cabrigas, ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Rollo, p. 97.

20 Bautista v. Fernandez, G.R. No. L-24062, 30 April 1971, 148 Phil. 567, 578.

21 A. Francisco Realty and Development Corp. v. CA, G.R. No. 125055, 30 October 1998, 358 Phil. 833, 841-842.

22 G.R. No. 117971, 1 February 2001, 351 SCRA 12, 19.

23 Gener v. De Leon, G.R. No. 130730, 19 October 2001, 367 SCRA 631, 642.

24 Interlining Corporation v. Philippine Trust Company, G.R. No. 144190, 6 March 2002, 378 SCRA 521, 525.


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