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G.R. No. 156364 - JACOBUS BERNHARD HULST v. PR BUILDERS, INC.

G.R. No. 156364 - JACOBUS BERNHARD HULST v. PR BUILDERS, INC.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 156364 : September 3, 2007]

JACOBUS BERNHARD HULST, Petitioner, v. PR BUILDERS, INC., Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court assailing the Decision1 dated October 30, 2002 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 60981.

The facts:

Jacobus Bernhard Hulst (petitioner) and his spouse Ida Johanna Hulst-Van Ijzeren (Ida), Dutch nationals, entered into a Contract to Sell with PR Builders, Inc. (respondent), for the purchase of a 210-sq m residential unit in respondent's townhouse project in Barangay Niyugan, Laurel, Batangas.

When respondent failed to comply with its verbal promise to complete the project by June 1995, the spouses Hulst filed before the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) a complaint for rescission of contract with interest, damages and attorney's fees, docketed as HLRB Case No. IV6-071196-0618.

On April 22, 1997, HLURB Arbiter Ma. Perpetua Y. Aquino (HLURB Arbiter) rendered a Decision2 in favor of spouses Hulst, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the complainant, rescinding the Contract to Sell and ordering respondent to:

1) Reimburse complainant the sum of P3,187,500.00, representing the purchase price paid by the complainants to P.R. Builders, plus interest thereon at the rate of twelve percent (12%) per annum from the time complaint was filed;

2) Pay complainant the sum of P297,000.00 as actual damages;

3) Pay complainant the sum of P100,000.00 by way of moral damages;

4) Pay complainant the sum of P150,000.00 as exemplary damages;

5) P50,000.00 as attorney's fees and for other litigation expenses; andcralawlibrary

6) Cost of suit.

SO ORDERED.3

Meanwhile, spouses Hulst divorced. Ida assigned her rights over the purchased property to petitioner.4 From then on, petitioner alone pursued the case.

On August 21, 1997, the HLURB Arbiter issued a Writ of Execution addressed to the Ex-Officio Sheriff of the Regional Trial Court of Tanauan, Batangas directing the latter to execute its judgment.5

On April 13, 1998, the Ex-Officio Sheriff proceeded to implement the Writ of Execution. However, upon complaint of respondent with the CA on a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition, the levy made by the Sheriff was set aside, requiring the Sheriff to levy first on respondent's personal properties.6 Sheriff Jaime B. Ozaeta (Sheriff) tried to implement the writ as directed but the writ was returned unsatisfied.7

On January 26, 1999, upon petitioner's motion, the HLURB Arbiter issued an Alias Writ of Execution.8

On March 23, 1999, the Sheriff levied on respondent's 15 parcels of land covered by 13 Transfer Certificates of Title (TCT)9 in Barangay Niyugan, Laurel, Batangas.10

In a Notice of Sale dated March 27, 2000, the Sheriff set the public auction of the levied properties on April 28, 2000 at 10:00 a.m..11

Two days before the scheduled public auction or on April 26, 2000, respondent filed an Urgent Motion to Quash Writ of Levy with the HLURB on the ground that the Sheriff made an overlevy since the aggregate appraised value of the levied properties at P6,500.00 per sq m is P83,616,000.00, based on the Appraisal Report12 of Henry Hunter Bayne Co., Inc. dated December 11, 1996, which is over and above the judgment award.13

At 10:15 a.m. of the scheduled auction date of April 28, 2000, respondent's counsel objected to the conduct of the public auction on the ground that respondent's Urgent Motion to Quash Writ of Levy was pending resolution. Absent any restraining order from the HLURB, the Sheriff proceeded to sell the 15 parcels of land. Holly Properties Realty Corporation was the winning bidder for all 15 parcels of land for the total amount of P5,450,653.33. The sum of P5,313,040.00 was turned over to the petitioner in satisfaction of the judgment award after deducting the legal fees.14

At 4:15 p.m. of the same day, while the Sheriff was at the HLURB office to remit the legal fees relative to the auction sale and to submit the Certificates of Sale15 for the signature of HLURB Director Belen G. Ceniza (HLURB Director), he received the Order dated April 28, 2000 issued by the HLURB Arbiter to suspend the proceedings on the matter.16

Four months later, or on August 28, 2000, the HLURB Arbiter and HLURB Director issued an Order setting aside the sheriff's levy on respondent's real properties,17 reasoning as follows:

While we are not making a ruling that the fair market value of the levied properties is PhP6,500.00 per square meter (or an aggregate value of PhP83,616,000.00) as indicated in the Hunter Baynes Appraisal Report, we definitely cannot agree with the position of the Complainants and the Sheriff that the aggregate value of the 12,864.00-square meter levied properties is only around PhP6,000,000.00. The disparity between the two valuations are [sic] so egregious that the Sheriff should have looked into the matter first before proceeding with the execution sale of the said properties, especially when the auction sale proceedings was seasonably objected by Respondent's counsel, Atty. Noel Mingoa. However, instead of resolving first the objection timely posed by Atty. Mingoa, Sheriff Ozaete totally disregarded the objection raised and, posthaste, issued the corresponding Certificate of Sale even prior to the payment of the legal fees (pars. 7 & 8, Sheriff's Return).

While we agree with the Complainants that what is material in an execution sale proceeding is the amount for which the properties were bidded and sold during the public auction and that, mere inadequacy of the price is not a sufficient ground to annul the sale, the court is justified to intervene where the inadequacy of the price shocks the conscience (Barrozo v. Macaraeg, 83 Phil. 378). The difference between PhP83,616,000.00 and Php6,000,000.00 is PhP77,616,000.00 and it definitely invites our attention to look into the proceedings had especially so when there was only one bidder, the HOLLY PROPERTIES REALTY CORPORATION represented by Ma, Chandra Cacho (par. 7, Sheriff's Return) and the auction sale proceedings was timely objected by Respondent's counsel (par. 6, Sheriff's Return) due to the pendency of the Urgent Motion to Quash the Writ of Levy which was filed prior to the execution sale.

Besides, what is at issue is not the value of the subject properties as determined during the auction sale, but the determination of the value of the properties levied upon by the Sheriff taking into consideration Section 9(b) of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure x x x.

x x x

It is very clear from the foregoing that, even during levy, the Sheriff has to consider the fair market value of the properties levied upon to determine whether they are sufficient to satisfy the judgment, and any levy in excess of the judgment award is void (Buan v. Court of Appeals, 235 SCRA 424).

x x x x18 (Emphasis supplied).

The dispositive portion of the Order reads:

WHEREFORE, the levy on the subject properties made by the Ex-Officio Sheriff of the RTC of Tanauan, Batangas, is hereby SET ASIDE and the said Sheriff is hereby directed to levy instead Respondent's real properties that are reasonably sufficient to enforce its final and executory judgment, this time, taking into consideration not only the value of the properties as indicated in their respective tax declarations, but also all the other determinants at arriving at a fair market value, namely: the cost of acquisition, the current value of like properties, its actual or potential uses, and in the particular case of lands, their size, shape or location, and the tax declarations thereon.

SO ORDERED.19

A motion for reconsideration being a prohibited pleading under Section 1(h), Rule IV of the 1996 HLURB Rules and Procedure, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with the CA on September 27, 2000.

On October 30, 2002, the CA rendered herein assailed Decision20 dismissing the petition. The CA held that petitioner's insistence that Barrozo v. Macaraeg21 does not apply since said case stated that "when there is a right to redeem inadequacy of price should not be material" holds no water as what is obtaining in this case is not "mere inadequacy," but an inadequacy that shocks the senses; that Buan v. Court of Appeals22 properly applies since the questioned levy covered 15 parcels of land posited to have an aggregate value of P83,616,000.00 which shockingly exceeded the judgment debt of only around P6,000,000.00.

Without filing a motion for reconsideration,23 petitioner took the present recourse on the sole ground that:

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE ARBITER'S ORDER SETTING ASIDE THE LEVY MADE BY THE SHERIFF ON THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES.24

Before resolving the question whether the CA erred in affirming the Order of the HLURB setting aside the levy made by the sheriff, it behooves this Court to address a matter of public and national importance which completely escaped the attention of the HLURB Arbiter and the CA: petitioner and his wife are foreign nationals who are disqualified under the Constitution from owning real property in their names.

Section 7 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution provides:

Sec. 7. Save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain. (Emphasis supplied).

The capacity to acquire private land is made dependent upon the capacity to acquire or hold lands of the public domain. Private land may be transferred or conveyed only to individuals or entities "qualified to acquire lands of the public domain." The 1987 Constitution reserved the right to participate in the disposition, exploitation, development and utilization of lands of the public domain for Filipino citizens25 or corporations at least 60 percent of the capital of which is owned by Filipinos.26 Aliens, whether individuals or corporations, have been disqualified from acquiring public lands; hence, they have also been disqualified from acquiring private lands.27

Since petitioner and his wife, being Dutch nationals, are proscribed under the Constitution from acquiring and owning real property, it is unequivocal that the Contract to Sell entered into by petitioner together with his wife and respondent is void. Under Article 1409 (1) and (7) of the Civil Code, all contracts whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law or public policy and those expressly prohibited or declared void by law are inexistent and void from the beginning. Article 1410 of the same Code provides that the action or defense for the declaration of the inexistence of a contract does not prescribe. A void contract is equivalent to nothing; it produces no civil effect.28 It does not create, modify or extinguish a juridical relation.29

Generally, parties to a void agreement cannot expect the aid of the law; the courts leave them as they are, because they are deemed in pari delicto or "in equal fault."30 In pari delicto is "a universal doctrine which holds that no action arises, in equity or at law, from an illegal contract; no suit can be maintained for its specific performance, or to recover the property agreed to be sold or delivered, or the money agreed to be paid, or damages for its violation; and where the parties are in pari delicto, no affirmative relief of any kind will be given to one against the other."31

This rule, however, is subject to exceptions32 that permit the return of that which may have been given under a void contract to: (a) the innocent party (Arts. 1411-1412, Civil Code);33 (b) the debtor who pays usurious interest (Art. 1413, Civil Code);34 (c) the party repudiating the void contract before the illegal purpose is accomplished or before damage is caused to a third person and if public interest is subserved by allowing recovery (Art. 1414, Civil Code);35 (d) the incapacitated party if the interest of justice so demands (Art. 1415, Civil Code);36 (e) the party for whose protection the prohibition by law is intended if the agreement is not illegal per se but merely prohibited and if public policy would be enhanced by permitting recovery (Art. 1416, Civil Code);37 and (f) the party for whose benefit the law has been intended such as in price ceiling laws (Art. 1417, Civil Code)38 and labor laws (Arts. 1418-1419, Civil Code).39

It is significant to note that the agreement executed by the parties in this case is a Contract to Sell and not a contract of sale. A distinction between the two is material in the determination of when ownership is deemed to have been transferred to the buyer or vendee and, ultimately, the resolution of the question on whether the constitutional proscription has been breached.

In a contract of sale, the title passes to the buyer upon the delivery of the thing sold. The vendor has lost and cannot recover the ownership of the property until and unless the contract of sale is itself resolved and set aside.40 On the other hand, a contract to sell is akin to a conditional sale where the efficacy or obligatory force of the vendor's obligation to transfer title is subordinated to the happening of a future and uncertain event, so that if the suspensive condition does not take place, the parties would stand as if the conditional obligation had never existed.41 In other words, in a contract to sell, the prospective seller agrees to transfer ownership of the property to the buyer upon the happening of an event, which normally is the full payment of the purchase price. But even upon the fulfillment of the suspensive condition, ownership does not automatically transfer to the buyer. The prospective seller still has to convey title to the prospective buyer by executing a contract of absolute sale.42

Since the contract involved here is a Contract to Sell, ownership has not yet transferred to the petitioner when he filed the suit for rescission. While the intent to circumvent the constitutional proscription on aliens owning real property was evident by virtue of the execution of the Contract to Sell, such violation of the law did not materialize because petitioner caused the rescission of the contract before the execution of the final deed transferring ownership.

Thus, exception (c) finds application in this case. Under Article 1414, one who repudiates the agreement and demands his money before the illegal act has taken place is entitled to recover. Petitioner is therefore entitled to recover what he has paid, although the basis of his claim for rescission, which was granted by the HLURB, was not the fact that he is not allowed to acquire private land under the Philippine Constitution. But petitioner is entitled to the recovery only of the amount of P3,187,500.00, representing the purchase price paid to respondent. No damages may be recovered on the basis of a void contract; being nonexistent, the agreement produces no juridical tie between the parties involved.43 Further, petitioner is not entitled to actual as well as interests thereon,44 moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees.

The Court takes into consideration the fact that the HLURB Decision dated April 22, 1997 has long been final and executory. Nothing is more settled in the law than that a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable and may no longer be modified in any respect even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it was made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land.45 The only recognized exceptions to the general rule are the correction of clerical errors, the so-called nunc pro tunc entries which cause no prejudice to any party, void judgments, and whenever circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable.46 None of the exceptions is present in this case. The HLURB decision cannot be considered a void judgment, as it was rendered by a tribunal with jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint.47

Ineluctably, the HLURB Decision resulted in the unjust enrichment of petitioner at the expense of respondent. Petitioner received more than what he is entitled to recover under the circumstances.

Article 22 of the Civil Code which embodies the maxim, nemo ex alterius incommode debet lecupletari (no man ought to be made rich out of another's injury), states:

Art. 22. Every person who through an act of performance by another, or any other means, acquires or comes into possession of something at the expense of the latter without just or legal ground, shall return the same to him.

The above-quoted article is part of the chapter of the Civil Code on Human Relations, the provisions of which were formulated as basic principles to be observed for the rightful relationship between human beings and for the stability of the social order; designed to indicate certain norms that spring from the fountain of good conscience; guides for human conduct that should run as golden threads through society to the end that law may approach its supreme ideal which is the sway and dominance of justice.48 There is unjust enrichment when a person unjustly retains a benefit at the loss of another, or when a person retains money or property of another against the fundamental principles of justice, equity and good conscience.49

A sense of justice and fairness demands that petitioner should not be allowed to benefit from his act of entering into a contract to sell that violates the constitutional proscription.

This is not a case of equity overruling or supplanting a positive provision of law or judicial rule. Rather, equity is exercised in this case "as the complement of legal jurisdiction [that] seeks to reach and to complete justice where courts of law, through the inflexibility of their rules and want of power to adapt their judgments to the special circumstances of cases, are incompetent to do so."50

The purpose of the exercise of equity jurisdiction in this case is to prevent unjust enrichment and to ensure restitution. Equity jurisdiction aims to do complete justice in cases where a court of law is unable to adapt its judgments to the special circumstances of a case because of the inflexibility of its statutory or legal jurisdiction.51

The sheriff delivered to petitioner the amount of P5,313,040.00 representing the net proceeds (bidded amount is P5,450,653.33) of the auction sale after deducting the legal fees in the amount of P137,613.33.52 Petitioner is only entitled to P3,187,500.00, the amount of the purchase price of the real property paid by petitioner to respondent under the Contract to Sell. Thus, the Court in the exercise of its equity jurisdiction may validly order petitioner to return the excess amount of P2,125,540.00.

The Court shall now proceed to resolve the single issue raised in the present petition: whether the CA seriously erred in affirming the HLURB Order setting aside the levy made by the Sheriff on the subject properties.

Petitioner avers that the HLURB Arbiter and Director had no factual basis for pegging the fair market value of the levied properties at P6,500.00 per sq m or P83,616,000.00; that reliance on the appraisal report was misplaced since the appraisal was based on the value of land in neighboring developed subdivisions and on the assumption that the residential unit appraised had already been built; that the Sheriff need not determine the fair market value of the subject properties before levying on the same since what is material is the amount for which the properties were bidded and sold during the public auction; that the pendency of any motion is not a valid ground for the Sheriff to suspend the execution proceedings and, by itself, does not have the effect of restraining the Sheriff from proceeding with the execution.

Respondent, on the other hand, contends that while it is true that the HLURB Arbiter and Director did not categorically state the exact value of the levied properties, said properties cannot just amount to P6,000,000.00; that the HLURB Arbiter and Director correctly held that the value indicated in the tax declaration is not the sole determinant of the value of the property.

The petition is impressed with merit.

If the judgment is for money, the sheriff or other authorized officer must execute the same pursuant to the provisions of Section 9, Rule 39 of the Revised Rules of Court, viz:

Sec. 9. Execution of judgments for money, how enforced. -

(a) Immediate payment on demand. - The officer shall enforce an execution of a judgment for money by demanding from the judgment obligor the immediate payment of the full amount stated in the writ of execution and all lawful fees. x x x

(b) Satisfaction by levy. - If the judgment obligor cannot pay all or part of the obligation in cash, certified bank check or other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment obligee, the officer shall levy upon the properties of the judgment obligor of every kind and nature whatsoever which may be disposed of for value and not otherwise exempt from execution, giving the latter the option to immediately choose which property or part thereof may be levied upon, sufficient to satisfy the judgment. If the judgment obligor does not exercise the option, the officer shall first levy on the personal properties, if any, and then on the real properties if the personal properties are insufficient to answer for the judgment.

The sheriff shall sell only a sufficient portion of the personal or real property of the judgment obligor which has been levied upon.

When there is more property of the judgment obligor than is sufficient to satisfy the judgment and lawful fees, he must sell only so much of the personal or real property as is sufficient to satisfy the judgment and lawful fees.

Real property, stocks, shares, debts, credits, and other personal property, or any interest in either real or personal property, may be levied upon in like manner and with like effect as under a writ of attachment (Emphasis supplied).53

Thus, under Rule 39, in executing a money judgment against the property of the judgment debtor, the sheriff shall levy on all property belonging to the judgment debtor as is amply sufficient to satisfy the judgment and costs, and sell the same paying to the judgment creditor so much of the proceeds as will satisfy the amount of the judgment debt and costs. Any excess in the proceeds shall be delivered to the judgment debtor unless otherwise directed by the judgment or order of the court.54

Clearly, there are two stages in the execution of money judgments. First, the levy and then the execution sale.

Levy has been defined as the act or acts by which an officer sets apart or appropriates a part or the whole of a judgment debtor's property for the purpose of satisfying the command of the writ of execution.55 The object of a levy is to take property into the custody of the law, and thereby render it liable to the lien of the execution, and put it out of the power of the judgment debtor to divert it to any other use or purpose.56

On the other hand, an execution sale is a sale by a sheriff or other ministerial officer under the authority of a writ of execution of the levied property of the debtor.57

In the present case, the HLURB Arbiter and Director gravely abused their discretion in setting aside the levy conducted by the Sheriff for the reason that the auction sale conducted by the sheriff rendered moot and academic the motion to quash the levy. The HLURB Arbiter lost jurisdiction to act on the motion to quash the levy by virtue of the consummation of the auction sale. Absent any order from the HLURB suspending the auction sale, the sheriff rightfully proceeded with the auction sale. The winning bidder had already paid the winning bid. The legal fees had already been remitted to the HLURB. The judgment award had already been turned over to the judgment creditor. What was left to be done was only the issuance of the corresponding certificates of sale to the winning bidder. In fact, only the signature of the HLURB Director for that purpose was needed58 - a purely ministerial act.

A purely ministerial act or duty is one which an officer or tribunal performs in a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of a legal authority, without regard for or the exercise of his own judgment upon the propriety or impropriety of the act done. If the law imposes a duty upon a public officer and gives him the right to decide how or when the duty shall be performed, such duty is discretionary and not ministerial. The duty is ministerial only when the discharge of the same requires neither the exercise of official discretion nor judgment.59 In the present case, all the requirements of auction sale under the Rules have been fully complied with to warrant the issuance of the corresponding certificates of sale.

And even if the Court should go into the merits of the assailed Order, the petition is meritorious on the following grounds:

Firstly, the reliance of the HLURB Arbiter and Director, as well as the CA, on Barrozo v. Macaraeg60 and Buan v. Court of Appeals61 is misplaced.

The HLURB and the CA misconstrued the Court's pronouncements in Barrozo. Barrozo involved a judgment debtor who wanted to repurchase properties sold at execution beyond the one-year redemption period. The statement of the Court in Barrozo, that "only where such inadequacy shocks the conscience the courts will intervene," is at best a mere obiter dictum. This declaration should be taken in the context of the other declarations of the Court in Barrozo, to wit:

Another point raised by appellant is that the price paid at the auction sale was so inadequate as to shock the conscience of the court. Supposing that this issue is open even after the one-year period has expired and after the properties have passed into the hands of third persons who may have paid a price higher than the auction sale money, the first thing to consider is that the stipulation contains no statement of the reasonable value of the properties; and although defendant' answer avers that the assessed value was P3,960 it also avers that their real market value was P2,000 only. Anyway, mere inadequacy of price - which was the complaint' allegation - is not sufficient ground to annul the sale. It is only where such inadequacy shocks the conscience that the courts will intervene. x x x Another consideration is that the assessed value being P3,960 and the purchase price being in effect P1,864 (P464 sale price plus P1,400 mortgage lien which had to be discharged) the conscience is not shocked upon examining the prices paid in the sales in National Bank v. Gonzales, 45 Phil., 693 and Guerrero v. Guerrero, 57 Phil., 445, sales which were left undisturbed by this Court.

Furthermore, where there is the right to redeem ' as in this case ' inadequacy of price should not be material because the judgment debtor may re-acquire the property or else sell his right to redeem and thus recover any loss he claims to have suffered by reason of the price obtained at the execution sale.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied).62

In other words, gross inadequacy of price does not nullify an execution sale. In an ordinary sale, for reason of equity, a transaction may be invalidated on the ground of inadequacy of price, or when such inadequacy shocks one's conscience as to justify the courts to interfere; such does not follow when the law gives the owner the right to redeem as when a sale is made at public auction,63 upon the theory that the lesser the price, the easier it is for the owner to effect redemption.64 When there is a right to redeem, inadequacy of price should not be material because the judgment debtor may re-acquire the property or else sell his right to redeem and thus recover any loss he claims to have suffered by reason of the price obtained at the execution sale.65 Thus, respondent stood to gain rather than be harmed by the low sale value of the auctioned properties because it possesses the right of redemption. More importantly, the subject matter in Barrozo is the auction sale, not the levy made by the Sheriff.

The Court does not sanction the piecemeal interpretation of a decision. To get the true intent and meaning of a decision, no specific portion thereof should be isolated and resorted to, but the decision must be considered in its entirety.66

As regards Buan, it is cast under an entirely different factual milieu. It involved the levy on two parcels of land owned by the judgment debtor; and the sale at public auction of one was sufficient to fully satisfy the judgment, such that the levy and attempted execution of the second parcel of land was declared void for being in excess of and beyond the original judgment award granted in favor of the judgment creditor.

In the present case, the Sheriff complied with the mandate of Section 9, Rule 39 of the Revised Rules of Court, to "sell only a sufficient portion" of the levied properties "as is sufficient to satisfy the judgment and the lawful fees." Each of the 15 levied properties was successively bidded upon and sold, one after the other until the judgment debt and the lawful fees were fully satisfied. Holly Properties Realty Corporation successively bidded upon and bought each of the levied properties for the total amount of P5,450,653.33 in full satisfaction of the judgment award and legal fees.67

Secondly, the Rules of Court do not require that the value of the property levied be exactly the same as the judgment debt; it can be less or more than the amount of debt. This is the contingency addressed by Section 9, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. In the levy of property, the Sheriff does not determine the exact valuation of the levied property. Under Section 9, Rule 39, in conjunction with Section 7, Rule 57 of the Rules of Court, the sheriff is required to do only two specific things to effect a levy upon a realty: (a) file with the register of deeds a copy of the order of execution, together with the description of the levied property and notice of execution; and (b) leave with the occupant of the property copy of the same order, description and notice.68 Records do not show that respondent alleged non-compliance by the Sheriff of said requisites.

Thirdly, in determining what amount of property is sufficient out of which to secure satisfaction of the execution, the Sheriff is left to his own judgment. He may exercise a reasonable discretion, and must exercise the care which a reasonably prudent person would exercise under like conditions and circumstances, endeavoring on the one hand to obtain sufficient property to satisfy the purposes of the writ, and on the other hand not to make an unreasonable and unnecessary levy.69 Because it is impossible to know the precise quantity of land or other property necessary to satisfy an execution, the Sheriff should be allowed a reasonable margin between the value of the property levied upon and the amount of the execution; the fact that the Sheriff levies upon a little more than is necessary to satisfy the execution does not render his actions improper.70 Section 9, Rule 39, provides adequate safeguards against excessive levying. The Sheriff is mandated to sell so much only of such real property as is sufficient to satisfy the judgment and lawful fees.

In the absence of a restraining order, no error, much less abuse of discretion, can be imputed to the Sheriff in proceeding with the auction sale despite the pending motion to quash the levy filed by the respondents with the HLURB. It is elementary that sheriffs, as officers charged with the delicate task of the enforcement and/or implementation of judgments, must, in the absence of a restraining order, act with considerable dispatch so as not to unduly delay the administration of justice; otherwise, the decisions, orders, or other processes of the courts of justice and the like would be futile.71 It is not within the jurisdiction of the Sheriff to consider, much less resolve, respondent's objection to the continuation of the conduct of the auction sale. The Sheriff has no authority, on his own, to suspend the auction sale. His duty being ministerial, he has no discretion to postpone the conduct of the auction sale.

Finally, one who attacks a levy on the ground of excessiveness carries the burden of sustaining that contention.72 In the determination of whether a levy of execution is excessive, it is proper to take into consideration encumbrances upon the property, as well as the fact that a forced sale usually results in a sacrifice; that is, the price demanded for the property upon a private sale is not the standard for determining the excessiveness of the levy.73

Here, the HLURB Arbiter and Director had no sufficient factual basis to determine the value of the levied property. Respondent only submitted an Appraisal Report, based merely on surmises. The Report was based on the projected value of the townhouse project after it shall have been fully developed, that is, on the assumption that the residential units appraised had already been built. The Appraiser in fact made this qualification in its Appraisal Report: "[t]he property subject of this appraisal has not been constructed. The basis of the appraiser is on the existing model units."74 Since it is undisputed that the townhouse project did not push through, the projected value did not become a reality. Thus, the appraisal value cannot be equated with the fair market value. The Appraisal Report is not the best proof to accurately show the value of the levied properties as it is clearly self-serving.

Therefore, the Order dated August 28, 2000 of HLURB Arbiter Aquino and Director Ceniza in HLRB Case No. IV6-071196-0618 which set aside the sheriff's levy on respondent's real properties, was clearly issued with grave abuse of discretion. The CA erred in affirming said Order.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated October 30, 2002 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 60981 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Order dated August 28, 2000 of HLURB Arbiter Ma. Perpetua Y. Aquino and Director Belen G. Ceniza in HLRB Case No. IV6-071196-0618 is declared NULL and VOID. HLURB Arbiter Aquino and Director Ceniza are directed to issue the corresponding certificates of sale in favor of the winning bidder, Holly Properties Realty Corporation. Petitioner is ordered to return to respondent the amount of P2,125,540.00, without interest, in excess of the proceeds of the auction sale delivered to petitioner. After the finality of herein judgment, the amount of P2,125,540.00 shall earn 6% interest until fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

Ynares-Santiago, J., Chairperson, Chico-Nazario, Nachura, Reyes, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and concurred in by Associate Justices Eliezer R. de Los Santos (now deceased) and Amelita G. Tolentino, CA rollo, p. 443.

2 Id. at 48.

3 Id. at 50.

4 Id. at 46.

5 Id. at 51.

6 Id. at 66.

7 Id. at 75.

8 Id. at 76.

9 Id. at 78-129.

10 Id. at 81, 85, 89, 93, 97, 101, 105, 109, 113, 117, 121, 125 and 129.

11 Id. at 130.

12 Id. at 140 and 151.

13 Id. at 136.

14 Id. at 210.

15 Id. at 191-207.

16 Supra note 14.

17 Id. at 38.

18 Id. at 42-43.

19 Id. at 44.

20 Supra note 1.

21 83 Phil. 378 (1949).

22 G.R. No. 101614, August 17, 1994, 235 SCRA 424.

23 Applying by analogy the ruling in Commissioner on Higher Education v. Mercado, G.R. No. 157877, March 10, 2006, 484 SCRA 424, 432, a party may elevate a decision of the Court of Appeals before the Supreme Court by way of a Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, without the benefit of a prior motion for reconsideration.

24 Rollo, p. 19.

25 Constitution, (1987), Article XII, Section 3.

Sec. 3. Lands of the public domain are classified into agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands, and national parks. Agricultural lands of the public domain may be classified by law according to the uses to which they may be devoted. Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands. Private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease, for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and not to exceed one thousand hectares in area. Citizens of the Philippines may lease not more than five hundred hectares, or acquire not more than twelve hectares thereof by purchase, homestead, or grant.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied).

26 Id. at Section 2.

Sec. 2. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens. x x x (Emphasis supplied).

27 Muller v. Muller, G.R. No. 149615, August 29, 2006, 500 SCRA 65, 71; Frenzel v. Catito, G.R. No. 143958, July 11, 2003, 406 SCRA 55, 69; Ong Ching Po v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113472-73, December 20, 1994, 239 SCRA 341, 346.

28 Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines (1991), Vol. IV, p. 629; Tongoy v. Court of Appeals, 208 Phil. 95, 113 (1983).

29 Id. at 632; Tongoy v. Court of Appeals, id.

30 Sodhi, Latin Words and Phrases for Lawyers (1980), p. 115.

31 Moreno, Philippine Law Dictionary (1988), p. 451, citing Rellosa v. Gaw Chee Hun, 93 Phil. 827, 831, (1953).

32 Vitug, Civil Law Annotated, Vol. III (2003), pp. 159-160.

33 Art. 1411. When the nullity proceeds from the illegality of the cause or object of the contract, and the act constitutes a criminal offense, both parties being in pari delicto, they shall have no action against each other, and both shall be prosecuted. Moreover, the provisions of the Penal Code relative to the disposal of effects or instruments of a crime shall be applicable to the things or the price of the contract.

This rule shall be applicable when only one of the parties is guilty; but the innocent one may claim what he has given, and shall not be bound to comply with his promise.

Art.1412. If the act in which the unlawful or forbidden cause consists does not constitute a criminal offense, the following rule shall be observed:

(1) When the fault is on the part of both contracting parties, neither may recover what he has given by virtue of the contract, or demand the performance of the other's undertaking;

(2) When only one of the contracting parties is at fault, he cannot recover what he has given by reason of the contract, or ask for the fulfillment of what has been promised him. The other who is not at fault, may demand the return of what he has given without any obligation to comply with his promise.

34 Art. 1413. Interest paid in excess of the interest allowed by the usury laws may be recovered by the debtor, with interest thereon from the date of the payment.

35 Art. 1414. When money is paid or property delivered for an illegal purpose, the contract may be repudiated by one of the parties before the purpose has been accomplished, or before any damage has been caused to a third person. In such case, the courts may, if the public interest will thus be subserved, allow the party repudiating the contract to recover the money or property.

36 Art. 1415. Where one of the parties to an illegal contract is incapable of giving consent, the courts may, if the interest of justice so demands, allow recovery of money or property delivered by the incapacitated person.

37 Art. 1416. When the agreement is not illegal per se but is merely prohibited, and the prohibition by the law is designed for the protection of the plaintiff, he may, if public policy is thereby enhanced, recover what he has paid or delivered.

38 Art. 1417. When the price of any article or commodity is determined by statute, or by authority of law, any person paying any amount in excess of the maximum price allowed may recover such excess.

39 Art. 1418. When the law fixes, or authorizes the fixing of the maximum number of hours of labor, and a contract is entered into whereby a laborer undertakes to work longer than the maximum thus fixed, he may demand additional compensation for service rendered beyond the time limit.

Art. 1419. When the law sets, or authorizes the setting of a minimum wage for laborers, and a contract is agreed upon by which a laborer accepts a lower wage, he shall be entitled to recover the deficiency.

40 Ayala Life Assurance, Inc. v. Ray Burton Development Corporation, G.R. No. 163075, January 23, 2006, 479 SCRA 462, 468-469; Dijamco v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113665, October 7, 2004, 440 SCRA 190, 197.

41 Philippine National Bank v. Court of Appeals, 330 Phil. 1048, 1067 (1996); Rose Packing Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-33084, November 14, 1988, 167 SCRA 309, 318; Lim v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 85733, February 23, 1990, 182 SCRA 564, 570.

42 Sacobia Hills Development Corporation v. Ty, G.R. No. 165889, September 20, 2005, 470 SCRA 395, 404; Coronel v. Court of Appeals, 331 Phil. 294, 309 (1996).

43 Menchavez v. Teves, Jr., G.R. No. 153201, January 26, 2005, 449 SCRA 380, 393.

44 Eastern Shipping Lines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 97412, July 12, 1994, 234 SCRA 78, 95.

45 Peña v. Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), G.R No. 159520, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 383, 404; Siy v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 158971, August 25, 2005, 468 SCRA 154, 161-162; Sacdalan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128967, May 20, 2004, 428 SCRA 586, 599.

46 Peña v. Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), supra note 45; Siy v. National Labor Relations Commission, supra note 45, at 162; Sacdalan v. Court of Appeals, supra note 45.

47 Pilapil v. Heirs of Maximino R. Briones, G.R. No. 150175, February 5, 2007, citing Gomez v. Concepcion, 47 Phil. 717, 722-723 (1925).

48 Security Bank & Trust Company v. Court of Appeals, 319 Phil. 312, 317 (1995).

49 66 Am Jur 2d Restitution and Implied Contracts - 3.

50 Tamio v. Ticson, G.R. No. 154895, November 18, 2004, 443 SCRA 44, 55.

51 Agcaoili v. Government Service Insurance System, G.R. No. L-30056, August 30, 1988, 165 SCRA 1, 9; Air Manila, Inc. v. Court of Industrial Relations, G.R. No. L-39742, June 9, 1978, 83 SCRA 579, 589.

52 Sheriff's Return dated May 3, 2000, CA rollo, pp. 208-210.

53 Rules of Court, Rule 57, Section 7:

Sec. 7. Attachment of real and personal property; recording thereof. - Real and personal property shall be attached by the sheriff executing the writ in the following manner:

(a) Real property, or growing crops thereon, standing upon the record of the registry of deeds of the province in the name of the party against whom attachment is issued, or not appearing at all upon such records, or belonging to the party against whom attachment is issued and held by any other person, or standing on the records of the registry of deeds in the name of any other person, by filing with the registry of deeds a copy of the order, together with a description of the property attached, and a notice that it is attached, or that such real property and any interest therein held by or standing in the name of such other person are attached, and by leaving a copy of such order, description, and notice with the occupant of the property, if any, or with such other person or his agent if found within the province. Where the property has been brought under the operation of either the Land Registration Act or the Property Registration Decree, the notice shall contain a reference to the number of the certificate of title, the volume and page in the registration book where the certificate is registered, and the registered owner or owners thereof.

The registrar must index attachments filed under this paragraph in the names both of the applicant, the adverse party, or the person by whom the property is held or in whose name it stands in the records. x x x.

x x x

54 Moran, Comments on the Rules of Court, Vol. II, p. 297 (1980).

55 Caja v. Nanquil, A.M. No. P-04-1885, September 13, 2004, 438 SCRA 174, 191; Cagayan de Oro Coliseum, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 378 Phil. 498, 523 (1999); Fiestan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 81552, May 28, 1990, 185 SCRA 751, 757; Del Rosario v. Hon. Yatco, 125 Phil. 396, 399 (1966); Llenares v. Valdeavella, 46 Phil. 358, 360 (1924).

56 Cagayan de Oro Coliseum, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, supra note 55, at 523-524; Francisco, The Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines, Vol. II, p. 700 (1968), citing 33 C.J.S. 234; Del Rosario v. Yatco, supra note 55.

57 Caja v. Nanquil, supra note 55.

58 CA rollo, pp. 191-207.

59 Espiridion v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 146933, June 8, 2006, 490 SCRA 273, 277; Codilla, Sr. v. de Venecia, 442 Phil. 139, 189 (2002).

60 Supra note 21.

61 Supra note 22.

62 Supra note 21, at 380-381.

63 Revised Rules of Court, Rule 39, Section 28, provides:

SEC. 28. Time and manner of, and amounts payable on, successive redemptions; notice to be given and filed. - The judgment obligor, or redemptioner, may redeem the property from the purchaser, at any time within one (1) year from the date of the registration of the certificate of sale, by paying the purchaser the amount of his purchase, with one per centum per month interest thereon in addition, up to the time of redemption, together with the amount of any assessments or taxes which the purchaser may have paid thereon after purchase, and interest on such last named amount of the same rate; and if the purchaser be also a creditor having a prior lien to that of the redemptioner, other than the judgment under which such purchase was made, the amount of such other lien, with interest.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied).

64 Philippine National Bank v. Court of Appeals, 367 Phil. 508, 522 (1999); Sulit v. Court of Appeals, 335 Phil. 914, 927 (1997); The Abaca Corporation of the Philippines v. Garcia, 338 Phil. 988, 993 (1997); Tiongco v. Philippine Veterans Bank, G.R. No. 82782, August 5, 1992, 212 SCRA 176, 189-190.

65 Suico Rattan & Buri Interiors, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 138145, June 15, 2006, 490 SCRA 560, 579, citing Prudential Bank v. Martinez, G.R. No. 51768, September 14, 1990, 189 SCRA 612, 617; Development Bank of the Philippines v. Moll, 150 Phil. 101, 107 (1972).

66 Telefunken Semiconductors Employees Union v. Court of Appeals, 401 Phil. 776, 800 (2000); Valderrama v. National Labor Relations Commission, 326 Phil. 477, 484 (1996); Policarpio v. Philippine Veterans Board and Associated Insurance & Surety Co., Inc., 106 Phil. 125, 131 (1959).

67 CA rollo, p. 210.

68 Cagayan de Oro Coliseum, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, supra note 55, at 524; Philippine Surety & Insurance Company, Inc. v. Zabal, 128 Phil. 714, 718 (1967). See also Martin, Civil Procedure, Vol. I, p. 806 (1989).

69 30 Am Jr 2d Executions and Enforcement of Judgments - 122.

70 Id.

71 Security Bank Corporation v. Gonzalbo, A.M. No. P-06-2139, March 23, 2006, 485 SCRA 136, 145-146; Zarate v. Untalan, A.M. No. MTJ-05-1584, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 206, 216; Mendoza v. Tuquero, 412 Phil. 435, 442 (2001).

72 30 Am Jr 2d Executions and Enforcement of Judgments - 122.

73 Id. at - 123, citing French v. Snyder, 30 Ill 339.

74 CA rollo, p. 152.

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