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G.R. No. 151815 - SPOUSES JUAN NUGUID, ET AL. v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL.

G.R. No. 151815 - SPOUSES JUAN NUGUID, ET AL. v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 151815 : February 23, 2005]

SPOUSES JUAN NUGUID AND ERLINDA T. NUGUID, Petitioners, v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS AND PEDRO P. PECSON, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari of the Decision1 dated May 21, 2001, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 64295, which modified the Order dated July 31, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 101 in Civil Case No. Q-41470. The trial court ordered the defendants, among them petitioner herein Juan Nuguid, to pay respondent herein Pedro P. Pecson, the sum of P1,344,000 as reimbursement of unrealized income for the period beginning November 22, 1993 to December 1997. The appellate court, however, reduced the trial court's award in favor of Pecson from the said P1,344,000 to P280,000. Equally assailed by the petitioners is the appellate court's Resolution2 dated January 10, 2002, denying the motion for reconsideration.

It may be recalled that relatedly in our Decision dated May 26, 1995, in G.R. No. 115814, entitled Pecson v. Court of Appeals, we set aside the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 32679 and the Order dated November 15, 1993, of the RTC of Quezon City, Branch 101 and remanded the case to the trial court for the determination of the current market value of the four-door two-storey apartment building on the 256-square meter commercial lot.

The antecedent facts in this case are as follows:

Pedro P. Pecson owned a commercial lot located at 27 Kamias Road, Quezon City, on which he built a four-door two-storey apartment building. For failure to pay realty taxes, the lot was sold at public auction by the City Treasurer of Quezon City to Mamerto Nepomuceno, who in turn sold it for P103,000 to the spouses Juan and Erlinda Nuguid.

Pecson challenged the validity of the auction sale before the RTC of Quezon City in Civil Case No. Q-41470. In its Decision,3 dated February 8, 1989, the RTC upheld the spouses' title but declared that the four-door two-storey apartment building was not included in the auction sale.4 This was affirmed in toto by the Court of Appeals and thereafter by this Court, in its Decision5 dated May 25, 1993, in G.R. No. 105360 entitled Pecson v. Court of Appeals.

On June 23, 1993, by virtue of the Entry of Judgment of the aforesaid decision in G.R. No. 105360, the Nuguids became the uncontested owners of the 256-square meter commercial lot.

As a result, the Nuguid spouses moved for delivery of possession of the lot and the apartment building.

In its Order6 of November 15, 1993, the trial court, relying upon Article 5467 of the Civil Code, ruled that the Spouses Nuguid were to reimburse Pecson for his construction cost of P53,000, following which, the spouses Nuguid were entitled to immediate issuance of a writ of possession over the lot and improvements. In the same order the RTC also directed Pecson to pay the same amount of monthly rentals to the Nuguids as paid by the tenants occupying the apartment units or P21,000 per month from June 23, 1993, and allowed the offset of the amount of P53,000 due from the Nuguids against the amount of rents collected by Pecson from June 23, 1993 to September 23, 1993 from the tenants of the apartment.8

Pecson duly moved for reconsideration, but on November 8, 1993, the RTC issued a Writ of Possession,9 directing the deputy sheriff to put the spouses Nuguid in possession of the subject property with all the improvements thereon and to eject all the occupants therein.

Aggrieved, Pecson then filed a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 32679 with the Court of Appeals.

In its decision of June 7, 1994, the appellate court, relying upon Article 44810 of the Civil Code, affirmed the order of payment of construction costs but rendered the issue of possession moot on appeal, thus:

WHEREFORE, while it appears that private respondents [spouses Nuguid] have not yet indemnified petitioner [Pecson] with the cost of the improvements, since Annex I shows that the Deputy Sheriff has enforced the Writ of Possession and the premises have been turned over to the possession of private respondents, the quest of petitioner that he be restored in possession of the premises is rendered moot and academic, although it is but fair and just that private respondents pay petitioner the construction cost of P53,000.00; and that petitioner be ordered to account for any and all fruits of the improvements received by him starting on June 23, 1993, with the amount of P53,000.00 to be offset therefrom.

IT IS SO ORDERED.11 [Underscoring supplied.]

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pecson filed a Petition for Review docketed as G.R. No. 115814 before this Court.

On May 26, 1995, the Court handed down the decision in G.R. No 115814, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 32679 and the Order of 15 November 1993 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 101, Quezon City in Civil Case No. Q-41470 are hereby SET ASIDE.

The case is hereby remanded to the trial court for it to determine the current market value of the apartment building on the lot. For this purpose, the parties shall be allowed to adduce evidence on the current market value of the apartment building. The value so determined shall be forthwith paid by the private respondents [Spouses Juan and Erlinda Nuguid] to the petitioner [Pedro Pecson] otherwise the petitioner shall be restored to the possession of the apartment building until payment of the required indemnity.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.12 [Emphasis supplied.]

In so ruling, this Court pointed out that: (1) Article 448 of the Civil Code is not apposite to the case at bar where the owner of the land is the builder, sower, or planter who then later lost ownership of the land by sale, but may, however, be applied by analogy; (2) the current market value of the improvements should be made as the basis of reimbursement; (3) Pecson was entitled to retain ownership of the building and, necessarily, the income therefrom; (4) the Court of Appeals erred not only in upholding the trial court's determination of the indemnity, but also in ordering Pecson to account for the rentals of the apartment building from June 23, 1993 to September 23, 1993.

On the basis of this Court's decision in G.R. No. 115814, Pecson filed a Motion to Restore Possession and a Motion to Render Accounting, praying respectively for restoration of his possession over the subject 256-square meter commercial lot and for the spouses Nuguid to be directed to render an accounting under oath, of the income derived from the subject four-door apartment from November 22, 1993 until possession of the same was restored to him.

In an Order13 dated January 26, 1996, the RTC denied the Motion to Restore Possession to the plaintiff averring that the current market value of the building should first be determined. Pending the said determination, the resolution of the Motion for Accounting was likewise held in abeyance.

With the submission of the parties' assessment and the reports of the subject realty, and the reports of the Quezon City Assessor, as well as the members of the duly constituted assessment committee, the trial court issued the following Order14 dated October 7, 1997, to wit:

On November 21, 1996, the parties manifested that they have arrived at a compromise agreement that the value of the said improvement/building is P400,000.00 The Court notes that the plaintiff has already received P300,000.00. However, when defendant was ready to pay the balance of P100,000.00, the plaintiff now insists that there should be a rental to be paid by defendants. Whether or not this should be paid by defendants, incident is hereby scheduled for hearing on November 12, 1997 at 8:30 a.m.

Meantime, defendants are directed to pay plaintiff the balance of P100,000.00.

SO ORDERED.15

On December 1997, after paying the said P100,000 balance to Pedro Pecson the spouses Nuguid prayed for the closure and termination of the case, as well as the cancellation of the notice of lis pendens on the title of the property on the ground that Pedro Pecson's claim for rentals was devoid of factual and legal bases.16

After conducting a hearing, the lower court issued an Order dated July 31, 1998, directing the spouses to pay the sum of P1,344,000 as reimbursement of the unrealized income of Pecson for the period beginning November 22, 1993 up to December 1997. The sum was based on the computation of P28,000/month rentals of the four-door apartment, thus:

The Court finds plaintiff's motion valid and meritorious. The decision of the Supreme Court in the aforesaid case [Pecson v. Court of Appeals, 244 SCRA 407] which set aside the Order of this Court of November 15, 1993 has in effect upheld plaintiff's right of possession of the building for as long as he is not fully paid the value thereof. It follows, as declared by the Supreme Court in said decision that the plaintiff is entitled to the income derived therefrom, thus'

. . .

Records show that the plaintiff was dispossessed of the premises on November 22, 1993 and that he was fully paid the value of his building in December 1997. Therefore, he is entitled to the income thereof beginning on November 22, 1993, the time he was dispossessed, up to the time of said full payment, in December 1997, or a total of 48 months.

The only question left is the determination of income of the four units of apartments per month. But as correctly pointed out by plaintiff, the defendants have themselves submitted their affidavits attesting that the income derived from three of the four units of the apartment building is P21,000.00 or P7,000.00 each per month, or P28,000.00 per month for the whole four units. Hence, at P28,000.00 per month, multiplied by 48 months, plaintiff is entitled to be paid by defendants the amount of P1,344,000.00.17

The Nuguid spouses filed a motion for reconsideration but this was denied for lack of merit.18

The Nuguid couple then appealed the trial court's ruling to the Court of Appeals, their action docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 64295.

In the Court of Appeals, the order appealed from in CA-G.R. CV No. 64295, was modified. The CA reduced the rentals from P1,344,000 to P280,000 in favor of the appellee.19 The said amount represents accrued rentals from the determination of the current market value on January 31, 199720 until its full payment on December 12, 1997.

Hence, petitioners state the sole assignment of error now before us as follows:

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING PETITIONERS LIABLE TO PAY RENT OVER AND ABOVE THE CURRENT MARKET VALUE OF THE IMPROVEMENT WHEN SUCH WAS NOT PROVIDED FOR IN THE DISPOSITIVE PORTION OF THE SUPREME COURT'S RULING IN G.R. No. 115814.

Petitioners call our attention to the fact that after reaching an agreed price of P400,000 for the improvements, they only made a partial payment of P300,000. Thus, they contend that their failure to pay the full price for the improvements will, at most, entitle respondent to be restored to possession, but not to collect any rentals. Petitioners insist that this is the proper interpretation of the dispositive portion of the decision in G.R. No. 115814, which states in part that "[t]he value so determined shall be forthwith paid by the private respondents [Spouses Juan and Erlinda Nuguid] to the petitioner [Pedro Pecson] otherwise the petitioner shall be restored to the possession of the apartment building until payment of the required indemnity."21

Now herein respondent, Pecson, disagrees with herein petitioners' contention. He argues that petitioners are wrong in claiming that inasmuch as his claim for rentals was not determined in the dispositive portion of the decision in G.R. No. 115814, it could not be the subject of execution. He points out that in moving for an accounting, all he asked was that the value of the fruits of the property during the period he was dispossessed be accounted for, since this Court explicitly recognized in G.R. No. 115814, he was entitled to the property. He points out that this Court ruled that "[t]he petitioner [Pecson] not having been so paid, he was entitled to retain ownership of the building and, necessarily, the income therefrom."22 In other words, says respondent, accounting was necessary. For accordingly, he was entitled to rental income from the property. This should be given effect. The Court could have very well specifically included rent (as fruit or income of the property), but could not have done so at the time the Court pronounced judgment because its value had yet to be determined, according to him. Additionally, he faults the appellate court for modifying the order of the RTC, thus defeating his right as a builder in good faith entitled to rental from the period of his dispossession to full payment of the price of his improvements, which spans from November 22, 1993 to December 1997, or a period of more than four years.

It is not disputed that the construction of the four-door two-storey apartment, subject of this dispute, was undertaken at the time when Pecson was still the owner of the lot. When the Nuguids became the uncontested owner of the lot on June 23, 1993, by virtue of entry of judgment of the Court's decision, dated May 25, 1993, in G.R. No. 105360, the apartment building was already in existence and occupied by tenants. In its decision dated May 26, 1995 in G.R. No. 115814, the Court declared the rights and obligations of the litigants in accordance with Articles 448 and 546 of the Civil Code. These provisions of the Code are directly applicable to the instant case.

Under Article 448, the landowner is given the option, either to appropriate the improvement as his own upon payment of the proper amount of indemnity or to sell the land to the possessor in good faith. Relatedly, Article 546 provides that a builder in good faith is entitled to full reimbursement for all the necessary and useful expenses incurred; it also gives him right of retention until full reimbursement is made.

While the law aims to concentrate in one person the ownership of the land and the improvements thereon in view of the impracticability of creating a state of forced co-ownership,23 it guards against unjust enrichment insofar as the good-faith builder's improvements are concerned. The right of retention is considered as one of the measures devised by the law for the protection of builders in good faith. Its object is to guarantee full and prompt reimbursement as it permits the actual possessor to remain in possession while he has not been reimbursed (by the person who defeated him in the case for possession of the property) for those necessary expenses and useful improvements made by him on the thing possessed.24 Accordingly, a builder in good faith cannot be compelled to pay rentals during the period of retention25 nor be disturbed in his possession by ordering him to vacate. In addition, as in this case, the owner of the land is prohibited from offsetting or compensating the necessary and useful expenses with the fruits received by the builder-possessor in good faith. Otherwise, the security provided by law would be impaired. This is so because the right to the expenses and the right to the fruits both pertain to the possessor, making compensation juridically impossible; and one cannot be used to reduce the other.26

As we earlier held, since petitioners opted to appropriate the improvement for themselves as early as June 1993, when they applied for a writ of execution despite knowledge that the auction sale did not include the apartment building, they could not benefit from the lot's improvement, until they reimbursed the improver in full, based on the current market value of the property.

Despite the Court's recognition of Pecson's right of ownership over the apartment building, the petitioners still insisted on dispossessing Pecson by filing for a Writ of Possession to cover both the lot and the building. Clearly, this resulted in a violation of respondent's right of retention. Worse, petitioners took advantage of the situation to benefit from the highly valued, income-yielding, four-unit apartment building by collecting rentals thereon, before they paid for the cost of the apartment building. It was only four years later that they finally paid its full value to the respondent.

Petitioners' interpretation of our holding in G.R. No. 115814 has neither factual nor legal basis. The decision of May 26, 1995, should be construed in connection with the legal principles which form the basis of the decision, guided by the precept that judgments are to have a reasonable intendment to do justice and avoid wrong.27

The text of the decision in G.R. No. 115814 expressly exempted Pecson from liability to pay rentals, for we found that the Court of Appeals erred not only in upholding the trial court's determination of the indemnity, but also in ordering him to account for the rentals of the apartment building from June 23, 1993 to September 23, 1993, the period from entry of judgment until Pecson's dispossession. As pointed out by Pecson, the dispositive portion of our decision in G.R. No. 115814 need not specifically include the income derived from the improvement in order to entitle him, as a builder in good faith, to such income. The right of retention, which entitles the builder in good faith to the possession as well as the income derived therefrom, is already provided for under Article 546 of the Civil Code.

Given the circumstances of the instant case where the builder in good faith has been clearly denied his right of retention for almost half a decade, we find that the increased award of rentals by the RTC was reasonable and equitable. The petitioners had reaped all the benefits from the improvement introduced by the respondent during said period, without paying any amount to the latter as reimbursement for his construction costs and expenses. They should account and pay for such benefits.

We need not belabor now the appellate court's recognition of herein respondent's entitlement to rentals from the date of the determination of the current market value until its full payment. Respondent is clearly entitled to payment by virtue of his right of retention over the said improvement.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The Decision dated May 21, 2001 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 64295 is SET ASIDE and the Order dated July 31, 1998, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 101, Quezon City, in Civil Case No. Q-41470 ordering the herein petitioners, Spouses Juan and Erlinda Nuguid, to account for the rental income of the four-door two-storey apartment building from November 1993 until December 1997, in the amount of P1,344,000, computed on the basis of Twenty-eight Thousand (P28,000.00) pesos monthly, for a period of 48 months, is hereby REINSTATED. Until fully paid, said amount of rentals should bear the legal rate of interest set at six percent (6%) per annum computed from the date of RTC judgment. If any portion thereof shall thereafter remain unpaid, despite notice of finality of this Court's judgment, said remaining unpaid amount shall bear the rate of interest set at twelve percent (12%) per annum computed from the date of said notice. Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 6-17. Penned by Associate Justice Fermin A. Martin, Jr., with Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos, and Mercedes Gozo-Dadole concurring.

2 Id. at 19-20. Penned by Associate Justice Mercedes Gozo-Dadole, with Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos, and Rebecca de Guia-Salvador concurring.

3 Records, Vol. 1, pp. 501-510.

4 Ibid.

5 222 SCRA 580-586.

6 Records, Vol. 2, pp. 578-580.

7 Art. 546. Necessary expenses shall be refunded to every possessor; but only the possessor in good faith may retain the thing until he has been reimbursed therefor.

Useful expenses shall be refunded only to the possessor in good faith with the same right of retention, the person who has defeated him in the possession having the option of refunding the amount of the expenses or of paying the increase in value which the thing may have acquired by reason thereof.

8 Records, Vol. 2, p. 580.

9 Id. at 587.

10 Art. 448. The owner of the land on which anything has been built, sown or planted in good faith, shall have the right to appropriate as his own the works, sowing or planting, after payment of the indemnity provided for in Articles 546 and 548, or to oblige the one who built or planted to pay the price of the land, and the one who sowed, the proper rent. However, the builder or planter cannot be obliged to buy the land if its value is considerably more than that of the building or trees. In such case, he shall pay reasonable rent, if the owner of the land does not choose to appropriate the building or trees after proper indemnity. The parties shall agree upon the terms of the lease and in case of disagreement, the court shall fix the terms thereof.

11 Records, Vol. 2, p. 744.

12 Pecson v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 115814, 26 May 1995, 244 SCRA 407, 416-417.

13 Records, Vol. 2, pp. 706-707.

14 Id. at 824.

15 Ibid.

16 Id. at 832-833.

17 Rollo, pp. 74-75; CA Rollo, pp. 25-26; Records, Vol. 2, pp. 836-837.

18 Records, Vol. 2, p. 861.

19 Rollo, p. 44.

20 Records, Vol. 2, p. 805.

21 Rollo, p. 37.

22 Supra, note 12 at 416.

23 2 Edgardo L. Paras, Civil Code of the Philippines Annotated 205 (1999 ed.) citing 3 Manresa 213 (4th Ed).

24 Ortiz v. Kayanan, No. L-32974, 30 July 1979, 92 SCRA 146, 159.

25 San Diego v. Hon. Montesa, No. L-17985, 29 September 1962, 116 Phil. 512, 515.

26 2 Arturo M. Tolentino, Commentaries and Jurisprudence on the Civil Code of the Philippines 261 (1983 ed.) citing 4 Manresa 290.

27 See Republic of the Philippines v. Hon. De Los Angeles, G.R. No. L-26112, 4 October 1971, 148-B Phil. 902, 924.

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