In an action for recovery of possession of realty, who has the better right of possession, the registered owner armed with a Torrens title or the occupants brandishing a notarized but unregistered deed of sale executed before the land was registered under the Torrens system?
As we previously ruled in similar cases,1
we resolve the question in favor of the titleholder.Factual Antecedents
On August 3, 1995, petitioner filed a Complaint for Recovery of Possession and Damages2
before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. She alleged that on May 16, 1977, her husband Ignacio Aguilar (Ignacio) was issued Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. P-93543
over a 606-square meter parcel of land designated as Lot 83 situated in Brgy. Buenavista, Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. Prior thereto, or in 1968, Ignacio allowed petitioner's sister, Anastacia Urieta (Anastacia), mother of respondent Ederlina B. Alfaro (Ederlina), to construct a house on the southern portion of said land and to stay therein temporarily.
In 1994, Ignacio died and his heirs decided to partition Lot 83. Petitioner thus asked the respondents, who took possession of the premises after the death of Anastacia, to vacate Lot 83. They did not heed her demand.
Thus, petitioner filed a case for accion publiciana
praying that respondents be ordered to vacate subject property, and to pay moral, temperate, and exemplary damages, as well as attorney's fees and the costs of suit.
In their Answer with Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses,4
respondents did not dispute that Ignacio was able to secure title over the entire Lot 83. However, they asserted that on April 17, 1973, Ignacio and herein petitioner sold to their mother Anastacia the southern portion of Lot 83 consisting of 367.5 square meters as shown by the Kasulatan sa Bilihan5
which bears the signatures of petitioner and Ignacio. Since then, they and their mother have been in possession thereof. Respondents also presented several Tax Declarations6
in support of their allegations.
Respondents also raised the defense of prescription. They pointed out that accion publiciana
or an action to recover the real right of possession independent of ownership prescribes in 10 years. However, it took petitioner more than 25 years before she asserted her rights by filing accion publiciana.
As alleged in the complaint, they took possession of the disputed portion of Lot 83 as early as 1968, but petitioner filed the case only in 1995.
By way of counterclaim, respondents prayed that petitioner be directed to execute the necessary documents so that title to the 367.5-square meter portion of Lot 83 could be issued in their name. They likewise prayed for the dismissal of the complaint and for award of moral and exemplary damages, as well as attorney's fees.
In her Reply and Answer to Counterclaim,7
petitioner denied having signed the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
and averred that her signature appearing thereon is a forgery. She presented an unsworn written declaration dated January 28, 1994 where her husband declared that he did not sell the property in question to anyone. As to the issue of prescription, she asserted that respondents' occupation of subject property cannot ripen into ownership considering that the same is by mere tolerance of the owner. Besides, the purported Kasulatan sa Bilihan
was not registered with the proper Registry of Deeds.
During the trial, petitioner presented the testimonies of Orlando Aguilar (Orlando) and Zenaida Baldeo (Zenaida). Orlando testified that he has been staying in Lot 83 since 1960 and had built a house thereon where he is presently residing; and, that his mother, herein petitioner, denied having sold the property or having signed any document for that matter.
Zenaida also testified that in 1981, her father (Ignacio) and Ederlina had a confrontation before the barangay
during which her father denied having conveyed any portion of Lot 83 to anybody. She further testified that she is familiar with the signature of her father and that the signature appearing on the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
is not her father's signature.
For their part, respondents offered in evidence the testimonies of Estrella Bermudo Alfaro (Estrella), Ederlina, and Jose Tampolino (Jose). Estrella declared that she was present when Ignacio and the petitioner affixed their signatures on the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
, which was acknowledged before Notary Public Juan Q. Dantayana on April 17, 1973. She narrated that her mother actually purchased the property in 1954, but it was only in 1973 when the vendor executed the deed of sale. In fact, her father Francisco Bermudo was able to secure a permit to erect a house on the disputed property from the Office of the Mayor of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro in 1954.8
She was surprised to learn though that their property is still registered in the name of the petitioner.
Ederlina corroborated the declarations of Estrella. She also alleged that her parents occupied the property in 1954 when they built a hut there, then later on, a house of strong materials.
Jose corroborated the declarations of the other witnesses for the respondents that the disputed portion of Lot 83 is owned by Anastacia.Ruling of the Regional Trial Court
In its Decision9
dated September 21, 1998, the court a quo
ordered the respondents to vacate subject premises and denied their counterclaim for reconveyance on the grounds of prescription and laches. It held that the prescriptive period for reconvenyance of fraudulently registered real property is 10 years reckoned from the date of the issuance of the certificate of title. In this case, however, it is not disputed that OCT No. P-9354 covering the entire Lot 83 was issued to Ignacio in 1977. The trial court likewise held that respondents are guilty of laches and that the reconveyance of the disputed property in their favor would violate the rule on indefeasibility of Torrens title.
The dispositive portion of the trial court's Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, and in the light of all the foregoing considerations, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of plaintiff and against the defendants, to wit:Ruling of the Court of Appeals
- Ordering the defendants and any person claiming right under them to vacate the premises in question and surrender the possession thereof to plaintiff;
- To pay the amount of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) as and for reasonable attorney's fees;
- To pay the costs of this suit.
On June 7, 2004, the CA promulgated its Decision11
reversing the trial court's Decision and dismissing the complaint, as well as respondents' counterclaim. The CA upheld the validity of the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
since it is a notarized document and disputably presumed to be authentic and duly executed. In addition, witness Estrella categorically declared that she was present when petitioner and Ignacio signed the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
. The CA elaborated that in order to disprove the presumption accorded to a notarized document, the party contesting its authenticity and due execution must present a clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, which the petitioner failed to do.
The CA likewise disagreed with the court a quo
that respondents' counterclaim should be dismissed on the ground of indefeasibility of title. It emphasized that the Torrens system was adopted to protect innocent third parties for value and not to protect fraud. Nonetheless, the CA did not grant the relief sought in respondents' counterclaim considering that not all interested parties were impleaded in the case.
The dispositive portion of the CA's Decision reads:
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the decision appealed from is REVERSED, and a new one ENTERED dismissing the complaint and counterclaim.Issue
Without seeking reconsideration of the CA's Decision, petitioner interposed the present recourse raising the sole issue of:
WHETHER X X X THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE VALIDITY/GENUINENESS AND DUE EXECUTION OF THE PURPORTED DEED OF SALE OF THE PORTION OF THE LOT DESPITE THE VEHEMENT DENIAL OF THE ALLEGED VENDORS.13
Petitioner contends that the CA grievously erred in upholding the validity and genuineness of the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
. She alleges that she wanted to take the witness stand to disclaim in open court her purported signature appearing on respondents' Kasulatan sa Bilihan
, but could not do so because she is too old, bed-ridden and has to bear a tortuous five-hour drive to reach the court. Nevertheless, she executed a sworn statement declaring that she and her husband never sold any portion of Lot 83 and that their signatures appearing on said deed were forged. She avers that the assistance of an expert witness is not even necessary to detect the patent dissimilarities between said forged signatures and their authentic signatures.
Petitioner likewise argues that the CA erred in taking into consideration the appearance and condition of the paper where the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
is written. She posits that the fabrication of an ancient-looking document nowadays is no longer difficult. She also points to several circumstances which cast doubt on the authenticity and due execution of the Kasulatan sa Bilihan
, but which the CA inexplicably ignored
Furthermore, petitioner maintains that her title is indefeasible. And while there are exceptions to the rule on indefeasibility of title,14
she emphasizes that respondents never disputed her title. With regard to the tax declarations presented by respondents, petitioner asserts that it has been the consistent ruling of this Court that tax declarations are not necessarily proof of ownership.
In their comment, respondents assert that in petitions filed under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, only questions of law can be raised. Factual issues are prohibited. From the arguments advanced by the petitioner, however, it is clear that she is asking this Court to examine and weigh again the evidence on record.Our Ruling
We grant the petition.This case falls under the exceptions
where the Supreme Court may review
As a rule, only questions of law may be raised in petitions for review on certiorari.15
It is settled that in the exercise of the Supreme Court's power of review, the court is not a trier of facts and does not normally undertake the re-examination of the evidence presented by the contending parties during the trial of the case.16
This rule, however, is subject to a number of exceptions,17
one of which is when the findings of the appellate court are contrary to those of the trial court, like in the present case.Nature and purpose of accion publiciana.
Also known as accion plenaria de posesion
,18 accion publiciana
is anordinary civil proceeding to determine the better right of possession of realty independently of title.19
It refers to an ejectment suit filed after the expiration of one year from the accrual of the cause of action or from the unlawful withholding of possession of the realty.20
The objective of the plaintiffs in accion publiciana
is to recover possession only, not ownership.21
However, where the parties raise the issue of ownership, the courts may pass upon the issue to determine who between the parties has the right to possess the property. This adjudication, however, is not a final and binding determination of the issue of ownership; it is only for the purpose of resolving the issue of possession, where the issue of ownership is inseparably linked to the issue of possession. The adjudication of the issue of ownership, being provisional, is not a bar to an action between the same parties involving title to the property.22
The adjudication, in short, is not conclusive on the issue of ownership.23
Guided by the foregoing jurisprudential guideposts, we shall now resolve the arguments raised by the parties in this petition.As against petitioner's Torrens title,
respondents' Kasulatan sa Bilihan
cannot confer better right to possess.
It is settled that a Torrens title is evidence of indefeasible title to property in favor of the person in whose name the title appears.24
It is conclusive evidence with respect to the ownership of the land described therein.25
It is also settled that the titleholder is entitled to all the attributes of ownership of the property, including possession.26
Thus, in Arambulo v. Gungab
this Court declared that the "age-old rule is that the person who has a Torrens title over a land is entitled to possession thereof."
In the present case, there is no dispute that petitioner is the holder of a Torrens title over the entire Lot 83. Respondents have only their notarized but unregistered Kasulatan sa Bilihan
to support their claim of ownership. Thus, even if respondents' proof of ownership has in its favor a juris tantum
presumption of authenticity and due execution, the same cannot prevail over petitioner's Torrens title. This has been our consistent ruling which we recently reiterated in Pascual v. Coronel
Even if we sustain the petitioners' arguments and rule that the deeds of sale are valid contracts, it would still not bolster the petitioners' case. In a number of cases, the Court had upheld the registered owners' superior right to possess the property. In Co v. Militar, the Court was confronted with a similar issue of which between the certificate of title and an unregistered deed of sale should be given more probative weight in resolving the issue of who has the better right to possess. There, the Court held that the court a quo correctly relied on the transfer certificate of title in the name of petitioner, as opposed to the unregistered title in the name of respondents. The Court stressed therein that the Torrens System was adopted in this country because it was believed to be the most effective measure to guarantee the integrity of land titles and to protect their indefeasibility once the claim of ownership is established and recognized.
Likewise, in the recent case of Umpoc v. Mercado, the Court declared that the trial court did not err in giving more probative weight to the TCT in the name of the decedent vis-a