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G.R. NO. 176422 - Maria Mendoza, et al. v. Julia Policarpio, et al.

G.R. NO. 176422 - Maria Mendoza, et al. v. Julia Policarpio, et al.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. NO. 176422 : March 20, 2013

MARIA MENDOZA, in her own capacity and as Attorney-in-fact of DEOGRACIAS, MARCELA, DIONISIA, ADORA CION, all surnamed MENDOZA, REMEDIOS MONTILLA, FELY BAUTISTA, JULIANA GUILALAS and ELVIRA MENDOZA, Petitioners, v.JULIA POLl CARPIO DELOS SANTOS, substituted by her heirs, CARMEN P. DELOS SANTOS, ROSA BUENA VENTURA, ZENAIDA P. DELOS SANTOS VDA. DE MATEO, LEONILA P. DELOS SANTOS, ELVIRA P. DELOS SANTOS VDA. DE JOSE, TERESITA P. DELOS SANTOS-CABUHAT, MERCEDITA P. DELOS SANTOS, LYDIA P. DELOS SANTOS VDA. DE HILARIO, PERFECTO P. DELOS SANTOS, JR., and CECILIA M. MENDOZA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

REYES, J.:

Reserva troncal is a special rule designed primarily to assure the return of a reservable property to the third degree relatives belonging to the line from which the property originally came, and avoid its being dissipated into and by the relatives of the inheriting ascendant.1chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The Facts

The properties subject in the instant case are three parcels of land located in Sta. Maria, Bulacan: (1) Lot 1681-B, with an area of 7,749 square meters;2 (2) Lot 1684, with an area of 5,667 sq m;3 and (3) Lot No. 1646-B, with an area of 880 sq m.4 Lot Nos. 1681-B and 1684 are presently in the name of respondent Julia Delos Santos5 (respondent). Lot No. 1646-B, on the other hand, is also in the name of respondent but co-owned by Victoria Pantaleon, who bought one-half of the property from petitioner Maria Mendoza and her siblings.

Petitioners are grandchildren of Placido Mendoza (Placido) and Dominga Mendoza (Dominga). Placido and Dominga had four children: Antonio, Exequiel, married to Leonor, Apolonio and Valentin. Petitioners Maria, Deogracias, Dionisia, Adoracion, Marcela and Ricardo are the children of Antonio. Petitioners Juliana, Fely, Mercedes, Elvira and Fortunato, on the other hand, are Valentin's children. Petitioners alleged that the properties were part of Placido and Dominga's properties that were subject of an oral partition and subsequently adjudicated to Exequiel. After Exequiel's death, it passed on to his spouse Leonor and only daughter, Gregoria. After Leonor's death, her share went to Gregoria. In 1992, Gregoria died intestate and without issue. They claimed that after Gregoria's death, respondent, who is Leonor's sister, adjudicated unto herself all these properties as the sole surviving heir of Leonor and Gregoria. Hence, petitioners claim that the properties should have been reserved by respondent in their behalf and must now revert back to them, applying Article 891 of the Civil Code on reserva troncal.

Respondent, however, denies any obligation to reserve the properties as these did not originate from petitioners' familial line and were not originally owned by Placido and Dominga. According to respondent, the properties were bought by Exequiel and Antonio from a certain Alfonso Ramos in 1931. It appears, however, that it was only Exequiel who was in possession of the properties.6chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos, Bulacan, Branch 6, found merit in petitioners' claim and granted their action for Recovery of Possession by Reserva Troncal, Cancellation of TCT and Reconveyance. In its Decision dated November 4, 2002, the RTC disposed as follows:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

WHEREFORE, premised from the foregoing judgment is hereby rendered:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

1. Ordering respondents (heirs of Julia Policarpio) to reconvey the three (3) parcels of land subject of this action in the name of the plaintiffs enumerated in the complaint including intervenor Maria Cecilia M. Mendoza except one-half of the property described in the old title, TCT No. T-124852(M) which belongs to Victorina Pantaleon;cralawlibrary

2. Ordering the Register of Deeds of Bulacan to cancel the titles in the name of Julia Policarpio, TCT No. T-149033(M), T-183631(M) and T-149035(M) and reconvey the same to the enumerated plaintiffs; and

3. No pronouncement as to claims for attorney's fees and damages and costs.

SO ORDERED.7chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) reversed and set aside the RTC decision and dismissed the complaint filed by petitioners. The dispositive portion of the CA Decision dated November 16, 2006 provides:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the November 4, 2002 Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Br. 6, Third Judicial Region, Malolos, Bulacan, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Third Amended Complaint in Civil Case No. 609-M-92 is hereby DISMISSED. Costs against the Plaintiffs-Appellants.

SO ORDERED.8chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration but the CA denied the same per Resolution9 dated January 17, 2007.

In dismissing the complaint, the CA ruled that petitioners failed to establish that Placido and Dominga owned the properties in dispute.10 The CA also ruled that even assuming that Placido and Dominga previously owned the properties, it still cannot be subject to reserva troncal as neither Exequiel predeceased Placido and Dominga nor did Gregoria predecease Exequiel.11chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Now before the Court, petitioners argue that:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

A.

THE HONORABLE [CA] GRIEVOUSLY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES ARE NOT RESERVABLE PROPERTIES, COMING AS THEY DO FROM THE FAMILY LINE OF THE PETITIONERS MENDOZAS.

B.

THE HONORABLE [CA] GRIEVOUSLY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE PETITIONERS MENDOZAS DO NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO THE SUBJECT PROPERTIES BY VIRTUE OF THE LAW ON RESERVA TRONCAL.12chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Petitioners take exception to the ruling of the CA, contending that it is sufficient that the properties came from the paternal line of Gregoria for it to be subject to reserva troncal. They also claim the properties in representation of their own predecessors, Antonio and Valentin, who were the brothers of Exequiel.13chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Ruling of the Court

This petition is one for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. The general rule in this regard is that it should raise only questions of law. There are, however, admitted exceptions to this rule, one of which is when the CA's findings are contrary to those of the trial court.14 This being the case in the petition at hand, the Court must now look into the differing findings and conclusion of the RTC and the CA on the two issues that arise one, whether the properties in dispute are reservable properties and two, whether petitioners are entitled to a reservation of these properties.

Article 891 of the Civil Code on reserva troncal

The principle of reserva troncal is provided in Article 891 of the Civil Code:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Art. 891. The ascendant who inherits from his descendant any property which the latter may have acquired by gratuitous title from another ascendant, or a brother or sister, is obliged to reserve such property as he may have acquired by operation of law for the benefit of relatives who are within the third degree and belong to the line from which said property came. (Emphasis ours)

There are three (3) lines of transmission in reserva troncal. The first transmission is by gratuitous title, whether by inheritance or donation, from an ascendant/brother/sister to a descendant called the prepositus. The second transmission is by operation of law from the prepositus to the other ascendant or reservor, also called the reservista. The third and last transmission is from the reservista to the reservees or reservatarios who must be relatives within the third degree from which the property came.15chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The lineal character of the
reservable property is reckoned
from the ascendant from whom the
prepositus received the property by
gratuitous title

Based on the circumstances of the present case, Article 891 on reserva troncal is not applicable.

-----

The fallacy in the CA's resolution is that it proceeded from the erroneous premise that Placido is the ascendant contemplated in Article 891 of the Civil Code. From thence, it sought to trace the origin of the subject properties back to Placido and Dominga, determine whether Exequiel predeceased Placido and whether Gregoria predeceased Exequiel.

The persons involved in reserva troncal are:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

(1) The ascendant or brother or sister from whom the property was received by the descendant by lucrative or gratuitous title;cralawlibrary

(2) The descendant or prepositus (propositus) who received the property;cralawlibrary

(3) The reservor (reservista), the other ascendant who obtained the property from the prepositus by operation of law; and

(4) The reservee (reservatario) who is within the third degree from the prepositus and who belongs to the (linea o tronco) from which the property came and for whom the property should be reserved by the reservor.16chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

It should be pointed out that the ownership of the properties should be reckoned only from Exequiel's as he is the ascendant from where the first transmission occurred, or from whom Gregoria inherited the properties in dispute. The law does not go farther than such ascendant/brother/sister in determining the lineal character of the property.17 It was also immaterial for the CA to determine whether Exequiel predeceased Placido and Dominga or whether Gregoria predeceased Exequiel. What is pertinent is that Exequiel owned the properties and he is the ascendant from whom the properties in dispute originally came. Gregoria, on the other hand, is the descendant who received the properties from Exequiel by gratuitous title.

Moreover, Article 891 simply requires that the property should have been acquired by the descendant or prepositus from an ascendant by gratuitous or lucrative title. A transmission is gratuitous or by gratuitous title when the recipient does not give anything in return.18 At risk of being repetitious, what was clearly established in this case is that the properties in dispute were owned by Exequiel (ascendant). After his death, Gregoria (descendant/prepositus) acquired the properties as inheritance.

Ascendants, descendants and
collateral relatives under Article
964 of the Civil Code

Article 891 provides that the person obliged to reserve the property should be an ascendant (also known as the reservor/reservista) of the descendant/prepositus. Julia, however, is not Gregoria's ascendant; rather, she is Gregoria's collateral relative.

Article 964 of the Civil Code provides for the series of degrees among ascendants and descendants, and those who are not ascendants and descendants but come from a common ancestor, viz:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Art. 964. A series of degrees forms a line, which may be either direct or collateral. A direct line is that constituted by the series of degrees among ascendants and descendants.

A collateral line is that constituted by the series of degrees among persons who are not ascendants and descendants, but who come from a common ancestor. (Emphasis and italics ours)

Gregoria's ascendants are her parents, Exequiel and Leonor, her grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. On the other hand, Gregoria's descendants, if she had one, would be her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Not being Gregoria's ascendants, both petitioners and Julia, therefore, are her collateral relatives. In determining the collateral line of relationship, ascent is made to the common ancestor and then descent to the relative from whom the computation is made. In the case of Julia's collateral relationship with Gregoria, ascent is to be made from Gregoria to her mother Leonor (one line/degree), then to the common ancestor, that is, Julia and Leonor's parents (second line/degree), and then descent to Julia, her aunt (third line/degree). Thus, Julia is Gregoria's collateral relative within the third degree and not her ascendant.

First cousins of the
descendant/prepositus are fourth
degree relatives and cannot be
considered reservees/reservatarios

Moreover, petitioners cannot be considered reservees/reservatarios as they are not relatives within the third degree of Gregoria from whom the properties came. The person from whom the degree should be reckoned is the descendant/prepositus―the one at the end of the line from which the property came and upon whom the property last revolved by descent.19 It is Gregoria in this case. Petitioners are Gregoria's fourth degree relatives, being her first cousins. First cousins of the prepositus are fourth degree relatives and are not reservees or reservatarios.20chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

They cannot even claim representation of their predecessors Antonio and Valentin as Article 891 grants a personal right of reservation only to the relatives up to the third degree from whom the reservable properties came. The only recognized exemption is in the case of nephews and nieces of the prepositus, who have the right to represent their ascendants (fathers and mothers) who are the brothers/sisters of the prepositus and relatives within the third degree.21 In Florentino v. Florentino,22 the Court stated:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Following the order prescribed by law in legitimate succession, when there are relatives of the descendant within the third degree, the right of the nearest relative, called reservatario, over the property which the reservista (person holding it subject to reservation) should return to him, excludes that of the one more remote. The right of representation cannot be alleged when the one claiming same as a reservatario of the reservable property is not among the relatives within the third degree belong to the line from which such property came, inasmuch as the right granted by the Civil Code in Article 811 now Article 891 is in the highest degree personal and for the exclusive benefit of the designated persons who are the relatives, within the third degree, of the person from whom the reservable property came. Therefore, relatives of the fourth and the succeeding degrees can never be considered as reservatarios, since the law does not recognize them as such.

x x x Nevertheless there is right of representation on the part of reservatarios who are within the third degree mentioned by law, as in the case of nephews of the deceased person from whom the reservable property came. x x x.23 (Emphasis and underscoring ours)

The conclusion, therefore, is that while it may appear that the properties are reservable in character, petitioners cannot benefit from reserva troncal. First, because Julia, who now holds the properties in dispute, is not the other ascendant within the purview of Article 891 of the Civil Code and second, because petitioners are not Gregoria's relatives within the third degree. Hence, the CA's disposition that the complaint filed with the RTC should be dismissed, only on this point, is correct. If at all, what should apply in the distribution of Gregoria's estate are Articles 1003 and 1009 of the Civil Code, which provide:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Art. 1003. If there are no descendants, ascendants, illegitimate children, or a surviving spouse, the collateral relatives shall succeed to the entire estate of the deceased in accordance with the following articles.

Art. 1009. Should there be neither brothers nor sisters, nor children of brothers or sisters, the other collateral relatives shall succeed to the estate.

The latter shall succeed without distinction of lines or preference among them by reason of relationship by the whole blood.

Nevertheless, the Court is not in the proper position to determine the proper distribution of Gregoria's estate at this point as the cause of action relied upon by petitioners in their complaint filed with the RTC is based solely on reserva troncal. Further, any determination would necessarily entail reception of evidence on Gregoria's entire estate and the heirs entitled thereto, which is best accomplished in an action filed specifically for that purpose.

A reservista acquires ownership of
the reservable property until the
reservation takes place or is
extinguished

Before concluding, the Court takes note of a palpable error in the RTC's disposition of the case. In upholding the right of petitioners over the properties, the RTC ordered the reconveyance of the properties to petitioners and the transfer of the titles in their names. What the RTC should have done, assuming for argument's sake that reserva troncal is applicable, is have the reservable nature of the property registered on respondent's titles. In fact, respondent, as reservista, has the duty to reserve and to annotate the reservable character of the property on the title.24 In reserva troncal, the reservista who inherits from a prepositus, whether by the latter's wish or by operation of law, acquires the inheritance by virtue of a title perfectly transferring absolute ownership. All the attributes of ownership belong to him exclusively.25chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The reservor has the legal title and dominion to the reservable property but subject to the resolutory condition that such title is extinguished if the reservor predeceased the reservee. The reservor is a usufructuary of the reservable property. He may alienate it subject to the reservation. The transferee gets the revocable and conditional ownership of the reservor. The transferee's rights are revoked upon the survival of the reservees at the time of the death of the reservor but become indefeasible when the reservees predecease the reservor.26 (Citations omitted)

It is when the reservation takes place or is extinguished,27 that a reservatario becomes, by operation of law, the owner of the reservable property.28 In any event, the foregoing discussion does not detract from the fact that petitioners are not entitled to a reservation of the properties in dispute.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated November 16, 2006 and Resolution dated January 17, 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 77694 insofar as it dismissed the Third Amended Complaint in Civil Case No. 609-M-92 are AFFIRMED. This Decision is without prejudice to any civil action that the heirs of Gregoria

Mendoza may file for the settlement of her estate or for the determination of ownership of the properties in question.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


1 De Papa v. Camacho, 228 Phil. 269, 274-275 (1986).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

2 Covered by TCT No. T-149035 (M) (formerly TCT No. T-101248 [M]).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

3 Covered by TCT No. T-183631 (M) (formerly TCT No. T-139184 [M]).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

4 Covered by TCT No. T-149033 (M) (formerly TCT No. T-124852 [M]).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

5 Respondent was subsequently substituted by her heirs.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

6 Rollo, p. 38.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

7 Id. at 50.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

8 Id. at 40.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

9 Id. at 42-43.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

10 Id. at 37.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

11 Id. at 39.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

12 Id. at 19.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

13 Id. at 19-25.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

14 Maglana Rice and Corn Mill, Inc. v. Tan, G.R. NO. 159051, September 21, 2011, 658 SCRA 58, 64-65.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

15 Gonzales v. CFI of Manila (Br. V), et al., 192 Phil. 1, 12 (1981).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

16 Id. at 12-13.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

17 Tolentino, A.M., COMMENTARIES AND JURISPRUDENCE ON THE CIVIL CODE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Vol. III, 2003 ed., p. 276, citing 6 Manresa 273, 6 Sanchez Roman 1020.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

18 Chua v. CFI of Negros Occidental, Br. V, 168 Phil. 571, 575 (1977).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

19 Supra note 15, at 14.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

20 Id.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

21 Florentino v. Florentino, 40 Phil. 480, 490 (1919).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

22 40 Phil. 480 (1919).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

23 Id. at 489-490.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

24 Sumaya v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 278 Phil. 201, 210-211 (1991).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

25 Edroso v. Sablan, 25 Phil. 295, 307-308 (1913).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

26 Supra note 15, at 15.ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

27 Dizon and Dizon v. Galang, 48 Phil. 60 I, 603-604 (1926).ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

28 Supra note 15, at 17.

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