Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 157285             February 16, 2007

WOODRIDGE SCHOOL, INC., and MIGUELA JIMENEZ-JAVIER, Petitioners,
vs.
ARB CONSTRUCTION CO., INC., Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CORONA, J.:

Petitioners Woodridge School, Inc. (Woodridge) and Miguela Jimenez-Javier come to us assailing the decision1 dated September 30, 2002 and resolution2 dated February 14, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 515333 which, in turn, modified the ruling of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Imus, Cavite awarding P500,000 to respondent ARB Construction Co., Inc. (ARB) as reasonable indemnity for the use of ARB's road lot.3

Woodridge is the usufructuary of a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-363902 in the name of spouses Ernesto T. Matugas and Filomena U. Matugas. Its co-petitioner, Miguela Jimenez-Javier, is the registered owner of the adjacent lot under TCT No. T-330688.

On the other hand, ARB is the owner and developer of Soldiers Hills Subdivision in Bacoor, Cavite, which is composed of four phases. Phase I of the subdivision was already accessible from the Marcos Alvarez Avenue. To provide the same accessibility to the residents of Phase II of the subdivision, ARB constructed the disputed road to link the two phases.

As found by the appellate court, petitioners' properties sit right in the middle of several estates: Phase I of Soldiers Hills Subdivision in the north, a creek in the east and Green Valley Subdivision the farther east, a road within Soldiers Hills Subdivision IV which leads to the Marcos Alvarez Avenue in the west and Phase III of Soldiers Hills Subdivision in the south.

Initially, petitioners offered to pay ARB P50,000 as indemnity for the use of the road. Adamant, ARB refused the offer and fenced the perimeter of the road fronting the properties of petitioners. By doing so, ARB effectively cut off petitioners' access to and from the public highway.

After failing to settle the matter amicably, petitioners jointly filed a complaint4 in the RTC of Imus, Cavite to enjoin ARB from depriving them of the use of the disputed subdivision road and to seek a compulsory right of way after payment of proper indemnity. On November 24, 1995, the trial court rendered its decision in favor of petitioners:

The reasons why this case is not one for a right of way as an easement are not difficult to discern.

The questioned road is part and parcel of the road network of Soldiers Hills IV, Phase II. This road was constructed pursuant to the approved subdivision plan of Soldiers Hills IV, Phase II. As such, the road has already been withdrawn from the commerce of men as the ownership of which was automatically vested in the government without need of any compensation, although it is still registered in the name of the [ARB], the moment the subdivision plan was approved. While it is not yet donated to the government [,] [it] is of no moment for donating this road to the government is a mere formality.

Differently stated, the government automatically becomes the owner of the subdivisions' roads the moment the subdivision plan is approved. From that time on, the roads are withdrawn from the commerce of men even [if] the titles are still registered in the name of the subdivision owners and the roads are not yet donated to the government. Thus, the subdivision owner can no longer sell or alienate the roads for they are already owned by the government; thus, even if [petitioners] want to buy this road, and the [ARB] wants to sell the same, this transaction cannot materialize for the above-stated reasons. Accordingly, [ARB] cannot prevent/prohibit plaintiffs from using the road as the same belongs to the government.

xxx xxx xxx

WHEREFORE, … [ARB] is ordered to cease and desist from preventing [petitioners] in using the subject road or any other road in the subdivision.

xxx xxx xxx

SO ORDERED. 5 (citations omitted)

ARB elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.6 Finding merit in the appeal, the appellate court reversed the decision of the lower court. It explained that the 1991 case of White Plains Subdivision[7] did not apply to the present case which was decided under a different factual milieu:

… In the assailed Decision, the Court below relied on the ruling of the Supreme Court in White Plains Association, Inc. vs. Legaspi (193 SCRA 765). The ruling is not applicable. In the White Plains case, the disputed area was specifically set aside by the Quezon City Government, with the concurrence of the owner and developer of the White Plains Subdivision in Quezon City, for the purpose of constructing a major thoroughfare open to the general public. The case was filed by the association of homeowners of White Plains in Quezon City … when the owner-developer sought to convert the disputed lot to residential lots. The Supreme Court initially held that the disputed lot was not longer within the commerce of men, it having been segregated for a particular purpose, that of being used as "part of a mandatory open space reserved for public use to be improved into the widened Katipunan Road". It was within this context that the Supreme Court held that "ownership was automatically vested in the Quezon City government and/or the Republic of the Philippines, without need of paying any compensation".8

The appellate court went on to rule that a compulsory right of way exists in favor of petitioners as "[t]here is no other existing adequate outlet to and from [petitioners'] properties to the Marcos Alvarez Avenue other than the subject existing road lot designated as Lot No. 5827-F-1 belonging to [ARB]."9 In addition, it awarded P500,000 to ARB as reasonable indemnity for the use of the road lot.

Acting on petitioners' motion for reconsideration, the appellate court justified the monetary award in this manner:

In [o]ur Decision, [w]e awarded the amount of P500,000.00 merely as reasonable indemnity for the use of the road lot, not the alienation thereof. The amount was based on equitable considerations foremost of which is that, while there is no alienation to speak of, the easement is of long-standing, that is, until a shorter and adequate outlet is established. Moreover, [ARB] should be compensated for the wear and tear that [petitioners'] use of the road would contribute to; it is [ARB] which is solely to be credited for the completion of the road lot. Going by the conservative valuation of the Municipality of Bacoor, Cavite presented by [petitioners], the 4,760 sq. m. road lot would cost P1,904,000 but as stated what is compensated is the use of the road lot not its alienation.

[Petitioners'] original offer cannot be considered a reasonable indemnity, there being a knotty legal question involved and it is not [ARB's] fault that the parties had to resort to the courts for a resolution.10

Unsatisfied with the ruling of the appellate court, petitioners filed this petition for review on certiorari insisting that ARB is not entitled to be paid any indemnity.

Petitioners argue that the contested road lot is a property of public dominion pursuant to Article 42011 of the Civil Code. Specifically, petitioners point out that the disputed road lot falls under the category "others of similar character" which is the last clause of Article 420 (1).12 Hence, it is a property of public dominion which can be used by the general public without need for compensation. Consequently, it is wrong for ARB to exclude petitioners from using the road lot or to make them pay for the use of the same.

We disagree.

In the case of Abellana, Sr. v. Court of Appeals,13 the Court held that "the road lots in a private subdivision are private property, hence, the local government should first acquire them by donation, purchase, or expropriation, if they are to be utilized as a public road."14 Otherwise, they remain to be private properties of the owner-developer.

Contrary to the position of petitioners, the use of the subdivision roads by the general public does not strip it of its private character. The road is not converted into public property by mere tolerance of the subdivision owner of the public's passage through it. To repeat, "the local government should first acquire them by donation, purchase, or expropriation, if they are to be utilized as a public road."15

Likewise, we hold the trial court in error when it ruled that the subject road is public property pursuant to Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. 1216.16 The pertinent portion of the provision reads:

Section 2. xxx xxx xxx

Upon their completion as certified to by the Authority, the roads, alleys, sidewalks and playgrounds shall be donated by the owner or developer to the city or municipality and it shall be mandatory for the local governments to accept them provided, however, that the parks and playgrounds may be donated to the Homeowners Association of the project with the consent of the city or municipality concerned…

The law is clear. The transfer of ownership from the subdivision owner-developer to the local government is not automatic but requires a positive act from the owner-developer before the city or municipality can acquire dominion over the subdivision roads. Therefore, until and unless the roads are donated,17 ownership remains with the owner-developer.18

Since no donation has been made in favor of any local government and the title to the road lot is still registered in the name of ARB, the disputed property remains private.

This is not to say that ARB may readily exclude petitioners from passing through the property. As correctly pointed out by the Court of Appeals, the circumstances clearly make out a case of legal easement of right of way. It is an easement which has been imposed by law and not by the parties and it has "for (its) object either public use or the interest of private persons."19

To be entitled to a legal easement of right of way, the following requisites must concur: (1) the dominant estate is surrounded by other immovables and has no adequate outlet to a public highway; (2) payment of proper indemnity; (3) the isolation was not due to acts of the proprietor of the dominant estate and (4) the right of way claimed is at the point least prejudicial to the servient estate.20

The appellate and trial courts found that the properties of petitioners are enclosed by other estates without any adequate access to a public highway except the subject road lot which leads to Marcos Alvarez Avenue.21 Although it was shown that the shortest distance from the properties to the highway is toward the east across a creek, this alternative route does not provide an adequate outlet for the students of the proposed school. This route becomes marshy as the creek overflows during the rainy season and will endanger the students attending the school.

All told, the only requisite left unsatisfied is the payment of proper indemnity.

Petitioners assert that their initial offer of P50,000 should be sufficient compensation for the right of way. Further, they should not be held accountable for the increase in the value of the property since the delay was attributable to the stubborn refusal of ARB to accept their offer.22

Again, we are not persuaded.

In the case of a legal easement, Article 649 of the Civil Code prescribes the parameters by which the proper indemnity may be fixed. Since the intention of petitioners is to establish a permanent passage, the second paragraph of Article 649 of the Civil Code particularly applies:

Art 649. xxx xxx xxx

Should this easement be established in such a manner that its use may be continuous for all the needs of the dominant estate, establishing a permanent passage, the indemnity shall consist of the value of the land occupied and the amount of the damage caused to the servient estate. xxx. (Emphasis supplied)

On that basis, we further hold that the appellate court erred in arbitrarily awarding indemnity for the use of the road lot.

The Civil Code categorically provides for the measure by which the proper indemnity may be computed: value of the land occupied plus the amount of the damage caused to the servient estate. Settled is the rule in statutory construction that "when the law is clear, the function of the courts is simple application."23 Thus, to award the indemnity using factors different from that given by the law is a complete disregard of these clear statutory provisions and is evidently arbitrary. This the Court cannot countenance. The Civil Code has clearly laid down the parameters and we cannot depart from them. Verba legis non est recedendum.

Having settled the legal issues, we order the remand of this case to the trial court for reception of evidence and determination of the limits of the property to be covered by the easement, the proper indemnity to be paid and the respective contributions of petitioners.

For the guidance of the trial court, the fact that the disputed road lot is used by the general public may be taken in consideration to mitigate the amount of damage that the servient estate is entitled to, in the sense that the wear and tear of the subject road is not entirely attributable to petitioners.

WHEREFORE, this petition is partially GRANTED. The September 30, 2002 Decision and February 14, 2003 resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 515333 are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE in so far as petitioners are ordered to pay an indemnity of P500,000. The case is hereby remanded to the trial court for reception of evidence and determination of the limits of the property to be covered by the easement, the proper indemnity to be paid and the respective contributions of petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

RENATO C. CORONA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice
Chairperson

(No Part)
ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ *
Associate Justice

ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
Asscociate Justice

CANCIO C. GARCIA
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice


Footnotes

* No part. Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez inhibited herself from participating in the deliberations of this case.

1 Penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and concurred in by Associate Justices Elvi John S. Asuncion and Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. of the Tenth Division of the Court of Appeals; rollo, pp. 46-56.

2 Penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and concurred in by Associate Justices Elvi John S. Asuncion and Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. of the Tenth Division of the Court of Appeals; id., pp. 58-60.

3 CA Decision supra note 1, at 55.

4 Docketed as Civil Case No. BCV-93-6.

5 RTC Decision dated November 24, 1995, rollo, pp. 73, 77-78.

6 Docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 515333.

7 White Plains Association, Inc v. Legaspi, G.R. No. 95522, 7 February 1991, 193 SCRA 765.

8 CA Decision supra note 1, at 52.

9 Id., at 55.

10 CA Resolution supra note 2, at 59-60.

11 Art. 420. The following things are property of public dominion:

(1) Those intended for public use, such as roads, canals, rivers, torrents, ports and bridges constructed by the State, banks, shores, roadsteads, and others of similar character;

(2) Those which belong to the State, without being for public use, and are intended for some public service or for the development of the national wealth.

12 Petition, rollo, pp. 12, 27.

13 G.R. No. 100749, 24 April 1992, 208 SCRA 316.

14 Id., at 319.

15 Id.

16 RTC Decision supra note 5.

17 Note that subdivision roads may also be purchased or expropriated by the local government unit, thereby converting them into public property.

18 White Plains Association v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128131, 8 October 1998, 297 SCRA 547.

19 Article 634, Civil Code.

20 Costabella Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 80511, 25 January 1991, 193 SCRA 333, 339.

21 CA Decision supra note 1, at 55; RTC Decision supra note 5, at 75.

22 Petitioner's Memorandum, rollo, pp. 87-88.

23 AB Leasing and Finance Corporation v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 453 Phil. 297 (2003).


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