SECOND DIVISION

 

 

SPOUSES JOSELINA ALCANTARA

AND ANTONIO ALCANTARA, and

SPOUSES JOSEFINO RUBI AND

ANNIE DISTOR- RUBI,

Petitioners,

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

BRIGIDA L. NIDO, as attorney-in-fact of REVELEN N. SRIVASTAVA,

Respondent.

G.R. No. 165133

 

Present:

 

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

BRION,

DEL CASTILLO,

ABAD, and

PEREZ, JJ.

 

Promulgated:

 

April 19, 2010

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

 

 

R E S O L U T I O N

 

 

CARPIO, J.:

 

 

The Case

Spouses Antonio and Joselina Alcantara and Spouses Josefino and Annie Rubi (petitioners) filed this Petition for Review[1] assailing the Court of Appeals (appellate court) Decision[2] dated 10 June 2004 as well as the Resolution[3] dated 17 August 2004 in CA-G.R. CV No. 78215. In the assailed decision, the appellate court reversed the 17 June 2002 Decision[4] of Branch 69 of the Regional Trial Court of Binangonan, Rizal (RTC) by dismissing the case for recovery of possession with damages and preliminary injunction filed by Brigida L. Nido (respondent), in her capacity as administrator and attorney-in-fact of Revelen N. Srivastava (Revelen).

 

The Facts

Revelen, who is respondents daughter and of legal age, is the owner of an unregistered land with an area of 1,939 square meters located in Cardona, Rizal. Sometime in March 1984, respondent accepted the offer of petitioners to purchase a 200-square meter portion of Revelens lot (lot) at P200 per square meter. Petitioners paid P3,000 as downpayment and the balance was payable on installment. Petitioners constructed their houses in 1985. In 1986, with respondents consent, petitioners occupied an additional 150 square meters of the lot. By 1987, petitioners had already paid P17,500[5] before petitioners defaulted on their installment payments.

 

On 11 May 1994, respondent, acting as administrator and attorney-in-fact of Revelen, filed a complaint for recovery of possession with damages and prayer for preliminary injunction against petitioners with the RTC.

 

The RTCs Ruling

 

The RTC stated that based on the evidence presented, Revelen owns the lot and respondent was verbally authorized to sell 200 square meters to petitioners. The RTC ruled that since respondents authority to sell the land was not in writing, the sale was void under Article 1874[6] of the Civil Code.[7] The RTC ruled that rescission is the proper remedy.[8]

 

On 17 June 2002, the RTC rendered its decision, the dispositive portion reads:

 

WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered in favor of plaintiff and against the defendants, by -

1.      Declaring the contract to sell orally agreed by the plaintiff Brigida Nido, in her capacity as representative or agent of her daughter Revelen Nido Srivastava, VOID and UNENFORCEABLE.

2.      Ordering the parties, upon finality of this judgment, to have mutual restitution the defendants and all persons claiming under them to peacefully vacate and surrender to the plaintiff the possession of the subject lot covered by TD No. 09-0742 and its derivative Tax Declarations, together with all permanent improvements introduced thereon, and all improvements built or constructed during the pendency of this action, in bad faith; and the plaintiff, to return the sum of P17,500.00, the total amount of the installment on the land paid by defendant; the fruits and interests during the pendency of the condition shall be deemed to have been mutually compensated.

3.      Ordering the defendants to pay plaintiff the sum of P20,000.00 as attorneys fees, plus P15,000.00 as actual litigation expenses, plus the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.[9]

 

The Appellate Courts Ruling

 

On 5 January 2004, petitioners appealed the trial courts Decision to the appellate court. In its decision dated 10 June 2004, the appellate court reversed the RTC decision and dismissed the civil case.[10]

The appellate court explained that this is an unlawful detainer case. The prayer in the complaint and amended complaint was for recovery of possession and the case was filed within one year from the last demand letter. Even if the complaint involves a question of ownership, it does not deprive the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of its jurisdiction over the ejectment case. Petitioners raised the issue of lack of jurisdiction in their Motion to Dismiss and Answer before the RTC.[11] The RTC denied the Motion to Dismiss and assumed jurisdiction over the case because the issues pertain to a determination of the real agreement between the parties and rescission of the contract to sell the property.[12]

 

The appellate court added that even if respondents complaint is for recovery of possession or accion publiciana, the RTC still has no jurisdiction to decide the case. The appellate court explained:

 

Note again that the complaint was filed on 11 May 1994. By that time, Republic Act No. 7691 was already in effect. Said law took effect on 15 April 1994, fifteen days after its publication in the Malaya and in the Time Journal on 30 March 1994 pursuant to Sec. 8 of Republic Act No. 7691.

 

Accordingly, Sec. 33 of Batas Pambansa 129 was amended by Republic Act No. 7691 giving the Municipal Trial Court the exclusive original jurisdiction over all civil actions involving title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein where the assessed value of the property or interest therein does not exceed P20,000 or, in civil actions in Metro Manila, where such assessed value does not exceed P50,000, exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs.

 

At bench, the complaint alleges that the whole 1,939- square meter lot of Revelen N. Srivastava is covered by Tax Declaration No. 09-0742 (Exh. B, p. 100, Records) which gives its assessed value of the whole lot of P4,890.00. Such assessed value falls within the exclusive original prerogative or jurisdiction of the first level court and, therefore, the Regional Trial Court a quo has no jurisdiction to try and decided the same.[13]

 

 

The appellate court also held that respondent, as Revelens agent, did not have a written authority to enter into such contract of sale; hence, the contract entered into between petitioners and respondent is void. A void contract creates no rights or obligations or any juridical relations. Therefore, the void contract cannot be the subject of rescission.[14]

 

Aggrieved by the appellate courts Decision, petitioners elevated the case before this Court.

 

Issues

 

Petitioners raise the following arguments:

 

1.     The appellate court gravely erred in ruling that the contract entered into by respondent, in representation of her daughter, and former defendant Eduardo Rubi (deceased), is void; and

 

2.     The appellate court erred in not ruling that the petitioners are entitled to their counterclaims, particularly specific performance.[15]

 

 

 

Ruling of the Court

 

We deny the petition.

 

Petitioners submit that the sale of land by an agent who has no written authority is not void but merely voidable given the spirit and intent of the law. Being only voidable, the contract may be ratified, expressly or impliedly. Petitioners argue that since the contract to sell was sufficiently established through respondents admission during the pre-trial conference, the appellate court should have ruled on the matter of the counterclaim for specific performance.[16]

 

Respondent argues that the appellate court cannot lawfully rule on petitioners counterclaim because there is nothing in the records to sustain petitioners claim that they have fully paid the price of the lot.[17] Respondent points out that petitioners admitted the lack of written authority to sell. Respondent also alleges that there was clearly no meeting of the minds between the parties on the purported contract of sale.[18]

 

Sale of Land through an Agent

 

Articles 1874 and 1878 of the Civil Code provide:

 

Art. 1874. When a sale of a piece of land or any interest therein is through an agent, the authority of the latter shall be in writing; otherwise, the sale shall be void.

 

Art. 1878. Special powers of attorney are necessary in the following cases:

 

x x x

 

(5) To enter into any contract by which the ownership of an immovable is transmitted or acquired either gratuitously or for a valuable consideration;

 

x x x

Article 1874 of the Civil Code explicitly requires a written authority before an agent can sell an immovable property. Based on a review of the records, there is absolutely no proof of respondents written authority to sell the lot to petitioners. In fact, during the pre-trial conference, petitioners admitted that at the time of the negotiation for the sale of the lot, petitioners were of the belief that respondent was the owner of lot.[19] Petitioners only knew that Revelen was the owner of the lot during the hearing of this case. Consequently, the sale of the lot by respondent who did not have a written authority from Revelen is void. A void contract produces no effect either against or in favor of anyone and cannot be ratified.[20]

 

A special power of attorney is also necessary to enter into any contract by which the ownership of an immovable is transmitted or acquired for a valuable consideration. Without an authority in writing, respondent cannot validly sell the lot to petitioners. Hence, any sale in favor of the petitioners is void.

 

Our ruling in Dizon v. Court of Appeals[21] is instructive:

 

When the sale of a piece of land or any interest thereon is through an agent, the authority of the latter shall be in writing; otherwise, the sale shall be void. Thus the authority of an agent to execute a contract for the sale of real estate must be conferred in writing and must give him specific authority, either to conduct the general business of the principal or to execute a binding contract containing terms and conditions which are in the contract he did execute. A special power of attorney is necessary to enter into any contract by which the ownership of an immovable is transmitted or acquired either gratuitously or for a valuable consideration. The express mandate required by law to enable an appointee of an agency (couched) in general terms to sell must be one that expressly mentions a sale or that includes a sale as a necessary ingredient of the act mentioned. For the principal to confer the right upon an agent to sell real estate, a power of attorney must so express the powers of the agent in clear and unmistakable language. When there is any reasonable doubt that the language so used conveys such power, no such construction shall be given the document.

 

Further, Article 1318 of the Civil Code enumerates the requisites for a valid contract, namely:

1.     consent of the contracting parties;

2.     object certain which is the subject matter of the contract;

3.     cause of the obligation which is established.

 

Respondent did not have the written authority to enter into a contract to sell the lot. As the consent of Revelen, the real owner of the lot, was not obtained in writing as required by law, no contract was perfected. Consequently, petitioners failed to validly acquire the lot.

 

General Power of Attorney

 

On 25 March 1994, Revelen executed a General Power of Attorney constituting respondent as her attorney-in-fact and authorizing her to enter into any and all contracts and agreements on Revelens behalf. The General Power of Attorney was notarized by Larry A. Reid, Notary Public in California, U.S.A.

 

Unfortunately, the General Power of Attorney presented as Exhibit C[22] in the RTC cannot also be the basis of respondents written authority to sell the lot.

 

Section 25, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides:

 

 

Sec. 25. Proof of public or official record. An official record or an entry therein, when admissible for any purpose, may be evidenced by an official publication thereof or by a copy attested by the officer having the legal custody of the record, or by his deputy, and accompanied, if the record is not kept in the Philippines, with a certificate that such officer has the custody. If the office in which the record is kept is in a foreign country, the certificate may be made by a secretary of embassy or legation consul general, consul, vice consul, or consular agent or by any officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept, and authenticated by the seal of his office.

 

 

In Teoco v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company,[23] quoting Lopez v. Court of Appeals,[24] we explained:

 

From the foregoing provision, when the special power of attorney is executed and acknowledged before a notary public or other competent official in a foreign country, it cannot be admitted in evidence unless it is certified as such in accordance with the foregoing provision of the rules by a secretary of embassy or legation, consul general, consul, vice consul, or consular agent or by any officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the foreign country in which the record is kept of said public document and authenticated by the seal of his office. A city judge-notary who notarized the document, as in this case, cannot issue such certification.[25]

 

 

Since the General Power of Attorney was executed and acknowledged in the United States of America, it cannot be admitted in evidence unless it is certified as such in accordance with the Rules of Court by an officer in the foreign service of the Philippines stationed in the United States of America. Hence, this document has no probative value.

 

Specific Performance

 

Petitioners are not entitled to claim for specific performance. It must be stressed that when specific performance is sought of a contract made with an agent, the agency must be established by clear, certain and specific proof.[26] To reiterate, there is a clear absence of proof that Revelen authorized respondent to sell her lot.

 

Jurisdiction of the RTC

Section 33 of Batas Pambansa Bilang 129,[27] as amended by Republic Act No. 7691 provides:

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

(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 exceed Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) exclusive of interest, damages of whatever kind, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs: x x x

 

In Geonzon Vda. de Barrera v. Heirs of Vicente Legaspi,[28] the Court explained:

Before the amendments introduced by Republic Act No. 7691, the plenary action of accion publiciana was to be brought before the regional trial court. With the modifications introduced by R.A. No. 7691 in 1994, the jurisdiction of the first level courts has been expanded to include jurisdiction over other real actions where the assessed value does not exceed P20,000, P50,000 where the action is filed in Metro Manila. The first level courts thus have exclusive original jurisdiction over accion publiciana and accion reivindicatoria where the assessed value of the real property does not exceed the aforestated amounts. Accordingly, the jurisdictional element is the assessed value of the property.

Assessed value is understood to be the worth or value of property established by taxing authorities on the basis of which the tax rate is applied. Commonly, however, it does not represent the true or market value of the property.

 

The appellate court correctly ruled that even if the complaint filed with the RTC involves a question of ownership, the MTC still has jurisdiction because the assessed value of the whole lot as stated in Tax Declaration No. 09-0742 is P4,890.[29] The MTC cannot be deprived of jurisdiction over an ejectment case based merely on the assertion of ownership over the litigated property, and the underlying reason for this rule is to prevent any party from trifling with the summary nature of an ejectment suit.[30]

 

The general rule is that dismissal of a case for lack of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceedings since jurisdiction is conferred by law. The lack of jurisdiction affects the very authority of the court to take cognizance of and to render judgment on the action; otherwise, the inevitable consequence would make the courts decision a lawless thing.[31] Since the RTC has no jurisdiction over the complaint filed, all the proceedings as well as the Decision of 17 June 2002 are void. The complaint should perforce be dismissed.

 

WHEREFORE, we DENY the petition. We AFFIRM the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 78215.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

Associate Justice

 

 

ATTESTATION

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

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Resolution had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

[2] Rollo, pp. 20-29. Penned by Associate Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. with Associate Justices Rebecca De Guia-Salvador, and Jose C. Reyes, Jr., concurring.

[3] Id. at 33. Penned by Associate Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. with Associate Justices Rebecca De Guia-Salvador, and Jose C. Reyes, Jr., concurring.

[4] CA rollo, pp. 56-64. Penned by RTC Judge Paterno G. Tiamson.

[5] Records, p. 79.

[6] Art. 1874. When a sale of a piece of land or any interest therein is through an agent, the authority of the latter shall be in writing, otherwise the sale shall be void.

[7] CA rollo, p. 60.

[8] Id. at 61.

[9] Id. at 63-64.

[10] Rollo, p. 28.

[11] Id. at 25-26.

[12] Records, p. 66.

[13] Rollo, pp. 26-27.

[14] Id. at 27-28.

[15] Id. at 15.

[16] Id. at 15-16.

[17] Id. at 56.

[18] Id. at 58.

[19] Id. at 12.

[20] Roberts v. Papio, G.R. No. 166714, 9 February 2007, 515 SCRA 346, 371.

[21] 444 Phil. 161, 165-166 (2003) citing Cosmic Lumber Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 332 Phil. 948, 957-958 (1996).

[22] Records, pp. 102-103.

[23] G.R. No. 162333, 23 December 2008, 575 SCRA 82.

[24] 240 Phil. 811 (1987).

[25] Supra note 23 at 95-96.

[26] Litonjua, Jr. v. Eternit Corporation, G.R. No. 144805, 8 June 2006, 490 SCRA 204, 218-219.

[27] The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980.

[28] G.R. No. 174346, 12 September 2008, 565 SCRA 192, 197.

[29] Records, p. 100.

[30] Sudaria v. Quiambao, G.R. No. 164305, 20 November 2007, 537 SCRA 689, 697.

[31] Municipality of Sta. Fe v. Municipality of Aritao, G.R. No. 140474, 21 September 2007, 533 SCRA 586, 599.