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G.R. No. 182839, June 02, 2014 - PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK, Petitioner, v. JOSE GARCIA AND CHILDREN NORA GARCIA, JOSE GARCIA, JR., BOBBY GARCIA AND JIMMY GARCIA AND HEIRS OF ROGELIO GARCIA NAMELY: CELEDONIO GARCIA, DANILO GARCIA, ELSA GARCIA, FERMIN GARCIA, HEHERSON GARCIA, GREGORIO GARCIA, IMELDA GARCIA AND JANE GARCIA, Respondent.

G.R. No. 182839, June 02, 2014 - PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK, Petitioner, v. JOSE GARCIA AND CHILDREN NORA GARCIA, JOSE GARCIA, JR., BOBBY GARCIA AND JIMMY GARCIA AND HEIRS OF ROGELIO GARCIA NAMELY: CELEDONIO GARCIA, DANILO GARCIA, ELSA GARCIA, FERMIN GARCIA, HEHERSON GARCIA, GREGORIO GARCIA, IMELDA GARCIA AND JANE GARCIA, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 182839, June 02, 2014

PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK, Petitioner, v. JOSE GARCIA AND CHILDREN NORA GARCIA, JOSE GARCIA, JR., BOBBY GARCIA AND JIMMY GARCIA AND HEIRS OF ROGELIO GARCIA NAMELY: CELEDONIO GARCIA, DANILO GARCIA, ELSA GARCIA, FERMIN GARCIA, HEHERSON GARCIA, GREGORIO GARCIA, IMELDA GARCIA AND JANE GARCIA, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

BRION, J.:

We resolve this petition for review on certiorari1 assailing the decision2 dated September 26, 2007 and the resolution3 dated May 6, 2008 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CV No. 71356.

These challenged CA rulings reversed and set aside the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 23, Roxas, Isabela, dismissing Civil Case No. Branch 23-500-96 for lack of cause of action.

The Factual Background

The facts of the case, gathered from the records, are briefly summarized below.

The subject of the present case is a parcel of residential land with all its improvements (subject property) located in Barrio Olango, Mallig, Isabela. The land is covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-44422  under the name of Jose Garcia Sr. (Jose Sr.) who acquired the subject property during his marriage with Ligaya Garcia. Ligaya died on January 21, 1987.

The marriage of Jose Sr. and Ligaya produced the following children: Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy, all surnamed Garcia, who are the respondents in the present case.

Sometime in 1989,  the spouses Rogelio and Celedonia Garcia (Spouses Garcia) obtained a loan facility from the petitioner, Philippine National Bank (petitioner bank), initially for P150,000.00.  The loan was secured by a Real Estate Mortgage over their property covered by TCT No. 177585. The spouses Garcia increased their loan to P220,000.00 and eventually to P600,000.00. As security for the increased loan, they offered their property covered by TCT No. 75324 and the subject property covered by TCT No. T-44422.

Jose Sr.  agreed to accommodate the spouses Garcia by offering the subject property as additional collateral security for the latter’s increased loan. For this purpose, Jose Sr. executed Special Powers of Attorney (SPAs) dated April 14, 1992 and October 6, 1993, respectively, expressly authorizing the Spouses Garcia to apply for, borrow, or secure any loan from the petitioner bank, and to convey and transfer the subject property by way of mortgage.  Jose Sr. also executed  an Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage in favor of the petitioner bank. The SPAs and the Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage are both inscribed on TCT No. T-44422.  All of these transactions, however, were without the knowledge and consent of  Jose Sr.’s children.

On maturity of the loan on April 20, 1994,  the spouses Garcia failed to pay their loan to the petitioner bank despite repeated demands.

On January 12, 1996, the respondents filed before the RTC a Complaint for Nullity of the Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage, Damages with Preliminary Injunction against the spouses Garcia and the petitioner bank.  They claimed that the Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage was null and void as to respondents Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy as they were not parties to the contract.

The respondents alleged that the subject property was a conjugal property of Jose Sr. and his deceased spouse, Ligaya,  as they acquired  the subject property during their marriage; that upon Ligaya’s death, Jose Sr., together with his children Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy, by law, became owners pro indiviso of the subject property; that the petitioner bank was at fault for not including Jose Sr. as payee to the check representing the loan despite its knowledge that Jose Sr. was a signatory to the real estate mortgage; that the real estate mortgage executed by Jose Sr.  could not bind his children as they did not give their consent or approval to the encumbrance; and that the real estate mortgage was also void as to Jose Sr. since he never benefitted from the loan.

In their answer, the Spouses Garcia alleged that Jose Sr. was indebted to them in the amount of P133,800.00.  To settle this indebtedness, Jose Sr. volunteered to give the subject property as additional security for their (the Garcias’) loan to the petitioner bank.

The petitioner bank, on the other hand, claimed that the mortgage was made in good faith and for value, and maintained that the respondents’ complaint stated no cause of action against it. It alleged that the real estate mortgage over the properties was duly registered and inscribed on their titles and was thus binding on the whole world.

In the course of the proceedings, Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy executed an SPA dated May 31, 1996 authorizing Jose Sr. to act as their attorney-in-fact during the pretrial of the case.

The Ruling of the RTC

The RTC dismissed the complaint for lack of cause of action. The court held that the subject property was a conjugal property since it was acquired by Jose Sr. during his marriage with his now deceased wife. As a conjugal property, it is presumed that upon the death of his spouse, one-half of the property passed on to Jose Sr.,  while the other half  went to Jose and his children as co-owners and as forced heirs of his deceased spouse. Without the consent of the children, the trial court ruled that the conjugal property could only be transferred or encumbered to the extent of Jose Sr.’s share in the conjugal partnership, plus his share as an heir in the other half pertaining to the estate of his deceased spouse.

The RTC nevertheless declared that by virtue of the SPA executed by Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy in this suit, they are already estopped from questioning the mortgage and from alleging lack of consent or knowledge in the transaction. It held Jose Sr. liable as an accommodation party and upheld the petitioner bank’s right to collect the debt.

The respondents disagreed with the RTC ruling and elevated the case to the CA via an ordinary appeal.cra1awredjgc

The Ruling of the CA

On September 26, 2007, the CA upheld the trial court’s finding that the subject property was conjugal, but reversed and set aside its ruling in so far as it declared valid and binding the Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage between the petitioner bank, on one hand, and the spouses Garcia and Jose Sr., on the other hand, with respect to respondents Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy. Relying on the Court’s ruling in Nufable v. Nufable,4 the CA ruled that the encumbrance Jose Sr. made over the entire conjugal property, without his children’s conformity, was null and void because a mere part owner could not alienate the shares of the other co-owners.

The CA also declared that the conjugal property could only be liable to the extent of Jose Sr.’s shares; Jose Sr.’s acts could not affect his children’s pro-indiviso shares in the subject property.  It disagreed with the trial court’s estoppel theory and held that their execution of the SPA should not be construed as acquiescence to the mortgage transaction. Lastly, it ruled that Jose Sr. could not escape liability from the mortgage since he voluntarily bound himself as the Spouses Garcia’s accommodation mortgagor.cra1awredjgc

The petition

The petitioner bank disputes the CA’s finding that the subject property was conjugal in nature.  It argues that, as can be gleaned from TCT No. T-44422, the subject property was registered in the name of Jose Sr. alone, who was described in the title as “widower” and not “married.”  The petitioner bank posits that as a mortgagee in good faith, it had the right to rely on the mortgagor’s certificate of title; in the absence of any indication that could arouse suspicion, it had no obligation to undertake further investigation and verify whether the property was conjugal or was acquired during marriage or thereafter.

Since the subject property belonged to Jose Sr., insofar as petitioner bank as mortgagee was concerned, Jose Sr. had the right under Article 428 of the Civil Code to mortgage it without the consent of his children. Accordingly, the mortgage in its entirety should be declared valid.cra1awredjgc

The Comment

The respondents state that the issues raised by petitioner bank are essentially factual; hence, they are beyond the competence of this Court in a petition for review.  They submit that in a certiorari petition under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, only questions of law may be entertained because the Court is not a trier of facts.cra1awredjgc

The Court’s Ruling

We deny the petition for lack of merit.    

The petition before us raises both questions of fact and of law. Whether petitioner bank is a mortgagee in good faith and for value and whether the subject property was conjugal, are factual issues that this Court cannot look into as our examination would entail going into factual matters and records of the case. In Rule 45 petitions, only questions of law may be put into issue. Questions of fact cannot be entertained.5

Although there are exceptions to the rule that only questions of law may be raised in a petition for certiorari, the petitioner bank failed to show that this case falls under any of the established exceptions. Too, since the CA partially affirmed the findings of the trial court and absent any indication that these courts committed a serious error in its findings, this Court is bound by these courts’ findings.6

Moreover, even if we were to review the factual issues raised by the petitioner bank, we still find no reason to depart from the CA’s ruling.

The Subject Property is Conjugal
a. All property acquired during marriage
is presumed conjugal


Since Jose Sr. and Ligaya were married prior to the effectivity of the Family Code, their property relations were governed by the conjugal partnership of gains as provided under Article 119 of the Civil Code. Under Article 160 of the Civil Code, “all property of the marriage is presumed to belong to the conjugal partnership, unless it can be proven that it pertains exclusively to the husband or to the wife.”

In his testimony, Jose Sr. admitted that at the time he acquired the land through sale, he was already married. The material portion of his testimony is as follows:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Q:
Upon the death of your wife did you and your wife ever own a piece of land?
A:
Yes, sir.
Q:
Where is that land situated?
A:
In Centro, District 2, Mallig[,] Isabela.
Q:
Is that land titled in your names?
A:
Yes, sir.
xxxx
Q:
You and your wife acquired that piece of land?
A:
Yes, sir.
xxxx
Q:
May we know from you[,] Mr. Witness, how did you acquire this parcel of land presently embraced and covered by TCT No. T-44422?
A:
I purchased that piece of land from the Baniqued Family during my incumbency as Municipal Mayor, sir.
Q:
What was your civil status at the time you purchased that piece of land?
A:
I was already married, sir. (Emphasis ours, TSN, July 24, 1997, Jose Garcia Sr.)7

Because of the petitioner bank’s failure to rebut the allegation that the subject property was acquired during the former’s marriage to Ligaya, the legal presumption of the conjugal nature of the property, in line with Article 160 of the Civil Code, applies to this property. Proof of the subject property’s acquisition during the subsistence of marriage suffices to render the statutory presumption operative.8

b. Registration of the subject property in
the name of one spouse does not destroy
the presumption that the property is conjugal


The petitioner bank claims that the CA failed to consider that the subject property was registered in the name of Jose Sr. alone. Likewise, it raises the argument that Jose Sr.’s change of status in the subject property’s title from “married” to “widower” prior to the constitution of the real estate mortgage showed that the property was no longer conjugal.

We do not consider this argument persuasive. 

Registration of a property alone in the name of one spouse does not destroy its conjugal nature. What is material is the time when the property was acquired.9 The registration of the property is not conclusive evidence of the exclusive ownership of the husband or the wife. Although the property appears to be registered in the name of the husband, it has the inherent character of conjugal property if it was acquired for valuable consideration during marriage.10  It retains its conjugal nature.

In order to rebut the presumptive conjugal nature of the property, the petitioner must present strong, clear and convincing evidence of exclusive ownership of one of the spouses.11 The burden of proving that the property belongs exclusively to the wife or to the husband rests upon the party asserting it.

In the present case, aside from its allegation that the subject property is no longer conjugal and its assertion that it is a mortgagee in good faith, the petitioner bank offered no evidence, convincing to this Court, that the subject property exclusively belonged to Jose Sr.  As stated earlier, the petitioner bank failed to overcome the legal presumption that the disputed property was conjugal. Thus, the conclusion of both lower courts that the subject property was conjugal property holds.  Factual findings of the CA affirming those of the trial court are binding on this Court unless there is a clear showing that such findings are tainted with arbitrariness, capriciousness or palpable error.12

The conjugal partnership was converted
into an implied ordinary co-ownership
upon the death of Ligaya


Upon the death of Ligaya on January 21, 1987, the conjugal partnership was automatically dissolved and terminated pursuant to Article 175(1) of the Civil Code,13 and the successional rights of her heirs vest, as provided under Article 777 of the Civil Code,  which states that “[t]he rights to the succession are transmitted from the moment of the death of the decedent.”

Consequently, the conjugal partnership was converted into an implied ordinary co-ownership between the surviving spouse, on the one hand, and the heirs of the deceased, on the other.14 This resulting ordinary co-ownership among the heirs is governed by Article 493 of the Civil Code which reads:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Art. 493. Each co-owner shall have the full ownership of his part and of the fruits and benefits pertaining thereto, and he may therefore alienate, assign or mortgage it, and even substitute another person in its enjoyment, except when personal rights are involved. But the effect of the alienation of the mortgage, with respect to the co-owners shall be limited to the portion which may be allotted to him in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership.” (Emphasis supplied)ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Under this provision, each co-owner has the full ownership of his part or share in the co-ownership and may, therefore, alienate, assign or mortgage it except when personal rights are involved. Should a co-owner alienate or mortgage the co-owned property itself, the alienation or mortgage shall remain valid but only to the extent of the portion which may be allotted to him in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership.15 In Carvajal v. Court of Appeals,16 the Court said:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

While under Article 493 of the New Civil Code, each co-owner shall have the full ownership of his part and of the fruits and benefits pertaining thereto and he may alienate, assign or mortgage it, and even substitute another person in its enjoyment, the effect of the alienation or the mortgage with respect to the co-owners, shall be limited, by mandate of the same article, to the portion which may be allotted to him in the division upon the termination of the co-ownership. He has no right to sell or alienate a concrete, specific, or determinate part of the thing in common to the exclusion of the other co-owners because his right over the thing is represented by an abstract or Ideal portion without any physical adjudication.3 An individual co- owner cannot adjudicate to himself or claim title to any definite portion of the land or thing owned in common until its actual partition by agreement or judicial decree. Prior to that time all that the co-owner has is an Ideal or abstract quota or proportionate share in the entire thing owned in common by all the co-owners.4 What a co owner may dispose of is only his undivided aliquot share, which shall be limited to the portion that may be allotted to him upon partition. [emphasis supplied].

In the present case, Jose Sr. constituted the mortgage over the entire subject property after the death of Ligaya, but before the liquidation of the conjugal partnership.  While under Article 493 of the Civil Code, even if he had the right to freely mortgage or even sell his undivided interest in the disputed property, he could not dispose of or mortgage the entire property without his children’s consent. As correctly emphasized by the trial court, Jose Sr.’s right in the subject property is limited only to his share in the conjugal partnership as well as his share as an heir on the other half of the estate which is his deceased spouse’s share.  Accordingly, the mortgage contract is void insofar as it extends to the undivided shares of his children (Nora, Jose Jr., Bobby and Jimmy) because they did not give their consent to the transaction.17

Accordingly, the Amendment of Real Estate Mortgage constituted by Jose Sr. over the entire property without his co-owners’ consent is not necessarily void in its entirety. The right of the petitioner bank as mortgagee is limited though only to the portion which may be allotted to Jose Sr. in the event of a division and liquidation of the subject property.cra1awlaw1ibrary

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, we hereby AFFIRM the Decision dated September 26, 2007of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 71356.  Costs against petitioner Philippine National Bank.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Chairperson), Del Castillo, Perez, and Perlas-Bernabe, JJ., concur.cralawred

Endnotes:


1 Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, rollo, pp. 36-54.

2 Id. at pp. 10-33; penned by Associate Justice Edgardo F. Sundiam, and concurred in by Presiding Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr., and Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa.

3 Id. at pp. 31-33.

4 369 Phil. 135, 146. 1999. ­The Supreme Court ruled that: “a co-owner does not lose his part ownership of a co-owned property when his share is mortgaged by another co-owner without the former’s knowledge and consent as in the case at bar. It has likewise been ruled that the mortgage of the inherited property is not binding against co-heirs who never benefitted.”

5Century Iron Works, Inc. v. Banas, G.R. No. 184116, June 19, 2013, 699 SCRA 157, 166.

6Fuentes v. Court of Appeals, 335 Phil. 1163, 1168 (1997).

7Rollo, pp. 19-20.

8Go v. Yamane, 522 Phil. 653, 663 (2006).

9Tarrosa v. De Leon, G.R. No. 185063, July 23, 2009, 593 SCRA 768, 779.

10 Bucoy v. Paulino, 131 Phil. 790, 800 (1968).

11Dewara v. Lamela, G.R. No. 179010, April 11, 2011, 647 SCRA 483, 490.

12 Supra note 6.

13 Art. 175. The conjugal partnership of gains terminates:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

(1) Upon the death of either spouse;

14 Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. v. Pascual, G.R. No. 163744, February 29, 2008, 547 SCRA 246, 259.

15Aguirre v. CA, G.R. No. 122249, January 29, 2004, 421 SCRA 310, 323-324.

16 197 Phil. 913, 917 (1982).

17 570 Phil. 559, 571 (2008).
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