G.R. No. 125375             June 17, 2004
SPOUSES ELPIDIO APOSTOL and AMELIA APOSTOL, petitioners,
COURT OF APPEALS and SPOUSES EMMANUEL CHUA and EDNA L. CHUA, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a petition for review of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 38333 reversing the Decision,2 on appeal, of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 215, in Civil Case No. Q-94-21698.
On September 3, 1993, the respondents, Spouses Emmanuel and Edna Chua, filed a complaint for unlawful detainer against the petitioners, Spouses Elpidio and Amelia Apostol, in the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Metro Manila, docketed as Civil Case No. 7660. The respondents alleged, inter alia, that they had contracted with the Spouses Paulo and Georgina Pascua for the purchase of a parcel of land. The petitioners, who were present during the negotiations, verbally assured the respondents that they would vacate the property within ten (10) days from the execution of the sale. The petitioners then acknowledged that their stay in the property was only upon the tolerance of its former owners. On June 7, 1993, the Spouses Pascua executed a Deed of Absolute Sale over the property and the improvements thereon in favor of the respondents for ₱1,000,000. On the basis of the said deed, the respondents were issued Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 87610 over the property on June 8, 1993. Despite demands, however, the petitioners refused to vacate the property.
The respondents prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that after a summary hearing, judgment be rendered in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants, as follows:
1. Ordering the defendants and all persons claiming under them to immediately vacate the above-mentioned parcel of land;
2. Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiffs the sum of ₱5,000.00 per month from the filing of the complaint until they finally vacate and turn over completely the above-mentioned parcel of land representing the reasonable compensation for the use and occupancy of the above-mentioned parcel of land;
3. Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiffs the sum of ₱10,000.00 for and as attorney’s fees, plus the sum of ₱1,000.00 appearance fee for every court attendance of plaintiffs’ counsel; and
4. Ordering defendants to pay plaintiffs the costs of suit.
PLAINTIFFS further pray for such other reliefs and remedies as may be deemed just and equitable in the premises.3
In their answer with special and affirmative defenses and compulsory counterclaim, the respondents alleged, inter alia, that Luz B. Pascua was the owner of the parcel of land located in Quezon City covered by TCT No. 198936 with an area of 315 square meters. She sold a portion of the property, an area of 285.32 square meters, to the respondents on July 8, 1976 for ₱45,548 of which ₱15,548 was paid. On the same day, the parties executed a memorandum agreement covering the property, in which the respondents agreed that the balance of the purchase price would be paid in installments. Thereafter, a deed of absolute sale was executed in favor of the respondents over an unsegregated portion of the property, with an area of 29.68 square meters, for ₱7,350 and, later, a deed of confirmation of deed of absolute sale with waiver over the said property. On June 20, 1979, the respondents executed an Affidavit of Adverse Claim over the property, stating, inter alia, that they could not cause the registration of the said deeds because the owner’s duplicate of TCT No. 198936 was in the possession of Teresita B. Jimenez, a former co-owner of the property. The respondents further alleged that Luz Pascua, in her letter to the Register of Deeds dated August 6, 1979, confirmed that she failed to turn over the owner’s duplicate of TCT No. 198936 because the same was in the possession of Jimenez, who, in turn, gave it to Jose J. Burgos. Thereafter, on May 15, 1980, Luz Pascua filed a Complaint against the petitioners in the RTC of Quezon City for rescission and damages docketed as Civil Case No. 29895 but the same was dismissed on December 19, 1983 for lack of interest to prosecute. Paulo Pascua filed a similar complaint against the petitioners in the RTC, docketed as Civil Case No. 88-523, but the same was, likewise, dismissed. Finally, the petitioners alleged that the Spouses Pascua’s possession of the property after the sale thereof to the respondents was by mere tolerance.
In the meantime, the petitioners filed a complaint against the respondents, the Spouses Chua, the Spouses Pascua, and the Register of Deeds in the RTC of Quezon City, for annulment of deed of sale and TCT No. 86338, and for reconveyance with damages. The petitioners alleged, inter alia, that they had been in possession of the property since 1973; their adverse claim over the property was annotated on June 20, 1979 as Entry No. PE 8812; Luz Pascua died on December 2, 1984 but Paulo Pascua did not inherit the property from her because the same had already been sold to the respondents; Paulo Pascua executed a falsified affidavit for self-adjudication over the property on the basis of which he was able to secure, on May 20, 1993, TCT No. 86338.
The petitioners prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed that judgment be rendered as follows:
1. Nullifying the deed of sale executed by Paulo Pascua in favor of Edna Chua, marked as Annex "G" hereof and TCT No. 87610 (Annex "H") in the name of Edna L. Chua; including TCT No. 86338 RT-432 (Annex "F") in the name of Paulo Pascua; and in the alternative to reconvey the aforesaid property to herein plaintiffs;
2. Ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel TCT Nos. 87610 and 86338;
3. Sentencing defendants to pay plaintiffs:
a) ₱100,000 as actual and consequential damages;
b) ₱50,000 as moral damages;
c) Exemplary damages, ₱50,000;
d) ₱15,000 as attorney’s fee;
e) Cost; and,
f) Praying for other reliefs and remedies, equitable and just under the premises.4
On February 17, 1994, the MeTC issued an Order in Civil Case No. 7660 defining the issues, thus:
1. Whether or not the complaint is for Forcible Entry or Unlawful Detainer;
2. Who is entitled to the lawful possession of the subject property;
3. Whether this case has to be suspended in view of the filing of an action for Annulment of Title in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City; and
4. Whether the plaintiffs can lawfully eject the defendants from the premises.5
The MeTC rendered judgment in favor of the respondents on August 11, 1994. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court hereby renders judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against defendants by ordering as follows:
1) Defendants and all persons claiming rights under them to vacate the premises denominated as No. 39, Visayas Ave., Project 6, Diliman, Quezon City, and to surrender the peaceful possession thereof to plaintiffs;
2) Defendants to pay plaintiffs the sum of ₱5,000.00 per month representing the reasonable compensation for the use and occupancy of the premises from the time of formal demand until the possession of the premises shall have been fully restored to plaintiffs;
3) Defendants to pay plaintiffs the sum of ₱5,000.00 as attorney’s fees; and
4) Defendants to pay the costs of this suit.
The MeTC ruled that having acquired the property from the Spouses Pascua, and being the registered owners of the property, the respondents are entitled to the possession thereof:
The Court holds that plaintiffs are the ones entitled to the material or physical possession of the subject property. This is so because they have sufficiently established their title over the premises in question. They have shown that they are the registered owners of the subject premises located at No. 39 Visayas Avenue, Project 6, Diliman, Quezon City, as evidenced by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 87610 issued in their name by the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City, which property they acquired from its former registered owners, the Sps. Paulo and Georgiana (sic) Pascua. Hence, as an incident to their ownership over said property, plaintiffs are entitled to its possession.7
The court also ruled that the proceedings were not suspended by the pendency of Civil Case No. Q-94-19352.
The respondents appealed the decision to the RTC, which rendered judgment on April 15, 1996 in their favor, reversing the decision of the MeTC and ordering the dismissal of the complaint. The RTC anchored its decision on the following findings:
It is the contention of the plaintiff that as registered owners of the subject lot, they have the right to take possession thereof and eject defendants from the premises. On the other hand, it is the contention of the defendants that they are the rightful owners of the land and have been in possession thereon from the time they acquired the land from the real owner Luz B. Pascua.
In ejectment cases, the only issue to be determined by the Court is the fact of prior physical and material possession over the subject property. Under Article 538 of the New Civil Code (NCC), it is provided that:
"Article 538. Possession as a fact cannot be recognized at the same time in two different personalities except in cases of co-possession. Should a question arise regarding the fact of possession, the present possessor shall be preferred, if there are two possessors, the one longer in possession; if the dates of the possession are the same, the one who presents a title; and if all these conditions are equal, the thing shall be placed in judicial deposit pending determination of its possession or ownership through proper proceedings."
In this case, defendants were able to establish the fact that they have been in physical and material possession of the subject premises from the time they purchased the same from Luz B. Pascua on July 8, 1976. Defendants, therefore, are in possession of the property in the concept of an owner, and under the law, a possessor in the concept of an owner has in his favor the legal presumption that he possesses with a just title and he cannot be obliged to show or prove it (Art. 541, NCC).
Moreover, it is important to note that defendants purchased the subject premises from Luz B. Pascua on July 8, 1976 while plaintiffs purchased the same from Paulo Pascua only on June 4, 1993, a much later date. This is shown by the Deed of Absolute Sale executed by Luz B. Pascua in favor of defendants on July 8, 1976 (Annex 1); Deed of Absolute Sale of Unsegregated Portion of Land executed by Luz B. Pascua and Paulo Pascua in favor of the defendants on July 14, 1977 (Annex 2) and a Deed of Confirmation of Deed of Absolute Sale of a Parcel of Land with Waiver dated July 14, 1977 executed by Paulo Pascua (Annex 3). These documents put in doubtful validity the subsequent sale of the same land by Paulo Pascua in favor of the plaintiffs. Paulo Pascua had no right, therefore, to transfer ownership of the subject land to plaintiffs because, Luz B. Pascua, the original owner, had already sold the same land to defendants during her lifetime. And upon the death of Luz B. Pascua, Paulo Pascua had no right to adjudicate the subject lot to himself because he even confirmed such sale and waived any rights, interest and participation over the subject residential house and lot in a Deed of Confirmation of Absolute Sale with Waiver dated July 14, 1977 (Annex 3). It bears emphasis, however, that the validity of the respective titles of the parties is now the subject of controversy in Civil Case No. Q-94-19352 pending before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 102.
From the foregoing, it is clear that defendants have priority of right and possession over the subject property and have, therefore, the right to be respected in their present possession thereon.8
The petitioners filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals, which later rendered judgment reversing the decision of the RTC and reinstated the decision of the MeTC. The CA held that in ruling against the petitioners, who were the registered owners of the property, the RTC thereby violated the prescription against the collateral attack of a torrens title.
The Present Petition
In the present recourse, the petitioners, the Spouses Apostol, assert the following: (a) their possession of the property since 1976 preceded the sale of the property to the private respondents; (b) the respondents were purchasers of the property in bad faith; and, (c) in declaring that the petitioners had priority of possession of the property on the sale thereof by Luz Pascua and Paulo Pascua way back in 1976 and 1977, the RTC did not thereby collaterally attack the title of the respondents over the property. According to the petitioners, an inflexible adherence to the proscription against a collateral attack of a torrens title may result to gross injustice.
In their comment on the petition, the respondents assert that contrary to the petitioners’ claim, the petition raises questions of facts. The respondents also aver that the CA did not commit any error in its decision.
The petitioners contend that the respondents themselves admitted in their complaint before the MeTC that they knew that the petitioners were in actual possession of the property even before they purchased the same. Hence, the petitioners argue, the respondents were purchasers in bad faith.
The petitioners also point out that since they purchased the property before the respondents, they cannot be ejected therefrom. Under Article 1544 of the Civil Code which, according to Justice Jose C. Vitug, is "self-operating," the sale of the property to them prevails over the sale in favor of the respondents. Thus, the sale in favor of the respondents is null and void; consequently, TCT No. 87610 issued in favor of the respondents is, likewise, null and void. Finally, the petitioners aver that they may very well have become the owners of the property by prescription under Article 1134 of the New Civil Code.
For its part, the CA held as follows:
The respondent court erred in dismissing the action for unlawful detainer on the sole ground that the private respondents are possessors in the concept of an owner of the subject premises and cannot, thus, be dispossessed of the same. The subject property is registered under the Torrens System in the names of the petitioners whose title to the property is presumed legal and cannot be collaterally attacked, much less in an action for unlawful detainer. No title to registered land in derogation of the title of the registered owner may be acquired by prescription or adverse possession (Caina vs. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 256; Odsigue vs. Court of Appeals, 233 SCRA 615; Calang vs. Register of Deeds of Quezon City, 231 SCRA 257). The presumption of ownership granted by law to a possessor in the concept of an owner under Article 541 is only prima facie and cannot prevail over a valid title registered under the Torrens System.9
The Ruling of the Court
We agree with the Court of Appeals. In Pangilinan v. Aguilar,10 we held that it is an accepted rule that a person who has a torrens title over the property, such as the respondents, is entitled to the possession thereof. We reiterated our ruling in the Pangilinan Case in Javelosa v. Court of Appeals,11 and declared that the registered owners are entitled to the possession of the property covered by the said title from the time such title was issued in their favor. Moreover, the fact that the respondents were never in prior physical possession of the subject land is of no moment, as prior physical possession is necessary only in forcible entry cases.
The petitioners claim that, as alleged in their answer to the complaint for unlawful detainer, the respondents’ title over the property is a nullity; hence, the complaint for unlawful detainer against the petitioners should be dismissed for lack of merit. Such allegation does not help their present recourse. Under Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, a certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified or cancelled, except in a direct proceeding for that purpose in accordance with law. The issue of the validity of the title of the respondents can only be assailed in an action expressly instituted for that purpose.12 Whether or not the petitioners have the right to claim ownership over the property is beyond the power of the court a quo to determine in an action for unlawful detainer.13
The following issues are now the subject of Civil Case No. Q-94-19352 before the RTC of Quezon City: (1) whether the respondents were buyers in bad faith; (2) the validity of the deed of absolute sale over the property executed by the Spouses Pascua in favor of the respondents; and (3) the validity of the title issued to and in the names of the respondents. Hence, the Court shall no longer delve into such issues.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 38333 is AFFIRMED. Costs against the petitioners.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Minerva P. Gonzaga-Reyes, with Associate Justices Ramon Mabutas, Jr. and Salvador J. Valdez, Jr., concurring.
2 Penned by Judge Marcelino F. Bautista, Jr.
3 CA Rollo, pp. 27-28.
4 Id. at 76.
5 Id. at 62.
6 Id. at 114.
7 Id. at 113.
8 Rollo, pp. 69-70.
9 Rollo, p. 76.
10 43 SCRA 136 (1972).
11 265 SCRA 493 (1996).
12 Eduarte v. Court of Appeals, 311 SCRA 18 (1999).
13 Co v. Court of Appeals, 196 SCRA 705 (1991).
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