COSMIC LUMBER CORPORATION through its General Manager executed on 28 January 1985 a Special Power of Attorney appointing Paz G. Villamil-Estrada as attorney-in-fact —
. . . to initiate, institute and file any court action for the ejectment of third persons and/or squatters of the entire lot 9127 and 443 and covered by TCT Nos. 37648 and 37649, for the said squatters to remove their houses and vacate the premises in order that the corporation may take material possession of the entire lot, and for this purpose, to appear at the pre-trial conference and enter into any stipulation of facts and/or compromise agreement so far as it shall protect the rights and interest of the corporation in the aforementioned lots. 1
On 11 March 1985 Paz G. Villamil-Estrada, by virtue of her power of attorney, instituted an action for the ejectment of private respondent Isidro Perez and recover the possession of a portion of Lot No. 443 before the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan, docketed as Civil Case No. D-7750. 2
On 25 November 1985 Villamil-Estrada entered into a Compromise Agreement with respondent Perez, the terms of which follow:
1. That as per relocation sketch plan dated June 5, 1985 prepared by Engineer Rodolfo dela Cruz the area at present occupied by defendant wherein his house is located is 333 square meters on the easternmost part of lot 443 and which portion has been occupied by defendant for several years now;
2. That to buy peace said defendant pays unto the plaintiff through herein attorney-in-fact the sum of P26,640.00 computed at P80.00/square meter;
3. That plaintiff hereby recognizes ownership and possession of the defendant by virtue of this compromise agreement over said portion of 333 square m. of lot 443 which portion will be located on the easternmost part as indicated in the sketch as annex A;
4. Whatever expenses of subdivision, registration, and other incidental expenses shall be shouldered by the defendant. 3
On 27 November 1985 the "Compromise Agreement" was approved by the trial court and judgment was rendered in accordance therewith. 4
Although the decision became final and executory it was not executed within the 5-year period from date of its finality allegedly due to the failure of petitioner to produce the owner's duplicate copy of Title No. 37649 needed to segregate from Lot No. 443 the portion sold by the attorney-in-fact, Paz G. Villamil-Estrada, to private respondent under the compromise agreement. Thus on 25 January 1993 respondent filed a complaint to revive the judgment, docketed as Civil Case No. D-10459. 5
Petitioner asserts that it was only when the summons in Civil Case No. D-10459 for the revival of judgment was served upon it that it came to know of the compromise agreement entered into between Paz G. Villamil-Estrada and respondent Isidro Perez upon which the trial court based its decision of 26 July 1993 in Civil Case No. D-7750. Forthwith, upon learning of the fraudulent transaction, petitioner sought annulment of the decision of the trial court before respondent Court of Appeals on the ground that the compromise agreement was void because: (a) the attorney-in-fact did not have the authority to dispose of, sell, encumber or divest the plaintiff of its ownership over its real property or any portion thereof; (b) the authority of the attorney-in-fact was confined to the institution and filing of an ejectment case against third persons/squatters on the property of the plaintiff, and to cause their eviction therefrom; (c) while the special power of attorney made mention of an authority to enter into a compromise agreement, such authority was in connection with, and limited to, the eviction of third persons/squatters thereat, in order that "the corporation may take material possession of the entire lot;" (d) the amount of P26,640.00 alluded to as alleged consideration of said agreement was never received by the plaintiff; (e) the private defendant acted in bad faith in. the execution of said agreement knowing fully well the want of authority of the attorney-in-fact to sell, encumber or dispose of the real property of plaintiff; and, (f) the disposal of a corporate property indispensably requires a Board Resolution of its Directors, a fact which is wanting in said Civil Case No. D-7750, and the General Manager is not the proper officer to encumber a corporate property. 6
On 29 October 1993 respondent court dismissed the complaint on the basis of its finding that not one of the grounds for annulment, namely, lack of jurisdiction, fraud or illegality was shown to exist. 7 It also denied the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner, discoursing that the alleged nullity of the compromise judgment on the ground that petitioner's attorney-in-fact Villamil-Estrada was not authorized to sell the subject propety may be raised as a defense in the execution of the compromise judgment as it does not bind petitioner, but not as a ground for annulment of judgment because it does not affect the jurisdiction of the trial court over the action nor does it amount to extrinsic fraud. 8
Petitioner challenges this verdict. It argues that the decision of the trial court is void because the compromise agreement upon which it was based is void. Attorney-in-fact Villamil-Estrada did not possess the authority to sell or was she armed with a Board Resolution authorizing the sale of its property. She was merely empowered to enter into a compromise agreement in the recovery suit she was authorized to file against persons squatting on Lot No. 443, such authority being expressly confined to the "ejectment of third persons or squatters of . . . lot . . . (No.) 443 . . . for the said squatters to remove their houses and vacate the premises in order that the corporation may take material possession of the entire lot . . ."
We agree with petitioner. The authority granted Villamil-Estrada under the special power of attorney was explicit and exclusionary: for her to institute any action in court to eject all persons found on Lots Nos. 9127 and 443 so that petitioner could take material possession thereof, and for this purpose, to appear at the pre-trial and enter into any stipulation of facts and/or compromise agreement but only insofar as this was protective of the rights and interests of petitioner in the property. Nowhere in this authorization was Villamil-Estrada granted expressly or impliedly any power to sell the subject property nor a portion thereof. Neither can a conferment of the power to sell be validly inferred from the specific authority "to enter into a compromise agreement" because of the explicit limitation fixed by the grantor that the compromise entered into shall only be "so far as it shall protect the rights and interest of the corporation in the aforementioned lots." In the context of the specific investiture of powers to Villamil-Estrada, alienation by sale of an immovable certainly cannot be deemed protective of the right of petitioner to physically possess the same, more so when the land was being sold for a price of P80.00 per square meter, very much less than its assessed value of P250.00 per square meter, and considering further that petitioner never received the proceeds of the sale.
When the sale of a piece of land or any interest thereon is through an agent, the authority of the latter shall be in writing; otherwise, the sale shall be void. 9 Thus the authority of an agent to execute a contract for the sale of real estate must be conferred in writing and must give him specific authority, either to conduct the general business of the principal or to execute a binding contract containing terms and conditions which are in the contract he did execute. 10 A special power of attorney is necessary to enter into any contract by which the ownership of an immovable is transmitted or acquired either gratuitously or for a valuable consideration. 11 The express mandate required by law to enable an appointee of an agency (couched) in general terms to sell must be one that expressly mentions a sale or that includes a sale as a necessary ingredient of the act mentioned. 12 For the principal to confer the right upon an agent to sell real estate, a power of attorney must so express the powers of the agent in clear and unmistakable language. When there is any reasonable doubt that the language so used conveys such power, no such construction shall be given the document. 13
It is therefore clear that by selling to respondent Perez a portion of petitioner's land through a compromise agreement, Villamil-Estrada acted without or in obvious authority. The sale ipso jure is consequently void. So is the compromise agreement. This being the case, the judgment based thereon is necessarily void. Antipodal to the opinion expressed by respondent court in resolving petitioner's motion for reconsideration, the nullity of the settlement between Villamil-Estrada and Perez impaired the jurisdiction of the trial court to render its decision based on the compromise agreement. In Alviar v. Court of First Instance of La Union, 14 the Court held —
. . . this court does not hesitate to hold that the judgment in question is null and void ab initio. It is not binding upon and cannot be executed against the petitioners. It is evident that the compromise upon which the judgment was based was not subscribed by them . . . Neither could Attorney Ortega bind them validly in the compromise because he had no special authority . . .
As the judgment in question is null and void ab initio, it is evident that the court acquired no jurisdiction to render it, much less to order the execution thereof . . .
. . . A judgment, which is null and void ab initio, rendered by a court without jurisdiction to do so, is without legal efficacy and may properly be impugned in any proceeding by the party against whom it is sought to be enforced . . .
This ruling was adopted in Jacinto v. Montesa,15 by Mr. Justice J. B.L. Reyes, a much-respected authority on civil law, where the Court declared that a judgment based on a compromise entered into by an attorney without specific authority from the client is void. Such judgment may be impugned and its execution restrained in any proceeding by the party against whom it is sought to be enforced. The Court also observed that a defendant against whom a judgment based on a compromise is sought to be enforced may file a petition for certiorari to quash the execution. He could not move to have the compromise set aside and then appeal from the order of denial since he was not a party to the compromise. Thus it would appear that the obiter of the appellate court that the alleged nullity of the compromise agreement should be raised as a defense against its enforcement is not legally feasible. Petitioner could not be in a position to question the compromise agreement in the action to revive the compromise judgment since it was never privy to such agreement. Villamil-Estrada who signed the compromise agreement may have been the attorney-in-fact but she could not legally bind petitioner thereto as she was not entrusted with a special authority to sell the land, as required in Art. 1878, par. (5), of the Civil Code.
Under authority of Sec. 9, par. (2), of B.P. Blg. 129, a party may now petition the Court of Appeals to annul and set aside judgments of Regional Trial Courts. 16 "Thus, the Intermediate Appellant Court (now Court of Appeals) shall exercise . . . (2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over action for annulment of judgments of the Regional Trial Courts . . ." However, certain requisites must first be established before a final and executory judgment can be the subject of an action for annulment. It must either be void for want of jurisdiction or for lack of due process of law, or it has been obtained by fraud. 17
Conformably with law and the above-cited authorities, the petition to annul the decision of the trial court in Civil Case No. D-7750 before the Court of Appeals was proper. Emanating as it did from a void compromise agreement, the trial court had no jurisdiction to render a judgment based thereon. 18
It would also appear, and quite contrary to the finding of the appellate court, that the highly reprehensible conduct of attorney-in-fact Villamil-Estrada in Civil Case No. 7750 constituted an extrinsic or collateral fraud by reason of which the judgment rendered thereon should have been struck down. Not all the legal semantics in the world can becloud the unassailable fact that petitioner was deceived and betrayed by its attorney-in-fact, Villamil-Estrada deliberately concealed from petitioner, her principal, that a compromise agreement had been forged with the end-result that a portion of petitioner's property was sold to the deforciant, literally for a song. Thus completely kept unaware of its agent's artifice, petitioner was not accorded even a fighting chance to repudiate the settlement so much so that the judgment based thereon became final and executory.
For sure, the Court of Appeals restricted the concept of fraudulent acts within too narrow limits. Fraud may assume different shapes and be committed in as many different ways and here lies the danger of attempting to define fraud. For man in his ingenuity and fertile imagination will always contrive new schemes to fool the unwary.
There is extrinsic fraud within the meaning of Sec. 9, par. (2), of B.P. Blg. 129, where it is one the effect of which prevents a party from hearing a trial, or real contest, or from presenting all of his case to the court, or where it operates upon matters, not pertaining to the judgment itself, but to the manner in which it was procured so that there is not a fair submission of the controversy. In other words, extrinsic fraud refers to any fraudulent act of the prevailing party in the litigation which is committed outside of the trial of the case, whereby the defeated party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his side of the case by fraud or deception practiced on him by his opponent. 19 Fraud is extrinsic where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practiced on him by his opponent, as by keeping him away from court, a false promise of a compromise; or where the defendant never had knowledge of the suit, being kept in ignorance by the acts of the plaintiff; or where an attorney fraudulently or without authority connives at his defeat; these and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment and open the case for a new and fair hearing. 20
It may be argued that petitioner knew of the compromise agreement since the principal is chargeable with and bound by the knowledge of or notice to his agent received while the agent was acting as such. But the general rule is intended to protect those who exercise good faith and not as a shield for unfair dealing. Hence there is a well-established exception to the general rule as where the conduct and dealings of the agent are such as to raise a clear presumption that he will not communicate to the principal the facts in controversy. 21 The logical reason for this exception is that where the agent is committing a fraud, it would be contrary to common sense to presume or to expect that he would communicate the facts to the principal. Verily, when an agent is engaged in the perpetration of a fraud upon his principal for his own exclusive benefit, he is not really acting for the principal but is really acting for himself, entirely outside the scope of his agency. 22 Indeed, the basic tenets of agency rest on the highest considerations of justice, equity and fair play, and an agent will not be permitted to pervert his authority to his own personal advantage, and his act in secret hostility to the interests of his principal transcends the power afforded him. 23
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The decision and resolution of respondent Court of Appeals dated 29 October 1993 and 10 March 1994, respectively, as well as the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan City in Civil Case No. D-7750 dated 27 November 1985, are NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE. The "Compromise Agreement" entered into between Attorney-in-fact Paz G. Villamil-Estrada and respondent Isidro Perez is declared VOID. This is without prejudice to the right of petitioner to pursue its complaint against private respondent Isidro Perez in Civil Case No. D-7750 for the recovery of possession of a portion of Lot No. 443.
Kapunan, J., took no part.
1 CA Rollo, pp. 11.
2 Assigned to Br. 44.
3 CA Rollo, p. 17.
4 Penned by Judge Crispin C. Laron; id., p. 19.
5 Assigned to Br. 42.
6 CA Rollo, pp. 5-6.
7 Penned by Justice Minerva P. Gonzaga-Reyes with the concurrence of Justices Santiago M. Kapunan and Eduardo G. Montenegro; Rollo, p. 43.
8 Rollo, p. 49.
9 Art. 1847, Civil Code of the Philippines.
10 Johnson v. Lennox, 55 Colo. 125, 133 P 744.
11 Art. 1878, par. (5), Civil Code of the Philippines.
12 Strong v. Gutierrez Repide, 6 Phil. 680 (1906).
13 Liñan v. Puno, 31 Phil. 259 (1915).
14 64 Phil. 301, 305-306 (1937).
15 No. L-23098, 28 February 1967, 19 SCRA 513, 518-519. See also Quiban v. Butalid, G.R. No. 90974, 27 August 1990, 189 SCRA 107.
16 Goldhoop Properties, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 99431, 11 August 1992, 212 SCRA 498; Mercado v. Ubay, No. L-36830, 24 July 1990, 187 SCRA 719; Gerardo v. De la Peña, G.R. No. 61527, 26 December 1990, 192 SCRA 691.
17 Islamic Da 'Wah Council of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 80892, 29 September 1989, 178 SCRA 178; Ramirez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 76366, 3 July 1990, 187 SCRA 153; Ruiz v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 93454, 13 September 1991, 210 SCRA 577; Santos v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 59771, 21 July 1993, 224 SCRA 673. See also Parcon v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 85740, 9 November 1990, 191 SCRA 284.
18 See notes 14 and 15.
19 Macabingkil v. PHHC, No. L-29080, 17 August 1976, 72 SCRA 326, 343-344.
20 Id., p. 344 citing US v. Throckmorton, 25 L. Ed. 93, 95.
21 Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Hilton Green, 241 US 613, 60 L Ed. 1202.
22 Aetna Casualty and Surety Co. v. Local Bldg. and Loan Assoc., 19 P2d 612, 616.
23 Strong v. Strong, 36 A2d 410, 415.