THIRD DIVISION

 

 

CARMEN DANAO MALANA, MARIA DANAO ACORDA, EVELYN DANAO, FERMINA DANAO, LETICIA DANAO and LEONORA DANAO, the last two are represented herein by their Attorney-in-Fact, MARIA DANAO ACORDA,

Petitioners,

 

 

- versus -

 

 

BENIGNO TAPPA, JERRY REYNA, SATURNINO CAMBRI and SPOUSES FRANCISCO AND MARIA LIGUTAN,

Respondents.

 

G.R. No. 181303

 

 

Present:

 

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.,

Chairperson,

CHICO-NAZARIO,

VELASCO, JR.,

NACHURA, and

PERALTA, JJ.

 

 

 

 

 

Promulgated:

 

 

September 17, 2009

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

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

 

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

 

 

This is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Orders[1] dated 4 May 2007, 30 May 2007, and 31 October 2007, rendered by Branch 3 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tuguegarao City, which dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, the Complaint of petitioners Carmen Danao Malana, Leticia Danao, Maria Danao Accorda, Evelyn Danao, Fermina Danao, and Leonora Danao, against respondents Benigno Tappa, Jerry Reyna, Saturnino Cambri, Francisco Ligutan and Maria Ligutan, in Civil Case No. 6868.

 

Petitioners filed before the RTC their Complaint for Reivindicacion, Quieting of Title, and Damages[2] against respondents on 27 March 2007, docketed as Civil Case No. 6868. Petitioners alleged in their Complaint that they are the owners of a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-127937[3] situated in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan (subject property). Petitioners inherited the subject property from Anastacio Danao (Anastacio), who died intestate.[4] During the lifetime of Anastacio, he had allowed Consuelo Pauig (Consuelo), who was married to Joaquin Boncad, to build on and occupy the southern portion of the subject property. Anastacio and Consuelo agreed that the latter would vacate the said land at any time that Anastacio and his heirs might need it.[5]

 

Petitioners claimed that respondents, Consuelos family members,[6] continued to occupy the subject property even after her death, already building their residences thereon using permanent materials. Petitioners also learned that respondents were claiming ownership over the subject property. Averring that they already needed it, petitioners demanded that respondents vacate the same. Respondents, however, refused to heed petitioners demand.[7]

 

Petitioners referred their land dispute with respondents to the Lupong Tagapamayapa of Barangay Annafunan West for conciliation. During the conciliation proceedings, respondents asserted that they owned the subject property and presented documents ostensibly supporting their claim of ownership.

 

According to petitioners, respondents documents were highly dubious, falsified, and incapable of proving the latters claim of ownership over the subject property; nevertheless, they created a cloud upon petitioners title to the property. Thus, petitioners were compelled to file before the RTC a Complaint to remove such cloud from their title.[8] Petitioners additionally sought in their Complaint an award against respondents for actual damages, in the amount of P50,000.00, resulting from the latters baseless claim over the subject property that did not actually belong to them, in violation of Article 19 of the Civil Code on Human Relations.[9] Petitioners likewise prayed for an award against respondents for exemplary damages, in the amount of P50,000.00, since the latter had acted in bad faith and resorted to unlawful means to establish their claim over the subject property. Finally, petitioners asked to recover from respondents P50,000.00 as attorneys fees, because the latters refusal to vacate the property constrained petitioners to engage the services of a lawyer.[10]

 

Before respondents could file their answer, the RTC issued an Order dated 4 May 2007 dismissing petitioners Complaint on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. The RTC referred to Republic Act No. 7691,[11] amending Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, which vests the RTC with jurisdiction over real actions, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds P20,000.00. It found that the subject property had a value of less than P20,000.00; hence, petitioners action to recover the same was outside the jurisdiction of the RTC. The RTC decreed in its 4 May 2007 Order that:

 

The Court has no jurisdiction over the action, it being a real action involving a real property with assessed value less than P20,000.00 and hereby dismisses the same without prejudice.[12]

 

 

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the aforementioned RTC Order dismissing their Complaint. They argued that their principal cause of action was for quieting of title; the accion reivindicacion was included merely to enable them to seek complete relief from respondents. Petitioners Complaint should not have been dismissed, since Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court[13] states that an action to quiet title falls under the jurisdiction of the RTC.[14]

 

In an Order dated 30 May 2007, the RTC denied petitioners Motion for Reconsideration. It reasoned that an action to quiet title is a real action. Pursuant to Republic Act No. 7691, it is the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) that exercises exclusive jurisdiction over real actions where the assessed value of real property does not exceed P20,000.00. Since the assessed value of subject property per Tax Declaration No, 02-48386 was P410.00, the real action involving the same was outside the jurisdiction of the RTC.[15]

 

Petitioners filed another pleading, simply designated as Motion, in which they prayed that the RTC Orders dated 4 May 2007 and 30 May 2007, dismissing their Complaint, be set aside. They reiterated their earlier argument that Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court states that an action to quiet title falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the RTC. They also contended that there was no obstacle to their joining the two causes of action, i.e., quieting of title and reivindicacion, in a single Complaint, citing Rumarate v. Hernandez.[16] And even if the two causes of action could not be joined, petitioners maintained that the misjoinder of said causes of action was not a ground for the dismissal of their Complaint.[17]

 

The RTC issued an Order dated 31 October 2007 denying petitioners Motion. It clarified that their Complaint was dismissed, not on the ground of misjoinder of causes of action, but for lack of jurisdiction. The RTC dissected Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court, which provides:

 

Section 1. Who may file petition. Any person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, ordinance, or any other governmental regulation may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court to determine any question of construction or validity arising, and for a declaration of his rights or duties, thereunder.

 

An action for the reformation of an instrument, to quiet title to real property or remove clouds therefrom, or to consolidate ownership under Article 1607 of the Civil Code, may be brought under this Rule.

 

 

The RTC differentiated between the first and the second paragraphs of Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court. The first paragraph refers to an action for declaratory relief, which should be brought before the RTC. The second paragraph, however, refers to a different set of remedies, which includes an action to quiet title to real property. The second paragraph must be read in relation to Republic Act No. 7691, which vests the MTC with jurisdiction over real actions, where the assessed value of the real property involved does not exceed P50,000.00 in Metro Manila and P20,000.00 in all other places.[18] The dispositive part of the 31 October 2007 Order of the RTC reads:

 

This Court maintains that an action to quiet title is a real action. [Herein petitioners] do not dispute the assessed value of the property at P410.00 under Tax Declaration No. 02-48386. Hence, it has no jurisdiction over the action.

 

In view of the foregoing considerations, the Motion is hereby denied.[19]

 

 

Hence, the present Petition, where petitioners raise the sole issue of:

 

 

 

 

I

WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT JUDGE COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT OF THE PETITIONERS MOTU PROPRIO.[20]

 

 

Petitioners statement of the issue is misleading. It would seem that they are only challenging the fact that their Complaint was dismissed by the RTC motu proprio. Based on the facts and arguments set forth in the instant Petition, however, the Court determines that the fundamental issue for its resolution is whether the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitioners Complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

 

The Court rules in the negative.

 

An action for declaratory relief should be filed by a person interested under a deed, a will, a contract or other written instrument, and whose rights are affected by a statute, an executive order, a regulation or an ordinance. The relief sought under this remedy includes the interpretation and determination of the validity of the written instrument and the judicial declaration of the parties rights or duties thereunder.[21]

 

Petitions for declaratory relief are governed by Rule 63 of the Rules of Court. The RTC correctly made a distinction between the first and the second paragraphs of Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court.

 

The first paragraph of Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court, describes the general circumstances in which a person may file a petition for declaratory relief, to wit:

 

Any person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, ordinance, or any other governmental regulation may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court to determine any question of construction or validity arising, and for a declaration of his rights or duties, thereunder. (Emphasis ours.)

 

 

As the afore-quoted provision states, a petition for declaratory relief under the first paragraph of Section 1, Rule 63 may be brought before the appropriate RTC.

 

Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court further provides in its second paragraph that:

 

An action for the reformation of an instrument, to quiet title to real property or remove clouds therefrom, or to consolidate ownership under Article 1607 of the Civil Code, may be brought under this Rule. (Emphasis ours.)

 

 

The second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court specifically refers to (1) an action for the reformation of an instrument, recognized under Articles 1359 to 1369 of the Civil Code; (2) an action to quiet title, authorized by Articles 476 to 481 of the Civil Code; and (3) an action to consolidate ownership required by Article 1607 of the Civil Code in a sale with a right to repurchase. These three remedies are considered similar to declaratory relief because they also result in the adjudication of the legal rights of the litigants, often without the need of execution to carry the judgment into effect.[22]

 

To determine which court has jurisdiction over the actions identified in the second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court, said provision must be read together with those of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, as amended.

 

It is important to note that Section 1, Rule 63 of the Rules of Court does not categorically require that an action to quiet title be filed before the RTC. It repeatedly uses the word may that an action for quieting of title may be brought under [the] Rule on petitions for declaratory relief, and a person desiring to file a petition for declaratory relief may x x x bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court. The use of the word may in a statute denotes that the provision is merely permissive and indicates a mere possibility, an opportunity or an option.[23]

 

In contrast, the mandatory provision of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, as amended, uses the word shall and explicitly requires the MTC to exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over all civil actions which involve title to or possession of real property where the assessed value does not exceed P20,000.00, thus:

 

Section 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, 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 exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs: x x x (Emphasis ours.)

 

 

As found by the RTC, the assessed value of the subject property as stated in Tax Declaration No. 02-48386 is only P410.00; therefore, petitioners Complaint involving title to and possession of the said property is within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the MTC, not the RTC.

 

Furthermore, an action for declaratory relief presupposes that there has been no actual breach of the instruments involved or of rights arising thereunder.[24] Since the purpose of an action for declaratory relief is to secure an authoritative statement of the rights and obligations of the parties under a statute, deed, or contract for their guidance in the enforcement thereof, or compliance therewith, and not to settle issues arising from an alleged breach thereof, it may be entertained only before the breach or violation of the statute, deed, or contract to which it refers. A petition for declaratory relief gives a practical remedy for ending controversies that have not reached the state where another relief is immediately available; and supplies the need for a form of action that will set controversies at rest before they lead to a repudiation of obligations, an invasion of rights, and a commission of wrongs.[25]

 

Where the law or contract has already been contravened prior to the filing of an action for declaratory relief, the courts can no longer assume jurisdiction over the action. In other words, a court has no more jurisdiction over an action for declaratory relief if its subject has already been infringed or transgressed before the institution of the action.[26]

 

In the present case, petitioners Complaint for quieting of title was filed after petitioners already demanded and respondents refused to vacate the subject property. In fact, said Complaint was filed only subsequent to the latters express claim of ownership over the subject property before the Lupong Tagapamayapa, in direct challenge to petitioners title.

 

Since petitioners averred in the Complaint that they had already been deprived of the possession of their property, the proper remedy for them is the filing of an accion publiciana or an accion reivindicatoria, not a case for declaratory relief. An accion publiciana is a suit for the recovery of possession, filed one year after the occurrence of the cause of action or from the unlawful withholding of possession of the realty. An accion reivindicatoria is a suit that has for its object ones recovery of possession over the real property as owner.[27]

 

Petitioners Complaint contained sufficient allegations for an accion reivindicatoria. Jurisdiction over such an action would depend on the value of the property involved. Given that the subject property herein is valued only at P410.00, then the MTC, not the RTC, has jurisdiction over an action to recover the same. The RTC, therefore, did not commit grave abuse of discretion in dismissing, without prejudice, petitioners Complaint in Civil Case No. 6868 for lack of jurisdiction.

 

As for the RTC dismissing petitioners Complaint motu proprio, the following pronouncements of the Court in Laresma v. Abellana[28] proves instructive:

 

It is axiomatic that the nature of an action and the jurisdiction of a tribunal are determined by the material allegations of the complaint and the law at the time the action was commenced.  Jurisdiction of the tribunal over the subject matter or nature of an action is conferred only by law and not by the consent or waiver upon a court which, otherwise, would have no jurisdiction over the subject matter or nature of an action. Lack of jurisdiction of the court over an action or the subject matter of an action cannot be cured by the silence, acquiescence, or even by express consent of the parties.  If the court has no jurisdiction over the nature of an action, it may dismiss the same ex mero motu or motu proprio. x x x. (Emphasis supplied.)

 

 

Since the RTC, in dismissing petitioners Complaint, acted in complete accord with law and jurisprudence, it cannot be said to have done so with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. An act of a court or tribunal may only be considered to have been committed in grave abuse of discretion when the same was performed in a capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment, which is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.[29] No such circumstances exist herein as to justify the issuance of a writ of certiorari.

 

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant Petition is DISMISSED. The Orders dated 4 May 2007, 30 May 2007 and 31 October 2007 of the Regional Trial Court of Tuguegarao City, Branch 3, dismissing the Complaint in Civil Case No. 6868, without prejudice, are AFFIRMED. The Regional Trial Court is ordered to REMAND the records of this case to the Municipal Trial Court or the court of proper jurisdiction for proper disposition. Costs against the petitioners.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Third Division

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, 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 Courts Division.

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 



[1] Penned by Judge Marivic Cacatian-Beltran; rollo, pp. 25-28.

[2] Rollo, pp. 50-54.

[3] Id. at 56.

[4] The records fail to state the exact relationship between petitioners and Anastacio Danao, apart from the allegation in the Complaint that the former are heirs of the latter.

[5] Rollo, p. 51.

[6] Id. at 52. In their complaint petitioners identified each of the respondents relationship to Consuelo:

(a)     Benigno Tappa is the son-in-law of Consuelo and the husband of the latters deceased daughter. He built his house on the disputed property and leased it to an unidentified individual.

(b)     Jerry Reyna is the grandson of Consuelo. He built a house of permanent materials on the subject land where he and his family reside.

(c)     Saturnino Cambri is married to Nelly Quizan Cambri, the granddaughter of Consuelo. He built a house within the subject land occupied by him and his family.

(d)     Spouses Francisco and Maria Ligutan, the latter being the daughter of Consuelo, also live in a house of permanent materials situated on the subject lot.

[7] Id. at 52.

[8] Id. at 52 and 53, 57

[9] Art. 19. Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.

In claims for damages, Article 19 of the Civil Code is read in relation with Article 21 of the same, to wit:

Art. 21. Any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage.

[10] Rollo, p. 53-54.

[11] The RTCs reasoning was based on Section 1 of Republic Act No. 7691:

SECTION 1. Section 19 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, is hereby amended to read as follows:

Section 19. Jurisdiction in civil cases.Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction:

x x x x

(2)     In all civil actions which involve the title to, or possession of, real property or any interest therein, where the assessed value of the property involved exceeds Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or for civil actions in Metro Manila, where such value exceeds Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) except actions for forcible entry into and unlawful detainer of lands or buildings, original jurisdiction over which is conferred upon the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts.

[12] Rollo, p. 25.

[13] Section 1. Who may file petition. Any person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, or whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, ordinance, or any other governmental regulation may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court to determine any question of construction or validity arising, and for a declaration of his rights or duties, thereunder.

An action for the reformation of an instrument, to quiet title to real property or remove clouds therefrom, or to consolidate ownership under Article 1607 of the Civil Code, may be brought under this Rule.

[14] Rollo, pp. 33 and 34.

[15] Id. at 26-27.

[16] G.R. No. 168222, 18 April 2006, 487 SCRA 317.

[17] Rollo, pp. 35-39.

[18] Id. at 28.

[19] Id

[20] Id. at 338-339.

[21] Velarde v. Social Justice Society, G.R. No. 159357, 28 April 2004, 428 SCRA 283, 290.

[22] Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium (6th revised ed.), p. 692.

[23] De Ocampo v. Secretary of Justice, G.R. No. 147932, 25 January 2006, 480 SCRA 71, 80; Melchor v. Gironella, 491 Phil. 653, 658-659 (2005); Social Security Commission v. Court of Appeals, 482 Phil. 449, 462 (2004).

[24] Velarde v. Social Justice Society, supra note 21 at 294.

[25] Manila Electric Company v. Philippine Consumers Foundation, Inc., 425 Phil. 65, 82 (2002); Rosello-Bentir v. Leanda, 386 Phil. 802, 813-814 (2000).

[26] Tambunting, Jr. v. Sumabat, G.R. 144101, 16 September 2005, 470 SCRA 92, 96.

[27] Hilario v. Salvador, G.R. No. 160384, 29 April 2005, 457 SCRA 815, 824-825.

[28] 484 Phil. 766, 778-779 (2004).

[29] Yee v. Bernabe, G.R. No. 141393, 19 April 2006, 487 SCRA 385, 393.