SECOND DIVISION

 

 

 

JUDGE ANTONIO C. SUMALJAG,

             Petitioner,

 

 

 

-         versus    -

 

 

 

SPOUSES DIOSDIDIT and MENENDEZ M. LITERATO; and MICHAELES MAGLASANG RODRIGO,

                                     Respondents.

 

          G.R. No. 149787

 

          Present:

 

             QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson,

             TINGA,

             BRION,

            *REYES, and

          ** LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, JJ.

 

            Promulgated:

 

       

               June 18, 2008

 

x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

BRION, J.:

 

            Before this Court is the Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (“CA”) dated June 26, 2001 and its related Resolution[2] dated September 4, 2001 in CA-G.R. SP No. 59712. The assailed Decision dismissed the petition for certiorari filed by petitioner Judge Antonio C. Sumaljag (the “petitioner”) in the interlocutory matter outlined below in Civil Cases B-1239 and B-1281 before the trial court.  The challenged Resolution denied the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.

 

ANTECEDENT FACTS

         

On November 16, 1993, Josefa D. Maglasang (Josefa) filed with the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”), Branch 14, Baybay, Leyte a complaint[3] (docketed as Civil Case No. B-1239) for the nullity of the deed of sale of real property  purportedly executed between her as vendor and the spouses Diosdidit and Menendez Literato (the “respondent spouses”) as vendees. The complaint alleged that this deed of sale dated October 15, 1971 of Lot 1220-D is spurious.  Josefa was the sister of Menendez Maglasang Literato (“Menendez”).  They were two (2) of the six (6) heirs who inherited equal parts of a 6.3906-hectare property (Lot 1220) passed on to them by their parents Cristito and Inecita Diano Maglasang.[4]  Lot 1220-D was partitioned to Josefa, while Lot 1220-E was given to Menendez.

 

          The respondent spouses’ response to the complaint was an amended answer with counterclaim[5] denying that the deed of sale was falsified. They impleaded the petitioner with Josefa as counterclaim defendant on the allegation that the petitioner, at the instance of Josefa, occupied Lot 1220-D and Lot 1220-E without their (the respondent spouses’) authority; Lot 1220-E is theirs by inheritance while 1220-D had been sold to them by Josefa. They also alleged that the petitioner acted in bad faith in acquiring the two (2) lots because he prepared and notarized on September 26, 1986 the contract of lease over the whole of Lot 1220 between all the Maglasang heirs (but excluding Josefa) and Vicente Tolo, with the lease running from 1986 to 1991; thus, the petitioner then knew that Josefa no longer owned Lot 1220-D.

 

Civil Case No. 1281[6] is a complaint that Menendez filed on April 4, 1996 with the RTC for the declaration of the inexistence of lease contract, recovery of possession of land, and damages against the petitioner and Josefa after the RTC dismissed the respondent spouses’ counterclaim in Civil Case No. 1239.  The complaint alleged that Josefa, who had previously sold Lot 1220-D to Menendez, leased it, together with Lot 1220-E, to the petitioner.  Menendez further averred that the petitioner and Josefa were in bad faith in entering their contract of lease as they both knew that Josefa did  not own the leased lots. Menendez prayed, among others, that this lease contract between Josefa and the petitioner be declared null and void.

 

          Josefa died on May 3, 1999 during the pendency of Civil Case Nos. B-1239 and B-1281.

 

          On August 13, 1999, Atty. Zenen A. Puray (“Atty. Puray) - the petitioner’s and Josefa’s common counsel - asked the RTC in Civil Case No. 1239 that he be given an extended period or up to September 10, 1999 within which to file a formal notice of death and substitution of party.

 

          The RTC granted the motion in an order dated August 13, 1999.[7]  On August 26, 1999, Atty. Puray filed with the RTC a notice of death and substitution of party,[8] praying that Josefa – in his capacity as plaintiff and third party counterclaim defendant – be substituted by the petitioner. The submission alleged that prior to Josefa’s death, she executed a Quitclaim Deed[9] over Lot 1220-D in favor of Remismundo D. Maglasang[10] who in turn sold this property to the petitioner.

 

Menendez, through counsel, objected to the proposed substitution, alleging that Atty. Puray filed the notice of death and substitution of party beyond the thirty-day period provided under Section 16, Rule 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. She recommended instead that Josefa be substituted by the latter’s full-blood sister, Michaeles Maglasang Rodrigo (Michaeles).

 

The RTC denied Atty. Puray’s motion for substitution and instead ordered the appearance of Michaeles as representative of the deceased Josefa.  This Order provides:

 

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the motion is hereby DENIED for lack of merit and instead order the appearance of Mrs. Mechailes Maglasang-Rodrigo of Brgy. Binulho, Albuera, Leyte, as representative of the deceased Josefa Maglasang.

 

SO ORDERED.[11]

 

The RTC subsequently denied the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration in an order[12] dated May 25, 2000.

 

The petitioner went to the CA on a petition for certiorari (docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 59712) to question the above interlocutory orders.  In a Decision[13] dated June 26, 2001, the CA dismissed the petition for lack of merit. The appellate court similarly denied the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration in its Resolution[14] dated September 4, 2001. 

 

The present petition essentially claims that the CA erred in dismissing CA-G.R. No. SP 59712 since: (a) the property under litigation was no longer part of  Josefa’s estate since she was no longer its owner at the time of her death; (b) the petitioner had effectively been subrogated to the rights of Josefa over the property under litigation at the time she died; (c) without an estate, the heir who was appointed by the lower court no longer had any interest to represent;   (d) the notice of death was seasonably submitted by the counsel of Josefa to the RTC within the extended period granted; and   (e) the petitioner is a transferee pendente lite who the courts should recognize pursuant to Rule 3, Section 20 of the Rules of Court. 

 

 

THE COURT’S RULING

 

          We resolve to deny the petition for lack of merit.

 

The Governing Rule.

 

The rule on substitution in case of death of a party is governed by Section 16, Rule 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, which provides:

Section 16.    Death of a party; duty of counsel. –Whenever a party to a pending action dies, and the claim is not thereby extinguished, it shall be the duty of his counsel to inform the court within thirty (30) days after such death of the fact thereof, and to give the name and address of his legal representative or representatives.  Failure of counsel to comply with this duty shall be a ground for disciplinary action.

 

The heirs of the deceased may be allowed to be substituted for the deceased, without requiring the appointment of an executor or administrator and the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor heirs.

 

The court shall forthwith order said legal representative or representatives to appear and be substituted within a period of thirty (30) days from notice.

 

If no legal representative is named by the counsel for the deceased party, or if the one so named shall fail to appear within the specified period, the court may order the opposing party, within a specified time, to procure the appointment of an executor or administrator for the estate of the deceased, and the latter shall immediately appear for and on behalf of the deceased.  The court charges in procuring such appointment, if defrayed by the opposing party, may be recovered as costs. (Emphasis ours)

 

 

            The purpose behind this rule is the protection of the right to due process of every party to the litigation who may be affected by the intervening death.  The deceased litigant is herself or himself protected as he/she continues to be properly represented in the suit through the duly appointed legal representative of his estate.[15]

 

Application of the Governing Rule.

         

a.  Survival of the pending action

 

A question preliminary to the application of the above provision is whether Civil Case Nos. B-1239 and B-1281 are actions that survive the death of Josefa.  We said in Gonzalez v. Pagcor:[16]

 

“The criteria for determining whether an action survives the death of a plaintiff or petitioner was elucidated upon in Bonilla v. Barcena (71 SCRA 491 (1976). as follows:

 

. . . The question as to whether an action survives or not depends on the nature of the action and the damage sued for. In the causes of action which survive, the wrong complained [of] affects primarily and principally property and property rights, the injuries to the person being merely incidental, while in the causes of action which do not survive, the injury complained of is to the person, the property and rights of property affected being incidental. . . .  

 

Since the question involved in these cases relate to property and property rights, then we are dealing with actions that survive so that Section 16, Rule 3 must necessarily apply.

 

b.     Duty of Counsel under the Rule.

 

The duty of counsel under the aforecited provision is to inform the court within thirty (30) days after the death of his client of the fact of death, and to give the name and address of the deceased’s legal representative or representatives.  Incidentally, this is the only representation that counsel can undertake after the death of a client as the fact of death terminated any further lawyer-client relationship.[17] 

 

In the present case, it is undisputed that the counsel for Josefa did in fact notify the lower court, although belatedly, of the fact of her death.[18]  However, he did as well inform the lower court that –

 

“2. That before she died she executed a QUITCLAIM DEED in favor of REMISMUNDO D. MAGLASANG over the land in question (Lot No. 1220-D of Benolho, Albuera, Leyte), evidenced by a QUITCLAIM DEED, copy of which is hereto attached as Annex “B” who in turn sold it in favor of JUDGE ANTONIO SUMALJAG, evidenced by a DEED OF ABSOLUTE SALE, copy of which is hereto attached as Annex “C”.”

 

Further, counsel asked that “the deceased Josefa Maglasang in her capacity as plaintiff and as Third Party Counterclaim Defendant be substituted in the case at bar by JUDGE ANTONIO SUMALJAG whose address is 38 Osmena Street, Ormoc City” pursuant to “Section 16, Rule 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure”.

 

This notification, although filed late, effectively informed the lower court of the death of litigant Josefa Maglasang so as to free her counsel of any liability for failure to make a report of death under Section 16, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court.  In our view, counsel satisfactorily explained to the lower court the circumstances of the late reporting, and the latter in fact granted counsel an extended period.  The timeliness of the report is therefore a non-issue.

 

The reporting issue that goes into the core of this case is whether counsel properly gave the court the name and address of the legal representative of the deceased that Section 16, Rule 3 specifies.  We rule that he did not.  The “legal representatives” that the provision speaks of, refer to those authorized by law – the administrator, executor or guardian[19] who, under the rule on settlement of estate of deceased persons,[20] is constituted to take over the estate of the deceased.  Section 16, Rule 3 likewise expressly provides that “the heirs of the deceased may be allowed to be substituted for the deceased, without requiring the appointment of an executor or administrator . . .”.  Significantly, the person – now the present petitioner - that counsel gave as substitute was not one of those mentioned under Section 16, Rule 3.  Rather, he is a counterclaim co-defendant of the deceased whose proferred justification for the requested substitution is the transfer to him of the interests of the deceased in the litigation prior to her death.

 

Under the circumstances, both the lower court and the CA were legally correct in not giving effect to counsel’s suggested substitute. 

 

First, the petitioner is not one of those allowed by the Rules to be a substitute.  Section 16, Rule 3 speaks for itself in this respect.  

 

Second, as already mentioned above, the reason for the Rule is to protect all concerned who may be affected by the intervening death, particularly the deceased and her estate. We note in this respect that the Notice that counsel filed in fact reflects a claim against the interest of the deceased through the transfer of her remaining interest in the litigation to another party.  Interestingly, the transfer is in favor of the very same person who is suggested to the court as the substitute.  To state the obvious, the suggested substitution effectively brings to naught the protection that the Rules intend; plain common sense tells us that the transferee who has his own interest to protect, cannot at the same time represent and fully protect the interest of the deceased transferor. 

 

Third, counsel has every authority to manifest to the court changes in interest that transpire in the course of litigation.  Thus, counsel could have validly manifested to the court the transfer of Josefa’s interests in the subject matter of litigation pursuant to Section 19, Rule 3.[21]  But this can happen only while the client-transferor was alive and while the manifesting counsel was still the effective and authorized counsel for the client-transferor, not after the death of the client when the lawyer-client relationship has terminated.  The fact that the alleged transfer may have actually taken place is immaterial to this conclusion, if only for the reason that it is not for counsel, after the death of his client, to make such manifestation because he then has lost the authority to speak for and bind his client.  Thus, at most, the petitioner can be said to be a transferee pendente lite whose status is pending with the lower court. 

 

 Lastly, a close examination of the documents attached to the records disclose that the subject matter of the Quitclaim allegedly executed by Josefa in favor of Remismundo is Lot 1220-E, while the subject matter of the deed of sale executed by Remismundo in the petitioner’s favor is Lot 1220-D. This circumstance alone raises the possibility that there is more than meets the eye in the transactions related to this case.

 

          c.  The Heirs as Legal Representatives.

 

The CA correctly harked back to the plain terms of Section 16, Rule 3 in determining who the appropriate legal representative/s should be in the absence of an executor or administrator.  The second paragraph of the Section 16, Rule 3 of the 1997 Rules of Court, as amended, is clear - the heirs of the deceased may be allowed to be substituted for the deceased, without requiring the appointment of an executor or administrator. Our decisions on this matter have been clear and unequivocal.  In San Juan, Jr. v. Cruz, this Court held:

 

 

The pronouncement of this Court in Lawas v. Court of Appeals x x x that priority is given to the legal representative of the deceased (the executor or administrator) and that it is only in case of unreasonable delay in the appointment of an executor or administrator, or in cases where the heirs resort to an extra-judicial settlement of the estate that the court may adopt the alternative of allowing the heirs of the deceased to be substituted for the deceased, is no longer true.[22] (Emphasis ours)

 

 

We likewise said in Gochan v. Young: [23]

 

 

For the protection of the interests of the decedent, this Court has in previous instances recognized the heirs as proper representatives of the decedent, even when there is already an administrator appointed by the court. When no administrator has been appointed, as in this case, there is all the more reason to recognize the heirs as the proper representatives of the deceased.

 

 

Josefa’s death certificate[24] shows that she was single at the time of her death. The records do not show that she left a will.  Therefore, as correctly held by the CA, in applying Section 16, Rule 3, her heirs are her surviving sisters (Michaelis, Maria, Zosima, and Consolacion) and the children of her deceased sister, Lourdes (Manuel, Cesar, Huros and Regulo) who should be her legal representatives.  Menendez, although also a sister, should be excluded for being one of the adverse parties in the cases before the RTC.

 

          WHEREFORE, premises considered, we DENY the petition for lack of merit. We AFFIRM the Court of Appeals decision that the surviving heirs of the deceased Josefa – namely Michaelis M. Rodrigo; Maria M. Cecilio; Zosima D. Maglasang; Consolacion M. Bag-aw; and the children of Lourdes M. Lumapas, namely Manuel Lumapas, Cesar Lumapas, Huros Lumapas and Regulo Maquilan – should be her substitutes and are hereby so ordered to be substituted for her in Civil Case Nos. B-1239 and B-1281.

 

          Costs against the petitioner.

 

          SO ORDERED.

           

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

DANTE O. TINGA

Associate Justice

RUBEN T. REYES

Associate Justice

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

          I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

                                                          LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING

                                                                     Associate Justice

                                                                         Chairperson

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

                                                            REYNATO S. PUNO

                                                                  Chief Justice 

                                                                            

 

 



*       Designated as additional member of the Second Division per Special Order No. 504 dated May 15, 2008.

**   Designated as additional member of the Second Division per Special Order No. 505 dated May 15, 2008.

[1]       Penned by Associate Justice Marina L. Buzon and concurred in by Associate Justice Eubulo G. Verzola (deceased) and Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes; rollo, pp. 85-91.

[2]       Id., p. 92.

[3]       Annex “A,” id., pp. 30-34.

[4]       In Civil Case B-641 for Partition and Damages.

[5]       Annex “B,” rollo, pp. 36-44.

[6]       Annex “D,” id., pp. 48-54.

[7]       Annex “G,” id., p. 75.

[8]       Annex “H,” id., pp. 76-77.

[9]       Id., p. 79.

[10]     It appears from the records that Remismundo D. Maglasang is the son of Zosima D. Maglasang.

[11]     Order dated December 16, 1990, Annex “I,” rollo, pp. 81-82.

[12]     Annex “J,” id., pp. 83-84.

[13]     Annex “K,” id., pp. 85-91.

[14]     Annex “L,” id., pp. 92-93.

[15]     Napere v. Barbarona, G.R. No. 160426, January 31, 2008, citing Heirs of Bertuldo Hinog v. Melicor, 455 SCRA 460, 478 (2005).

[16]     G.R. No. 144891, May 27, 2004, 429 SCRA 533.

[17]     Lavina v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 78295, April 10, 1989, 171 SCRA 691; Haberer v. CA, Nos. L-42699 to L-42707, May 26, 1981,  104 SCRA 540.

[18]     Annex “H,” rollo, p. 76.

[19]     In the commentary of Justice Oscar M. Herrera (ret.) in his book Remedial Law, Volume 1, 2007 edition, he stated that the terms “administrator, executor, or guardian” to whom the notice of death should be addressed under the old Rules, were deleted and deemed included in the term “legal representative or representatives.”

[20]     Rule 73-90 of the Rules of Court.

[21]     Section 19. Transfer of interest. – In case of any transfer of interest, the action may be continued by or against the original party, unless the court upon motion directs the person to whom the interest is transferred to be substituted I the action or joined with the original party.

[22]     San Juan, Jr. v. Cruz, G.R. No. 167321, July 31, 2006, 497 SCRA 410.

[23]     Gochan v. Young, G.R. No. 131889, March 12, 2001, 354 SCRA 207.

[24]     Annex “F,” rollo, p. 74.