Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

G.R. No. 95748 November 21, 1996

ANASTACIA VDA. DE AVILES, ET AL., petitioners,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS and CAMILO AVILES, respondents.

 

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Is the special civil action of Quieting of Title under Rule 64 the proper remedy for settling a boundary dispute? Did the respondent Court 1 commit a reversible error when it did not declare the respective rights of the parties over the disputed property in said action?

These are the key issues raised in this petition to review on certiorari the Decision 2 of the respondent Court promulgated on September 28, 1990 in CA-G.R. CV No. 18155, which affirmed the decision dated December 29, 1987 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 38, 3 Lingayen, Pangasinan, dismissing a complaint for quieting of title.

The Facts

In an action for quieting of title commenced before the aforementioned trial court, the following facts, "stripped of unnecessary verbiage", were established by the respondent Court: 4

PLAINTIFFS aver that they are the actual possessors of a parcel of land situated in Malawa, Lingayen, Pangasinan, more particularly described as fishpond, cogonal, unirrigated rice and residential land, bounded on the N by Camilo Aviles; on the E by Malawa River, on the S by Anastacio Aviles and on the W by Juana and Apolonio Joaquin, with an area of 18,900 square meters and declared under Tax Declaration No. 31446. This property is the share of their father, Eduardo Aviles and brother of the defendant, in the estate of their deceased parents, Ireneo Aviles and Anastacia Salazar.

SINCE 1957, Eduardo Aviles was in actual possession of the afore-described property. In fact, the latter mortgaged the same with the Rural Bank and Philippine National Bank branch in Lingayen. When the property was inspected by a bank representative, Eduardo Aviles, in the presence of the boundary owners, namely, defendant Camilo Aviles, Anastacio Aviles and Juana and Apolonio Joaquin(,) pointed to the inspector the existing earthen dikes as the boundary limits of the property and nobody objected. When the real estate mortgage was foreclosed, the property was sold at public auction but this was redeemed by plaintiffs' mother and the land was subsequently transferred and declared in her name.

ON March 23, 1983, defendant Camilo Aviles asserted a color of title over the northern portion of the property with an area of approximately 1,200 square meters by constructing a bamboo fence (thereon) and moving the earthen dikes, thereby molesting and disturbing the peaceful possession of the plaintiffs over said portion.

UPON the other hand, defendant Camilo Aviles admitted the agreement of partition (Exh. "1") executed by him and his brothers, Anastacio and Eduardo. In accordance therewith, the total area of the property of their parents which they divided is 46,795 square meters and the area alloted (sic) to Eduardo Aviles is 16,111 square meters more or less, to Anastacio Aviles is 16,214 square meters more or less, while the area alloted to defendant Camilo Aviles is 14,470 square meters more or less. The respective area(s) alloted to them was agreed and measured before the execution of the agreement but he was not present when the measurement was made. Defendant agreed to have a smaller area because his brother Eduardo asked him that he wanted a bigger share because he has several children to support. The portion in litigation however is part of the share given to him in the agreement of partition. At present, he is only occupying an area of 12,686 square meters which is smaller than his actual share of 14,470 square meters. Tax Declarations Nos. 23575, 481 and 379 covering his property from 1958 (Exhs. "7", "8" and "9") show that the area of his property is 14,470 square meters. The riceland portion of his land is 13,290 square meters, the fishpond portion is 500 square meters and the residential portion is 680 square meters, or a total of 14,470 square meters. That the topography of his land is not the same, hence, the height of his pilapils are likewise not the same.

In its decision dated December 29, 1987, the trial court disposed of the case thus: 5

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered as follows:

1. Ordering the parties to employ the services of a Land Surveyor of the Bureau of Lands, Region I, San Fernando, La Union, to relocate and determine the extent and the boundary limit of the land of the defendant on its southern side in order that the fourteen thousand four hundred seventy (14,470) square meters which is the actual area given to the defendant be determined;

2. Ordering the complaint dismissed for lack of basis and merits;

3. Ordering the plaintiffs to pay the defendant the sum of two thousand (P2,000.00) pesos as attorney's fees and to further pay the costs of the proceedings;

4. All other claims are denied for lack of basis.

Dissatisfied with the trial court's decision, petitioners appealed to the respondent appellate Court. In its now-assailed Decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part the decision of the trial court, reasoning that a special civil action for quieting of title is not the proper remedy for settling a boundary dispute, and that petitioners should have instituted an ejectment suit instead. The dispositive portion of the impugned Decision reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the decision dated December 29, 1987 dismissing the complaint is hereby AFFIRMED but without necessarily agreeing with the ration d'etre (sic) proferred by the Court a quo. The portion thereof ordering the parties to employ the service of a land surveyor to relocate and determine the extent and boundary limit of the land of the defendant on its southern portion in order that the fourteen thousand four hundred seventy (14,470) square meters which is the actual area given to the defendant be determined is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Costs against plaintiffs-appellants.

The Issues

Disagreeing with the respondent Court, petitioners now raise the following issues: 6

a. Whether or not the Hon. Court of Appeals is correct when it opined that the . . . complaint for quieting of title instituted by the petitioners against private respondent before the court a quo is not the proper remedy but rather, it should be a case for eejectment (sic).

b. Whether or not the Hon. Court of Appeals is correct in rendering a decision, now subject of the instant petition, without fully determining the respective rights of the herein parties.

Petitioners deem to be "without basis" the respondent Court's holding that quieting of title is not the proper remedy in the case a quo. They assert that private respondent is occupying the disputed lot because he claimed it to be part of his share in the partitioned property of his parents, whereas petitioners are claiming the said lot as part and parcel of the land allotted to Eduardo Aviles, petitioners' predecessor-in-interest. They contend that they have been occupying the aforesaid land as heirs of Eduardo Aviles in "open, actual, continuous, peaceful, public and adversed (sic) (possession) against the whole world." Further, they argue that, if indeed the disputed lot belonged to private respondent, why then did it take him "almost 26 long years from June 27, 1957 or until March 27, 1983" to assert his ownership; why did he not "assert his ownership" over the property when Eduardo Aviles was still alive; and why did he not take any "action" when the mortgage over the disputed property was foreclosed? 7

Private respondent corrects the petitioners' claim in regard to the date when he had the bamboo fence constructed. He alleges that the petitioners maliciously concocted the story that private respondent had purportedly encroached some 1,200 meters on their property when, in fact, "he was merely repairing the old bamboo fence existing where it had always been since 1957." 8

The Court's Ruling

First Issue: Quieting of Title Not Proper Remedy
For Settling Boundary Dispute

We agree with respondent Court. The facts presented unmistakably constitute a clear case of boundary dispute, which is not cognizable in a special civil action to quiet title.

Quieting of title is a common law remedy for the removal of any cloud upon or doubt or uncertainty with respect to title to real property. 9

The Civil Code authorizes the said remedy in the following language:

Art. 476. Whenever there is a cloud on title to real property or any interest therein, by reason of any instrument, record, claim, encumbrance or proceeding which is apparently valid or effective but is, in truth and in fact, invalid, ineffective, voidable, or unenforceable, and may be prejudicial to said title, an action may be brought to remove such cloud or to quiet the title.

An action may also be brought to prevent a cloud from being cast upon a title to real property or any interest therein.

In fine, to avail of the remedy of quieting of title, a plaintiff must show that there is an instrument, record, claim, encumbrance or proceeding which constitutes or casts a cloud, doubt, question or shadow upon the owner's title to or interest in real property. Thus, petitioners have wholly misapprehended the import of the foregoing rule by claiming that respondent Court erred in holding that there was "no . . . evidence of any muniment of title, proceeding, written contract, . . .", and that there were, as a matter of fact, two such contracts, viz., (i) the Agreement of Partition executed by private respondent and his brothers (including the petitioners' father and predecessor-in-interest), in which their respective shares in the inherited property were agreed upon, and (ii) the Deed of Sale evidencing the redemption by petitioner Anastacia Vda. de Aviles of the subject property in a foreclosure sale. However, these documents in no way constitute a cloud or cast a doubt upon the title of petitioners. Rather, the uncertainty arises from the parties' failure to situate and fix the boundary between their respective properties.

As correctly held by the respondent Court, "(i)n fact, both plaintiffs and defendant admitted the existence of the agreement of partition dated June 8, 1957 and in accordance therewith, a fixed area was allotted (sic) to them and that the only controversy is whether these lands were properly measured. There is no adverse claim by the defendant "which is apparently valid, but is, in truth and in fact, invalid, ineffective, voidable, or unenforceable" and which constitutes a cloud thereon.

Corollarily, and equally as clear, the construction of the bamboo fence enclosing the disputed property and the moving of earthen dikes are not the "clouds" or "doubts" which can be removed in an action for quieting of title.

An action to quiet title or to remove cloud may not be brought for the purpose of settling a boundary dispute. The precedent on this matter cited by the respondent Court in its Decision is herewith reproduced in full: 10

In Ashurst v. McKenzie (1890) 92 Ala. 484, 9 So. 262, where the complainants' predecessor in title and the defendant had, during their occupancy, destroyed and obliterated the boundary line between their adjoining tracts of land, and there was now a dispute as to its location, it was held that a bill did not lie to remove a cloud on the complainants' title. The court said: "There is no allegation or evidence of any muniment of title, proceeding, written contract, or paper showing any color of title in the defendant, which could cast a shadow on the title of complainants to any part of the land; there is no overlapping of description in the muniments held by either. The land of complainants and defendant join. The line which separates them is in dispute and is to be determined by evidence aliunde. Each admits that the other has title up to his line wherever it may be, and the title papers of neither fix its precise location. So that there is no paper the existence of which clouds the title of either party, and nothing could be delivered up and canceled under the decree of the court undertaking to remove a cloud.

Another similarly instructive precedent reported in the same reference is also quoted below:

In Kilgannon v. Jenkinson (1883) 51 Mich. 240, 16 N.W. 390, the court, dismissing a bill to quiet title, said: "The fundamental dispute is about the correct position of the line between lots 3 and 7. The case is not one where a complainant in possession of a specific piece of land, and a defendant out of possession, but claiming some right or title, are contending as to which one has the better right to that same parcel; but it is a case where the titles are not opposed, and the basis and existence of all right and claim depend simply upon where the original line runs. When that is once settled, there can remain no semblance of claim or cloud to be passed on, and the issue on that particular question is one regularly triable at law. . . 11

Second Issue: Should Partie's Rights Have Been Declared?

Petitioners also chide the respondent Court (and the trial court) for not declaring the respective rights of the parties with respect to the land in question, arguing that "when one is disturbed in any form in his rights of property over an immovable by the unfounded claims of others, he has the right to ask from the competent courts: . . . that their respective rights be determined . . . ". As support for their thesis, petitioners cite the ancient case of Bautista vs.
Exconde. 12

Rule 64 of the Rules of Court, dealing with actions for declaratory relief, specifies in Section 1 thereof the grounds, conditions precedent or requisites for bringing such petitions. 13 This Court has previously held that

Under this rule, only a person who is interested "under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, and whose rights are affected by a statute or ordinance, may bring an action to determine any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument or statute and for a declaration of his rights or duties thereunder." This means that the subject matter must refer to a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or to a statute or ordinance, to warrant declaratory relief. Any other matter not mentioned therein is deemed excluded. This is under the principle of expressio unius est exclussio alterius. 14

Inasmuch as the enumeration of the causes, grounds or conditions precedent in the first paragraph of said Sec. 1 is exclusive, by parity of rea-soning, it follows that similar remedies provided for in the second paragraph of the same section would also be marked with the same exclusivity as to bar any other cause possibly clouding one's title as a ground for such petitions. Thus, even assuming arguendo that the action to quiet title had been brought under Rule 64, the same would still not have prospered, the subject matter thereof not referring to "a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or to a statute or ordinance," but to a boundary dispute, and therefore not warranting the grant of declaratory relief.

From another perspective, we hold that the trial court (and likewise the respondent Court) cannot, in an action for quieting of title, order the determination of the boundaries of the claimed property, as that would be tantamount to awarding to one or some of the parties the disputed property in an action where the sole issue is limited to whether the instrument, record, claim, encumbrance or proceeding involved constitutes a cloud upon the petitioners' interest or title in and to said property. Such determination of boundaries is appropriate in adversarial proceedings where possession or ownership may properly be considered and where evidence aliunde, other than the "instrument, record, claim, encumbrance or proceeding" itself, may be introduced. An action for forcible entry, whenever warranted by the period prescribed in Rule 70, or for recovery of possession de facto, also within the prescribed period, may be availed of by the petitioners, in which proceeding the boundary dispute may be fully threshed out.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing considerations, the instant petition is hereby DENIED and the Decision appealed from is AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Francisco, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 Thirteenth Division, composed of J. Jainal D. Rasul, ponente, and JJ. Manuel C. Herrera and Eduardo R. Bengzon, concurring.

2 Rollo, pp. 21-25.

3 Presided by Judge Antonio M. Belen.

4 Decision, pp. 2-3; rollo, pp. 22-23.

5 Rollo, pp. 21-22.

6 Petitioners' Memorandum, p. 8; rollo, p. 97.

7 Petitioners' Memorandum, pp. 10-11; rollo, pp. 99-100.

8 Comment, p. 4; rollo, p. 42.

9 Vitug, Compendium of Civil Law and Jurisprudence, 1993 Rev. Ed., p. 295.

10 78 ALR 58. (emphasis supplied.)

11 78 ALR 59. (emphasis supplied.)

12 40 O.G. 8th S., No. 12, p. 231, June 29, 1940.

13 Section 1 of Rule 64 is reproduced hereinbelow for ease of reference:

Sec. 1. Who may file petition. Any person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, or ordinance, may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action to determine any question of construction or validity arising under the instrument or statute and for a declaration of his rights or duties thereunder.

An action for the reformation of an instrument, to quiet title to real property or remove clouds therefrom, or to consolidate ownership under Article 1607 of the Civil Code, may be brought under this rule.

14 Lerum vs. Cruz, 87 Phil. 652, November 29, 1950.


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