Home of ChanRobles Virtual Law Library

 

Home of Chan Robles Virtual Law Library

www.chanrobles.com

G.R. No. 150175 - ERLINDA PILAPIL, ET AL. v. HEIRS OF MAXIMINO R. BRIONES, ET AL.

G.R. No. 150175 - ERLINDA PILAPIL, ET AL. v. HEIRS OF MAXIMINO R. BRIONES, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 150175 : March 10, 2006]

ERLINDA PILAPIL, HEIRS OF DONATA ORTIZ BRIONES, namely: ESTELA, ERIBERTO AND VIRGILIO SANTOS, ANA SANTOS CULTURA, ELVIRA SANTOS INOCENTES, ERNESTO MENDOZA, RIZALINA SANTOS, ADOLFO MENDOZA and PACITA MENDOZA, Petitioners, v. HEIRS OF MAXIMINO R. BRIONES, namely: SILVERIO S. BRIONES, PETRA BRIONES, BONIFACIO CABAHUG, JR., ANITA TRASMONTE, CIRILITA FORTUNA, CRESENCIA BRIONES, FUGURACION MEDALLE and MERCEDES LAGBAS, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari, under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court, seeking the annulment and the setting aside of the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR CV No. 55194, dated 31 August 2001,1 affirming the decision of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 17, in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, dated 28 September 1986.2

Petitioners are the heirs of the late Donata Ortiz-Briones (Donata), consisting of her surviving sister, Rizalina Ortiz-Aguila (Rizalina); Rizalina's daughter, Erlinda Pilapil (Erlinda); and the other nephews and nieces of Donata, in representation of her two other sisters who had also passed away. Respondents, on the other hand, are the heirs of the late Maximino Briones (Maximino), composed of his nephews and nieces, and grandnephews and grandnieces, in representation of the deceased siblings of Maximino.

The facts that gave rise to the petition at bar are recounted as follows.

Maximino was married to Donata but their union did not produce any children. When Maximino died on 1 May 1952, Donata instituted intestate proceedings to settle her husband's estate with the Cebu City Court of First Instance (CFI), 14th Judicial District, designated as Special Proceedings No. 928-R. On 8 July 1952, the CFI issued Letters of Administration3 appointing Donata as the administratrix of Maximino's estate. She submitted an Inventory4 of Maximino's properties, which included, among other things, the following parcels of land '

1. Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. RT-599, acquired by Maximino prior to his marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21546);5

2. TCT No. RT-600, acquired by Maximino prior to his marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21545);6

3. TCT No. 220, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21543);7

4. TCT No. 221, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21544);8 and

5. TCT No. 702, acquired by Maximino during the marriage (now covered by TCT No. 21542).9

The CFI would subsequently issue an Order, dated 2 October 1952, awarding ownership of the aforementioned real properties to Donata. On 27 June 1960, Donata had the said CFI Order recorded in the Primary Entry Book of the Register of Deeds,10 and by virtue thereof, received new TCTs, covering the said properties, now in her name.

Donata died on 1 November 1977. Erlinda, one of Donata's nieces, instituted with the RTC a petition for the administration of the intestate estate of Donata. Erlinda and her husband, Gregorio, were appointed by the RTC as administrators of Donata's intestate estate. Controversy arose among Donata's heirs when Erlinda claimed exclusive ownership of three parcels of land, covered by TCTs No. 21542, 21545, and 58684, based on two Deeds of Donation, both dated 15 September 1977,11 allegedly executed in her favor by her aunt Donata. The other heirs of Donata opposed Erlinda's claim. This Court, however, was no longer informed of the subsequent development in the intestate proceedings of the estate of Donata; and as far as this Petition is concerned, all the heirs of Donata, including Erlinda, appear to be on the same side.

On 21 January 1985, Silverio Briones (Silverio), a nephew of Maximino, filed a Petition12 with the RTC for Letters of Administration13 for the intestate estate of Maximino, which was initially granted by the RTC. The RTC also issued an Order, dated 5 December 1985, allowing Silverio to collect rentals from Maximino's properties. But then, Gregorio filed with the RTC a Motion to Set Aside the Order, dated 5 December 1985, claiming that the said properties were already under his and his wife's administration as part of the intestate estate of Donata.14 Silverio's Letters of Administration for the intestate estate of Maximino was subsequently set aside by the RTC.15

On 3 March 1987, the heirs of Maximino filed a Complaint16 with the RTC against the heirs of Donata for the partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real property, docketed as Civil Case No. CEB-5794. They later filed an Amended Complaint,17 on 11 December 1992. They alleged that Donata, as administratrix of the estate of Maximino, through fraud and misrepresentation, in breach of trust, and without the knowledge of the other heirs, succeeded in registering in her name the real properties belonging to the intestate estate of Maximino.

In their Answer18 to the Complaint in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, the heirs of Donata raised, as affirmative and special defenses, the following '

1. The complaint does not state a sufficient cause of action against the defendants;

2. That the titles to the lots in question were legally transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz Briones since 1952 when the surviving heirs of Maximino Briones sold their rights over the said properties to the late Donata Ortiz Briones;

3. That even granting arguendo that plaintiffs have the right to question the transfer to the name of the late Donata Ortiz Briones the titles of the said lots any action of that effect has definitely prescribed for more than 30 years have already occurred when the titles to said lots were transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz Briones;

4. That moreover, even granting arguendo that there is an implied trust, an implied trust prescribed in 10 years from the day titles to said lots have been transferred to the name of the late Donata Ortiz Briones. Consequently, the plaintiff's action to enforce an implied trust has definitely prescribed;

5. Be that as it may, plaintiffs whose claim is merely in a representative capacity acquires no better right or title than that of their predecessor-in-interest.

After trial in due course, the RTC rendered its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, in favor of the heirs of Maximino,19 pertinent portions thereof are reproduced below'

When Donata Ortiz Briones filed Special Proceedings No. 928-R she was fully aware of the existence of the hereditary rights of the brothers and sisters of her husband Maximino S. Briones and their surviving heirs and it was her duty to have informed the Court of such fact instead of asking the Court to have her declared as the sole heir of her deceased husband in the alleged order mentioned by the defendants which was never presented at the trial but was made the basis of the transfer of all the titles of the real properties left by Maximino S. Briones to the name of Donata Ortiz Briones to the prejudice of the heirs of the brothers and sisters of Maximino S. Briones.

x x x x

By having the immovable properties of the deceased Maximino S. Briones transferred in her name as the sole heir of the said deceased despite her knowledge of the existence of other co-heirs like the plaintiffs, Donata Ortiz Briones's alleged ownership and possession of the subject properties in question was that of a trustee in an implied trust under Article 1451 of the New Civil Code x x x.

x x x x

In the absence of partition of the estate of Maximino S. Briones all the properties left upon his death remained owned in common by his heirs consisting of his surviving spouse and the heirs of his deceased brothers and sisters the herein plaintiffs. Donata Ortiz Briones's possession and transfer of the title in her name of her late husband's properties was no more than that of a co-owner and no prescription shall run in favor of a co-owner or co-heir against his co-owners or co-heirs so long as he expressly or impliedly recognizes the co-ownership (Last paragraph, Art. 494, New Civil Code). Such titles cannot be used as a shield to perpetrate fraud.

x x x x

Since the inventory filed by Donata Ortiz Briones (Exhibit B) has been adopted as Exhibit 3 by defendants Erlinda Pilapil, Rizalina Ortiz Aguila and the Mendozas, said defendants are bound by the contents thereof. Defendants, however, failed to show the order of the Court of First Instance of Cebu dated October 2, 1952 mentioned in the primary entry book (Exhibit 4) and marked as Exhibit 4-C, an omission which amounts to suppression of evidence which is presumed adverse to the defendant's interest when produced. This supposed declaration of heirs declaring the late Donata O. Briones as the sole, absolute and exclusive heir of the late Maximino S. Briones entered in the primary entry book in the office of the Register of Deeds of Cebu City has been made thru Donata O. Briones's misrepresentation to the Court as Administratrix of the estate of her husband Maximino S. Briones by failing to honestly disclose to the Court that the decedent was survived not only by his widow but also by his brothers and sisters and/or their children by right of representation which fact was known to her at the time of her husband's death.

Hence, the RTC declared that the heirs of Maximino were entitled to - of the real properties covered by TCTs No. 21542, 21543, 21544, 21545, 21546, and 58684. It also ordered Erlinda to reconvey to the heirs of Maximino the said properties and to render an accounting of the fruits thereof.

The heirs of Donata appealed the RTC Decision, dated 8 April 1986, to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, in its Decision,20 promulgated on 31 August 2001, affirmed the RTC Decision, ratiocinating thus'

The contentions of defendants-appellants are devoid of merit.

At the outset, the proceeding for the issuance of letters of administration was invalid. Firstly, Donata did not include in her petition for letters of administration the names, ages and residences of the heirs as required by Rule 79, Section 2(b) of the Rules of Court. Secondly, the court failed to give notice to the known heirs that a petition has been filed, and the time and place for hearing thereof as provided in Section 3 of the same rule, to give them ample opportunity to oppose it, if warranted. Thirdly, the court failed to do its specific duty to require proof, at the hearing of the petition, that the aforementioned notice has been given to the heirs in accordance with Section 5 of the same rule.

Consequently, the Order declaring Donata as the sole and exclusive heir would not be binding against herein plaintiffs-appellees.

x x x x

It should be noted that plaintiffs-appellees' cause of action was not based merely on fraud but was primarily anchored on their right to inheritance and to have a partition of the same, both of which are imprescriptible as a general rule. With marked relevance is the fact that their Complaint is for Partition, Annulment and Recovery of Possession of Real Property.

With respect to the argument on implied trust, We subscribe to the view that there existed an implied/constructive trust where, through fraudulent representations or by pretending to be the sole heir of the deceased, an heir succeeded in having the original title of a land in the name of the deceased cancelled and a new one issued in his name thereby enabling him to possess the land and get its produce. [Baysa v. Baysa, [CA] 53 O.G. 7282, October 1957]

This being so, the trustee may claim title by prescription founded on adverse possession where it appears that: (a) he has performed open and unequivocal acts of repudiation amounting to an ouster of the other co-owners; (b) such positive acts of repudiation have been made known to the other co-owners; and (c) the evidence thereon should be clear and convincing; and (d) the period fixed by law has prescribed. [De Leon, Partnership, Agency and Trusts, 4th Edition, 1996]

These conditions were not complied with in the case at bench. Assuming arguendo that the issuance of the TCT would constitute an open and clear repudiation of the trust, it is well to note however that the required period has not yet elapsed. Article 1137 [New Civil Code] provides that, "ownership and other real rights over immovables also prescribe through uninterrupted adverse possession thereof for thirty years, without need of title or of good faith." This period should be counted from the date the adverse title was asserted, that is, from the registration of the title. The TCTs covering the property in question were registered in 1960 or 27 years at the time of the filing of the Complaint in 1987.

Moreover, there is neither an adverse possession to speak of since Donata and the Heirs of Briones are deemed co-owners of the property in question in accordance with Article 1078. [New Civil Code] Hence, mere actual possession by Donata will not give rise to the inference that the possession was adverse. This is because Donata after all is entitled to possession of the property as a co-owner.

x x x x

Furthermore, it is a well-entrenched jurisprudential rule that a co-owner may not acquire exclusive ownership of common property thru prescription. [Castillo v. Court of Appeals, L-18046, March 31, 1964]

x x x x

In determining whether a delay in seeking to enforce a right constitutes laches, the existence of a confidential relationship between the parties is an important circumstance for consideration. The doctrine of laches is not strictly applied between near relatives, and the fact that parties are connected by ties of blood or marriage tends to excuse an otherwise unreasonable delay. [Gallardo v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. No. 67742, 29 October 1987]

Unsatisfied with the afore-quoted Decision of the Court of Appeals, the heirs of Donata filed the present Petition,21 raising the following errors:

I. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT FINDING THE CASE AS HAVING BEEN BARRED BY PRESCRIPTION;

II. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT FINDING THE CASE AS HAVING BEEN BARRED BY LACHES; AND

III. THAT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT ALL THE PROPERTIES, WHETHER CAPITAL PROPERTIES OF MAXIMINO OR CONJUGAL PROPERTIES OF MAXIMINO AND DONATA BRIONES, BE DIVIDED EQUALLY BETWEEN PETITIONERS AND RESPONDENTS.

Contrary to the conclusions of the Court of Appeals and the RTC in their respective Decisions, this Court finds the Petition at bar meritorious and dismisses the Complaint for partition, annulment, and recovery of possession of real property filed before the RTC by the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794. Not only is the Complaint barred by prior judgment, the complainants therein, the heirs of Maximino, failed to satisfactorily establish their right to the remedies prayed for therein.

Maximino left no will at the time of his death, on 1 May 1952, and his estate was to be settled in accordance with the rules on legal or intestate succession. The heirs of Maximino, respondents in the Petition at bar, claimed the right to inherit, together with Donata, from the estate of Maximino, based on the Articles 995 and 1001 of the New Civil Code, which read'

ART. 995. In the absence of legitimate descendants and ascendants, and illegitimate children and their descendants, whether legitimate or illegitimate, the surviving spouse shall inherit the entire estate, without prejudice to the rights of brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, should there be any, under article 1001.

ART. 1001. Should brothers and sisters or their children survive with the widow or widower, the latter shall be entitled to one-half of the inheritance and the brothers and sisters or their children to the other half.

The heirs of Maximino asserted that Donata had fraudulently excluded them from the intestate proceedings of the estate of Maximino before the CFI . They were not given notice of the institution of Special Proceedings No. 928-R and the scheduled hearings therein. When Donata was declared the "sole, absolute, and exclusive heir" of Maximino in the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, and when she managed to have the real properties of Maximino registered in her own name on the basis of the foregoing CFI Order, she should be deemed to have held the said properties in trust for her other co-heirs.

The RTC in its Decision, dated 8 April 1986, justified its finding of implied trust on Article 1451 of the New Civil Code, which provides that, "When land passes by succession to any person and he causes the legal title to be put in the name of another, a trust is established by implication of law for the benefit of the true owner." This Court, though, believes that Article 1451 is not applicable to the instant Petition considering that it refers to a situation wherein the heir himself causes the registration of his legal title under the name of another; the heir, by his voluntary action, establishes the implied trust and constitutes himself as the trustee. In contrast, in the Petition herein, Donata managed to have the real properties belonging to the estate of Maximino registered under her own name to the supposed exclusion of all other legal heirs of her deceased husband. In such a case, implied trust may be more appropriately in accordance with Article 1456 of the New Civil Code, which declares that, "If the property is acquired through mistake or fraud, the person obtaining it is, by force of law, considered a trustee of an implied trust for the benefit of the person from whom the property comes."

Now the foremost question that needs to be answered is whether an implied trust under Article 1456 of the New Civil Code had been sufficiently established in the instant Petition. This Court answers in the negative.

Since it was the respondents, heirs of Maximino, who claimed the existence of an implied trust, they bear the burden of proving that Donata registered in her own name the real properties belonging to the estate of Maximino either by fraud or mistake, pursuant to Article 1456 of the New Civil Code. The heirs of Maximino never contended that Donata may have registered the real properties in her name by mistake, but repeatedly maintain that she did so by fraud. Both the Court of Appeals and the RTC, in their respective Decisions, found that Donata secured the CFI Order, dated 02 October 1952, and the new TCTs covering the real properties in her name fraudulently.

While it is true that findings of fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are binding and conclusive upon this Court, such is not absolute, and there are recognized exceptions thereto. This Court justifies its departure from the general rule and the conduct of its own review of the evidence and other records in the Petition at bar, given that (1) the factual conclusions of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and conjecture; (2) the inference made were manifestly mistaken; and (3) the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals and the RTC are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based.22

At the onset, it should be emphasized that Donata was able to secure the TCTs covering the real properties belonging to the estate of Maximino by virtue of a CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952. It is undisputed that the said CFI Order was issued by the CFI in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, instituted by Donata herself, to settle the intestate estate of Maximino. The petitioners, heirs of Donata, were unable to present a copy of the CFI Order, but this is not surprising considering that it was issued 35 years prior to the filing by the heirs of Maximino of their Complaint in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 on 3 March 1987. The existence of such CFI Order, nonetheless, cannot be denied. It was recorded in the Primary Entry Book of the Register of Deeds on 27 June 1960, at 1:10 p.m., as Entry No. 1714.23 It was annotated on the TCTs covering the real properties as having declared Donata the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of Maximino. The non-presentation of the actual CFI Order was not fatal to the cause of the heirs of Donata considering that its authenticity and contents were never questioned. The allegation of fraud by the heirs of Maximino did not pertain to the CFI Order, but to the manner or procedure by which it was issued in favor of Donata. Moreover, the non-presentation of the CFI Order, contrary to the declaration by the RTC, does not amount to a willful suppression of evidence that would give rise to the presumption that it would be adverse to the heirs of Donata if produced.24 As this Court already expounded in the case of People v. Jumamoy25'

x x x We reiterate the rule that the adverse presumption from a suppression of evidence is not applicable when (1) the suppression is not willful; (2) the evidence suppressed or withheld is merely corroborative or cumulative; (3) the evidence is at the disposal of both parties; and (4) the suppression is an exercise of a privilege. Moreover, if the accused believed that the failure to present the other witnesses was because their testimonies would be unfavorable to the prosecution, he should have compelled their appearance, by compulsory process, to testify as his own witnesses or even as hostile witnesses.

If there is indeed a surviving copy of the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, then there is no reason to believe that it would be exclusively available only to the heirs of Donata and not to the heirs of Maximino. It is important to note that two of the documents relating to Special Proceedings No. 928-R, namely, (1) the Letters of Administration issued in favor of Donata by the CFI, and (2) the Inventory submitted by Donata to the CFI, were actually produced before the RTC in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 by the heirs of Maximino. It only goes to show that the heirs of Maximino did have access to the records of Special Proceedings No. 928-R in which the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, was issued. If there was still a copy of the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, in the records of Special Proceedings No. 928-R, and the contents of such Order were truly adverse to the heirs of Donata, then it would have been more compelling for the heirs of Maximino to present it before the RTC in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, with the aid of the appropriate court processes if necessary.

The CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, effectively settled the intestate estate of Maximino by declaring Donata as the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of her deceased husband. The issuance by the CFI of the said Order, as well as its conduct of the entire Special Proceedings No. 928-R, enjoy the presumption of validity pursuant to the Section 3(m) and (n) of Rule 131 of the Revised Rules of Court, reproduced below'

SEC. 3. Disputable presumptions. - The following presumptions are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence:

x x x x

(m) That official duty has been regularly performed;

(n) That a court, or judge acting as such, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere, was acting in the lawful exercise of jurisdiction.

By reason of the foregoing provisions, this Court must presume, in the absence of any clear and convincing proof to the contrary, that the CFI in Special Proceedings No. 928-R had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties, and to have rendered a judgment valid in every respect;26 and it could not give credence to the following statements made by the Court of Appeals in its Decision27'

At the outset, the proceeding for the issuance of letters of administration was invalid. Firstly, Donata did not include in her petition for letters of administration the names, ages and residences of the heirs as required by Rule 79, Section 2(b) of the Rules of Court. Secondly, the court failed to give notice to the known heirs that a petition has been filed, and the time and place for hearing thereof as provided in Section 3 of the same rule, to give them ample opportunity to oppose it, if warranted. Thirdly, the court failed to do its specific duty to require proof, at the hearing of the petition, that the aforementioned notice has been given to the heirs in accordance with Section 5 of the same rule.

There was totally no evidentiary basis for the foregoing pronouncements. First of all, the Petition filed by Donata for Letters of Administration in Special Proceedings No. 928-R before the CFI was not even referred to nor presented during the course of the trial of Civil Case No. CEB-5794 before the RTC. How then could the Court of Appeals make a finding that Donata willfully excluded from the said Petition the names, ages, and residences of the other heirs of Maximino? Second, there was also no evidence showing that the CFI actually failed to send notices of Special Proceedings No. 928-R to the heirs of Maximino or that it did not require presentation of proof of service of such notices. It should be remembered that there stands a presumption that the CFI Judge had regularly performed his duties in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, which included sending out of notices and requiring the presentation of proof of service of such notices; and, the heirs of Maximino did not propound sufficient evidence to debunk such presumption. They only made a general denial of knowledge of Special Proceedings No. 928-R, at least until 1985. There was no testimony or document presented in which the heirs of Maximino categorically denied receipt of notice from the CFI of the pendency of Special Proceedings No. 928-R. The only evidence on record in reference to the absence of notice of such proceedings was the testimony of Aurelia Briones (Aurelia),28 one of the heirs of Maximino, to wit'

Q When the husband of defendant Erlinda Pilapil was presented before this Court he testified that when the late Donata Ortiz filed a petition to be declared sole heir according to him the brothers and sisters of the late Maximino Briones were notified of the said hearing. What can you say about this, Ms. Witness?cralawlibrary

A No, I don't think they were notified. They would have contested their right to inherit their brother's property because he had no issue with his wife.

Q Likewise the same witness testified that at the time the petition was granted there was no opposition from the heirs. What can you say about this, Ms. Witness?cralawlibrary

A I don't think they were notified because I know they will contest that declaration.

Aurelia's testimony deserves scant credit considering that she was not testifying on matters within her personal knowledge. The phrase "I don't think" is a clear indication that she is merely voicing out her opinion on how she believed her uncles and aunts would have acted had they received notice of Special Proceedings No. 928-R.

In further support of their contention of fraud by Donata, the heirs of Maximino even emphasized that Donata lived along the same street as some of the siblings of Maximino and, yet, she failed to inform them of the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, and the issuance in her name of new TCTs covering the real properties which belonged to the estate of Maximino. This Court, however, appreciates such information differently. It actually works against the heirs of Maximino. Since they only lived nearby, Maximino's siblings had ample opportunity to inquire or discuss with Donata the status of the estate of their deceased brother. Some of the real properties, which belonged to the estate of Maximino, were also located within the same area as their residences in Cebu City, and Maximino's siblings could have regularly observed the actions and behavior of Donata with regard to the said real properties. It is uncontested that from the time of Maximino's death on 1 May 1952, Donata had possession of the real properties. She managed the real properties and even collected rental fees on some of them until her own death on 1 November 1977. After Donata's death, Erlinda took possession of the real properties, and continued to manage the same and collect the rental fees thereon. Donata and, subsequently, Erlinda, were so obviously exercising rights of ownership over the real properties, in exclusion of all others, which must have already put the heirs of Maximino on guard if they truly believed that they still had rights thereto.

The heirs of Maximino knew he died on 1 May 1952. They even attended his wake. They did not offer any explanation as to why they had waited 33 years from Maximino's death before one of them, Silverio, filed a Petition for Letters of Administration for the intestate estate of Maximino on 21 January 1985. After learning that the intestate estate of Maximino was already settled in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, they waited another two years, before instituting, on 3 March 1987, Civil Case No. CEB-5794, the Complaint for partition, annulment and recovery of the real property belonging to the estate of Maximino. The heirs of Maximino put off acting on their rights to the estate of Maximino for so long that when they finally did, attributing fraud to Maximino's wife, Donata, the latter had already passed away, on 1 November 1977, and was no longer around to explain and defend herself. The delay of the heirs of Maximino is not without consequence, as this Court explained in Ramos v. Ramos29'

Parenthetically, it may be noted that the filing of the instant case long after the death of Jose Ramos and other persons involved in the intestate proceeding renders it difficult to determine with certitude whether the plaintiffs had really been defrauded - What Justice Street said in Sinco v. Longa, 51 Phil. 507, 518-9 is relevant to this case:

"In passing upon controversies of this character experience teaches the danger of accepting lightly charges of fraud made many years after the transaction in question was accomplished, when death may have sealed the lips of the principal actors and changes effected by time may have given a totally different color to the cause of controversy. In the case before us the guardian, Emilio Tevez, is dead. The same is true of Trinidad Diago, mother of the defendant Agueda Longa; while Agapito Longa is now living in Spain. It will be borne in mind also that, insofar as oral proof is concerned, the charge of fraud rests principally on the testimony of a single witness who, if fraud was committed, was a participant therein and who naturally would now be anxious, so far as practicable, to put the blame on others. In this connection it is well to bear in mind the following impressive language of Mr. Justice Story:

"x x x But length of time necessarily obscures all human evidence; and as it thus removes from the parties all the immediate means to verify the nature of the original transactions, it operates by way of presumption, in favor of innocence, and against imputation of fraud. It would be unreasonable, after a great length of time, to require exact proof of all the minute circumstances of any transaction, or to expect a satisfactory explanation of every difficulty, real or apparent, with which it may be encumbered. The most that can fairly be expected, in such cases, if the parties are living, from the frailty of memory, and human infirmity, is, that the material facts can be given with certainty to a common intent; and, if the parties are dead, and the cases rest in confidence, and in parol agreements, the most that we can hope is to arrive at probable conjectures, and to substitute general presumptions of law, for exact knowledge. Fraud, or breach of trust, ought not lightly to be imputed to the living; for, the legal presumption is the other way; as to the dead, who are not here to answer for themselves, it would be the height of injustice and cruelty, to disturb their ashes, and violate the sanctity of the grave, unless the evidence of fraud be clear, beyond a reasonable doubt (Prevost v. Gratz, 6 Wheat. [U.S.], 481, 498)."

It is granted that the heirs of Maximino had rights to his intestate estate upon his death on 1 May 1952, by virtue of Articles 995 and 1005 of the New Civil Code. Nonetheless, the CFI, in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, had declared Donata as the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of Maximino in its Order, dated 2 October 1952. This Court, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, can only presume that Special Proceedings No. 928-R was fair and regular, which would consequently mean that the CFI complied with the procedural requirements for intestate proceedings such as publication and notice to interested parties, and that the CFI had carefully reviewed and studied the claims of creditors, as well as the rights of heirs to the estate, before issuing the Order, dated 2 October 1952. There is no showing that the Order, dated 2 October 1952, had been appealed and had, therefore, long attained finality, which even this Court would be bound to respect. Without doubt, if the action for partition, annulment, and recovery of possession instituted by the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 succeeds, then, it would be a circumvention of the finality of the CFI Order, dated 2 October 1952, in Special Proceedings No. 928-R, because, necessarily, a recognition of the rights of the other heirs to the estate of Maximino would violate the sole, absolute, and exclusive right of Donata to the same estate previously determined by the CFI. As this Court had discussed in Ramos v. Ortuzar30'

If we are to assume that Richard Hill and Marvin Hill did not formally intervene, still they would be concluded by the result of the proceedings, not only as to their civil status but as the distribution of the estate as well. As this Court has held in Manolo v. Paredes, 47 Phil. 938, "The proceeding for probate is one in rem (40 Cyc., 1265) and the court acquires jurisdiction over all persons interested, through the publication of the notice prescribed by sec. 630 C. P. C.; and any order that may be entered therein is binding against all of them." (See also in re Estate of Johnson, 39 Phil. 156) "A final order of distribution of the estate of a deceased person vests the title to the land of the estate in the distributees." (Santos vs. Roman Catholic Bishop of Nueva Caceres, 45 Phil. 895) There is no reason why, by analogy, these salutory doctrines should not apply to intestate proceedings.

The only instance that we can think of in which a party interested in a probate proceeding may have a final liquidation set aside is when he is left out by reason of circumstances beyond his control or through mistake or inadvertence not imputable to negligence. Even then, the better practice to secure relief is reopening of the same case by proper motion within the reglementary period, instead of an independent action the effect of which, if successful, would be, as in the instant case, for another court or judge to throw out a decision or order already final and executed and reshuffle properties long ago distributed and disposed of.

In summary, the heirs of Maximino failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Donata managed, through fraud, to have the real properties, belonging to the intestate estate of Maximino, registered in her name. In the absence of fraud, no implied trust was established between Donata and the heirs of Maximino under Article 1456 of the New Civil Code. Donata was able to register the real properties in her name, not through fraud or mistake, but pursuant to an Order, dated 2 October 1952, issued by the CFI in Special Proceedings No. 928-R. The CFI Order, presumed to be fairly and regularly issued, declared Donata as the sole, absolute, and exclusive heir of Maximino; hence, making Donata the singular owner of the entire estate of Maximino, including the real properties, and not merely a co-owner with the other heirs of her deceased husband. There being no basis for the Complaint of the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, the same should have been dismissed.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR CV No. 55194, dated 31 August 2001, affirming the Decision of the Cebu City RTC in Civil Case No. CEB-5794, dated 28

September 1986, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE; and the Complaint for partition, annulment, and recovery of possession filed by the heirs of Maximino in Civil Case No. CEB-5794 is hereby DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


* No part.

1 Penned by Associate Justice Mercedes Gozo-Dadole with Presiding Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez and Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos; Rollo, pp. 21-34.

2 Penned by Judge Jose P. Burgos; CA rollo, pp. 99-112.

3 RTC records, p. 8.

4 Id., pp. 9-13.

5 Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit 14, p. 34.

6 Id., Exhibit 12, p. 32.

7 Id., Exhibit 8, p. 27.

8 Id., Exhibit 10, p. 29.

9 Id., Exhibit 6, p. 25.

10 Id., Exhibit 4, p. 22.

11 Rollo, pp. 73-76.

12 Folder of Exhibits, Exhibit I, pp. 1-4.

13 Id., Exhibit J, p. 5.

14 Id., Exhibit K, pp. 6-9.

15 TSN, 22 June 1994, p. 5.

16 RTC records, pp. 1-7.

17 Id., pp. 162-167.

18 Id., pp. 54-56.

19 Supra note 2, pp. 107-109.

20 Supra note 1, pp. 28-33.

21 Rollo, p. 11.

22 A comprehensive list of the exceptions to the general rule was provided by this Court in Baricuatro, Jr. v. Court of Appeals [382 Phil. 15, 24-25 (2000)], which reads '

At the outset, it should be noted that the jurisdiction of this Court in a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court is limited to reviewing only errors of law. This Court is not a trier of facts. It is a settled doctrine that findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are binding and conclusive upon this Court. Such factual findings shall not be disturbed, unless: (1) the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and conjecture; (2) the inference made is manifestly mistaken; (3) there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case and its findings are contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellees; (7) the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) said findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents; and (10) the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record. x x x

23 Rule 130, Section 44 of the REVISED RULES OF COURT provides that: "Entries in official records made in the performance of his duty by a public officer of the Philippines, or by a person in the performance of a duty specially enjoined by law, are prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated."

24 Revised Rules of Court, Rule 131, Section 3(e).

25 G.R. No. 101584, 7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 333, 344-345.

26 REMEDIAL LAW, Vol. IV, Oscar M. Herrera, p. 85 (1999).

27 Supra note 1, p. 28.

28 TSN, 21 September 1995, pp. 2-3.

29 G.R. No. L-19872, 3 December 1974, 61 SCRA 284, 304-305.

30 89 Phil. 730, 741-742 (1951).

HomeJurisprudenceSupreme Court Decisions1911 : Philippine Supreme Court DecisionsTop of Page