[G.R. NO. 162704 : November 19, 2004]
MEMORIA G. ENCINAS and ADOLFO A. BALBOA, Petitioners, v. NATIONAL BOOKSTORE, INC., Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Two certificates of title in the names of two different persons cover one and the same piece of land. The question in this case is who is the rightful owner of the property.
The land in question is located at the corner of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City. It was originally part of a larger piece of land designated as Lot No. 4-B-2-B of the subdivision plan Psd-20172,1 being a portion of Lot 4-B-2 of Plan SWO-16797, per original survey for Valentin Afable, et. al. dated March 3, 1944. Lot No. 4-B-2-A of said plan was in the name of Valentin Afable, while Lot No. 4-B-2-B of the same plan was in the name of Eugenio Evangelista. Lot 4-B-2-B had an area of 8,371 square meters.2
Lot 4-B-2-B was later recorded in the names of the Heirs3 of one Simeon Evangelista under Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-219636, issued on June 22, 1976.4 The title indicated that the land was originally registered under Act No. 496 on October 3, 1927, in the registration book of the Register of Deeds of Rizal, Vol. T-51, Page 218, pursuant to Decree No. 917, G.L.R.O. Record No. 197.5
On December 4, 1978, the Heirs of Simeon Evangelista executed a deed of sale with mortgage of Lot 4-B-2-B in favor of the spouses Nereo and Gloria Paculdo, resulting in the cancellation of TCT No. 219636 and the issuance of TCT No. 2511756 in the names of the Paculdo spouses, with the mortgage lien annotated thereon. For failure of the Paculdo spouses to pay their obligation under the mortgage contract, the mortgage was extra-judicially foreclosed and the land sold at public auction to the Heirs of Simeon Evangelista. On August 7, 1981, on the basis of the Sheriff's Certificate of Sale7 executed in favor of the Heirs, TCT No. 251175 of the Paculdo spouses was cancelled and TCT No. 2796548 was issued in the name of the Heirs9 of Simeon Evangelista.
In 1982, an unsegregated portion measuring 906 square meters of Lot 4-B-2-B was expropriated by the Government for the widening of Aurora Boulevard. The unsegregated portion was designated as Lot 4-B-2-B-1. The remaining portion of 7,465 square meters was designated as Lot 4-B-2-B-2, the subject land. On May 23, 1983, the Heirs of Simeon Evangelista sold the subject land, to respondent National Bookstore Inc. through a Deed of Sale with Real Estate Mortgage.10 Respondent took possession of the subject land, declared the same for taxation purposes11 and was issued TCT No. 30086112 covering the subject land.
In 1994, petitioner Memoria G. Encinas, through her attorney-in-fact and herein co-petitioner Adolfo Balboa, filed a Petition13 for the administrative reconstitution of her title, TCT No. 179854, which was supposedly burned in the fire that razed the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City on June 11, 1988. To support her petition, she presented a copy of her Tax Declaration No. B-040-0163914 for the year 1985 allegedly covering the subject property and a certification15 from the Acting Chief of the Revenue Collection Office of the Quezon City Treasurer stating that the real property taxes on the said property have been paid up to 1994 under Tax Declaration No. 1639. On October 20, 1994, the Administrator of the Land Registration Authority (LRA), after investigation and verification that the titles to be reconstituted do not overlap other properties, issued an order16 reconstituting several transfer certificates of title, including petitioner Encinas' TCT No. 179854. Pursuant to the order, the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City issued TCT No. RT-10302217 in petitioner Encinas' name on November 9, 1994.
Petitioner offered the property covered by the reconstituted title for sale to Alfredo C. Ramos, the president of respondent. It was then that respondent discovered that its TCT No. 300861 and petitioner's TCT No. RT-103022 referred to the same property, Lot No. 4-B-2-B-2.
On July 17, 1997, after conducting an investigation on titles alleged to have been illegally reconstituted, the LRA Reconstitution Officer issued a Supplemental Order dated July 17, 1997 and an Order dated June 8, 1999 which set aside the previous order of reconstitution dated October 20, 1994, and in particular, directed the exclusion of the reconstitution of the original of TCT No. T-179854.18
On February 28, 1996, respondent as plaintiff filed an action for quieting of title before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 215, alleging that it was the true and lawful owner of Lot 4-B-2-B-2 as evidenced by its TCT No. 300861. The complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-96-26716.
Petitioner Encinas as defendant denied respondent's allegations and stubbornly claimed that she was the real and absolute owner in fee simple of the subject property and neither she nor her predecessor-in-interest ever sold the property to anybody. She relied on the legality and regularity of the reconstitution of her title to the subject property.19
On June 21, 1999, the RTC decided in favor of respondent. The trial court declared that while a reconstituted title has a prima facie appearance of legality, the reconstitution of said title is subject to the proviso that no other certificate of title covering the same parcel of land exists in the records of the registry. A certificate of title considered lost or destroyed, if found or recovered, prevails over the reconstituted title. In Civil Case No. Q-96-26716, the original transfer certificate of title covering the property, TCT No. 300861 in respondent's name, is on file with the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City and is one of the titles which were not burned in the fire of June 1988. The owner's duplicate copy of the title is intact and in respondent's possession. Furthermore, respondent was able to show how it acquired the property from its immediate predecessors and was able to account for the previous major transactions involving the subject property until ownership thereof was transferred to respondent.
Petitioner Encinas, on the other hand, failed to present any evidence to show how she acquired ownership of the property. She merely alleged that she was the owner in fee simple. To support her claim of ownership, she presented a tax declaration covering the property. But it was shown that said tax declaration was tampered with and apparently falsified. Petitioner Encinas relied mainly on the presumption of validity of her reconstituted title. However, as the trial court noted, the LRA Administrator eventually issued the Supplemental Order of July 17, 1997 and Order of June 8, 1999 excluding petitioner Encinas' title from the reconstitution order. To the trial court, not only was respondent able to prove its ownership of the subject property with preponderant evidence, but the case had already become moot and academic by virtue of the LRA's cancellation of petitioner Encinas' reconstituted title. Hence, it upheld respondent's title to the subject property and ordered the cancellation of petitioner Encinas' reconstituted title.20
Petitioners promptly moved for reconsideration. On November 10, 1999, the trial court granted the same and set aside its earlier Decision.21 In a complete reversal of its previous ruling, the trial court upheld the validity of petitioner Encinas' title. According to the trial court, petitioner Encinas' title, TCT No. 179854, was registered and issued on August 25, 1972 which should have served as constructive notice to respondent whose title, TCT No. 300861, was issued only on June 6, 1983. The trial court also pointed out that there is a manifest defect in respondent's title as to its origin: respondent's title is a derivative of an original certificate of title issued pursuant to Decree No. 917, GLRO Record No. 197; however, said GLRO Record No. 197 referred to a piece of land located in Bataan, not Quezon City. Respondent's title referred to a piece of land in Bataan and not the subject property. Hence, in the Order dated November 10, 1999, the RTC nullified respondent's title, and declared petitioner Encinas' reconstituted title valid.
Respondent appealed the RTC Order of November 10, 1999 to the Court of Appeals. On October 27, 2003, the Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the RTC Order and reinstated the RTC Decision of June 21, 1999.22 The appellate court found that the antecedents leading to respondent's acquisition of the property were clearly shown in the records and even annotated in its TCT No. 300861. On the other hand, petitioner Encinas failed to describe the circumstances of her ownership or possession of the land and to identify her predecessor-in-interest or the manner by which she acquired the property. Petitioners again raised the argument that the erroneous entry of the GLRO record number in respondent's title is a fatal defect which proves the title's invalid source. However, the appellate court concluded that based on the testimony of petitioners' own witnesses,23 the variance was merely a typographical or clerical error. The same witnesses testified that in cases of such clerical errors, it is the technical description which controls. The technical description in respondent's title described the subject property, Lot 4-B-2-B-2, located in Quezon City.
On the other hand, the technical description in petitioner Encinas' title refers to a different parcel of land. Her title describes a parcel of land which is a portion of Lot 2-E-2 of plan SWO-16797, certainly not the subject property.
The Court of Appeals also observed that respondent was able to present tax declarations and real property tax bill receipts in its name and in the name of its immediate predecessor, the Evangelista clan. While petitioners also presented a tax declaration and certification from the Revenue Collection Office of Quezon City, upon closer scrutiny, said documents showed that petitioners had declared Lot 4-B-2-B-1 for taxation purposes, and not Lot 4-B-2-B-2, the property subject of this case.24 It should be remembered that Lot 4-B-2-B-1 refers to the portion which was expropriated by the government.
Petitioners timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration25 of the appellate court's decision but this was denied on March 12, 2004.26 Hence, they filed this Petition for Review on Certiorari, alleging that the Court of Appeals "committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction in upholding the validity of [respondent's] purported TCT No. 300861 notwithstanding the abundance of competent evidence demonstrating positively that said title is spurious and fake." Petitioners insist that the variance in the entries in respondent's TCT No. 300186 and GLRO Record No. 197 is not a mere typographical or clerical error, but instead an indication of the fraudulent nature of respondent's title.
Petitioners submit that respondent's evidence failed to show that it proved its ownership of the subject property. In particular, petitioners take issue with the Court of Appeals' alleged disregard of its evidence which allegedly demonstrates that respondent's title to the subject property is fake and spurious. Petitioners harp on the supposed incongruity between the entries in the GLRO Record Numbers in respondent's and petitioner's respective titles to the property.
Respondent, in its Comment, seeks to have the Petition dismissed on the ground that it raises only questions of fact which this Court cannot entertain via a petition for certiorari .27
Indeed, this Court has held that factual findings of the trial court, when adopted and confirmed by the Court of Appeals, are final and conclusive and may not be reviewed on appeal. However, there are several exceptions to the rule, namely: (1) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (2) when there is a grave abuse of discretion; (3) when the finding is grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (4) when the judgment of the Court of Appeals is based on misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (7) when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and (10) when the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record.28
This case falls under one of the exceptions, as the factual conclusions of the trial court and the appellate court are in conflict with each other. Hence, although the petition raises questions of fact since it entails a review of the evidence at hand, it may be entertained by this Court.
The issue before this Court is whether petitioners were able to discharge their burden of proving the superiority of their title over the title of respondent. The Court of Appeals upheld the initial Decision of the RTC and found the quantum of evidence presented by petitioners insufficient. A review of the evidence reveals no compelling reason to reverse the appellate court's ruling.
In civil cases, the party having the burden of proof must establish his case by a preponderance of evidence. "Preponderance of evidence" is the weight, credit, and value of the aggregate evidence on either side and is usually considered to be synonymous with the term "greater weight of the evidence" or "greater weight of the credible evidence." Preponderance of evidence is a phrase which, in the last analysis, means probability of the truth. It is evidence which is more convincing to the court as worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto.29a
Respondent as plaintiff was able to overcome the burden of proof and prove by preponderant evidence that it has a superior right and title to the subject property. In contrast, petitioners as defendants seem to rely only on the alleged weakness of respondent's evidence, without asserting any proof other than her reconstituted title to the subject property.
From the evidence, respondent derived its title from the title of its vendor, the Heirs of Simeon Evangelista, via a deed of sale. The Heirs obtained their title from their predecessor-in-interest Simeon Evangelista. Prior to the transfer of the title to respondent, the Heirs had sold the subject property to the Paculdo spouses in whose names another title was issued. However, the Heirs were able to reclaim the property upon the failure of the Paculdo spouses to pay their mortgage obligation on the property. All these transactions involving the property are well-documented.29 From the time respondent obtained the property, it protected its interest therein by fencing off the property and designating security guards around its perimeter.30 Respondent also exercised its obligation as owner by paying real property taxes on the property it had acquired, evidenced by tax declarations issued in its name by the Quezon City Assessor's Office.31
In contrast, petitioner Encinas asserts her right to the subject property via a reconstituted title, also presented in evidence. However, other than the allegation in her Answer to respondent's Complaint (for quieting of title) that she is the owner in fee simple of the subject property, petitioner Encinas failed to disclose before any of the judicial levels how she was able to acquire title to the property. The trial court had intimated during the hearings that to get to the truth of the matter, it is important to trace the origins or source of the titles of the properties.32 Counsel for petitioners had manifested time and again that petitioner Encinas herself, who was then in Detroit, Michigan, would be presented to testify on the acquisition of the property,33 but the hearings terminated without petitioner Encinas ever making an appearance. Neither was her co-petitioner and attorney-in-fact Adolfo A. Balboa able to shed light on the matter, as he clearly had no knowledge of the circumstances of petitioner Encinas' acquisition of the property.34
Petitioners also cannot rely on Tax Declaration No. B-040-01639 allegedly issued in petitioner Encinas' name, since a tax declaration with the same number was also issued in the name of respondent. Indeed, according to petitioner's witness, Dante M. Veloria, Assistant City Assessor of Quezon City, there are many cases of duplication of tax declaration numbers in their office, and such duplication does not necessarily mean that the duplicate tax declaration is spurious. The Assessor's Office rectifies the duplication by adjusting the tax declaration number and annotating the correction at the back of the tax declaration and notifying the persons concerned. The same witness noted that trouble arises when such duplications are not corrected, as in this case.
Instead of presenting evidence to prove the superiority of petitioner Encinas' title, petitioners rely only on the apparent weakness of respondent's title, that is, the alleged fatal defect in GLRO Record No. 197 perpetuated in the titles of respondent and its predecessors-in-interest.
Petitioners cite Lorenzana Food Corporation v. Court of Appeals35 in arguing that these errors cannot simply be qualified as mere typographical errors. However, the facts of the cited case differ from the case at bar, and the ruling thereon cannot be blindly applied to this case.
The Lorenzana case involved a large tract of land traversed by a railroad and divided into two parcels designated as Lots 1 and 2, both parcels covered by a reconstituted title Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. (1020) RO-9. A separate OCT for Lot 1, OCT No. (1898) RO-58 was issued, while Lot 2 remained covered by OCT No. (1020) RO-9. Lots 1 and 2 were subsequently subdivided and titles to the resulting parcels of land were issued. However, the TCTs covering the subdivided parcels of Lot 1, while correctly indicating OCT No. (1898) RO-58 of Lot 1 as its source, contained the technical description lifted from the OCT No. (1020) RO-9 covering Lot 2. Subsequent transactions of the subdivided parcels of land of Lot 1 resulted in the issuance of TCTs containing the incorrect technical description as well as the inaccurate description of the location of the properties. The controversy arose when Lorenzana, et al., learned that the same parcels were being claimed by therein respondent B.E. San Diego, Incorporated, based on titles registered in the latter's name. The trial court found for respondent B.E. San Diego, as its titles were "not blemished by any defect and were regularly issued." The trial court also considered in respondent B.E. San Diego's favor its open, adverse and continuous possession of the disputed land since 1966 and its consistent payment of taxes thereon. This Court upheld the ruling of the trial court. The defects appearing on the titles of Lorenzana, et al. relating to the lots' mother title, technical descriptions and locations'judicially admitted by Lorenzana, et al. were too glaring that they could not be dismissed as clerical and harmless in character. The discrepancies in Lorenzana, et al.'s titles cannot be upheld against the unblemished titles of B.E. San Diego.
The same cannot be said of the alleged defect in respondent's title in the case at bar. In Lorenzana, the erroneous entries were too numerous and evident, and involved significant portions of the titles. On the other hand, the claimed flaw in respondent's title and the title of its predecessors-in-interest is GLRO Record No. 197, which petitioners assert should be GLRO Record No. 917. It is obvious that such a defect involves only an interchanging of numbers. It is certainly believable that such variance in the copying of entries could be merely a typographical or clerical error. Furthermore, as the Court of Appeals pointed out, petitioners' own witnesses explained that the inconsistency in the entries in the GLRO record number could be due to clerical error, and in such case, the technical description in the title should prevail over the record number.
It must be noted, too, that the original of respondent's title still exists and is with the Register of Deeds of Quezon City as it was not one of the titles that were destroyed by the fire. Petitioner Encinas' title, on the other hand, is a reconstituted title, which was later withdrawn by the same office which issued it, pursuant to the Supplemental Order dated July 17, 1997 and Order dated June 8, 1999.36
Respondent has established by preponderant evidence that it is the rightful owner of the subject property. Petitioners have not.
WHEREFORE, the Petition for Review on Certiorari is DENIED, no reversible error on the part of the Court of Appeals having been adduced. Costs against petitioners.
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Record, p. 837.
3 Eufemia Evangelista, Manuela Evangelista, Jose de la Rosa, Francisco Evangelista, Justina Evangelista, Encarnacion Erum Vda. de Evangelista, Rhona Centeno, Eugenio Jose Evangelista, Rafael Evangelista, Aurea Abejar Vda. de Evangelista, Teresa Paloma, Ricardo Evangelista, Aurea Sarmenta, Jeanne Cayton, Yvonne Gonzales, Cecile CaÃ±ete, Emelie Pedrena, Anthony Evangelista, Jaime Evangelista and Marie Lou CaÃ±ete; Rollo, p. 35.
4 Id. at 64.
6 Record, p. 332-333.
7 Id. at 335.
8 Id. at 336.
9 Eufemia Evangelista, Manuela Evangelista, Jose E. de la Rosa, Francisco Evangelista, Felix Evangelista, Justina Evangelista, Encarnacion Erum Vda. de Evangelista, Rhona Evangelista Centeno, Eugenio Jose Erum Evangelista, Rafael Erum Evangelista, Aurea Abejar Vda. de Evangelista, Teresa E. Paloma, Ricardo A. Evangelista, and Aurea E. Sarmienta; Rollo, p. 65; Id.
10 Record, pp. 308-323.
11 Tax Declaration No. A-040-02624 in 1984 and Tax Declaration No. B-040-01639 in 1985 with corresponding Real Property Tax Bill Receipts; Rollo, p. 36; Record, pp. 349-351.
12 Record, pp. 324-328.
13 Id. at 355-356.
14 Id. at 382 and 849.
15 Id. at 376.
16 Id. at 360-369.
17 Id. at 370 and 394.
18 CA Rollo, pp. 99 and 100. The Supplemental Order dated July 17, 1997 was amended by the Order dated June 8, 1999, correcting the title number mentioned in the dispositive portion of the Supplemental Order.
19 Rollo, pp. 76-83.
20 Decision written by Judge Marciano I. Bacalla; Id. at 85-91.
21 Id. at 130-141.
22 Decision penned by Justice Edgardo F. Sundiam and concurred in by Justices Eubulo G. Verzola and Remedios Salazar-Fernando of the Third Division; Id. at 34-51.
23 Mr. Norberto Orense of the Land Registration Authority (LRA) and Atty. Danilo ny S. Cruz II, Deputy Register of Deeds of Quezon City; Id. at 89; TSN, January 7, 1998, pp. 18-19 and January 28, 1998, p. 19..
24 See notes 14 and 15.
25 Rollo, pp. 259-331.
26 Id. at 53-54.
27 Id. at 346-372.
29a Id at 152.
29 RTC Records, pp. 12-56.
30 TSN, May 8, 1997, pp. 12-13.
31 Supra at note 11.
32 TSN, January 28, 1998, p. 20.
33 TSN, December 4, 1997, pp. 52-54; March 26, 1998, pp. 8-9.
34 TSN, December 4, 1997, pp. 35-37.
36 Supra, see note 18.