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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 173351 : July 29, 2010]

BF CITILAND CORPORATION, PETITIONER, VS. MARILYN B. OTAKE, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N


CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This is a petition for review1 of the Resolutions dated 28 July 20052 and 5 July 20063 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 88995. The 28 July 2005 Resolution dismissed the petition for review filed by petitioner seeking the reversal of the 29 December 2004 Decision4 of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 257) of Parañaque City. The 5 July 2006 Resolution denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

The Antecedent Facts

Petitioner BF Citiland Corporation is the registered owner of Lot 2, Block 101 situated in Brisbane Street, Phase III, BF Homes Subdivision, Parañaque City and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 52940.5  Based on the tax declaration6 filed in the Office of the Assessor, the lot has an assessed value of P48,000.00.

On 24 February 1987, respondent Merlinda B. Bodullo7 bought the adjoining Lot 1, Block 101 covered by TCT No. 77549.8  However, records show respondent occupied not just the lot she purchased. She also encroached upon petitioner's lot.

On 13 October 2000, petitioner filed in the Metropolitan Trial Court (Branch 77) of Parañaque City a complaint9 for accion publiciana praying that judgment be rendered ordering respondent to vacate the subject lot. Petitioner also prayed that respondent be ordered to pay P15,000.00 per month by way of reasonable compensation for the use of the lot.

The Ruling of the MeTC

In its 25 April 2003 Decision,10 the MeTC ruled in favor of  petitioner, to wit:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court renders judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant and the latter, including any and all persons claiming rights under her is ORDERED:

1. To VACATE Lot 2, Block 101 subject lot in this instant case and SURRENDER peaceful possession to the plaintiff;
2. To PAY the plaintiff the sum of P10,000.00 per month by way of reasonable compensation for the use and occupancy of the subject lot from the filing of this case until the defendant shall have fully vacated the same;
3. To PAY the plaintiff the sum of P20,000.00 as and by way of attorney's fees; and
4. To PAY the costs of this suit.

SO ORDERED.11

Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration12 claiming she was a lawful possessor and buyer in good faith of the disputed lot. In its Order dated 20 June 2003, the MeTC denied13 the motion for reconsideration for lack of merit and for lack of the requisite notice of hearing. The MeTC then issued a writ of execution.14 Respondent filed a motion15 to quash the writ of execution on the ground that the MeTC had no jurisdiction over accion publiciana cases. In its 30 January 2004 Order,16 the MeTC denied the motion to quash the writ of execution. It held that under Section 33 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended by Republic Act 7691,17 the MeTC had exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions involving title to or possession of real property with assessed value not exceeding P50,000.00.

Petitioner filed a motion for special order of demolition18 alleging that the lot subject of execution contained improvements introduced by respondent. Respondent opposed the motion for being premature19 and moved for reconsideration20 of the 30 January 2004 Order of the MeTC. Respondent argued that even if the MeTC had jurisdiction over accion publiciana cases, the total value of the lot together with the residential house she built on it exceeded P50,000.00.

In its 23 July 2004 Order,21 the MeTC ruled that since the subject lot had an assessed value of P48,000.00, it had jurisdiction under Section 33 of BP 129, as amended. The MeTC held that since the action was only for the recovery of the lot, the residential house respondent built on it should not be included in computing the assessed value of the property. Thus, the MeTC granted petitioner's motion for demolition and denied respondent's motion for reconsideration of its 30 January 2004 Order.

Respondent filed in the Regional Trial Court (Branch 257) of Parañaque City a petition for certiorari22 under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court seeking dismissal of the accion publiciana case for lack of jurisdiction of the MeTC.

The Ruling of the RTC

In its 29 December 2004 Decision,23 the RTC held that accion publiciana was within the exclusive original jurisdiction of regional trial courts. The RTC further explained that BP 129, as amended, did not modify the jurisprudential doctrine that a suit for accion publiciana fell under the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC. It disposed of the petition for certiorari in this wise:

WHEREFORE, the preliminary injunction previously issued by this Court in the Order dated September 8, 2004 enjoining the court a quo and its sheriff from implementing the Writ of Execution is hereby made permanent. Since the court a quo has no jurisdiction over Civil Case No. 11868, a suit for accion publiciana filed by BF Citiland Corporation against petitioner, the said case is dismissed. Consequently, all Orders and the Decision rendered on the said case by the court a quo are deemed void or without force and effect.

SO ORDERED.24

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration25 insisting that accion publiciana was the civil action involving title to or possession of real property referred to in Section 33 of BP 129, as amended. Petitioner also claimed respondent was already estopped from assailing the jurisdiction of the MeTC because of respondent's participation in all the proceedings in the MeTC coupled with respondent's failure to timely object to the jurisdiction of the MeTC.

In her comment,26 respondent reasoned that while Section 33 of BP 129, as amended, explicitly qualified the court's jurisdiction depending on the assessed value of the real property, accion publiciana conferred jurisdiction on regional trial courts regardless of the value of the property. Respondent further argued that lack of jurisdiction could be raised anytime.

Upon the RTC's denial27 of petitioner's motion for reconsideration, petitioner filed in the Court of Appeals a petition for review28 under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court contending that the RTC erred in ruling that the MeTC had no jurisdiction over accion publiciana cases. Petitioner maintained respondent was already estopped from questioning the jurisdiction of the MeTC. In her comment,29 respondent stressed that the MeTC had no jurisdiction over accion publiciana cases. Respondent reiterated the argument that lack of jurisdiction could be raised anytime. In its reply,30 petitioner cited Refugia v. Court of Appeals31 in claiming that the MeTC had limited original jurisdiction in civil actions involving title to or possession of real property depending on the property's assessed value.

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

In its 28 July 2005 Resolution,32 the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for review holding that appeal from a decision of the RTC rendered in the exercise of its original jurisdiction should be by way of a notice of appeal.

The Court of Appeals ruled that appeal by way of petition for review under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court could be resorted to only when what was appealed from was a decision of the RTC rendered in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction. In its 5 July 2006 Resolution,33 the Court of Appeals denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration.34

Hence, the instant petition for review.

The Issues

The issues for resolution are (1) whether a petition for review under Rule 42 is the proper mode of appeal from a decision of the RTC in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65; and (2) whether the RTC correctly ruled that the MeTC has no jurisdiction over accion publiciana cases.

The Court's Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

Petitioner posits that even if the RTC rendered the judgment in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, the Court of Appeals still erred in dismissing the petition for review because a petition for review contains all the requisites of a notice of appeal. Petitioner argues the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the petition for review on technicality without considering the merits of the case. Petitioner maintains the MeTC has jurisdiction since the assessed value of the lot subject of accion publiciana is only P48,000.00.

Respondent counters that the decision of the RTC was rendered in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, unmistakably an original action. Respondent maintains that a petition for review cannot be treated as a form of a notice of appeal because of the inextendible nature of the latter. Respondent further argues that the RTC correctly ruled the MeTC has no jurisdiction in accion publiciana cases. Respondent claims she is not estopped from questioning the jurisdiction of the MeTC.

Section 2, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court states:

(a) Ordinary appeal. - The appeal to the Court of Appeals in cases decided by the Regional Trial Court in the exercise of its original jurisdiction shall be taken by filing a notice of appeal with the court which rendered the judgment or final order appealed from and serving a copy thereof upon the adverse party. x x x

(b) Petition for review. - The appeal to the Court of Appeals in cases decided by the Regional Trial Court in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction shall be by petition for review in accordance with Rule 42. (Emphasis supplied)

x x x x

The Rule is clear. In cases decided by the RTC in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, appeal to the Court of Appeals is taken by filing a notice of appeal. On the other hand, in cases decided by the RTC in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, appeal to the Court of Appeals is by a petition for review under Rule 42.

A petition for certiorari under Rule 65 does not interrupt the course of the principal case unless a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction from further proceeding has been issued against the public respondent.35 A petition for certiorari under Rule 65 is, without a doubt, an original action.36

Since the decision of the RTC in the petition for certiorari under Rule 65 was rendered in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, appeal from the said RTC decision to the Court of Appeals should have been made by filing a notice of appeal, not a petition for review under Rule 42.

However, in numerous cases, this Court has allowed liberal construction of the rules when to do so would serve the demands of substantial justice. Dismissal of appeals purely on technical grounds is frowned upon. It is better to excuse a technical lapse rather than dispose of a case on technicality, giving a false impression of speedy disposal of cases while actually resulting in more delay, if not a miscarriage of justice.37  In the present case, a dismissal on a technicality would only mean a new round of litigation between the same parties for the same cause of action, over the same subject matter. Thus, notwithstanding petitioner's wrong mode of appeal, the Court of Appeals should not have so easily dismissed the petition.

Under Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, the plenary action of accion publiciana must be brought before regional trial courts.38 With the modifications introduced by Republic Act No. 7691, the jurisdiction of regional trial courts has been limited to real actions where the assessed value exceeds P20,000.00 or P50,000.00 if the action is filed in Metro Manila. If the assessed value is below the said amounts, the action must be brought before first level courts.  As so amended, BP 129 now provides:

Sec. 33. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Civil Cases. - Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

x x x x

(3) Exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions which involve title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorney's fees, litigation expenses, and costs: Provided, That in cases of land not declared for taxation purposes, the value of such property shall be determined by the assessed value of the adjacent lots. (Emphasis supplied)

Under BP 129, as amended, jurisdiction even in accion publiciana cases is determined by the assessed value of the property.39 The Court recently explained in Spouses Alcantara v. Nido40  that assessed value is the worth or value of the property as fixed by the taxing authorities for the purpose of determining the applicable tax rate. The assessed value does not necessarily represent the true or market value of the property.41

In the present case, the complaint,42 which was filed after the enactment of R.A. 7691, contained a statement that, based on the tax declaration43 filed in the Office of the Assessor, the lot subject of the accion publiciana has an assessed value of P48,000.00. A copy of the tax declaration was attached as Annex "B" of the complaint. The subject lot, with an assessed value below the jurisdictional limit of P50,000.00 for Metro Manila, comes within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the MeTC under BP 129, as amended. Thus, the RTC erred in holding that the MeTC had no jurisdiction in this case.

WHEREFORE, we GRANT the petition. We SET ASIDE the Resolutions dated 28 July 2005 and 5 July 2006 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 88995. We REINSTATE the 25 April 2003 Decision and the  20 June 2003 Order  of the Metropolitan Trial Court (Branch 77) of Parañaque City in Civil Case No. 11868.

Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Nachura, Peralta, Abad, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

2 Rollo, pp. 44-46. Penned by Associate Justice Arcangelita M. Romilla-Lontok, with Associate  Justices  Rodrigo V. Cosico and Danilo B. Pine, concurring.

3 Id. at 48-49. Penned by Associate Justice Arcangelita M. Romilla-Lontok, with Associate   Justices  Rodrigo V. Cosico and Andres B. Reyes, Jr.,  concurring.

4 Id. at 212-218.

5 Id. at 246-247.

6 Id. at 56.

7 "Marilyn B. Otake" in the complaint and subsequent case titles.

8 Rollo, pp. 242-244.

9 Id. at 50-53.

10 Id. at 89-93.

11 Id. at 93.

12 Id. at 94-99.

13 Id. at 106-107.

14 Id. at 108-109.

15 Id. at 114-128.

16 Id. at 142.

17 An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, Otherwise Known as the "Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980." Took effect on 15 April 1994.

18 Rollo, pp. 143-144.

19 Id. at 145-146.

20 Id. at 148-159.

21 Id. at 165-167.

22 Id. at 168-196.

23 Id. at 212-218.

24 Id. at 218.

25 Id. at 219-227.

26 Id. at 228-234.

27 Id. at 251.

28 Id. at 256-278.

29 Id. at 279-293.

30 Id. at 295-301.

31 G.R. No. 118284, 5 July 1996, 258 SCRA 347, 361.

32 Rollo, pp. 44-46.

33 Id. at 48-49.

34 Id. at 303-309.

35 Section 7, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

36 Tomas Claudio Memorial College, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 467 Phil. 541 (2004).

37 Barangay Sangalang v. Barangay Maguihan, G.R. No. 159792, 23 December 2009.

38 Bernardo v. Heirs of Villegas, G.R. No. 183357, 15 March 2010.

39 Id.

40 G.R. No. 165133, 19 April 2010 citing Geonzon Vda. de Barrera v. Heirs of Vicente Legaspi, G.R. No. 174346, 12 September 2008, 565 SCRA 192, 197

41  Id.  

42 Rollo, p. 51.

43 Id. at 56.
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